Footstool Theology: Christ Will Conquer

By Joe Holland    |    December 11, 2023

Topic:    

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Psalm 110:1

I always say that my biggest influences are three Johns and three Toms—John Owen, John Calvin, John Calvin, Thomas Watson, Thomas Brooks, and Thomas Boston. And even though I’d like to say of the six, my biggest influence is John Calvin, it is really John Owen. I wish I could say that I’ve read or planned to read the collected works of all six, but my forty-five years tell me that I must choose. And so I’ve begun the gradual and daily reading of one of them. I chose John Owen.

Out of all of them, Owen stands above the rest as a Christ-maximalist. But he arrived there being a thorough-going Trinitarian. And by that, I mean that he was no Christo-monist. He did not decide to focus on Jesus because it was cool, trendy, or hip. He didn’t hop on the Christo-centric bandwagon because he read about it in a popular book by a platformed1 author. Instead, Owen is thoroughly Trinitarian in his thought, as all good Christian theologians have and should be. But as he pondered the Trinity, he found that there is a Christ-centrality woven into the godhead. The Father is most enamored with his Son. And the Holy Spirit is heaven-bent on glorifying and extolling the person and work of the Son.2 And so, Owen is theologically bent on Christo-centrism, not because he is committed to Christ over the other members of the Trinity, but because he is thoroughly Trinitarian in all his theology.

For example, I have four sons. I have never thought that they should be just like me, though, inevitably, they will bear my likeness, for better and for worse (I’ve warned them about this). But I want them all to be the kind of men that I would be honored to call a friend. And that is all what they currently are—noble men who you and I would be honored to know, honored to call friends. And yet, if you were friends to my sons, you would only know them as they are. But if you knew them, and knew what I had to say about them, you would love them more than if you only knew them without knowing what I had to say about them.

To know a man is one thing; to hear what his father has to say about him is quite another. And this is because a father’s love for his sons, a father’s bestowal of fatherly honor, is an addition to a son’s glory, no matter how great that son’s glory may be. And in this, I think we arrive at some of the beauty behind our trinitarian theology. It is one thing to know the Son. It is an additional thing, an additive and greater thing, to hear the Father gush over his Son.

The Greatest Psalm

The book of Psalms is the most quoted Old Testament book in the Bible. Psalm 110 is the most quoted chapter of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted Old Testament verse quoted in the New Testament. Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews, and Peter all chose Psalm 110:1 to speak clearly and definitively about the person and work of Jesus, the Christ. And it is a psalm that has become even dearer to me over the past few years.

I’ve made it a personal practice to spend time daily in the psalms and learn to sing as many of them as possible from memory. Aside from the benefits of meditating on God’s Word and singing it back to him in praise, I noticed something consistent throughout Christian history, something begun from the earliest days recorded in Acts. Whenever we read of Christians imprisoned for their faith, we find them often spending their time of imprisonment in prayer and singing psalms. I thought to myself, “If I’m ever imprisoned for my faith (and I’d like to live my life in such a way as this might be possible), I don’t know any psalms to sing.” And so I decided I would learn some psalms by heart, in case I ever had to gladden the walls of a prison cell.

And that, of course, led me to decide where to start with 150 to choose from. And so I asked myself, “Which psalms did Jesus and apostles think were most important?” Clearly, the psalm at the top of the list is Psalm 110. So I started there. Not a week goes by that I don’t sing Psalm 110 a few times. And I say that because this devotion is not just born out of the academic fact of its prodigious use in the New Testament but also out of its frequent place in my life.

And to return to the emphasis of John Owen, few verses in the entire Bible tell us of what the Father thinks of the Son. And in meditating on Psalm 110:1, we have the opportunity to join our heavenly Father in his delight in his Son.

Psalm 110:1 was a mystery to the Jewish scholars who studied it before the incarnation. How could there be a “lord” who sat at the right hand of “the LORD” who was also a greater king than King David, a king that even David would call Lord? The general consensus was that this was a reference to the coming Messiah. And they were right. Jesus (as well as Peter, Paul, and the author of Hebrews after him) unequivocally teaches that he is the mysterious Lord that David wrote about in Psalm 110:1. So, to use New Testament divine familial nouns to describe what is going on in Psalm 110:1 is to say, “The Father said to the Son, “sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” In this brief and profound verse, we see two things that God the Father says about God the Son.

You Bow to No One

The first, is that Father has bestowed on the Son the highest honor by placing him at his right hand. The position on the right hand of the Father is a position of honor, power, and exclusivity.

It is a position of honor because of tradition, and because the majority of people are right-handed (sorry, lefties).3 When patriarchs would bless more than one of their children, the right hand was placed on the eldest son (which is what was so odd about Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons). By placing Jesus on his right hand, the Father bestows the highest honor on the Son. This is both comparative and superlative. The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 110:1 in a comparative way, showing that Jesus is better than all comers. Moses? Jesus is comparatively better. Angels? Jesus is comparatively better. The Levitical priesthood? Jesus is comparatively better. But Jesus is comparatively better because he is superlatively the best. He is at the right hand of the father.

At the end of the movie The Return of the King, there is an added dialog between Aragorn and the four hobbits. It’s a dialog that isn’t in the book but is a welcome addition. Aragon, the newly crowned king of Gondor approaches the hobbits. And they bow in his presence. Aragorn lovingly corrects them and says, “My friends, you bow to no one.” When the high king says, “you bow to no one,” it is a superlative honor, the highest honor. If the greatest king bestows the greatest honor, then there is no higher honor, no higher position of authority to which you can obtain. When God the Father gives to the Son the position on his right hand, there is no higher honor Christ can receive. Jesus isn’t just better; he is the best. He isn’t just greater than; he is the greatest.

But the right hand is also the position of power and strength. When we call someone a leader’s “right-hand man,” we mean the man who is best at executing the will and purpose of the leader. And given the majority right-handedness of the world populace, most weapons are held in the right hand. When you face a man in battle, you better pay attention to your enemy’s right hand. And the deadliest, most dread warriors will typically unleash their power from their right hand. And so, when God the Father describes his almighty power, his power for war and for battle, he says it is Jesus, his Son. Jesus is the embodiment of the all-mighty strength of God.

God the Father has already decided where his Son’s footstool will come from, and it isn’t IKEA.”

—Joe Holland

And lastly, the right hand is the position of exclusivity. The position at the right hand is a singular position filled by one person. It is not only a place of honor and strength; it is a place of exclusive honor and strength. There aren’t multiple right-hand men; there is only one right-hand man. By placing Jesus at his right hand, God the Father is bestowing a singular and exclusive honor that no one else holds, no one else will ever hold. There is no other name by which we may be saved. There is no other mediator between God and men. There is no other way to the Father. Jesus is exclusively at his Father’s right hand.

We get clear views of Jesus from time to time in our personal relationship with him. But it can become clouded based on our trials, sufferings, and sin. Is Jesus really greater than my sin, this sin? Is Jesus really enough in the midst of suffering, this suffering? It is not that we deny the faith; it is that flesh is weak and the burden of life is great. When your circumstances cause you to struggle to see Christ clearly, listen for the voice of the Father. Trust what the Father has to say about the son. Hear the father say, “When you can’t trust your circumstances, trust what I have to say, ‘My son Jesus is the greatest, the most honorable, the strongest, and there is no other.’” I believe this is, in part, why Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father. It isn’t because we can’t pray directly to Jesus. It is because in praying to the Father and having the Father focus our gaze on his beloved Son, we have an even greater view of Christ.

Reduced to Furniture

When we discuss the Trinity, it is helpful to describe the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity. The ontological Trinity describes the persons of the Trinity as they are one God. The economic Trinity recognizes the distinctive works assigned to the person in the Trinity as they are described in the warp and woof of redemptive history. The economic Trinity does not deny the work of God, in his totality, in all that God does. But it does do honor to the ways that Scripture emphasizes different aspects of the accomplishment of redemptive history to different members of the Trinity. In general, the Father authors the work of redemption, the Son accomplishes the work of redemption, and the Holy Spirit applies the work of redemption.

As we see in this text, a particular assignment is designated to the person of the Trinity who sits at the right hand of the Father. This work is the defeat of all the enemies of God. We see it in the rest of Psalm 110, but it is summarized in the first verse in what I call footstool theology.

You see, the footstool served a specific function for the exalted king. The honor of the king was embodied by the height of his throne. The king on high was on high because his throne was elevated in accordance with his glory. But the king had to get up to sit on his throne. His assent to his throne was made possible by his footstool. The footstool was a small bench that he would step up on to get to his place of honor. He might even rest his feet on this footstool once he had arrived at his place of prominence.

God the Father has already decided where his Son’s footstool will come from, and it isn’t IKEA. The footstool under the feet of Jesus will be all the enemies of Jesus, every enemy that asserts himself against God Almighty.4 Every demon, even Satan himself, will be reduced to an inert piece of pedestrian furniture under the feet of Jesus. And yes, every nation that doesn’t bow and kiss the son (Ps. 2:12) will end up under his feet. Sin? Defeated. A prop for the Son to mount his throne. Death? It’s lost its sting (1 Cor. 15:55–56) because it’s a minor pedestal used for the king to step into his glory. No one remembers the furniture in the throne room. They remember the king on the throne. This is the end of all the enemies of God. They are destined to be a means for the exaltation of Jesus to the place of highest prominence. Do you want to know the purpose of human history? It is designed by the Father, as the master interior designer, to exalt his Son to the place of highest prominence (Eph. 1:9–10). And this great reversal was accomplished at the cross. When the enemies of God thought they had won a mighty victory, thought that they had secured a high throne, when Jesus looked to be trodden under the feet of sin, demons, and the nations, it was at that moment that Jesus won the highest praise and reduced all those who opposed him to the stature of a footstool.

Again, don’t your circumstances tell you otherwise at times? You watch the news. You struggle with how to parse conflict in the Middle East. You watch an impending election and struggle to recognize the bad from the worse. You hear of the surgical mutilation of children and radical ideologies opposed to the clear teaching of the Bible. Unqualified men and women try to take to themselves the title of elder and pastor. Men call evil good and good evil. All of these things, by the Father’s good plan, aren’t anything more than ottomans, ottomans under the feet of Jesus.

And maybe that is the message you need to hear. You struggle to exalt the name of Jesus. “For though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is ruler yet.” Do you need to hear that the Father, THE FATHER, has already declared what it is to occur? The Father has already planned the great work for his Son’s maximum glory. The Son, by the Father’s design, is and will be victorious (1 Cor. 15:25).

You see, we so often approach the Bible like we are archaeologists, unearthing a bone here, a shard of pottery over there, trying to piece together a story of a forgotten people. Psalm 110:1 tells a different story. In the Bible, we hear the clear, unequivocal voice of our heavenly Father, who, on every page, is boasting in, is praising his Son. Let our prayer be, “O Father, give me some measure, some growing measure of your love for your Son, and I will be content, content for all eternity.”

  1. I hate the term “platformed.” There are some nouns that should not be turned into verbs. Platform is one of these nouns.
  2. It should also be said that the Son, Jesus, is intent at directing his followers back to the Father and work of the Spirit. But as soon as we hear the voice of the Father, we hear a distinct and unwavering love for the Son. And as soon as we learn about the work of the Spirit, so we are directed back to the Son. This perichoretic emphasis ends up, rightly so, focusing on the Son no matter where we engage with Trinitarian theology.
  3. Eighty-five to ninety percent of the world’s population is right-handed.
  4. It was a common practice in the Ancient Near East for kings to engrave the names of their enemies on the footstool before their throne.
Joe Holland

Joe Holland is professor of Christian ministry and academic dean for Grimké College. He also serves as managing editor for Grimké Seminary and College.

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