It was my privilege to assist Zola as one of the tour leaders for his Fall Festival Tour to Israel in October. While in Jerusalem, I got to visit two tombs: Jesus’ and David’s. The tomb of Christ was empty, but the tomb of David still commemorates the remains of the ancient Israeli king. It has so marked his grave for some three thousand years in Jerusalem, which David chose for his capital and the location of the Temple of God. Most Christian groups never get to see David’s tomb, although it is quite close to a favorite site for believers, the Upper Room.
Recently, I have been studying King David’s role in the unfolding of the biblical message of redemption. When I had a few hours to spare in the busy schedule of the tour, I followed the signs on Mount Zion to the traditional site of the tomb of David. Before I share with you what I found, let me review how important King David is in the Gospel of Christ.
The New Testament strongly emphasizes the relationship between King David and the Lord Jesus Christ:
- He is the son of David, the son of Abraham;
- He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (through Mary);
- Joseph went to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, because he was of the house and lineage of David (for legal adoption);
- Christ is fruit of David’s loins who will sit on David’s throne;
- He is the fulfillment of the sure mercies of David;
- He is the root of David;
- He claims in the last chapter of the Bible to be the offspring of David.
(See Matt 1:1; Rom. 1:3; Luke 2:4; Acts 2:30; 13:34; Rev. 5:5; 22:16).
When it comes to the humanity of our Lord, it is His relationship to King David that is emphasized in the New Testament, but the Church has tended to ignore this emphasis. Why is this? Associated with King David are the Davidic Covenant, the Israeli monarchy, and the future Millennial kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. These are concepts that have often been suppressed by the Church, but have been revived during this century in the evangelical movements of Dispensationalism and Premillennialism.
As for the proclamation of the Gospel, the death of David plays a prominent role in contrast to the death of Jesus, as prophesied in Psalm 16:10:
For thou wilt not leave my soul in sheol, neither wilt thou permit thine Holy One to see corruption.
Both Apostles Peter and Paul use this remarkable prophecy to explain to Jewish listeners the necessity of the resurrection of the Messiah. Peter, in his message on Pentecost, argued that David was not speaking of himself. The proof of this was that David died and his body was corrupted long before, and his tomb was clearly visible in Jerusalem. Rather, David was prophesying about his descendant, the coming Messiah. This great Son of David would die, but His body would not see corruption and would rise from the dead.
Paul also used the same Psalm 16:10 prophecy, when he spoke to the Jewish synagogue in the Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13). He declared that this passage proved that the Messiah had to die and rise from the dead.
These scriptural passages were focused in my mind as I visited the tomb of David on Mt. Zion. The tomb is located on the ground floor of a building which is non-descript on the outside. It is approached by way of an anteroom about the size of a standard living room. The anteroom has bookshelves with Hebrew books, descriptive materials on the walls (also in Hebrew), and a table or two. This room has two doorways opening to the room which contains the tomb, but these doorways are blocked with iron bars so the visitor may not enter into the tomb room. The large sarcophagus can be viewed by standing before, and looking through, the bars in the doorways.
The tomb is large, at least twice as large as an ordinary sarcophagus, with a sloped roof covered by drapings and mounted on the top with several metallic crowns. While I was there, no more than 15 or 20 people were in the anteroom at one time, and the atmosphere was one of quiet, subdued reverence.
A group of Israeli high school students in school uniforms came into the anteroom, and spent about fifteen minutes there. Most of them were high school age girls, who appeared to be quietly excited about being in the presence of King David’s tomb. They were avidly reading the Hebrew plaque on the wall of the anteroom. I had the feeling that they might break out in songs about David like their ancestresses did 3,000 years ago. I began to understand something of the close attachment these young Israelis have to David, perhaps closer than to other heroes, such as Moses.
After leaving the tomb, I wandered through the various rooms in the building, and came upon a doorway with a sign, “King David Museum.” I didn’t know there was a museum in Jerusalem devoted to King David! The curator invited me in to view the artifacts, which I did. All the signs were in Hebrew, and I was able to make out some of their significances. However, it was clear that this museum, unlike many in Israel, was designed for the benefit of Israelis, not for foreign tourists.
When I finished looking at these things, I went back to the entry and met the curator and his young son. We sat down, and he explained to me the authenticity of this site for the tomb of David, saying that the two biblical references to the location were in II Samuel and Nehemiah. He also opened for me a large red door in the wall, which covered the entry to a long, deep tunnel. He explained that they believe there is a tunnel between the old City of David and the Mt. Zion area where David’s tomb is located.
I asked the curator if he was aware of a reference in the New Testament which might have a bearing on the location of King David’s tomb. He looked up with interest, and said he was not. It was clear to me that the historian had devoted his professional life to this subject, and he was intrigued with the prospect of previously unknown information. I described for him the events of Acts 2, in which the Holy Spirit filled the believers and Peter proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. The Scriptures are not clear about the location, but one view is that this happened at the Temple, while another view is that the Pentecostal events occurred in the neighborhood of the Upper Room, which is on Mt. Zion near the tomb of David.
At any rate, the Apostle Peter spoke of David’s tomb as he argued from Psalm 16:10 that David was not referring to himself but to his Messianic descendant. It’s almost as though Peter was pointing toward the monument when he told his audience that the tomb with David’s corrupted remains was plainly visible at that time.
My curator host was considerably impressed, and asked where this passage in the Psalms was located. I told him and he reached for his copy of the Hebrew Scriptures to look it up. He read and re-read the passage written by David, “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” He kept reading the sentence, looking at me and reading it again. It was as though he had never heard of this great Messianic passage before. We discussed these things a little further and then I left Mt. Zion for our hotel. I got the impression that this studious curator was going to discuss this matter at length with his colleagues, and that Peter’s comments about King David’s tomb and the risen Messiah might reverberate once again on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.