Jesus’ question to the Pharisees was meant to strike hard at the their preconceived ideas about the Messiah. If the Messiah is David’s son how could David call his son ‘Lord’ and do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Or in other words, how could a son be greater than his ancestral father?
What Jesus’ question ultimately did was challenge every convention the Pharisees held because they were looking at the coming of the Messiah in purely humanistic terms. What the Pharisees should have contemplated was how all aspects of Old Testament meshed with their understanding of Messiah. So they should have looked at their pre-conceived notions and asked how does keeping all these commands, performing all these ritual animal sacrifices and looking for the coming of this conquering hero all mesh in a cohesive and coherent way? How does the shedding of a bull’s and ram’s, and its symbolic representation of the removal of sin, tie in with this conquering hero? How does the keeping of commands and ceremonial laws work with the coming of a King who would set captives free, restore sight to the blind and give hope and mercy to the poor and downcast? And even more, how could the greatest King of the sacred Old Testament be subservient to a Lord who was honored by the Lord is such a way (sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool) that this person would be a co-equal with the Mighty God himself? These questions would have led them far closer to the Truth that they had so badly strayed from.
What Jesus did with this single question was not only silence and humble his accusers by pointing out what was likely a profound and troubling mystery to them, but he exposed the depth of their ignorance about basic and general spiritual realities. Though we cannot blame the Pharisees for not having foreseen mysteries that were hidden from the beginning of time, we can see how God will hold them accountable for having so cavalierly assumed that were wise and in tune with what the coming Messiah would look like, what he would be, what he would want and how he would conquer. For on every point, the Pharisee’s failed to understand God’s great plan. They did not understand that sin, not foreign occupation, was the great enemy and captor. They did not understand that outward holiness was nothing compared to that authentic holiness best represented in a love for the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed – and even so far as one’s enemies. And so instead of having hearts of understanding and in tune with God’s desires (which would enabled them to see the connections between Law, Sacrifice and Messiah) the Pharisees fashioned a Messiah out of a value system built on their moralistic traditions borrowed from enough Scriptural truth to insulate themselves from God and rules of self-dependency that puffed up their imaginations and self-esteems to such heights that they were incapable of seeing the Truth.
Instead of seeing God, the Pharisees abused God’s graces which then led to Christ’s rebuke of their hypocrisy, and put them in great danger of being made into a leg of the footstool that the Father will eventually put under his feet.