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Please explain: What does it mean that Jesus’ enemies would become a footstool for his feet?

What does it mean that Jesus’ enemies would become a footstool for his feet?

If you asked a room of Christians what their favorite post-Easter picture of Jesus is, what would you hear?

There are so many memorable choices. Like when Jesus gently spoke Mary Magdalene’s name at the empty tomb because she thought he was the gardener (John 20:15,16). Or his patient explanation of Scripture to two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). Or how he twice appeared in a locked room with a message of peace for his frightened disciples (John 20:19,26). Or that he ascended into heaven with his hands raised in one final blessing (Luke 24:50). All those scenes form a portrait of a risen Savior who is unmatched in his love and compassion.

What you probably would not hear from the group are the more militaristic images of Jesus fresh from his Easter victory. For example, the prophet Isaiah pictured the Savior returning from battle with his garments stained red by the blood of the enemies he had crushed underfoot like grapes in a winepress (Isaiah 63:1-6).

This blood-spattered image is related to another Old Testament portrayal of Jesus’ triumph. In Psalm 110:1, the Lord says to his Christ, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

That the writers of the New Testament considered this a favorite post-Easter picture of Jesus is obvious from their frequent use of it (see Acts 2:34,35; 1 Corinthians 15:25,26; Hebrews 1:13; 10:12,13). What may be less obvious to us is why they liked it. We are familiar with Jesus sitting at God’s right hand after his ascension because we confess it in our creeds, but what does it mean that his enemies would become a footstool for his feet?

Ancient footstool symbolism

To answer that question, we need to understand the mindset of the Old Testament world. Today a footstool is used for relaxation, but at that time a footstool represented power. Archaeologists have discovered artwork from ancient Egypt that depicts Pharaoh sitting on his throne with his feet resting on his enemies, who are stacked one on top of the other. Assyrian wall reliefs show the king putting his feet on the head of a conquered enemy cowering in the dirt below him.

Even the Israelites did this. After defeating five Amorite kings, Joshua “said to the army commanders who had come with him, ‘Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.’ So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks” (Joshua 10:24).

The point of the footstool symbolism is clear: The enemy is vanquished, humiliated, and completely at the mercy of the victorious king. So the imagery of Jesus using his enemies as a footstool means that he won and his enemies are completely subjected to him.

Jesus’ enemies

But who are Jesus’ enemies?

The Bible teaches that the devil is Jesus’ enemy (Matthew 4:1-11), but he is not alone. When Satan successfully tempted Adam and Eve to sin, they and all their descendants became his allies. Since the fall into sin, people are natural enemies of God because the sinful mind is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). More than that, sin also brought death into the world (Romans 5:12).

These three enemies—the devil, sin, and death—are opposed to God and his will. It’s no wonder that immediately after the fall into sin, God promised their defeat. An offspring of the woman would crush the devil under his foot and undo what sinful people had unleashed on his creation (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus’ victory

This first prophecy about Jesus showed that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

Jesus accomplished this by doing three things. First, he lived a life without sin (1 Peter 2:22). Second, he offered that perfect life on a cross as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:27). And third, he took up his life again at his resurrection and proved his victory over all his enemies (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Isn’t it beautiful? He conquered sin by being pierced for our transgressions, and he crushed the devil by being crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). He defeated death by dying. The resurrection confirmed it. His victory was so thorough that 40 days after his resurrection he ascended into heaven to sit at God’s right hand because his work was done.

Our victory

The only problem is that most of the time it does not look like Jesus won. Yes, by the Holy Spirit’s power, the good news of Jesus’ victory brings sinners to faith and changes them from God’s enemies to God’s children (Galatians 3:26). But the devil’s influence on the world is still strong. All people continue to sin, even Christians. All people die. That does not look like victory.

If this bothers you, recall the exact words that the Lord said to Jesus in Psalm 110:1, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Did you notice the “until”? This promise has not yet been completely fulfilled. Since his ascension Jesus “waits for his enemies to be made his footstool” (Hebrews 10:13). That will happen when he returns on the Last Day, when every knee will bow to him, and every tongue will confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2:10,11).

But even though we do not yet enjoy the complete fulfillment of this promise, we do share in Jesus’ victory now. Remember, Jesus’ enemies are our enemies too.

So the devil may prowl around “like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), but because of Jesus’ victory we are able to resist him (James 4:7). And even though we daily sin much, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). When tempted, we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

And even though we will die—unless the Lord returns visibly to this world on the Last Day in our lifetime—we will rise to live forever. As the apostle wrote, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). When all believers in Christ are resurrected on the Last Day, there will be no more death (Revelation 21:4). On that day, the Lord will turn all of Jesus’ enemies into his footstool.

All this shows why the picture of Jesus using his enemies as a footstool was beloved by the New Testament writers. It’s a reminder that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

Author: Noah Headrick
Volume 110, Number 04
Issue: April 2023

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