Psalm 97: Lessons For Praising Jesus’ Return as the King of Kings

Introduction: Psalm 97 does not identify its author or its context. But the Jerusalem Bible calls it an end times “eschatological hymn”.1 Many believe that it was originally meant to be a message of hope to the Jews during their darkest days during Babylonian captivity. It promised the Jews that the Messiah would come to restore God’s people: “Psalm 97 is the most dramatic portrayal of Yahweh’s sovereign power to be found in the Psalter. Exiled Israel needed to hear that message.” (Stan Mast Commentary on Ps. 97).2 “Psalm 97 along with the other enthronement psalms remind those who doubted God was still in control, that God was still ‘most high over all the earth”’. (Jerome Creach on Ps. 97).3 The Greek Septuagint Bible lists this as a psalm “for David when his land is established.”4 But many commentators understood this as a message for David’s descendants to have faith in God’s promises to His people.5 God’s people today struggle under the darkness of the “ruler of this world.” He also places people into bondage. But he will soon be “cast out.” (Jo. 12:31). Believers can look to Psalm 97 and find hope in the promise of Jesus’ return. These include the promises of Jesus’: (1) sovereignty, (2) justice, (3) holiness, (4) shared glory, (5) omnipotence, (6) deliverance, and (7) eternal joy.

First, the psalmist encouraged the Jews with the declaration that “The Lord reigns.” Even when evil seems to be winning, you can praise Jesus because He reigns, and He is sovereign. Second, at a time when the Jews felt oppressed under a pagan despot, the psalmist promised that the Messiah’s return would bring a perfect and just rule. Jesus also deserves your praise because He is a just and righteous King. Third, to encourage the Jews, the psalmist promised that evil would melt before God’s holy consuming fire. You can also praise Jesus because He is holy. His holiness is a beacon to guide and protect you. Fourth, the psalmist promised that the Messiah’s arrival would allow God’s people to experience His Shekinah Glory. You can also praise Jesus because He offers to share His Shekinah Glory with all who believe. Fifth, the psalmist warned both Jews and gentiles to choose the omnipotent Creator of the universe over false idols. You can praise Jesus because He is all-powerful, and He uses His power for good. Sixth, the psalmist promised that God will deliver His people. You can also praise Jesus because He comes to deliver believers from evil and from sin. Finally, the psalmist stated that God offers believers both “light” and “joy.” You can also praise Jesus because He offers all His eternal light and joy.

1. Sovereignty: Praise Jesus Because He Reigns and He is Sovereign. Ps. 97:1.

  • Jesus is sovereign, and He is in full control. In 587 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the Kingdom of Judah and sent its people into captivity. To encourage those who had given up hope in Yahweh’s power, the psalmist declared that He reigns supreme: “1 The Lord reigns, may the earth rejoice; may the many islands be joyful.” (Ps. 97:1). “The Lord reigneth; rather, is become King (ἐβασίλευσεν, LXX.); comp. Psalm 10:16Psalm 47:6Psalm 96:10Psalm 97:1, etc. God is regarded as having for a time laid aside, or hidden, his sovereignty, but as now at length coming forward and inaugurating the theocracy. The writer may have in his mind some recent manifestation of Divine power, or he may be anticipating the final establishment of the reign of Messiah.” (Pulpit Commentary on Ps. 97:1) (emphasis original).6 “Like Psalm 93, this psalm begins suddenly and wonderfully with the proclamation of Yahweh’s rule. He is not a useless idol or local deity. Yahweh is not passive, nor the ‘watchmaker’ who created all things and then left it alone. He reigns; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actively plans, acts, and rules over the universe.” (David Guzik on Ps. 97:1).7

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Praise Jesus because He reigns supreme over all with no rival8

  • Praise Jesus because He reigns supreme. Here, the psalmist declared with great power, “The Lord reigns,” (Ps. 97:1). This revelation is repeated throughout the Old Testament: “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.” (Ex. 15:18). “The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land.” (Ps. 10:16). “God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” (Ps. 47:8). “The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the LORD has clothed and encircled Himself with strength. Indeed, the world is firmly established; it will not be moved.” (Ps. 93:1). “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples fairly.”’ (Ps. 96:10). “The LORD will reign forever, Your God, Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 146:10). “Let the heavens be joyful, and the earth rejoice; and let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.”’ (1 Chr. 16:31). The book of Revelation attributes this praise to Jesus: “Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.”’ (Rev. 19:6). Even when evil feels rampant, you can celebrate that Jesus is in control.

  • Jesus will receive full authority over the nations.  Jesus will reign with full authority over the nations:  “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”  (Rev. 11:15).  “The one who overcomes, and the one who keeps My deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations;” (Rev. 2:26).  God the Father has further given Jesus full authority to judge evil:  “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.”  (Jo. 5:22).

2. Justice: Praise Jesus Because He is a Just and Righteous King. Ps. 97:2.

  • Jesus will reign with justice and righteousness. At a time when the Jews felt oppressed under a Babylonian ruler and his false gods, the psalmist encourage that the Messiah’s return would bring about a perfect and just rule for God’s people: “Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” (Ps. 97:2). “Jehovah is an autocrat, but not a despot. Absolute power is safe in the hands of him who cannot err, or act unrighteously.” (Charles Spurgeon on Ps. 97:2).9

  • God is just and fair to help His people during their times of need. Out of love and His righteous character, God is just and fair to deliver His people in their times of need. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will also help you, I will also uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Is. 41:10). The psalms are also filled with praises for His righteous and just character: “Who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners.” (Ps. 146:7). “The LORD performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.” (Ps. 103:6). “The strength of the King loves justice; You have established order; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” (Ps. 99:4). “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before You.” (Ps. 89:14). “And the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge. Selah” (Ps. 50:6). “For the LORD loves justice and does not abandon His godly ones; they are protected forever, but the descendants of the wicked will be eliminated.” (Ps. 37:28). “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.” (Ps. 33:5). “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will see His face.” (Ps. 11:7). “But the LORD sits as King forever; He has established His throne for judgment,” (Ps. 9:7). “God is a righteous judge, and a God who shows indignation every day.” (Ps. 7:11). “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole Law which I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:8). Evil fills the world today. But you can praise Jesus because He will rule with just righteousness.

3. Holiness: Praise Jesus Because He is the Holy King of Kings. Ps. 97:3-5.

  • Jesus’ holiness will consume all unrepentant evil. Because many Jews felt defeated, the psalmist used the imagery of God’s holy fire at Mount Horeb to encourage the Jews that evil will one day melt before His holy presence: “Fire goes before Him and burns up His enemies all around. His lightning lit up the world; the earth saw it and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.” (Ps. 97:3-5). Unrepentant evil will also melt before Jesus.

  • Sin cannot be in God’s righteous presence. When sin is in His presence, “our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29). “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before a fire, so the wicked will perish before God.” (Ps. 68:2). “And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (Lev. 10:2). “Fire also came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.” (Nu. 16:35). And to the eyes of the sons of Israel, the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.” (Ex. 24:17). “And in the greatness of Your excellence You overthrow those who rise up against You; You send out Your burning anger, and it consumes them like chaff.” (Ex. 15:7). “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain quaked violently.” (Ex. 19:18). “You came forward and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire to the heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud, and thick gloom. . . For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Dt. 4:11, 24). “May our God come and not keep silent; fire devours before Him, and a storm is violently raging around Him.” (Ps. 50:3). “For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,” (Heb. 12:18). When you live with Jesus forever in heaven, no evil will be able to come anywhere near you.

  • Jesus’ holiness guides you when you are in darkness. God’s holiness includes a beauty that is unlike anything human eyes have seen: “The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the LORD has clothed and encircled Himself with strength. Indeed, the world is firmly established; it will not be moved.” (Ps. 93:1). Because He is holy, Jesus’ light can also guide you in darkness. When you feel trapped in darkness, He wants you to call Him to be your light: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” (Jo. 1:4). “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”’ (Jo. 8:12). “I have come as Light into the world, so that no one who believes in Me will remain in darkness.” (Jo. 12:46). When you feel trapped in darkness, cry out to Jesus for His light.

  • Be holy because God is holy. Because God is holy, He expects His people to be holy as well: “For I am the LORD your God . . . be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44). “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2). “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex. 22:31). “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16). To become holy, Jesus began His public ministry with a call to repentance. “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 4:17). Jesus came “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”’ (Mk. 1:15). His disciples also began their ministry with a call to repentance: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’ (Acts 2:38). If you say that you are without sin, the Bible says that the truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). Yet, if you confess your sins, Jesus promises to forgive your sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). What sins do you need to repent of?

4. Glory: Praise Jesus For Sharing His Shekinah Glory With Believers. Ps. 97:6.

  • Believers will experience Jesus’ Shekinah glory. To encourage believers, the psalmist promised that God’s people would one day see His Shekinah glory without dying: “The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the peoples have seen His glory.” (Ps. 97:6). Jesus has made it possible for you to experience His glory without dying.

  • God’s creation is filled with His glory. Although we live in a fallen world, the evidence of God’s glory can be seen throughout the universe and throughout the Earth: “LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, You who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!” (Ps. 8:1). “For the music director. A Psalm of David. The heavens tell of the glory of God; and their expanse declares the work of His hands.” (Ps. 19:1). “Be exalted above the heavens, God; may Your glory be above all the earth.” (Ps. 57:5). “The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens.” (Ps. 113:4). “And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of armies. The whole earth is full of His glory.”’ (Is. 6:3). “however, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.” (Nu. 14:21). “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14).

  • Jesus will reveal His full glory to all in heaven.  Psalm 97:6 foreshadows the arrival of God’s glory with the return of the Messiah. After Jesus returns, His Shekinah glory will again be present in the Temple (Micah 4:1-8; Zech. 14:3-9).  In heaven, you will also see His Shekinah glory without the need for a veil  (1 Jo. 3:2).  So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;” (1 Cor. 15:42-43). “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Col. 3:4). “who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Phil. 3:21). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Ro. 8:18). You “will see His face. . . [and] the Light of God (“Shekinah glory”) will illumine them forever and ever.”  (Rev. 22:5).  “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”  (Heb. 1:3).  “LORD, I love the dwelling of Your house, and the place where Your glory remains.”  (Ps. 26:8).  “Be exalted above the heavens, God; may Your glory be above all the earth.”  (Ps. 57:11). Again, Jesus is worthy of your praise. He died a horrific death on the cross to make it possible for you to share in His glory.

5. Omnipotence: Praise Jesus Because He is All-Powerful and Good. Ps. 97:7-9.

  • A pagan idol is nothing next to Jesus’ power. After the Jews defeat, the Babylonians boasted about the power of their idols. Even some Jews believed their lies. The psalmist warned that any who turned to idols foolishly rejected the all-powerful Creator of the universe: “May all those be ashamed who serve carved images, who boast in idols; worship Him, all you gods. Zion heard this and was joyful, and the daughters of Judah have rejoiced because of Your judgments, Lord. For You are the Lord Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.” (Ps. 97:7-9). “Zion and Judah here are not explicitly called believers, but consider the deep structure of the statements being made: Yahweh came at Sinai and announced the Ten Commandments. Those commandments inform our understanding of the shamed idolaters. No god was to be worshiped but Yahweh, and no images were to be made of Him. Only those who believe, who trust, who keep faith, though they cannot see, have obeyed those commandments. Now that Yahweh has come again, as He came at Sinai, the faith of those who believed His Word has been vindicated.” (James Hamilton on Ps. 97:7-9).10

Psalms 97:9 KJV - For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth:

Trust in Jesus, the Creator of the universe, over the idols of the Earth11

  • Those who follow idols become cursed and ensnared. God’s Second Commandment prohibits any form of idol worship: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.” (Ex. 20:4, 23; 34:17; Dt. 5:8; Lev. 19:4; 26:1). Anyone who made an idol is cursed: “‘Cursed is the person who makes a carved image or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall reply and say, ‘Amen.”’ (Dt. 27:15). Idols further ensnare those who chase after them: “They shall not live in your land, otherwise they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it is certain to be a snare to you.” (Ex. 23:33). “You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will turn over to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.” (Dt. 7:16). “And served their idols, which became a snare to them.” (Ps. 106:36). Today, anything that replaces God as the most important thing in your life can become an idol. This can include money, power, prestige, drugs, alcohol, and fleshly desires.

  • God is supreme and reigns with unrivaled power. The idols of the world are powerless before God’s sovereign power: “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they acted insolently against the people.” (Ex. 18:11). “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods.” (1 Ch. 16:25). “The house which I am about to build will be great, for our God is greater than all the gods.” (2 Chr. 2:5). “For the LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods,” (Ps. 95:3). “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” (Ps. 96:4). “For I know that the LORD is great and that our Lord is above all gods.” (Ps. 135:5). Thus, you should never replace Jesus with an idol.

  • Jesus reigns supreme over any worldly power. Any kingdom on Earth or any demonic power is also nothing next to Jesus’ power. “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matt. 28:18). “He who comes from above is above all; the one who is only from the earth is of the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (Jo. 3:31). He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:21). Thus, you should never place your trust in some worldly power. Deliverance comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is a loving God. He uses His omnipotent power for His greater good (Ro. 8:28).

  • God has no rival to His power. The Bible proclaims God’s unique power over everything: “Who is like You among the gods, LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). “All my bones will say, ‘LORD, who is like You, Who rescues the afflicted from one who is too strong for him, and the afflicted and the poor from one who robs him?”’ (Ps. 35:10). “For Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; God, who is like You?” (Ps. 71:19). “For who in the skies is comparable to the Lord? . . . Lord God of armies, who is like You, mighty Lord?” (Ps. 89:6, 8). “Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high,” (Ps. 113:5). “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else.” (1 Kgs. 8:60). “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” (Dt. 4:35). Thus, Satan is not a rival to God’s power. And there is no problem in your life that is beyond His omnipotent power. He again is worthy of praise.

  • God’s use of His power is motivated by His love for mankind. The mere fact that God is all-powerful does not, by itself, explain why God is worthy of praise. He is worthy because He is a benevolent God who uses His indescribable power out of love for us. He loves mankind so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins (Jo. 3:16).

6. Deliverance: Praise Jesus Because He Offers Deliverance. Ps. 97:10.

  • Jesus will deliver His people. At a time when God’s people were in bondage, the psalmist promised God’s deliverance: “10 Hate evil, you who love the Lord, who watches over the souls of His godly ones; He saves them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps. 97:10). “The Lord will preserve the souls of his saints from sin, from apostacy, and despair, under their greatest trials. He will deliver them out of the hands of the wicked one, and preserve them safe to his heavenly kingdom.” (Matthew Henry on Ps. 97:10).12

  • God watches over and delivers those who love Him. The psalmist praised God for watching over and saving His people (Ps. 97:10). God is faithful to watch over and deliver those who love Him: “The LORD watches over all who love Him, but He will destroy all the wicked.” (Ps. 145:20). “Love the LORD, all His godly ones! The LORD watches over the faithful but fully repays the one who acts arrogantly.” (Ps. 31:23). “The LORD redeems the souls of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will suffer for their guilt.” (Ps. 34:22). “The LORD helps them and rescues them; He rescues them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.” (Ps. 37:40). “Because he has loved Me, I will save him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.” (Ps. 91:14). Jesus will also deliver you from evil.

  • Show your love for God by hating what He calls evil. To show their love for God, the psalmist urged believers: “Hate evil.” (Ps. 97:10). Similar exhortations exist throughout the Bible: “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of armies will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:15). “Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Ro. 12:9). “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek what is good for one another and for all people. . . but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thess. 5:15, 21-22). The “fear of the Lord” (the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Ps. 111:10) is also defined as “hating” what He calls evil in the Bible: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; . . .” (Prov. 8:13).

7. Joy: Praise Jesus Because He Offers Believers Eternal Joy. Ps. 97:11-12.

  • Jesus comes to offer believers His eternal joy and light. The psalmist stressed that the return of God’s “light” will bring “gladness,” “joy” and praise: “11 Light is sown like seed for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. 12 Be joyful in the Lord, you righteous ones, and praise the mention of His holy name.” (Ps. 97:11-12). “Light is sown for the righteous - That is, there is light for the righteous; or, they shall be brought into light, though they may be for a time in darkness. . . And gladness for the upright in heart - The word gladness here - joy, or rejoicing - is parallel to the word light. Joy or gladness is sown for the righteous; that is, arrangements are made for producing joy, as preparations are made by sowing seed for a harvest. The world is full of arrangements for conferring happiness on the righteous.” (Barnes Notes on the Bible, Ps. 97:11).13

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Praise Jesus for offering eternal light and joy in heaven to all who believe14

  • God’s light brings joy and hope to His people. The blessings of God’s light are celebrated throughout the Bible: “For You light my lamp; the LORD my God illumines my darkness.” (Ps. 18:28). “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom should I dread?” (Ps. 27:1). “Light shines in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, compassionate, and righteous.” (Ps. 112:4). “The LORD is God, and He has given us light; bind the festival sacrifice to the horns of the altar with cords.” (Ps. 118:27). “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” (Est. 8:16). Jesus comes to offer His eternal light and joy.

  • Celebrate Jesus’ promised return as King of Kings. Many connect Psalm 97’s message of hope and joy to Jesus’ return: “Thus, in the eschatological fulfillment when the heavens open and the Lord descends with the clouds, then, according to the psalmist and the prophets, fire will consume around His presence, the mountains will split apart and melt away, the heavens will be lifted up for all to see, and He will come to judge those who rejected Him to worship vain images and false ideas – as well as the things they worship. This great coming of the Lord will cause endless praise and celebration by the righteous who will then realize the answer to the prayers of the saints down through the ages that His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as in heaven.” (Allen Ross on Ps. 97).15 This is also a reason for you to put your hope in Jesus and give thanks.

  1. Briggs, Charles A. and Briggs, E. G. A, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Psalms. (The International Critical Commentary. Volumes II. Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1903, p. 300).↩︎

  2. James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. II: Psalms 73-150) (Lexham Academic 2021) p. 196.↩︎

  3. Image credit: (141) Pinterest↩︎

  4. Allen Ross, A Commentary of the Psalms: Volume 3 (90-150), Kregel Academic (2016) p. 159.↩︎