Genealogy of Jesus
- Main Text: Matthew 1:1-17
- Accompanying text: Psalm 132:11-12
Matthew’s focus in the first chapter of his gospel is helping his readers to understand ‘who’ Jesus Christ is and so he begins by including a genealogy of Jesus through his (adoptive) father Joseph (see 1:25). Matthew’s arrangement of this genealogy, and who he includes in it, helps set the tone for the rest of his gospel and also echoes the genealogies found in the Old Testament. By this, the story of Israel becomes an integral part of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Matthew arranges these verses into three sections – the lineage of Jesus from Abraham to David, from David to the Exile, and from the Exile to Jesus – noting that there are 14 generations between each (these arrangements are artificial, as the genealogy that Matthew provides is not complete, but it serves to highlight the key concepts Matthew wants the readers to take away). The genealogy builds towards the announcement in 1:16 that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah. He is the promised son of Abraham and the Davidic heir who heralds the end of exile.
Son of Abraham
By identifying Jesus as the son of Abraham, Matthew is linking Jesus to the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 12:1-3. Jesus is one who is both blessed by God and set aside by God to be a blessing to the whole world (see also Gen 22:18, Gal 3:16). Matthew, however, takes this one step further as he not only identifies Jesus as a son of Abraham, he also indicates that Jesus is one like Abraham – one through whom mankind’s relationship with God will be changed. The 14 generations between Abraham, David and the exile marked off significant changes in Israel’s (and the world’s) relationship with God and now, with the coming of Jesus Christ, a new age has come – one that is no longer defined by God’s relationship with Abraham, David, or even Israel as a nation, but that is defined by God’s relationship with Jesus.
Son of David
Matthew, likewise, identifies Jesus as a son of David. “David was Israel’s greatest king and the prototype of the coming messiah” . Since the Babylonian exile, no Davidic king had ruled in Judea, and it was even longer since a Davidic king ruled a united Israel. Yet, Old Testament scripture has significant prophecies of the coming of a messiah, a king of Israel from the house of David (2 Sam 7:12-16; Isa 9:6-7; 11:1; Jer 23:5-6 – see also Psa 132:11-12). Matthew is identifying Jesus to his readers as the promised messiah from the house of David and in doing so Matthew is identifying Jesus as Lord – one who has the right to rule and command obedience from his people, who has divine authority.
Return from Exile
The way Matthew structures his genealogy also suggest the end of the Exile. While the Jewish people were allowed to return to Judea under the reign of Cyrus the Great, they had spent most of the time since then under occupation. While the temple had been rebuilt, the Ark of the Covenant had been lost and the divine presence did not dwell there. There was a sense in which the Jewish people felt that the exile had not yet ended, that their former glory and relationship with God had not been restored to its fullness. Matthew’s genealogy marks Jesus’s coming as the end of this period of exile (for as he goes on to say in 1:23, Jesus is God with us).
Some interesting names
Matthew’s genealogy has some unique features, the first of which is that while Matthew seeks to show Jesus’ lineage, unlike many genealogies it does not seek to hide the irregularities and clearly highlights that Jesus’ ancestry included sinners, outcasts and foreigners. Given Matthew’s own calling, and his own identification with being a sinner and an outcast (Matt 9:9-13), you can see why not whitewashing the genealogy is important to him. For example, he makes clear David’s adultery by calling Bathsheba ‘the wife of Uriah’ (who was a Hittite, a foreigner). The inclusion of so many women in the genealogy is also unusual, particularly as they are not the women that were traditionally revered in the Jewish faith.
Many of the names in the genealogy are worthy of greater time to understand their inclusion in the genealogy, but perhaps one of Matthew’s goal with this genealogy was to help his readers see their inclusion in the story of Jesus Christ – be they slave or free, king or outcast, Jewish or gentile, male or female.
- Luke 3:23-38 (Luke’s version of Jesus’ genealogy)
- Galatians 3:7-9, 16, 26-29
Footnotes and references:
- Mark L. Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007). 223.