“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”- Matthew 1:1
Within the first sentence of his Gospel, Matthew makes it very clear what this genealogy and his whole Gospel is about. He wants to make it very clear from the beginning. In the last post, we talked about how keeping Matthew’s audience in mind is helpful when studying his Gospel in general and specifically when studying the genealogy. Understanding his audience helps us understand the importance of the first sentence in the genealogy. The Jews Matthew was writing to were waiting for the coming Messiah, the Christ. This Christ was a promise from God they hadn’t seen fulfilled yet. And in this first statement, Matthew makes a bold statement. He claims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. The genealogy is where he will start to make his case for Jesus being the Christ. This first sentence sets the stage for the genealogy and the rest of the Gospel.
When I sit down to study any part of the Bible deeper, the biggest thing I do is start asking questions. If you’re studying this with me, you can try to answer the questions I have here yourself, but also ask your own. For the genealogy, the question I constantly ask is what is Matthew saying about Jesus in what I’m reading? If Matthew is making the case that Jesus is the Christ, then the whole point of the genealogy is to tell us about Jesus. And while his primary purpose was most likely to just prove Jesus’ connection to Abraham and David, I also believe he was making theological statements about Jesus, whether he knew it or not. So, I constantly want to be asking how does Matthew show us what he believed about Jesus?
I also want to be constantly asking myself “What does that mean?” If I come to something I don’t understand, of course, that’s a helpful question. But I actually have a different purpose for that question. When I ask what something means in the Bible, it’s usually when I feel God trying to push me to really think about what I’m reading, even if it’s something I’ve already read before. When I was in college one thing my professors constantly talked about was not taking Scripture for granted. It’s easy when you’ve been in church for a while to get used to certain phrases and ideas. We can often assume we know everything about a passage or a certain phrase that comes out of the Bible and miss out on the depth of it. As you read the genealogy, challenge yourself to dig deeper. What does it mean for Jesus to be the son of David? Why is that significant? Why is did Matthew open his genealogy with that statement? Why does it matter that Jesus is the son of Abraham? What does that have to do with Jesus being the Christ?
Again, I encourage you to answer those questions for yourself, but I will give some of my thoughts from what I have studied here.
The Son of David
We have already talked about how the line of David was important to the Jews. In 2 Samuel 7, God makes an important promise to David. I would encourage you to go and read that story yourself, but I will summarize it here. God promises that he will build a “house” for David. David’s kingdom will be established forever. God promises that one day from David’s line, a king will come and his kingdom will never end. Here is how God describes this king “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” You will find a similar prophecy in 1 Chronicles 17.
Later in the prophetic books, God’s promise gets deeper. We can look at two of these together. Take some time to summarize these in your own words and think about how they connect to Matthew’s genealogy and the gospel. Keep asking yourself, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ? What does it mean for Him to be the son of David?
The first one we’ll look at is Isaiah 11:1-16. Isaiah focuses on the judgment of God’s people. At the beginning of Isaiah, God calls out their idolatry and sin through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah turns to foreign gods and chooses to trust other nations for help instead of trusting God. God patiently warns them and waits for them to return, but they continue to rebel. So, God pronounces judgment on them. This judgment will take the form of exile and attack from the nations they sought for protection. But in the midst of this judgment, we also see amazing examples of God’s grace and love for His people. In chapter 10, God promises that a remnant will return from exile. He promises to have mercy on His people. Then, in chapter 11 He says this,
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
Or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
But with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
And he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
And with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waits,
And faithfulness the belt of his loins.”
If you keep reading, you’ll see more about this “root of Jesse.” We see this king will be a righteous judge. He will fear the LORD. He will be the king the other kings of Israel and Judah could not be. See, Israel and Judah found themselves in the position they were in because of their leaders. If you read through 1 and 2 Kings, as well as 1 and 2 Chronicles, you’ll see over and over the failure of the kings to fear the LORD. I won’t go into that too much now, because we’ll talk about that in a few posts. I just want to show the contrast between this promised son of David and the sons of David God’s people had already seen. They had failed. And here, God promises them a king, a son of David who would not fail.
The other prophecy I want to look at is in Jeremiah 23. Jeremiah is like Isaiah in its content. It is a book about God warning His people through His prophet about coming judgment. In fact, during the time Jeremiah was prophesying the exile came and God’s people were carried away to Babylon.
Before Jeremiah 23, God pronounces judgment on Jehoiakim because he treated the people poorly and encouraged their idolatry. God even contrasts him with his father, Josiah, who was Judah’s last good king. After calling out Jehoiakim’s wicked ways, God pronounces judgment on anyone who leads His people astray and who scatter His flock. God promises to bring His people back from exile.
“Behold, the days are coming declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” Again, here we see the promise of a king who would be the king Judah had not yet seen. This king would be righteous and just. And he would save God’s people. Even amid judgment, God promises salvation.
The Son of Abraham
Probably the most important person to the Jews other than David was Abraham. To understand why we need to go back to the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham, at the time Abram, to leave his home to go settle in a new land. God promises that Abraham’s descendants would inherit this land. God also promises that through Abraham’s descendants the whole world would be blessed. God tells Abraham this blessing would come through his son Isaac. A lot of God’s promises in the Old Testament were two-fold. They had a more immediate application, but there was also a look toward the future. This promise to Abraham was no different. Through Isaac, God formed the nation of Israel. Israel was meant to be a light for God in the world. He created them to show the world what it looked like to be in a relationship with Him. But, as we see as we read through the Old Testament, they failed. They turned to other gods and rebelled against the one who had saved them.
God’s promise to Abraham also looked into the future. By linking Jesus to Abraham, Matthew not only shows that He belongs to the people of Israel, but he also shows that Jesus is the son of Abraham from whom blessing will come.
When Matthew said Jesus is the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, his fellow Jews knew what he was talking about. They understood completely the point he was trying to make. Jesus is the Christ. He is the king God had promised. He is the one from whom blessing will finally come. These were the promises the Jews were waiting eagerly for. So, when Matthew makes the statement that Jesus is the Christ and then follows it up with the son of David, that’s a big deal. As we read the rest of the genealogy, keep looking for how Matthew is proving his case that Jesus is the Christ. Try to look at it from the point of view of both Matthew and the Jews he was writing to. As Matthew starts the Gospel, you can almost hear the chorus of Jews saying, “You say He’s the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham? You say Jesus is who we’ve been waiting for? Ok, prove it.” And in the rest of the genealogy and the Gospel, that’s exactly what Matthew sets out to do. He not only proves that Jesus is the Christ, but he also shows his readers what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.