The Genealogy of Jesus
“And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”
This final list of names in Matthew’s genealogy is a bit more difficult to study than the others. After the first few names, nobody really knows much about the people listed here. Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, and of course Joseph are the only names listed in other parts of the Bible. So, unlike the other paragraphs, it is a bit harder to study each of these names individually. But we can take a look at a couple of these names so we can get a better picture of who Jesus is.
Jechoniah: Wrath and Judgment
First, I want to look at a name that also appears in the previous list, Jechoniah. I think taking a look at his story here will set up the context for the other name we are going to look at. Jechoniah and the deportation to Babylon represent an important part of Israel’s history. We can learn more about both in 2 Kings 24, 2 Chronicles 36, and the prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah.
The Story of the Exile
If you’re not familiar with this part of Israel’s history, I will take a moment to briefly explain what happened. In the Old Testament, we see God’s people continuously turn away from Him. Starting in the time of the judges (and even earlier than that) we see Israel constantly worshipping idols instead of God. Their idolatry becomes even worse after David dies.
David’s son Solomon had many foreign wives who encouraged idol worship. Because of Solomon’s idolatry, God eventually caused the kingdom of Israel to split into two separate kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south (1 Kings 11). All of the kings of Israel in the north were evil kings. They all worshipped other gods. Even though there were a few kings in Judah who stayed faithful to God, many still fell into idolatry. And unfortunately, as the kings worshipped other gods, they encouraged the people to do the same. As they grew farther and farther away from God they also began to neglect caring for the poor and the oppressed. You will see this accusation in Isaiah and Jeremiah a lot. There was a pretty clear connection between the people’s relationship with God and how they treat other people.
And God was very patient with His people. He sent prophets to warn them. He waited for them to turn to Him. One thing you will read a lot in 2 Kings is that because of the covenant God made with David, even many of the evil kings were given grace. Despite that grace, God’s people continued to turn. The tipping point came with Manasseh, king of Judah. Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, who was a very righteous king. Hezekiah tore down the temples and altars the people had built for other gods. He brings about many religious reforms. Manasseh however was the exact opposite of his father. He rebuilt the altars Hezekiah tore down. He even built altars in the temple in Jerusalem. And as it says in 2 Kings 21 that Manasseh led the people to “do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.” God’s people had become even worse than the nations around them.
And so, God pronounced judgment on His people. That judgment came in the form of the invasion of Babylon. The people of Judah were carried off to Babylon because of the depth of their sins.
Compassion, Wrath, and Judgment
Jechoniah was king when the exile happened. So, he represents a significant turning point for Matthew’s readers. The deportation to Babylon was a time of judgment from God. It was a very dark time. I love the way 2 Chronicles 36:15-15 describes their situation:
“The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against His people until there was no remedy.”
God showed compassion to His people, but they still ignored Him. And so, judgment had to come. God doesn’t want to bring judgment and wrath on us. He wants us to turn back to Him. He gives us more chances than we deserve. So, when judgment and wrath do come, it’s not because God is just power-hungry and angry. It’s because He’s trying to get our attention.
The judgment and the wrath would have been what Matthew’s readers would have remembered as they read through his genealogy. But, just as they are reminded of God’s judgment toward them, Matthew begins his final list of names, pointing them toward God’s mercy.
Zerubbabel: Mercy and Redemption
And so now, we turn to look at Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel played an important role in leading God’s people out of exile.
You can read more about Zerubbabel and how the people of Judah were able to return to Jerusalem in Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah. I definitely encourage you to read through those books if you have time (Haggai and Zechariah are quite short and really cool), but I will give you a brief summary of who Zerubbabel was here.
After Babylon was conquered, the king let the people of Judah go back and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Ezra). Zerubbabel, with the help of Joshua the high priest, led the people back to Jerusalem. According to Haggai and Zechariah, God specifically called Zerubbabel to lead His people in the rebuilding of the temple. God promised Zerubbabel and Joshua that this new temple would be more glorious than the first. He also promised to bless His people and show them mercy.
Wrath & Mercy. Judgment & Salvation.
Jechoniah represented a dark period in Jewish history. His reign marked the beginning of the exile in Babylon and God’s wrath toward His people. As Matthew begins the last list of names in his genealogy he starts with a reminder of God’s judgment toward sin.
But, Matthew does not leave the story there. Just like God does not leave His people in exile, Matthew points us toward mercy and salvation with the mention of Zerubbabel. If Jechoniah represents God’s wrath and judgment, Zerubbabel points us toward God’s mercy and salvation. God does not withhold grace for long. He does forgive His people for their sins and brings them back to the land He had promised them.
I think it’s important to keep this in mind as we look at this last list of names. I think by contrasting Jechoniah’s story with Zerubbabel, we can see a beautiful picture of the gospel.
Because the reality, all of us deserve the same wrath and judgment God has toward His people when they sinned against Him. I encourage you guys to take some time to read through the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. They’re hard books to read. It’s hard to see how much God hates sin. It’s hard to see how much sin hurts God. And sometimes I think we can sort of disconnect from the Old Testament, or even just the Bible in general. It’s easy to talk about how bad God’s people were to turn from Him. They should’ve just listened to the prophets and they would’ve been fine. It’s easy to read through the prophets and point out all of their mistakes.
Maybe sometimes we forget that we deserve the same wrath and judgment for our own sins. We are not that much different than the people of Israel and Judah. The language we read in Isaiah and Jeremiah can be directed toward each one of us as well. I deserve God’s wrath. I deserve God’s judgment. I deserve to live exiled from God. So do you.
And like we talked about in last week’s posts, even the most righteous king of Judah was unable to save God’s people. Even Josiah’s religious reforms (from last week’s post) couldn’t turn away the wrath of God. It just wasn’t enough. We’re in the same boat. None of our righteousness can ever turn away the wrath of God.
But God shows us mercy. Just as He had compassion on His people way back then, He still has compassion on us now. Zerubbabel is a picture of God’s grace toward His people. Through Zerubabbel God brought His people back to Him. And through Jesus, who is called Christ, God brings us back to Him as well. In this last paragraph, we see a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. He is not just an ordinary king. He is the way for God to have mercy on His people. Jesus is the way God saves His people from His own wrath. Jesus is the one who will bring us out of exile from God.