Have you ever wondered if a long-lost relative might leave you some money in their will? While this doesn’t usually happen to most people, we have heard about it happening to some. Many years ago, there was an old movie in which Laurel and Hardy responded to a newspaper article. The article asked the heirs of the deceased Ebenezer Laurel to meet at his home to get an inheritance. The comical duo responded to the article thinking they would become rich. As you might imagine, things didn’t turn out very well for either of them. Instead of getting an inheritance, they were accused of his murder!
While that movie was silly, it does bring up a curious question. If you were asked to prove that you were the descendant of a rich relative, would you be able to do so? To me, my family tree is only as important as the ones that I actually knew. Anyone beyond my grandparents is merely an interesting story. I am sure that there are some good and bad stories in the Rupert line over the past 500 years. But I have no reason to prove my genealogy to anyone. It really doesn’t matter.
However, things were quite different for the Jewish people. To them, a genealogy could link them to the promises God made to Abraham and the other patriarchs. An old Bible commentator names John Broadus says that many Jewish people were careful to record their family genealogy to prove that they were God’s people. He said that people who had moved to other countries would “send to Jerusalem properly certified statements as to marriages and births in their families.”4 It would seem that proving one’s genealogy was an important thing to the Jewish people.
Why do I bring up genealogies? I do so because the Bible makes a big deal about the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 1:1-17, the author records the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to David and then to Jesus. Matthew does not explain why this is important, but it is assumed that he was writing to Jewish people who needed to be convinced that Jesus was indeed a Jewish man related to both Abraham and David. And that would be important because the promised Messiah was to be a Jewish descendant of both men. Let us take a moment to look at what Matthew writes and then find out the purpose, people, and layout of Jesus’ genealogy.
- The Purpose of the Genealogy (Matt. 1:1)
As we consider what this verse says, try to see what Matthew’s purpose was in including the genealogy right at the beginning of his gospel.
What does it say?
The first verse tells us that the following paragraphs are the genealogy of Jesus Christ who is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. A genealogy is a list of people which shows the family tree of a certain person. Sometimes this is done from one person going backward as far as possible. Perhaps you have traced part of your family tree back several hundred years. Other times, as in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, the family tree begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus. In verse 1, Matthew is careful to state that Jesus is a descendant of both David and Abraham.
What does it mean?
Matthew was writing his gospel to Jewish people who knew the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Those who believed these prophecies and who were looking for the Messiah’s appearance would have wanted to verify that Jesus actually was descended from both Abraham and David. Remember that God’s promises were given to both Abraham, David, and to believers in general.
Gen. 2:18 – God said to Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
Notice that God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth was to be through Abraham’s seed (singular). Matthew wanted people to be sure that Jesus Christ’s genealogy proved He was descended from Abraham to whom the promise was given.
Jer. 23:5 – “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.'”
Through Jeremiah’s writings, God promised to raise up a descendant of King David whose reign would be known for justice and righteousness. This promised descendant was Jesus who will eventually reign on the throne in the millennial kingdom. I believe that this is talking about Jesus at a future time. But notice that this person would be a descendant of King David.
Micah 5:2 – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
In Micah’s prophecy, this same ruler was promised to be born in Bethlehem, the land where David grew up. To be this promised ruler, the person would need to have been born in no other place than Bethlehem. In Luke’s gospel, we find that Joseph and pregnant Mary had to travel there for the Roman census. While they were there, she gave birth to Jesus. Once again, the Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled. I believe that this shows that Jesus is the One promised by God.
So when Matthew began his gospel saying that Jesus was a descendant of both Abraham and David, he was making a statement. This one called Jesus Christ is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. And the following genealogy is proof of who He is.
How does it apply?
While genealogies may not be especially interesting to you or me, there is something here that we should see as important. In the Old Testament, God promised to send the Messiah and he gave specific details about this person. “It is absolutely vital, then, that we should know that Jesus Christ is the direct and true descendant of Abraham through David. For if he were not, he could not possibly be the Messiah.”3
- The People of the Genealogy (Matt 1:2-16)
As we look through the many names in the main section of the genealogy, notice which people are mentioned and then try to figure out why.
What does it say?
In the first section of the genealogy, Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestors from Abraham to David. If you have read much of the Bible, many of these names are familiar to you. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the patriarchs of Israel. But the names between them and David may not be as familiar. Who are these people with strange names? And why are the mothers of some children mentioned? Let’s examine several of them.
Judah and Tamar – Judah was one of Jacob’s sons whose son died. The practice of the day was that the next son would take his deceased brother’s wife and have a child with her to continue his deceased brother’s family. Through a series of bad choices, Judah didn’t permit this to take place and eventually was tricked into fathering a child with his daughter-in-law. It is not a pleasant story but one that is written between the lines for anyone who has read the Book of Genesis.
Salmon and Rahab – While nothing is known about Salmon, you may recall the name of Rahab. She was the harlot from Jericho who hid the two Israelite spies. When they hid at her house, she voiced her amazement at what God had done for the Israelites. Her faith in God and willingness to hide the spies led to her life being spared when the city was conquered. And she later became the wife of one of the Israelites. It is always an amazing thing to hear the story of people whose lives have been changed when they put their faith in God. This story is a good example of that.
Boaz and Ruth – The Old Testament Book of Ruth chronicles the life of Ruth the Moabitess. She was a young Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family during the time of the judges. Moabites had been judged by God and the Israelites were forbidden from marrying any of them. While this marriage was not supposed to have taken place, God graciously allowed it to take place. But after a while, Ruth’s husband died. So, she and her mother-in-law moved from Moab back to Bethlehem. It was there that her good character was noticed by Boaz and they eventually were married. They became the great-grandparents of King David.
In the second part of the genealogy, Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestors from David to Jeconiah and the Babylonian Captivity. If you are familiar with the kings of Judah, you may recognize some of these names.
David and the wife of Uriah – Although David was usually a man after God’s own heart, someone who wrote many psalms, and someone who was used by God to defeat many of Israel’s enemies, this was not one of the good parts of his life. During a dark period in his life, he committed adultery with the wife of one of his elite soldiers and later had him murdered to cover his sin. He later repented of this and God graciously spared his life. But there were many terrible consequences that came from that sin. However, David eventually took Uriah’s widow as his own wife and had a son. His name was Solomon.
Jeconiah – Jeconiah seems to be a “variant form of Jehoiachin, who with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel appear in 1 Chr 3:17-19.”1 Jehoiachin was one of the last kings of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity. Like some of the other kings, he was not a good person. In fact, God pronounced a judgment against him in Jeremiah 22:24-30. His wickedness was so great that God excluded any of his descendants from sitting on the throne in the future. (I don’t have time to discuss this in detail, but this judgment of God against Jehoiachin is probably the reason there is a slightly different genealogy in the Gospel of Luke. I believe that Matthew shows Joseph’s side of the family while Luke’s reveals Jesus’ genealogy from Mary’s side of the family.)
In the third part of the genealogy, Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry from Jehoiachin to Jacob, the husband of Mary. In this section, the only names that are recognizable are Joseph and Mary.
Joseph and Mary – As we will see in the verses that follow, Joseph was engaged to Mary when she became pregnant. He thought that she had been unfaithful to him and was ready to break off their upcoming marriage. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and explained that she was with child by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. This was the fulfillment of another prophecy.
Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
This explains why the third part of the genealogy ends with Joseph but doesn’t mention him as Jesus’ father. Jesus was miraculously born to Mary when she was a virgin. Joseph was not Jesus’ real father despite the fact that Joseph eventually married Mary and raised Jesus as his son.
What does it mean?
This genealogy was not prepared just to show Jesus’ ancestors. It was also put together to remind Israel from where they had come. Why else would God have included so many sinful people in the lineage of Jesus Christ? The names of two harlots, a forbidden Moabite woman, two adulterers, a murderer, and a wicked king are clearly mentioned in this genealogy.
How does it apply?
Have you ever heard about the Jewish historian Josephus? According to one Bible commentator, Josephus was very proud of his ancestry. He laughed at those who thought they could disprove his family’s genealogical record. He seemed to be very proud about his family tree. Even the apostle Paul talked about his prideful mindset before he became a Christian. He considered himself to be a Pharisee of the Pharisees descended from the right stock and trained by the best. But something happened when Jesus saved him. His pride disappeared and he considered himself to be “the chief of sinners.”
When you look at the sinful past included in the genealogy of Jesus, it is easy to see that the Jewish people had nothing to brag about. Just like all of us, they came from sinful parents who passed on their sinfulness to their children. And I think that is the point here. We can’t look at our heritage and say that we came from perfect parents and grandparents. When we look back at our ancestry, we have to admit that we all are flawed by our sinful nature. And we all fall short of God’s perfection. Don’t ever forget that. We all need a Savior because we are all sinners. And that is why Jesus came.
- The Layout of the Genealogy (Matt. 1:17)
As we look at the concluding statement about Jesus’ genealogy, notice the words that Matthew uses and try to figure out why he laid things out the way he did.
What does it say?
The final verse in the genealogy divides the names into three sections. There are fourteen names from Abraham to David. There are fourteen names from David to the Babylonian Captivity. There are fourteen names from the Captivity until Christ. Hmm… that is curious. Why would they be divided that way?
Another thing is that when we compare the genealogy to the Old Testament records, we find that several of the kings are not listed. Do you remember King Ahaziah, King Joash, and King Amaziah? Yes, their names are not listed. Hmm… that is curious. Why would there not be an exact genealogy?
What does it mean?
Why did they organize them into groups of fourteen names? This was probably done to help people remember them. Have you ever heard a preacher give a three point sermon? I often give three points just because… I don’t know… I hope you can remember the points better. If I gave you a fourteen point sermon, you might not remember the points at all. But with genealogies, there are a lot of names to remember. So, if you divide the people into three groups and each group has the same amount of names, that might be easier to remember. The other reason might be “to indicate the three great periods of the history.”5 The first group starts with Abraham. The second starts with David. The third starts with the Babylonian Captivity. That could be helpful.
Why were some names left out of the genealogy? It is true that some of the names remind us of some serious sins on the part of Jesus’ ancestors. But they are still mentioned to remind us of God’s mercy and our own sinfulness. But what about the ones who were left out? “Between Joram and Uzziah, three names are omitted, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. … These particular persons might naturally be selected for omission, because they were immediate descendants of Ahab and Jezabel.”2 As you may recall, Ahab and Jezabel were the wicked king and queen of Israel whose children intermarried with Jehoshaphat’s children. Their offspring were very wicked and led the people of Judah into great wickedness. It is forgivable that their names are left out of the genealogy for these reasons.
How does it apply?
I think that the biggest take away from this is not how many names are listed in the genealogy or whose names are missing. Instead, it is the fact that Jesus is the verified descendant of both Abraham and David. And as their descendant, He is someone who fits not only the requirements to be on the throne of David but who can be the promised Messiah. Jesus is not some false messiah whose claim to the position can be debunked. He meets all of the qualifications and has been verified to be God’s promised One.
With all that we have looked at today, I would like you to walk away with one thought. It is this. Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the One whom God sent not only to be the future King, but also to be the Savior of all mankind. As we look through the various Bible records about Jesus’ birth, we should start with Matthew’s point. Jesus was not someone made up by the disciples. He was and is the promised Messiah. And if He is, or better, since He is, we need to take note of who He is, what he says, and what He did.
1 Blomberg 55
2 Broadus 4
3 Lenski 25
4 Broadus 2
5 Broadus 5
Barbieri, Louis A., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
Barnes, Albert, Barnes Notes on the Bible, in the PocketBible app.
Blomberg, Craig, Matthew, Vol 22 in The New American Commentary, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.
Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1886.
Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Natthew’s Gospel, Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1943.