The expectations of the people of Israel were very high in the days before Christ. God had not spoken through a prophet for over 400 years. Everyone was wondering when the promised Messiah would come and bring about the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel.
Matthew introduces his gospel with a genealogy. Now I realize how boring genealogies read, especially when you are not familiar with most of the names. But actually, in this genealogy all the themes of the Book of Matthew are introduced in seed form. Matthew introduces Jesus as the one Israel had been waiting for. Jesus, the son of Mary and adopted son of Joseph, is the fulfillment of all the OT promises.
Now Matthew’s genealogy is different from Luke’s genealogy, though both trace Jesus’ line through Joseph. Though both trace Joseph’s line, they do not trace it the same way. The difference is that Luke traces Joseph’s line biologically, while Matthew traces Joseph’s kingly line. For example, if an OT king did not have a son, a nephew might be the successor to his throne. The nephew would be the kingly successor. Matthew is tracing back the kingly succession from Jesus to David.
Matthew is very selective in his genealogy. He sometimes skips hundreds of years in this genealogy. The word for “father” in the Greek can also be translated “ancestor.” The point is that Matthew is more interested in doing theology than simply in writing history.
Matthew selected these particular people for this genealogy. And he selected this particular amount of people for an important reason, as we shall see in a moment.
The Old Testament is full of promises of a coming king and a coming kingdom; a kingdom greater than Solomon’s of old. Matthew presents Jesus, the son of Mary and adopted son of Joseph, as that promised king. With this genealogy we see that Jesus fulfills Old Testament kingdom expectations in four ways.
First, Matthew presents Jesus as the new Adam, head of a new creation. The prophets, especially Isaiah, promised that where Adam failed as head of his race, God would raise up a faithful son better than Adam. As Adam was the head of this old creation, this new Adam would head a new creation.
Matthew begins in v. 1, “The Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This sentence would ring a bell to all familiar with their Old Testament. In Genesis 5:1 Adam’s genealogy is introduced in the exact same way. Gen 5:1 has; “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” Though your translations have “generations” here, and “genealogy” in Matt, in the Greek they are the same word. Genesis; “This is the book of Adam’s genealogy.” Matthew; “This is the book of Jesus’ genealogy.”
Jesus is not simply another prophet. Adam was the head of the creation before the fall. Jesus is bringing something new. The curse that resulted from Adam’s fall affected all creation. Now Jesus was coming to head a new creation; one that would last forever.
Secondly, Matthew presents Jesus as the true Son of Abraham. Matthew brings the genealogy as far back as Abraham and ends there. Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation. God had appeared to Abraham and made important promises to him and his seed. God promised Abraham he would give to Abraham’s seed a land where God and them would dwell. God promised Abraham more descendants in that land that could be counted with the human eye.
This promise to Abraham was fulfilled on a typological level with the Old Testament nation of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. God gave Israel the land of Canaan; through the tabernacle/temple God dwelt with them, and there were more Israelites than could be counted with the human eye.
But that Old Testament fulfillment was only a picture of a greater fulfillment to come. Even the unbelieving Jews in Jesus’ day recognized this; they were hoping for a greater fulfillment that what had happened in the Old Testament, but only greater in degree. They simply wanted more land, more freedom, more Israelites, and more prosperity than they received in the Old Testament.
But Matthew turns their hope to Christ and to spiritual blessings. Jesus is the Son of Abraham; he is the seed who will inherit the promises. Jesus would become the true Israel; the recipient of all God’s promises.
Matthew is turning their attention away from the nation Israel and focussing it on Abraham’s greatest Son, Jesus Christ. They could not think in terms of an ethnic nation of God any longer; here is the true Israel pictured by OT Israel, here in one person was the Seed of Abraham and inheritor of God’s eternal blessings. We can only be blessed eternally in Christ.
This was a change most of the Jews did not want. They wanted a messiah, but they wanted a messiah who would give them prosperity and riches now. Most didn’t even believe they needed a Savior to take away their sin; they were not convinced they were sinners deserving God’s wrath.
But Matthew is turning their minds to a greater fulfillment by introducing the true son of Abraham who would bring about all the promises on an eternal level. The OT land of Canaan was a picture of heaven itself, and Jesus had come to bring heaven to his people. Israel as a nation only pictured the elect church of God; all those for whom Christ would die and bring to the new heavens and earth.
Thirdly, Matthew introduces Jesus as the true and final Son of David, the promised king. God promised David that one of his sons would reign eternally over Israel. The Israelites had been waiting for this king for years.
Matthew traces Jesus’ line to David to show that Jesus was the promised Son of David. He possessed a legal right to David’s throne. None of the opponents of Jesus ever challenged him as to his right to call himself a Son of David. The genealogies were readily available; even they knew Jesus was rightfully a royal successor to David.
Christ was the king who had come to set up a kingdom that would never end. Jesus very first sermon in Matthew’s gospel is this brief statement “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The promised son of David has come in the Lord Jesus to gather a kingdom to himself.
But this kingdom was unlike anything expected by the Jews. They were hoping for an earthly kingdom where the Son of David would reign in physical Jerusalem, and all the Gentile nations would serve Israel.
But the kingdom David’s greater son came to bring is a heavenly kingdom. The citizens of this kingdom are already eternal citizens of heaven, for Christ would take their eternal punishment for them and then enter heaven as their representative.
Fourthly, Matthew presents Jesus as the liberator of the captives. Jesus came to set the captives free. In one sense all the Jews expected this. They expected that the promised King would set them free from Roman rule. They were greatly disappointed in Christ when he did not start a political revolution. Nevertheless, Matthew does present Jesus as the promised liberator of the captives, and he does so in two ways.
First, Matthew gives a special place to the Babylonian captivity in his genealogy. He mentions it in v. 11, v. 12, and twice v. 17. The Babylonian captivity occurred in the 6th century B. C., when the children of Israel were defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and exiled as slaves to Babylon.
Why was the captivity so important to Israel’s history? Well, the Babylonian captivity was the curse promised against Israel if they did not obey God. When God first rescued Israel from slavery he instructed Moses to tell the people that if they do not obey the Law of Moses, God would curse them by causing a foreign nation to come and take them into exile. The Babylonian captivity was a picture of God’s curse. The Babylonian captivity was a picture of the curse that God pronounced on Adam when he refused to obey. As Adam was exiled out of the garden, Israel was exiled out of the land.
Now notice how Matthew arranges the genealogy in v. 17. “From David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation of Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” No mention of the return from Babylon. It is as if they are still in Babylon! That’s the point!
Matthew reminds them that they were still slaves, still captives that needed a liberator. Now the Jews would agree in the sense that they were still ruled by Rome. No, they were slaves because they were under God’s curse. They were captives because we are all born captives to sin. We are born slaves.
We like to talk about our freedoms, but outside of Christ all people are slaves. They are slaves to sin; sin rules over them and they cannot overcome their master. They are slaves to Satan; as long as they continue in unbelief they do Satan’s bidding, whether they realize it or not.
They are slaves to final judgment; they cannot beat death and the judgment to come. There is nothing they can do about their condition. You may define freedom as doing whatever you want, but that is just an expression of how enslaved you really are.
The Babylonian captivity served to remind Israel of their true spiritual slavery; of her true condition as under God’s curse. But Matthew ends his genealogy with great anticipation; “From the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” The promised one has arrived who will free us from our captivity.
The Jews who only loved their own lives in this world rejected this liberator, for he would not liberate them from all their problems in this life, especially Roman rule. But for those looking for relief from sin, those needing forgiveness and a right relationship with God, those who knew that only eternal judgment awaited them, Jesus becomes the glorious liberator of the captives. It was for freedom that Christ set us free.
There is another way Matthew brings out this theme of Jesus being the liberator of the captives. Have you wondered yet about the numbers? Why does Matthew organize his genealogy in three groups of fourteen? The last section actually only has thirteen generations. Matthew was rounding off, which was common when organizing groups. Matthew purposefully wanted there to be three sets of fourteen, and he was very selective to bring us this pattern. Why?
Well, as all the Jews were fully aware, the number seven was a very important number in the Old Testament. Here in Matthew’s genealogy we have six sevens.
In the Jewish writings before Christ arrived, a common theme was that the Messiah would bring in the promised year of Jubilee.
Do you remember what was to happen in the year of Jubilee? In Lev. 25, Moses instructs Israel to set apart the year of Jubilee. The Israelites were to count seven years seven times. In the forty-ninth year, they were to sound the trumpet and set apart the coming year as the year of Jubilee.
When the year of Jubilee arrived, all those who had become slaves because they had to sell their property were to be set free. Their property was to be returned to them; whatever service they owed to their masters was to be considered paid in full. The slaves were set free at Jubilee.
Israel was to observe the year of Jubilee as a reminder that God set them free from slavery in Egypt. They were also to do this in anticipation of the coming deliverer who would truly free them from sin and death.
We have no record that Israel ever celebrated the year of Jubilee. But though the Jews never celebrated it, they certainly understood that it pointed to a coming time of deliverance.
Now do you see the beauty of Matthew’s arrangement? Matthew organizes his genealogy around six groups of seven. Israel was waiting for the seventh seven to arrive and bring in the Jubilee.
Jesus brings in the seventh seven. Jesus would bring in the year of jubilee. Christ came to set the captives free and give them an inheritance that cannot be taken away.
Matthew was blowing the trumpet with these groupings of numbers. The seventh seven; the year of Jubilee has arrived with the birth of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are glorious!
Now, there is a foreshadowing here of Jesus’ death. If the people were rightfully under God’s curse, how could they then be blessed eternally? Because Jesus Christ would go into captivity for his people; Jesus would take their curse on himself.
This brings us to one final point. This genealogy would have stood out to the original hearers for one other reason. Jewish genealogies rarely listed women, especially genealogies proving kingly succession. Yet Matthew includes four women in his genealogy. Even more, these are not the women the Jews would have expected to be listed. They would have expected to see Sarah, or Rachel, or Leah, the matriarchs of Israel.
Yet Matthew leaves them out, but instead includes Tamar in v. 3, Rahab in v. 5, Ruth in v. 5, and the wife of Uriah in v. 6. Why these women? What do these four women have in common? Well, all these women were Gentiles. Tamar was a Canaanite. Rahab was from the Canaanite tribe in Jericho. Ruth was a Moabitess, and Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
Matthew was not ashamed of Jesus having Gentiles in his genealogy. By including these four women, Matthew is making a statement about the kingdom Jesus had come to inaugurate. Jesus had not come to inaugurate an ethnic Jewish kingdom.
Jesus had come to gather a universal kingdom of Jew and Gentile; a kingdom of notorious sinners like Tamar, of poor Gentile widows like Ruth, of unnamed people like the unnamed wife of Uriah, of people like you and me.
The Jews expected a kingdom of the strong and mighty; of the righteous and good. But Jesus said he came to call poor sinners like you and me. These four unlikely women were added to Jesus’ genealogy to remind us that God calls the foolish and weak to bring the wisdom of the world to nothing.
The kingdom of Christ would not be impressive to the world’s eyes, but to Christ it is His beloved bride who he came and died for. This is the Jesus Matthew is introducing. This is the Jesus Matthew wants you to believe in; to love.
This Jesus, called the Christ, or anointed one, is our salvation. The name Jesus means Jehovah has become our salvation. Matthew presents Jesus is the head of a new creation that can never perish. He is the blessed seed of Abraham; through faith in him we receive all of God’s eternal blessings. Jesus is the promised Son of David; even know he reigns over his kingdom; the church of the Lord Jesus. And Jesus has become our liberator who has set us free from sin and judgment.
Paul writes in II Cor. 1:20 that all the promises of God find their yes in Christ. This glorious Jesus introduced to us in Matthew’s genealogy, this Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God, Liberator of captives, King of kings, this Jesus; is not ashamed to call those who have trusted in him his friends. This Jesus is also our savior friend! Amen