Rev. Marcus is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The book of generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Jesus Christ is the promised King who saves His people from their sins. These words, and the genealogy that follows, point to the glorious truth of the gospel.
The words with which Matthew begins his Gospel account remind us of Genesis 5:1: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.” Just as Genesis reveals the generations of the first Adam, Matthew reveals to us the generations of the second Adam. Genesis records the first Adam’s fall from glory; Matthew records the second Adam’s rise to a far more glorious position. Genesis records the first gospel promise; Matthew speaks of the fulfillment of that promise.
Something that Matthew stresses throughout his Gospel account is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. The genealogy of Jesus is a significant example of prophecy fulfilled.
Matthew proves that Jesus Christ is the promised King who would come from the line of David and Abraham. In furnishing that proof, the Holy Spirit through Matthew also gives us to understand something about Jesus, the savior of sinners.
What could be so important about a long list of names? Why would the Holy Spirit put a genealogy at the very beginning of the first book in the New Testament? The reason is revealed in the introductory sentence of Matthew’s Gospel: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The genealogy found in the first chapter of Matthew proves that Jesus is truly the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Almost one thousand years earlier, God had promised David an offspring who would sit on his throne for ever: “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (II Sam. 7:12-13). David’s Seed would establish a kingdom for Himself. But, unlike David, this King would establish an everlasting kingdom. He would build a spiritual house and kingdom for His name where His people would dwell together in covenant fellowship with Him.
But in order to establish His kingdom, the King must have the right to sit on David’s throne. That means that the King’s father must also have the right to the throne. Just as the right of inheritance passed from father to son through the generations, so it was with the heir to the throne. That’s why Matthew’s Gospel traces Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph. Even though Joseph was not Jesus’ real father, Joseph was Jesus’ legal father. At the end of Matthew’s genealogy we read, “and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt. 1:16). Because Joseph had the legal right to the throne of David, so did Jesus. Matthew’s genealogy proves that Jesus had the proper credentials to sit on the throne of David.
Jesus Christ is the King who rightfully sits on the throne of David in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise.
But God also gave His covenant promise to Abraham. “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:7-8). By tracing Jesus’ genealogy back through Abraham, the Holy Spirit is telling us that Jesus is the One Seed of Abraham, who would inherit the land (cf. also Gal. 3:16). Jesus would obtain the everlasting possession.
The Seed of Abraham would obtain the land for a possession by exercising His kingly office. He would fight against Satan and sin and death and He would overcome. Having obtained the inheritance, the King will give that inheritance to His people. Jesus teaches that very thing: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Jesus, the Son of Abraham, inherits the land and gives that inheritance to us, His people.
Essentially, then, the promise to Abraham and to David was the same promise. Matthew tells us that the promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus was the long-expected Seed, who would both inherit the land (i.e., kingdom) and rule over it as the rightful heir of the kingdom; He is the Son of Abraham and the Son of David.
Just as David ruled over Israel, Christ now rules. He has the right and the power to rule graciously over the church. He has the right and the power to rule over all creatures for our sakes. King Jesus will gain the victory over all His and our enemies.
What a beautiful truth! King Jesus cares for us, His subjects! He has obtained a glorious inheritance for us and preserves us in that inheritance.
When we think of such a glorious inheritance, we might ask, “How do I know that this inheritance is for a sinner such as I am?” But the inspired genealogy comforts us when we see in it a long list of sinners.
Look at the list of kings that Matthew records. Even though David was a child of God and was considered to be a good king, he was an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon multiplied wives to himself and ended up serving their idols. Under Rehoboam, Judah became even more wicked than before. Throughout the history of Judah, more often than not, the kings were wicked. Jehoram was a wicked king who married Athaliah the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Manasseh was so evil that he went so far as to sacrifice his son in the fire.
No doubt we could find faults in each of the kings. That’s because they were all sinners, with their own besetting sins. Because of their sinfulness, not one of those kings deserved to rule over God’s people. But Jesus was perfectly righteous. He deserves to be King over God’s people. Not only that, after Jesus paid the debt for all our sins, God raised Him up and set Him at God’s right hand in heaven.
None of the kings listed in Jesus’ genealogy was completely faithful. They all failed as types. But Jesus was faithful even unto death, so that He could establish the kingdom for His people. By His blood He bought the citizenship rights of His people. Jesus does what no other king could do. Jesus alone establishes and maintains the kingdom that God promised from the beginning of time.
It is significant that the Holy Spirit also mentions a number of sinful women in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was the one who played the whore with her father-in-law and bore Pharez. Rahab was an undeserving harlot from Jericho, whom God brought to faith so that she helped the spies. Ruth, another Gentile, was a Moabitess, of the illegitimate offspring of Lot and his daughter. Bathsheba was guilty of adultery.
What a lineage! What kind of background is this for the King of kings?
We might be tempted to think, “How unseemly! How unfitting that Jesus would have such people in His genealogy.”
But the opposite is true. How fitting that the King who came to save sinners would come from a long line of sinners. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Tim. 1:15). Some people think they have to make themselves good enough if Jesus would save them. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ came to save sinners just like you and just like me. He came to save the very sinners who were His ancestors too. How appropriate then that Matthew should introduce us to our King through His genealogy.
Jesus is the King able to save to the uttermost. He is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. He descended from sinners to save sinners. Let that truth sink into our hearts and minds as we consider the genealogy of the baby Jesus.