Jesus The Son of Man: His OT Roots
The identity and mission of Jesus are incomprehensible apart from an understanding of his roots in the OT. Jesus did not appear in a historical vacuum. He entered history not merely as a man, but as a Jewish man who brings the OT to its proper consummation. As Christopher Wright has said,
"Jesus is . . . 'the end of the line', as far as the Old Testament story goes. It has run its completed course in preparation for him, and now its goal or climax has been reached" (Knowing Jesus Through The OT, p. 7).
There is no better place to see this unveiled than in the opening verses of Matthew's gospel.
Why does Matthew begin with a genealogy? It strikes the modern reader as odd, even boring. But in ancient Jewish society genealogies were an essential way of establishing one's right to belong to the community of God's people (cf. 1 Chron. 1-9; Ezra 2,8). Says Wright, "your ancestry was your identity and your status. Jesus, then, was not just 'a man'. He was a particular person born within a living culture. His background, ancestry and roots, were shaped and influenced, as all his contemporaries were, by the history and fortunes of his people" (p. 3).
Also, Matthew is especially determined to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the rightful, legal descendant of the royal line of King David, heir to the promises made to the fathers.
A. Who Is He? - 1:1
1. He is the Christ - v. 1a
He is not simply "Jesus". He is "Jesus, the Christ", the anointed one, the "Messiah". In the OT many were anointed: the priests (Lev. 4:3), kings (1 Sam. 16:13), even the pagan ruler Cyrus (Isa. 45:1). But Jesus is alone the anointed of God, the Messiah, the Christ.
It is a royal title, not his last name! However, later it did come to be used as a personal name.
2. He is the son of David - v. 1b
The Jews were a waiting people, waiting for that one true descendant of David who would bring to pass the fulfillment of all the OT had promised. When Matthew calls Jesus the Son of David, he is saying: "People, your wait is over. He is here!"
The importance of Jesus being of the lineage of David: cf. 1 Chron. 17:11-14; Isa. 9:6-7; Ps. 89:3-4; Acts 2:29-32; Rom. 1:3; Rev. 22:16.
Note well: in v. 6 he is called "King" David. Matthew thus makes the royal theme explicit: the King, the one whose very presence would usher in the kingdom over which he rules, has come in the person of Jesus.
3. He is the son of Abraham - v. 1c
If he is the son of David, it goes without saying that he is also the son of Abraham. So why does Matthew say it? Because the covenant was first made with Abraham (Gen. 12). Also, Gen. 22:18 had promised that through Abraham's seed "all the nations" would be blessed, Gentile as well as Jew. Thus by referring to Jesus as "son of Abraham", Matthew is preparing us for the final words of his gospel account: "go and make disciples of all nations."
B. Where did he come from? - 1:2-17
Some observations on the genealogy:
(1) See v. 17. Envision the genealogy as if it were a leaning "N", depicting three stages in Israel's history. The first 14 generations head upward from Abraham to David. The second 14 plummet downward from Solomon to the Babylonian Captivity. The third surge upward again from the Captivity to Christ.
(2) Note also that several names have been omitted. "Was born to" or "was the father of" do not require an immediate relationship but may mean "was the ancestor of" or "became the progenitor of".
(3) Why "14"? Probably for three reasons. First, it was a way to facilitate memorization. But second, and more important, it focused on the importance of David and Jesus' descent from him. In the ancient world letters served not only as the building blocks of words; they also had numerical value. The Hebrew name "David" has the numerical value of 14 (D = 4, W = 6, D = 4, = 14). David's name is itself the fourteenth entry. Finally, "if we take the three fourteens as multiples of seven (i.e., six sevens), then with the coming of Christ we are about to enter the seventh seven, the period of perfection and fulfillment" (Donald Hagner, Matthew, p. 6).
(4) There has been considerable speculation about why Matthew's genealogy differs from Luke's. Two proposals have been made: a) Luke present Mary's genealogy, while Matthew gives us Joseph's. b) Luke records Jesus' actual biological ancestry through Joseph, while Matthew gives his legal ancestry by which he was the legitimate heir to the throne of David.
1. from Abraham to David - vv. 2-6a
2. from Solomon to the Babylonian Captivity - vv. 6b-11
3. from the Captivity to the Christ - vv. 12-16
The Women in the Genealogy of Jesus
The presence in this genealogy of Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v. 5), Ruth (v. 5), and Bathsheba (v. 6) is astounding. If Matthew had ransacked the OT for improbable candidates he could not have discovered four more unlikely ancestors for Jesus. No Jewish family would ever have used the stories of Tamar or Rahab or Bathsheba as role models for their children.
1) Women are rarely if ever mentioned in a genealogical record. They had no legal rights and were consigned to a low social status.
2) All four of these women were foreigners or non-Jews. Tamar was a Canaanite, Rahab a native of Jericho, Ruth a Moabite, and Bathsheba, although the daughter of an Israelite, was considered a Hittite because of her marriage to Uriah.
Most genealogies were constructed to demonstrate precisely that a person's line had been kept free from contamination by Gentile blood. Yet the genealogy of Jesus is intersected again and again by Gentiles. This Jew had Gentile blood! King David's great-great-great grandmother (Tamar) was a Canaanite. King David's great-great grandmother (Rahab) was a native of Jericho. King David's great grandmother (Ruth) was Moabite. And he had a Hittite wife!
3) The most remarkable fact of all is that each of these four women was either sexually immoral or the product of sexual immorality.
See the discussion of these women and their lives in my book, Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God (NavPress), pp. 274-81.
a. Tamar (Gen. 38)
b. Rahab (Joshua 2,5)
Although not herself personally immoral, Ruth was a Moabite, the descendants of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his first-born daughter (Gen. 19:30-37; Deut. 23:3). According to the text in Deut., Moabites were forever excluded from the assembly of the Lord.
An adulteress, Matthew blushes even to pronounce her name, referring to her simply as the one "who had been the wife of Uriah" (v. 6).
1) This is Matthew's way of telling us that in Jesus the barriers between male and female are torn down. Men and women stand equally before God. God is not a sexist!
2) It is his way of telling us that in Jesus the barriers between Jew and Gentile are torn down. In Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile. God is not a racist!
3) By including these notoriously sinful women, Matthew is preaching the gospel of grace in a genealogy! The point is that God can overcome any and all sin and can use the most soiled of human souls to accomplish his greatest purposes in history. This doesn't make sin o.k. It simply magnifies the grace of God. Matthew will tell us in 9:13 that Jesus came "not for the righteous, but for sinners." Here in the genealogy he tells us that he also came "through sinners."
"The four model matriarchs of Jewish history were Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, the wives, respectively, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These four women are conspicuous by their absence here. Their husbands are all here, and so there was opportunity for Matthew to include the good wives. But Matthew gives the church four new matriarchs, and all of them preach the gospel of the deep and wide mercy of God" (Bruner, p. 6).
It was Martin Luther who said that "it is as though God intended for the reader of this genealogy to say, 'Oh, Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners -- in fact, He even puts them in his family tree!"
4) Jesus was a willing descendant of human shame! "He was not ashamed to call us brothers" (Heb. 2:11). Contrast this with Herod the Great(!), reigning king at the time of Jesus' birth. Herod had his genealogical records destroyed out of vanity because he wanted no one to compare his background and ancestry with that of others.
5) This genealogy reveals the strange and mysterious work of divine providence, i.e., God's control over history. He uses the righteous and the wicked to accomplish his purpose: wicked Rehoboam was the father of wicked Abijah, who was the father of the good king Asa. Asa was the father of the good king Jehoshaphat, who was the progenitor of the wicked king Joram. "Good or evil," observes D. A. Carson, "they were part of Messiah's lline; for though grace does not run in the blood, God's providence cannot be deceived or outmaneuvered" (p. 67).
6) Donald Hagner focuses on how "the women prefigure Mary by calling attention to the abundant presence of both surprise and scandal in the Messiah's lineage. The sovereign plan and purpose of God are often worked out in and through the most unlikely turn of events, and even through women who, though Gentiles or harlots, are receptive to God's will. The virgin birth and the importance of Mary are just such surprising and scandalous (though in Mary's case only seemingly scandalous) ways through which God brings his purposes to realization in the story of Jesus. The women then serve as reminders that God often works in the most unusual ways and that to be open to his sovereign activity is to be prepared for the surprising" (10).
7) The ultimate message of the genealogy is found in Matt. 1:21 - it is Jesus who saves his people from their sins: whether deception, adultery, incest, or even murder.
The genealogy of Jesus teaches us that we must not believe the lie that our sin is greater in its power to produce evil (chaos, confusion, destruction) than is God's grace in its power to produce good (purpose, clarity, edification). Nothing is irredeemable, irretrievable, irreparable when Jesus is present.
The genealogy of Jesus teaches us that we must not believe the lie that our sin forever disqualifies us from usefulness to God and His kingdom/church.
Envision the shame and reproach of Judah, Tamar, and Rahab. Envision the public humiliation to which they were subjected. But God says: "Fear not, for I will turn your shame into praise. I will replace beauty for ashes and bring forth the redeemer of all sin, even your sin, from what you've done!"