Christmas in the Genealogy, Matthew 1
The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew who had been a Jewish tax collector before Jesus converted him and commanded him to “follow me”. Matthew was writing his Gospel to fellow Jews persuading them to recognize Jesus as their long awaited Messiah. Therefore, naturally Matthew would quote far more Old Testament passages to prove Jesus fulfilled everything the prophets predicted about the Messiah. Just as important to first century Jews was his genealogy, which Matthew gave in his first chapter. Matthew’s major purpose in his gospel was to establish Jesus’ right to be Israel’s Messiah and King. If Jesus is to be King there must be proof He is descended from David. In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised that one of David’s descendants would be the eternal King of Israel as well as the King of the Kingdom of God. The prophets predicted that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and be of the tribe of Judah, and the family of David. The prophets also said the Messiah would be born of a virgin, and born in Bethlehem. All of which Matthew confirms to be true of Jesus as well. In Matthew 1-2, the author will give four proofs of Jesus’ right to be the Messiah and the King of Israel. First of all, He fulfills the genealogy. In Matt.1:22-23, he confirms Jesus’ virgin birth, and thirdly we have the testimony of the Wise Men in Matt.2:2. Fourthly, Matthew gives us fulfillment of four of the O.T. prophecies: the virgin birth, born in Bethlehem 2:6, His parents took Him and fled to Egypt to escape Herod 2:15, and in 2:18 the predicted massacre of the children in Bethlehem.
It is fitting that the Christmas story begins with the genealogy of Jesus since it is necessary to prove up His office of Messiah by His ancestry. Today, 2000 years later genealogy has become a big deal to Americans whose ancestors came from all over the world. The genealogy industry accounted for over $3 billion in 2018, and continues to grow. One jokester said, “I trace my family history so I will know who to blame”. He also said, “You know you are a genealogy addict when you trace your relatives back to Adam and Eve, but you still keep researching.” One family discovered that a great uncle was a criminal executed in the electric chair, but they asked the genealogist to be discreet. The researcher listed “Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important institution, and was attached to his position by strong ties. His death came as a great shock.”
The word genealogy comes from the Greek word meaning “the making of a pedigree”. It is the study of family history and the tracing of their lineages. Genealogists primarily use historical records and genetic analysis, and they usually present their findings in charts with written narratives. The terms genealogy and family history are related, but have a slight difference in definition. The Society of Genealogists describes genealogy as “the establishment of a pedigree by extracting evidence from valid sources of how one generation is connected to the next. Family history is a biographical study of proven family and of the community and country in which they lived”. Family history is an important part of some religions like the Mormons, who keep a detailed record of their family tree because of their practice of baptism for the dead. In most ancient cultures, ones genealogy has been a source of political and social status. In many countries like Ireland, you can obtain citizenship by proving that one of your grandparents was born in Ireland. A Jew can become an Israeli citizen if he can prove his parents or grandparents were Jewish. Historically in Europe, the focus of genealogy was on the relation and descent from rulers and nobles. This determined your birthright to land, wealth, and power.
Matthew 1, The Genealogy of Christ Jesus
The Old Testament ends with the prophets predicting/prophesying the coming of Messiah. They said he would be the descendant of Abraham, tribe of Judah, family of David, born in Bethlehem, and born of a virgin. Other details about the Messiah were that He would have a forerunner like Elijah who would introduce Him, His ministry would be in the Galilee, He would do miracles, speak the Word of God, be crucified, atone for the sins of believers, and then be resurrected. There were at least 48 prophecies about the birth narrative alone, and all of these prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus. What are the odds? Matthew knew that the first thing he would have to prove to his Jewish audience was the genealogy of Jesus dating back to David. The Jews concern for pedigrees derived its great importance from God’s gift of the land in the book of Joshua. After Israel took the land from the Canaanites the land was surveyed and divided into territories for each tribe except the priestly tribe of Levi. Each tribe was given its land as a permanent residence, and each family was given land or a home site to be theirs forever. Therefore each family had to keep accurate records of genealogy to determine to which tribe and which land within that tribe they belonged. The transfer of property required accurate knowledge of the family tree. Even if the land was lost or sold it would always be returned to that family in the Year of Jubilee according to Leviticus 25:9. The Year of Jubilee was the 50th year in which all debt was forgiven, and all property was returned to its original owners. We know from the first century Jewish historian Josephus that even during the times of Jesus Jewish families maintained detailed ancestral files. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. destroyed all the genealogies, which is interesting because no one after 70 A.D. would be able to establish a verifiable claim to the messianic line—other than Jesus.
Spies, Gentiles, and Prostitutes along with Kings
Matthew 1 begins with a 17 verse 40 name genealogy going back 42 generations, and over 2,000 years. This genealogy was unique in that it included everybody good and bad. 99% if not all genealogies leave out the bad characters, horse thieves, prostitutes, and ne’er do wells. People today doing resumes edit, exaggerate the good stuff, and leave out the bad stuff—but Matthew did just the opposite, he added everyone. In Matthew’s lineage, Jesus is the rightful legal heir to the covenant promises associated with David’s throne. The lineage is comprised of men, women, adulterers, prostitutes, heroes, and Gentiles because Jesus is the Savior of us all.
Once again we can say that no one would write this if they could, and no one could if they would.
Breaking Down Barriers
The genealogy of Jesus broke through many barriers, as did His life and ministry. We see in Matthew 1:1-17 that the genealogy of Jesus broke down the barriers of:
Gender—the typical Jewish genealogy never included women, but Matthew included 5 women. Tamar was Judah’s daughter in-law in Genesis 38. Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute in Jericho that helped the Jewish spies. Ruth was the Moabite woman. Bathsheba was the naked woman bathing in her back yard that committed adultery with David. Of course Mary was the mother of Jesus.
Jew vs. Gentile—three of the women were Canaanites and one was a Moabite. According to Deut. 23:3 no Moabite could enter the Temple premises. Moab was the son of Lot by his incestuous relationship with his daughter. Moses commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, and forbid intermarriage with them.
Sinners—Tamar tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her, and Judah was a regular visitor to the pagan temple prostitutes. Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who married Salmon and begat Boaz. In Matt.1:6, we read that “the wife of Uriah” was in the lineage of Jesus. The author wants you to know that Bathsheba was married, so David and Bathsheba committed adultery and murder. In v.7-11, we read an alternating number of good and evil kings in the lineage.
Time—then and now is brought together with the beginning being the supernatural birth of Isaac when his father Abraham was 100 years old, and the end being the supernatural birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that one of his descendants would bless the whole world. The genealogy brings time together.
It was God’s plan from the beginning to break down all barriers as He told Abraham, “I will bless the whole world through one of your descendants”. Mankind puts up barriers between us because of sin, but Jesus broke down all the barriers caused by man’s sin, like man made religions, gender, race, and the subtle barrier of the self righteous vs. sinners. Jesus broke down all these barriers in order to save everyone who would believe. What was His motivation? 1 John 4:7 says “God is love”, and John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”. Jesus loves men and women, people of all races—no matter what religion they were born and indoctrinated into, and Jesus loves the max sinners as well as the mild sinners. Christmas is all about the love of God expressed in the birth of Christ, so the message of Christmas is GOD LOVES YOU.