Matt. 1:1-17

Matthew 1:1-17 – The Expected Son of David Is Here

Not many modern writers I’m aware of would start their works with a genealogy. And I’m not sure many modern readers would tolerate it if they did. So what happens when we come to the Gospel according to Matthew in the New Testament? Do we read the first line and immediately jump to verse 17 to get on with the good stuff? Do we have the patience required to hear how Asa fathered Jehoshophat and Jehoshapat fathered Jehoram, on and on, world without end, Amen? We might not, but then again, if this is God’s Word, we might do well to first ask what this genealogy is trying to accomplish and what it tells us about its main topic.

The first thing we need to remember is that we are reading a book that was written in the first century. This is significant. We first need to approach it on its own terms and recognize Hebrew and Christian literary devices and works. While much debate surrounds the genre classification of the four Gospels the easiest way to first approach them is to see them as a form of ancient biography. The word “ancient” is important because the four Gospels don’t read like a John F. Kennedy biography. Instead, these books were written by eyewitnesses and disciples of eyewitnesses of Jesus who want you to know who Jesus was and trust in who he is still today.

Pre-Matthew

Part of communicating to us who Jesus was hinges on what precedes Matthew, namely, the Hebrew Tanakh, or what Christians call the Old Testament. Ever since Genesis 3 (The Fall), the world has awaited someone who would come and right the wrong. Who would restore the relationship with God lost in our rebellion against him? Who even could restore the relationship? But in what’s called the protoevangelium (Latin for the “first gospel”), we are given the first glimpse at good news: speaking to the serpent God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15, TNIV, emphasis mine). Already, immediately following The Fall, yes God punishes the sin, but he also promises a crushing of Satan that would come from the offspring of the woman.

The Scriptures move forward and God writes covenants with people whom he chooses (for example, Abraham, see Genesis 12 and following, or Moses, see Exodus 3-4 and 32-34) and brings Israel as a nation into being. He sets up the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system and eventually the Israelites receive a king and soon David takes to the throne, a man after God’s heart (1 Sam. 13:14).

In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a promise to David. There is no temple in Jerusalem at this time and David has decided that he would be the one to build a house for God to dwell in. But God turns it around on him. God says that he will build a house (household, family, dynasty) for David (v. 11b) (this is a pun in the Hebrew, the word ‘bayit’ can mean both ‘house’ as in a building and ‘family’ or ‘dynasty’).[1] Then he says in verses 12-16,

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by human beings, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (TNIV)

So, who is God talking about? On the face of it, the “Sunday School Answer” won’t work. It’s not Jesus. How would you then deal with verse 14: “When he does wrong I will punish him”? The answer is that God is talking about Solomon, David’s direct son. And indeed, Solomon will be the one to build a temple for God (see 1 Kings 6).

But something more is going on here. God tells David that his house and his kingdom will endure forever; his throne will be established forever. There are two options for what this means. Either David will always have a direct descendent on the throne, one after another after another forever (which didn’t happen), or a son of David will come who will reign eternally. Yes, the Messiah will come and reign on David’s throne. The Messiah is a type of David, so that when we come to Hebrews 1:5 in the New Testament, the writer can attribute 2 Sam. 7:14 (“I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”) directly about Jesus.  

And this then becomes built into the expectations of the Israelites for centuries following so that Jeremiah can say, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land…. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior’” (Jer. 23:5-6, TNIV). Space doesn’t permit our looking even into Isaiah or the Minor Prophets right down to the fourth century before Christ.

Back to Matthew

But finally we turn the pages into the New Testament and return to Matthew, about one millennium after David and about six centuries after Jeremiah. Matthew begins his Gospel, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew then traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham to David, from David to the Babyonian exile and from that exile to Jesus himself.

There you have it; the genealogy has a great purpose indeed.  Matthew has just tied the whole Bible’s storyline together. The seed of the offspring of Abraham, the expected son of David, the one who would reign eternally, the one first vaguely but certainly prophesied about in Genesis 3, the one more clearly talked about for centuries by the prophets…  he has come in the flesh and his name is Jesus.


[1] Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. electronic ed. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000. בַּ֫יִת
Carson, D. A. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. In location.

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