A few years ago I did some research on my family tree. For now, I can only trace it back to 1833 and a man named Andrew Jackson Nelson. This man was a Roman Catholic priest in Ireland. He became a primitive Baptist minister, married a lady from North Carolina, and is buried in Southwest Virginia.
Although some may take no interest in family trees, genealogical research can be interesting. One of my students showed me that her family tree includes William Shakespeare, Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower, and President John Adams.
Genealogical research can be important. It would certainly be important to us if it determined whether or not we could receive an inheritance from a distant relative with no other heirs. To the Jews, it was crucial to establish who could be in the priesthood and inhabit or own certain land. Even in New Testament times, it was not uncommon for people to know what tribe they were from—for example, the Apostle Paul could trace his lineage to the tribe of Benjamin.
Genealogical research can also be intimidating. Some may be afraid of what they might find. What if you found prostitutes and slaves in your genealogy?
Through Paul, the Holy Spirit gives us warnings about obsessive curiosity over genealogies (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 3:9 KJV). But we are also told that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Let us look at the genealogy of Jesus in a profitable, edifying way.
Some Observations About Jesus’ Genealogy in Matthew 1
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). The structure of this genealogy is similar to Adam’s genealogy in Genesis 5; this is striking since Jesus is the Second Adam, who perfectly fulfilled God’s requirements (Rom. 5:15, 19).
Matthew does not give Jesus’ natural descent (which is only through his mother Mary), but rather his legal descent through Joseph, his legal father. Matthew was selective in the list he includes, sometimes skipping generations. His purpose was not to give a complete record, but rather to show how Christ fulfilled the promises made to David and Abraham—to show Jesus as the promised King who is the rightful ruler of David’s line, and Whose reign is perpetual and universal, blessing all nations. He shows us that God is sovereign and nothing can stop Him from keeping His promises.
The Genealogy of King Jesus Shows That God Is Sovereign over His Promises
Promise of Blessing to Abraham
God called Abram out of a land of paganism to go to a land he had not seen. He promised Abram that He would make him a great nation and bless all nations in him (Gen. 12:1-3). Genesis 15 records the solemn covenant that God made with Abram to keep His promise of a son. Before giving him this promised son, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, calling him the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4-8). After Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, God repeated His promise of blessing and told Abraham that the multitude of his descendants would be compared to the stars in heaven and the sand on the seashore (Gen. 22:16-18). God fulfilled these promises in Jesus Christ. He preserved Abraham’s seed and from it brought forth Christ, the only One in whom all people of all nations may find salvation (Gal. 3:13-14; Rev. 5:9).
Promise of Dominion to David
God chose David, the shepherd boy, to be king of Israel. God promised that David’s throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89; Ps. 132:11). “His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me” (Ps. 89:36). When Christ was born into the world, a Roman-appointed Edomite was called King of the Jews. But Christ is the true King, who reigns forever (Rev. 11:15) and fulfills God’s promises to David.
Promise of Curse to Jeconiah
Jeconiah, also called Jehoiachin and Coniah, received a different kind of promise from God. God cursed him so that “no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, ruling any more in Judah” (Jer. 22:30). Jeconiah is clearly in Joseph’s ancestry. But one purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is to prove the legal right of Jesus to rule. If Jesus were a physical descendant of Jeconiah—a “man of his seed”—he would be under the curse and could not rule as king. The virgin birth of our Lord is therefore essential for God to keep his promises—a truth that Matthew emphasizes (Matt. 1:16, 18-25).
Promise of Protection to Zerubbabel
After the exile to Babylon and the return of some of the Jews to their land, God promised Zerubbabel protection in the midst of calamity (Hag. 2:20-23). He is the last individual mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy who can be found in the Old Testament. God preserved David’s line through him and kept His promise.
The Genealogy of King Jesus Shows That God Is Sovereign over History
Matthew’s genealogy is broken up into three different time periods: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations” (Matt. 1:17). I have placed in brackets some alternate spellings of the names so the reader can identify some Old Testament personalities that may not otherwise be immediately recognizable.
From the Promise to the Glory of the Kingdom
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares [Perez] and Zara [Zerah] of Thamar [Tamar]; and Phares begat Esrom [Hezron]; and Esrom begat Aram [Ram]; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson [Nahshon]; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz [Boaz] of Rachab [Rahab]; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; (Matt. 1:2-6a)
The names in the first part of the genealogy begin with God calling Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. He believes God’s promise. God gives him a son, Isaac, who fathers Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. The family moves to Egypt during a famine and remains there as slaves for 400 years. But God does not forget his promises. He delivers them from slavery. Because of unbelief, they wander in the wilderness for 40 years and eventually inherit the promised land. Judges (champions whom God raises up to deliver His people) rule the people, but their desire to have an earthly king like the other nations results in God giving Saul to reign over them. God has David anointed as king, and the nation reaches a high point in its history as the “man after God’s own heart” promotes the glory of God. Other kings are listed in the following genealogy, but David alone is called “the king”—he is the ideal ruler that the nation knew. Although Abraham may not have been able to imagine how He could do it, God was keeping His promises and making a great nation from the seed of a once-childless couple.
From the Glory of the Kingdom to the Babylonian Captivity
and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias [Uriah]; And Solomon begat Roboam [Rehoboam]; and Roboam begat Abia [Abijah]; and Abia begat Asa [Asaph]; And Asa begat Josaphat [Jehoshaphat]; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias [Uzziah]; And Ozias begat Joatham [Jotham]; and Joatham begat Achaz [Ahaz]; and Achaz begat Ezekias [Hezekiah]; And Ezekias begat Manasses [Mannaseh]; and Manasses begat Amon [Amos]; and Amon begat Josias [Josaiah]; And Josias begat Jechonias [Jechoniah] and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: (Matt. 6b-11)
The glory of the kingdom is marred by David’s sin with the wife of Uriah. A sword remains over David’s house, resulting in trouble and heartache for him the rest of his days. During Solomon’s reign, the glorious temple is built. After Solomon’s reign, the kingdom is divided into the kingdoms of Israel (the 10 northern tribes) and Judah (Judah and Benjamin). Israel is dominated by wicked kings, while Judah has a mixture of godly and ungodly rulers. Judah struggles through periods of idolatry, culminating in the apostasy of the nation. God delivers them to their enemies, the Gentile Babylonians, and the temple built by Solomon is destroyed. In this period, the nation has fallen from the pinnacle of glory back into captivity. But none of these things kept God from keeping His promises, as Matthew was eager to demonstrate.
From the Babylonian Captivity to the Roman Occupation
And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel [Shealtiel]; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel [Zerubbabel]; And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc [Zadok]; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matt. 1:12-16)
God was still working, even in the Babylonian captivity. Some Jews, including Zerubbabel, returned to the land to rebuild and reestablish temple worship, although the nation was still under Gentile rule. From Abiud to Jacob, Matthew writes of people who lived in the time between the Old and New Testaments. By the time we get to Joseph and Mary, King David’s line has descended to obscurity. A wicked non-Jew, Herod the Great, sat on the throne when Jesus was born. Yet through all of the encouraging and discouraging events in Israel’s history, God kept His promise to send the Christ (Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah, or anointed, cf. Jn. 1:41).
Note that everyone in the genealogy begat someone until Joseph is mentioned. Joseph did not beget the Christ, although he was Christ’s legal father. His position stands in contrast with that of Mary—the word whom in verse 16 ( “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ”) is singular, referring to Mary alone. Matthew here recognizes the virgin birth of our Lord. He is the Anointed One whom God ordained to sit on the throne of David, and nothing could stop God from keeping His promise.
Just as nothing could stop God from keeping His promise to send the true King of Israel, nothing can stop Christ from returning—no matter what transpires in the world.
In the conclusion of this article, we will look at how the genealogy of King Jesus shows God’s sovereignty over the lives of individuals and what our response to His sovereignty should be.
Doug Smith is a member of Cornerstone Chapel Reformed Baptist Church (Bristol, TN) and a student and preacher with the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, an extension of Bancroft Gospel Ministries (Kingsport, TN). You may contact him at email@example.com. His blog is located at Glory Gazer.