The Theology of the family tree of Jesus According to St. Matthew. "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16)
At first glance, you might think that the genealogical and family tree of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17 is dull and boring. And so, in your reading, you might try to skip over these verses thinking that it does not have a relevant application to you as a Christian.
However, if you will see the genealogy of Jesus in light of its historical and covenantal background, you will realize that His genealogy is a big deal that will seriously affect not only your life as a Christian but even the state of your soul before God. Why?
Simply because if Jesus is not the true promised Messiah, then Judaism has been so long right to say that we are worshipping a false god, created by the fanatic devotion and hallucinations of the apostles of Jesus.
Obviously then, this was a serious and relevant controversy during the Apostles’ time. And be reminded that the author of what we call “The Gospel according to St. Matthew” was one of the 12 Apostles.
Matthew was a former tax collector who had been judged by his countrymen as a traitor to his nation due to his service to foreign enslaving country – Rome. But by the grace of God, Jesus called him and ever since that time, Matthew’s life was never the same again.
And here in the “Gospel according to St. Matthew,” Matthew carefully presented the identity and family tree of Jesus, proving to his Jewish readers that this Jesus who called him was actually the Promised One by whom all the promises of God find their satisfying fulfillment.
And it is noteworthy to observe that one of the major internal evidence that he presented in his book to validate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, was by tracing back Jesus’ genealogy to two major biblical figures, dividing the family tree of Jesus into 3 major genealogical unified-sets, each having its own emphasis.
They are the following,
1. From Abraham to David (Matthew 1:2-6a)
2. From King David to Babylon (Matthew 1:6b-11)
3. From Babylon to Christ (Matthew 1:12-16)
Before we observe the significance of this genealogical flow and division, it must be said that before Matthew traced back the royal genealogy of Christ, he already stated in Matthew 1:1 his findings or conclusion by saying that what he is going to present in this book is about the “generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
This is critical for Matthew because "Matthew is the Gospel in which, as in no other, our Lord is offering Himself to the Jews as their Messiah-King, performing His Messianic miracle-credentials, and uttering the “laws” and “mysteries” of the kingdom."
1st Genealogical Set in the family tree of Jesus - Matthew 1:2-6
Abraham - Isaac - Jacob - Judah - Phares - Esrom - Aram - Aminadab - Naasson - Salmon - Booz - Obed - Jesse - David.
In this first genealogical set, Matthew is establishing not only the fact that Jesus is a real Jew but that He is the promised seed of Abraham by whom all the children of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 13:14-18; Galatians 3:14-17).
In other words, the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are not racially dependent or limited to Jewish race only, but rather it is Christological in its fulfillment. Meaning to say, it is received by those who put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
That’s why when Jesus was debating against the hard-headed Jews and Pharisees, who based divine blessings upon racial connections to Abraham, Jesus clearly said, that they were dead wrong because the true sons of Abraham are those who put their faith in Him (John 8:39-44).
And so in the spiritual sense, St. Paul said, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:28-29).
2nd Genealogical Set in the family tree of Jesus - Matthew 1:6b-11
David - Solomon - Roboam - Abia - Asa - Josaphat - Joram - Ozias - Joatham - Achaz - Ezekias - Manasses - Amon - Josiah - Jeconiah.
The scriptures clearly and prophetically say that “the Christ” will come from the line of David (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 37:24). This is the emphasis of the 2nd set.
God through the prophet Nathan declared that the throne of David will be perpetual in a sense that the promised King of kings will come literally from his royal lineage and will rule the earth forever and ever (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 2).
For the Jews, the Davidic Covenant is both their hope and their pride, knowing that Israel through the Messiah will become the center of power, glory, riches, and holiness in the entire world (Psalm 72:8-11; Zechariah 14:1-4, 9).
This is truly amazing and what actually makes them a special race among the nations of the world. Yet, this is not because of them but solely because of the choice and promises of God (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
At the present time, the glorious future of Israel is not yet happening because we are still in what the theologians call as “the Age of the Church.” But at the Second Coming of Christ, He will come literally to Israel and will establish the center of His reign in Jerusalem and from there He will rule the whole world (Isaiah 52:7; Zechariah 9:9).
Moreover, it is good to know that the nature of God’s covenant with David is unconditional. Meaning to say, its fulfillment is neither founded upon David’s efforts nor upon his descendants’ faithfulness to God – just like in the case of king Jeconiah – but solely upon God’s faithfulness and redemptive plan in Christ Jesus (Psalm 89:3-4, 29-37; Romans 15:8).
“The Jews were a nation who lived in the future. In this respect, they stand alone among the peoples of antiquity. No nation ever cherished such strong expectations of a good time coming or clung more tenaciously amid defeat and disaster to the certainty of final triumph over all enemies and of entrance upon a state of perfect peace and happiness.”
And that’s the message of Matthew’s gospel to the Jews – Jesus of Nazareth is the long awaited Messiah. This Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary and the legal son of Joseph was the personal and substantial fulfillment of the promised King who will usher Israel to eternal glory and bliss.
3rd Genealogical Set in the family tree of Jesus - Matthew 1:12-16
Jeconiah - Salathiel - Zorobabel - Abiud - Eliakim - Azor - Sadoc - Achim - Eliud - Eleazar - Matthan - Jacob - Joseph - Jesus.
There was a time when due to Israel’s continuous rebellion before God, they had been banished away from their land and had been put into slavery under the harsh government of their ferocious enemies starting from the Babylonian Captivity.
In Jewish history, this is what they call “Diaspora,” in which the Northern Kingdom went as slaves into Assyria (2 Kings 17:23) and Judah to Babylon (2 Kings 25:21). It was a very dangerous time because the pagan nations had been planning to obliterate Israel from the face of the earth.
However, by God’s providence, Israel was miraculously spared and the line of the Messiah was preserved. Thus, the significance of this 3rd genealogical set is to show God’s protection to the royal line of King David and to testify divine faithfulness in keeping His promise, even though the descendants of David failed to do their part in their covenant relationship with Him.
Some Important Notes in Matthew 1:16
At the end of the genealogical line of Jesus, Matthew shows that Joseph and Mary were verified descendants of King David (Matthew 1:16, Luke 2:1-5). And yet, we know that they were just humble and simple citizens of the Jewish society; they were not high profiled people endowed with wealth and power.
But then, it is heartwarming to see here that God chose to fulfill His great promise through the instrumentality of unknown, common, and uninfluential people (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Looking closely at Matthew 1:16, Matthew carefully noted that Jesus was not born of Joseph. The critics usually use this as their jumping board to show an alleged biblical contradiction and to argue that since Jesus is not a biological son of Joseph, therefore, He is not also a legitimate descendant of King David for He is not blood-related to him.
Basically, there are two ways to answer this objection: First, as mentioned already, even though “Jesus is not the physical son of Joseph,” “he is the legal son and therefore a descendant of David” or has the right to the throne of David.
Second, Mary herself came from the line of King David because at that time, when Caesar Augustus signed a decree to make a census in all Roman territory, Joseph and Mary went to their tribal home in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David himself, to be registered in (Luke 2:1-4).
And prophetically speaking, in Micah 5:2, the prophet declared that the promised Messiah will come out of Bethlehem, a common knowledge that the priests and scribes of the Jewish religion believe in (Matthew 2:1-6).
Concerning the conception of Mary, the Prophet Isaiah said long time ago,
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14).
The divine “sign” that a “virgin shall conceive” is of course naturally impossible if considered according to physical relations and laws. No world religion has ever proclaimed and claimed that kind of sign except the God of the Judeo-Christian religion.
However, the impossibility of this sign is the very sign itself that God is the One who will bring it to pass; it is a divine historical landmark that heralds the coming of the Messiah to the world. That’s why in the genealogical records of Matthew, he made it sure that Isaiah 7:14 has come to pass.
Take note that after his concluding remarks in Matthew 1:17, he immediately tells the story of how the Virgin Birth happened in Matthew 18-25, even quoting Isaiah 7:14 to prove that the prophecy has been fulfilled in Mary, the mother of Jesus.
And by this fulfillment, Matthew declared that Jesus is the “Christ,” the promised “Immanuel” or “the God with us,” the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16) who came from God the Father to fulfill the promise of divine covenants and redemption of sinners (Romans 1:1-6; Romans 15:8-9).
Moreover, in the study of the genealogical tracing that Matthew has presented here, the key word to understand his point is the word “begat.” From Matthew 2-16, the word “begat” is always there because Matthew is emphasizing the critical importance of the royal lineage of the Messiah.
But on the other hand, in order to show the uniqueness of the Messiah apart from the sons of men, he did not use the word “begat” for Jesus, because He was no mere man. Again, in Matthew 16, this is how Matthew stated it, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
Joseph is “the husband of Mary” but he is not the natural father of Jesus. The critical importance of this note is much appreciated and understood by studying the lives and legacies of the kings of Judah.
In Jeremiah 22:24-30, there was a divine curse that had been pronounced against the terrible sins of King Jeconiah (Matthew 1:11), saying that no descendant of Jeconiah would sit as king of Judah.
And so the problem is since God had pronounced this kind of judgment upon the royal line of David, how then can God fulfill His promise to David (1 Chronicle 22:7-10) that there will always be seed on the throne? How can Jesus become the son of David or the Messiah if God had already cursed the line of David through Jeconiah?
One of the proposed answers to this question is the nature of the Virgin Birth. Truly, the descendants of Jeconiah had suffered the consequence of his and their sins. It was during his time that Judah had been sieged and brought down as slaves to Babylon.
So in that sense, no descendants of Jeconiah had sat down on the throne of David, though the royal seeds were preserved. Yet, on the one hand, since Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph, the curse is not applicable to Him and did not affect His right to the throne of David.
That’s why instead of viewing the curse over the household of Jeconiah as a seeming contradiction to God’s promise to David, it was actually a puzzling sign that would force the Jews to think and to put their trust in God, knowing that what seems to be impossible for man is actually God’s mysterious works of making His purposed wondrously displayed.
Therefore, the implication then is: The promised “seed of David” is not the son of David in a biological sense. Rather, Jesus is the covenantal son of David (just like in the case of Abraham in Galatians 3:16), in a sense that Jesus is the promised seed that God has promised to David to rule on his throne forever and ever.
And so, in the final analysis then, the promised Abrahamic and Davidic seed is not a mere man, but God-Man, the Immanuel who came into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s the theology of the family tree of Jesus according to St. Matthew.
-Baxter, Sidlow. Explore the Book. “Four Gospels Collectively.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. p.123
-Orr James (Gen Ed). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. “Messiah.” MySword Android v.7.4. 2016.
-Macarthur, John. The Macarthur Student Bible. “Intertestamental Period.” Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000. p.1258
-Barker, Kenneth (Gen Ed). The N.I.V. Study Bible. New International Version. “Comments on Matthew 1:16.” Grand Rapids; Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985. p.1441
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