The Gospel according to Matthew opens with these words:
‘The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham’ (Matt 1:1).
Matthew is informing us in this opening verse that his gospel account of the person and ministry of Jesus the Messiah begins with a record of His lineage and birth. But since Abraham obviously precedes David in time and history it’s surprising to read that Jesus Christ is identified as ‘the Son of David’ first. The answer to this however, becomes apparent as we read on. Matthew traces the lineage of the Messiah from Abraham through ‘David the king’ (Matt 1:6) to ‘Joseph the husband of Mary’ (Matt 1:16). Matthew is particularly concerned with demonstrating from this genealogy the Messiah’s national & royal ancestry and showing from the specific details he relates about His birth just as to how Jesus is the legal & rightful heir of David. So, it’s with good reason that the angel of the LORD specifically refers to Joseph as ‘son of David’ and not ‘son of Abraham’ (Matt 1:20). The focus is on the coming of the Davidic king and Joseph will make the vital link between Jesus and David. Thus, the importance in the order of verse 1; it’s ‘the son of David’ first.
Matthew therefore writes about the birth of Jesus and His early days in chapters 1 & 2 of his gospel with the focus on Joseph and his role in the story.
The significance then of this opening verse of the New Testament finds its answer in the covenants of promise which God gave to these two men. These covenants of divine grace are central to the unfolding storyline of the Old Testament. They are related to God’s first promise of a Saviour given in the Garden of Eden after the fall of man and the entrance of sin into the world. He promised there would be a victorious conqueror who would defeat the ‘serpent’ with this person being identified as the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). The people through whom this offspring would come and the tribe and family to which He would belong, as well as the office He would occupy became apparent as history progressed. The covenant promises to Abraham and David brought God’s first promise of a Saviour into sharper focus as He chose and established the family line through whom He would come.
Among all that God promised to Abraham, He assured him that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3) and again, “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 22:18). The apostle Paul explains the significance of these assurances. He writes: ‘And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham’ and then Paul states, ‘Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ’ (Gal 3:8-9, 16). It’s Jesus the Christ or Messiah, who coming as the descendant of Abraham in His humanity has brought in His person and by His sacrificial work on the Cross the blessing of salvation to the nations. That’s why at the end of this gospel we read:
‘And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen’ (Matt 28:18-20).
To David, God’s chosen king of the tribe of Judah and family of Jesse, God promised an enduring dynasty. He said to David:
“Furthermore I tell you that the Lord will build you a house. And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever” (1 Chron 17:10-14).
This obviously was an assurance that concerned Solomon the son of David and yet looked beyond his lifetime for he died as did his successors. Yet God promised “his throne shall be established forever”. How could this be? It would require a permanent supply of kings in the line of David or a king greater than David who would reign forever with no need of a successor. God had in mind the ultimate descendant and heir of David who would sit ‘forever’ upon David’s throne. Details about this ‘heir apparent’ were revealed in the Psalms and Prophets. Psalm 89 relates the following of the assurance the LORD gave to David:
“I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: ‘Your seed I will establish forever, And build up your throne to all generations.’” Selah…
“If his sons forsake My law And do not walk in My judgments, If they break My statutes And do not keep My commandments, Then I will punish their transgression with the rod, And their iniquity with stripes.”
But this would not erase the covenant promise of the LORD to David:
“Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, Nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, And his throne as the sun before Me; It shall be established forever like the moon, Even like the faithful witness in the sky.” Selah (Psa 89:3-4, 30-37).
Sadly, many of the sons of David from Solomon on failed miserably and forsook God’s law. As the lineage in Matthew 1 shows, their failure resulted in the exile to Babylon (Matt 1:11-12). Jeconiah the son or grandson of Josiah was the king who went into exile. Though he was replaced by Zedekiah he and his descendants are the focus in this genealogy. Jeconiah was not only exiled by divine judgment; he also had a curse pronounced upon him by the LORD:
“As I live,” says the LORD, “though Coniah [Jeconiah] the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off; and I will give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of those whose face you fear—the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of the Chaldeans. So I will cast you out, and your mother who bore you, into another country where you were not born; and there you shall die. But to the land to which they desire to return, there they shall not return.
“Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol-- A vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, And cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, Hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord: ‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah’ ” (Jer 22:24-30).
None of Jeconiah’s descendants ever did sit upon the throne of David. After Zedekiah no one has occupied the Davidic throne. Herod may be called ‘the king’ in the narrative of Matthew (Matt 2:1), but he was not the Davidic king. He was a wicked usurper of Edomite descent in power by the play of politics in the world of the Roman Empire.
By the time we reach Joseph in the lineage, he is but an unknown carpenter.
God’s judgment on Jeconiah, did not mean that he wouldn’t have a son for evidently, he did, but it did mean that he was reckoned childless in that no son of his would sit on his throne, the Davidic throne.
If this is the case then how can there be a descendant of David to fulfill the covenant promise? The answer to this is given by Matthew. Joseph was the legal heir to David in the royal line. Insignificant to men, but important to God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him with this instruction:
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt 1:20-21).
Joseph was not the natural father as the Bible makes clear in the carefulness of language used, but he became uniquely the legal adoptive father of Jesus by naming him and giving to him the status of a firstborn son in his home and family. By this action the legal right of Jesus to David’s throne was established and by His virgin birth through Mary the curse on Jeconiah’s line was overcome. Mary herself was a descendant of David and it seems the genealogy in Luke’s gospel relates to her (Luke 3:23-38). This is why Joseph is the vital link between Jesus and David.
The prophet Isaiah communicated centuries earlier:
‘There shall come forth a Rod [fresh shoot] from the stem [stump] of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots’ (Isa 11:1).
This figurative language depicts the lowliness and fragility with which the Messiah would come forth from the ‘stump’ that was left of the once great house of David the son of Jesse represented at Christ’s birth by Joseph the carpenter. Yet, as predicted come He did as the infant Jesus laid in a manger.
To Mary Gabriel said:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). As the prophet Micah predicted, the Shepherd of Israel was born in Bethlehem “Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting” (Micah 5:2-Matt 2:6). Led by the star the Magi came from the East with the question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matt 2:2). The visible star was a sign to the Magi that led them to seek Him of whom Balaam spoke:
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:15)
Balaam spoke of the Messiah. The promised Messiah had come and Matthew tells us very clearly how he came. This infant son born of Mary was no ordinary child. Mary was ‘was found with child of the Holy Spirit’ and as the angel said to Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived [begotten] in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20). This was the work of God. Divine intervention in the experience of Mary, God’s chosen vessel, bypassing the natural means of procreation. This was incarnation – the divine becoming human, the Son of God in flesh. He was none other than Immanuel – “God with us” (Matt 1:23).
Yes, according to Matthew the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of what ‘was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matt 1:23-Isa 7:14). Here was a prophecy given seven centuries earlier as ‘a sign’ to ‘the house of David’ represented then in a wicked fool of a king called Ahaz. God through this sign was not merely indicating temporal deliverance to their immediate circumstances, rather He looked beyond the present to the time when He would bring ultimate salvation to Israel first from their sins and finally from their enemies by means of this special child. God sent His Son and fulfilled what He promised through His prophet Isaiah in time and history. Mary was that virgin and Jesus was her son. This prophecy also relates specifically to the seed of the woman promised in Eden (Gen 3:15). Indeed, what we discover is this that while the line of the seed comes through Abraham and David, the uniqueness of what God promised in Eden’s Garden finds its specific answer in Mary, a virgin and ‘her firstborn son’ (Matt 1:25).
Here is the wonder of the gospel. He who is the Son of God eternally and essentially became the ‘Son of David, the son of Abraham’ for the purpose of saving ‘His people from their sins’ (Matt 1:21). He came to save the sinners of Israel, but thank God He also came to save the sinners of the world! Says the Bible:
‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Tim 1:15).
And, scripture tells us:
‘And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin… For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:5, 8).
Christ was born to die. He came through the virgin’s womb to conquer the Devil. He came by way of the manger to die upon the Cross for our sins and to rise again from the dead so that we could have the assurance of God’s just forgiveness. The Cross of the Messiah is heart of the gospel and the death of Christ is God’s answer to sin and suffering. It’s in the unique person of God’s Son, Jesus, who is the only Saviour of mankind, that true lasting peace is found. He gives us peace with God. He gives us peace in our hearts.
Put your faith in Him today and you will not be disappointed in time nor eternity ‘for the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”’ (Rom 10:11).
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let ev’ry heart prepare him room and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love, and wonders of his love, and wonders, wonders of his love. Isaac Watts (1674-1748)