Matthew 1 – The Genealogy and Birth of Jesus Christ
A. The Genealogy of Jesus Christ.
1. (1) Matthew presents his theme in the first verse: Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and of Israel’s expectation.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
a. The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ: So Matthew begins his account of the life of Jesus Christ. From the statement in the ancient Greek text, it is difficult to tell what the book of the genealogy refers to.
i. “The first two words of Matthew, biblos genseos, may be translated ‘record of the genealogy,’ ‘record of the origins,’ or ‘record of the history.'” (Carson) There is a sense in which each meaning is valid.
· In Matthew 1:1-17 we have the “record of the genealogy.”
· In Matthew 1:18-2:23 we have the “record of the origins.”
· In the entire Gospel of Matthew we have the “record of the history.”
ii. As a former tax collector (also called “Levi”), Matthew was qualified to write an account of Jesus’ life and teachings. A tax collector of that day must know Greek and be a literate, well-organized man. Some think that Matthew was the “recorder” among the disciples, and took notes of Jesus’ teaching. We might say that when Matthew followed Jesus, he left everything behind – except his pen and paper. “Matthew nobly used his literary skill to become the first man ever to compile an account of the teaching of Jesus.” (Barclay)
iii. “We know that he was a taxgatherer and that he must therefore have been a bitterly hated man, for the Jews hated the members of their own race who had entered the civil service of their conquerors.” (Barclay)
b. The Son of David, the Son of Abraham: In this overview of explaining the lineage of Jesus, Matthew clearly and strongly connects him to some of the greatest men in the history of the Old Testament. Matthew begins his account of the life of Jesus Christ with the record of the lineage of Jesus from the patriarch Abraham.
i. Though most New Testament scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was not the first of the four written, it is well placed as the first book of the New Testament. There are many reasons why Matthew belongs first among the gospel accounts.
· “It is a remarkable fact that, among the variations in the order in which the Gospels appear in early lists and texts, the one constant factor is that Matthew always comes first.” (France)
· In the early days of Christianity, many people thought that the Gospel of Matthew was the first written.
· The early Christians rightly saw the Gospel of Matthew as important, because it has some significant portions of Jesus’ teaching that are not included in other gospels, such as a fuller version of the Sermon on the Mount.
· It was the only one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to have an apostolic author – Matthew (who was also known as Levi), who was a former tax collector before he followed Jesus as a disciple.
· “Matthew’s Gospel was in fact far more quoted in Christian writings of the second Christian century than any other.” (France)
· The Jewish flavor of the Gospel of Matthew makes for a logical transition between the Old and New Testaments. For these reasons, the early church placed it first in order among the four gospel accounts.
ii. The Jewish character of this Gospel is evident in many ways. There are many indications that Matthew expected that his readers would be familiar with Jewish culture.
· Matthew doesn’t translate Aramaic terms such as raca (Matthew 5:22) and corban (Mark 7:11).
· Matthew refers to Jewish customs without explanation (Matthew 15:2 to Mark 7:3-4; see also Matthew 23:5).
· Matthew starts his genealogy with Abraham (Matthew 1:1).
· Matthew presents the name of Jesus and its meaning in a way that assumes the reader knows its Hebrew roots (Matthew 1:21).
· Matthew frequently refers to Jesus as the “Son of David.”
· Matthew uses the more Jewish phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God.”
iii. Yet significantly, the Gospel of Matthew also triumphantly ends with Jesus commanding His followers to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). So the Gospel of Matthew is deeply rooted in Judaism, but at the same time is able to look beyond; it sees the gospel itself as more than a message for the Jewish people; rather it is a message for the whole world.
iv. We also see that Matthew is deeply critical of the Jewish leadership and their rejection of Jesus. To say that Matthew is “pro-Jewish” is incorrect; it is better to say that he is “pro-Jesus,” and presents Jesus as the authentic Jewish Messiah, whom sadly many of the Jewish people (especially the religious establishment) rejected.
v. Some early church commentators and modern scholars say that Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew, and it was then translated into Greek. Yet there is no concrete evidence for this theory, such as the discovery of an early Hebrew manuscript of Matthew.
vi. More modern theories about the Gospel of Matthew say that he wrote in the style of Jewish midrash literature, which creates imaginary stories as a running commentary on the Old Testament. Certain writers use the midrash example to say that Matthew wrote about many events that never happened, but he wasn’t lying because he never intended to tell the truth, and his audience never believed that he was. These are unconvincing theories, and analysis shows more differences than similarities between Matthew and midrashim. “Jewish Midrashim…present stories as illustrative material by way of commenting on a running Old Testament text. By contrast Matthew 1-2 offers no running Old Testament text.” (Carson)
c. Son of David: Throughout his work, Matthew presents Jesus as the kingly Messiah promised from David’s royal line (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
i. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be the Son of David; in the very first sentence, Matthew points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
d. Son of Abraham: Matthew not only connected Jesus to David, but back yet further to Abraham. Jesus is the Seed of Abraham in whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
2. (2-16) Jesus’ Genealogy through Joseph.
Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
a. Abraham…Joseph: This genealogy establishes Jesus’ claim to the throne of David through his adoptive father Joseph. This is not blood lineage of Jesus through Mary, but the legal lineage of Jesus through Joseph. The Gospel of Luke provides Jesus’ blood lineage through Mary.
i. “The Jews set much store by genealogies, and to Jewish Christians the Messiahship of Jesus depended on its being proved that he was a descendant of David.” (Bruce)
ii. There are some genuine problems in sorting out the details of this genealogy and reconciling some points to both Luke’s record and those found in the Old Testament.
iii. The author is persuaded that Matthew records the genealogical record of Joseph, and Luke the record of Mary; but this is not accepted without dispute by some. “Few would guess simply by reading Luke that he is giving Mary’s genealogy. The theory stems, not from the text of Luke, but from the need to harmonize the two genealogies. On the face of it, both Matthew and Luke aim to give Joseph’s genealogy.” (Carson)
iv. Nevertheless, genealogical difficulties should not prevent us from seeing the whole. Matthew Poole acknowledged that there were some problems with the genealogies, and in reconciling the records of Matthew and Luke, yet he rightly observed:
· The Jews kept extensive genealogical records, and so it is not unwise to trust such records.
· We should remember Paul’s warnings about striving over genealogies and not get into arguments about them (1 Timothy 1:4 and 6:4; Titus 3:9).
· If the Jewish opponents of Jesus could have demonstrated that He was not descended from David, they would have disqualified His claim to be Messiah; yet they did not and could not.
v. “And therefore it is the most unreasonable thing imaginable for us to make such little dissatisfactions grounds for us to question or disbelieve the gospel, because we cannot untie every knot we meet with in a pedigree.” (Poole)
vi. The Jewish interest in genealogies could sometimes be a dangerous distraction. Therefore Paul warned Timothy to guard against those who were fascinated by endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4), and he gave a similar warning to Titus (Titus 3:9).
vii. “With one or two exceptions these are the names of persons of little or no note. The later ones were persons altogether obscure and insignificant. Our Lord was ‘a root out of dry ground’; a shoot from a withered stem of Jesse. He set small store by earthly greatness.” (Spurgeon)
b. Tamar…Rahab…Ruth…her who had been the wife of Uriah: This genealogy is noted for the unusual presence of four women. Women were rarely mentioned in ancient genealogies, and the four mentioned here are worthy of special note as examples of God’s grace. They show how God can take unlikely people and use them in great ways.
· Tamar: She sold herself as a prostitute to her father-in-law Judah to bring forth Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38).
· Rahab: She was a Gentile prostitute, for whom God took extraordinary measures to save from both judgment and her lifestyle of prostitution (Joshua 2; 6:22-23).
· Ruth: She was from Moab, a Gentile, and until her conversion out of the covenant of Israel (Ruth 1).
· Her who had been the wife of Uriah: Bathsheba (who is mentioned by implication in Matthew 1:6) was an adulteress, infamous for her sin with David (2 Samuel 11). “Matthew’s peculiar way of referring to her, ‘Uriah’s wife,’ may be an attempt to focus on the fact that Uriah was not an Israelite but a Hittite.” (Carson)
i. These four women have an important place in the genealogy of Jesus to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was not royalty according to human perception in the sense that He did not come from a pure aristocratic background.
ii. These four women have an important place in the genealogy of Jesus to demonstrate that Jesus identifies with sinners in His genealogy, even as He will in His birth, baptism, life, and His death on the cross. “Jesus is heir of a line in which flows the blood of the harlot Rahab, and of the rustic Ruth; he is akin to the fallen and to the lowly, and he will show his love even to the poorest and most obscure.” (Spurgeon)
iii. These four women have an important place in the genealogy of Jesus to show that there is a new place for women under the New Covenant. In both the pagan and the Jewish culture of that day, men often had little regard for women. In that era, some Jewish men prayed every morning thanking God that they were not Gentiles, slaves or women. Despite that, women were regarded more highly among the Jews than they were among the pagans.
iv. “By far the most amazing thing about this pedigree is the names of the women who appear in it.” (Barclay)
v. “Men and women, notorious for their evil character, lie in the direct line of his descent. This was permitted, that He might fully represent our fallen race.” (Meyer)
c. Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ: Matthew wanted to make it clear that Joseph was not the father of Jesus; rather he was the husband of Mary.
i. “The new phraseology makes it clear that Matthew does not regard Jesus as Joseph’s son physically…The genealogy is clearly intended to be that of Jesus’ ‘legal’ ancestry, not of his physical descent.” (France)
3. (17) Matthew’s Organization of the Genealogy.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
a. Fourteen generations…fourteen generations…fourteen genera-tions: Here Matthew made it clear that this genealogy is not complete. There were not actually fourteen generations between the points indicated, but Matthew edited the list to make it easy to remember and memorize.
i. For example, Matthew 1:8 says Joram begot Uzziah. This was Uzziah, King of Judah, who was struck with leprosy for daring to enter the temple as a priest to offer incense (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Uzziah was not the immediate son of Joram; there were three kings between them (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah). Yet as Clarke rightly says, “It is observed that omissions of this kind are not uncommon in the Jewish genealogies.”
b. So all the generations: The practice of skipping generations at times was common in the listing of ancient genealogies. Matthew did nothing unusual by leaving some generations out.
i. Another of the royal line that Matthew passed over was in between Josiah and Jechoniah (Matthew 1:11), and his name was Jehoakim (2 Chronicles 36:5-8). Jehoakim was so wicked that through the Prophet Jeremiah, God promised that no blood descendant of his would sit on the throne of Israel (Jeremiah 36:30-31). This presented a significant problem: If someone was a blood descendant of David through Jehoakim, he could not sit on the throne of Israel and be the king and the Messiah because of this curse recorded in Jeremiah 36:30-31. But if the conqueror was not descended through David, he could not be the legal heir of the throne because of the promise made to David and the nature of the royal line.
ii. This is where we come to the differences in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Matthew recorded the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ (Matthew 1:16). He began at Abraham and followed the line down to Jesus, through Joseph. Luke recorded the genealogy of Mary: being, (as was supposed) the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23). He began with Jesus and followed the line back up, all the way to Adam, starting from the unmentioned Mary.
iii. Each genealogy is the same as it records the line from Adam (or Abraham) all the way down to David. But at David, the two genealogies separated. If we remember the list of David’s sons in 2 Samuel 5, we see that Satan focused his attention on the descendants of the royal line through Solomon – and this was a reasonable strategy. According to Matthew 1:6, Joseph’s line went through Solomon (and therefore Jehoakim, the cursed one). Jesus was the legal son of Joseph, but not the blood son of Joseph – so the curse on Jehoakim did not affect him. Joseph did not contribute any of the “blood” of Jesus, but he did contribute his legal standing as a descendant of the royal line to Jesus. Mary’s line – the blood line of Jesus – did not go through Solomon, but through a different son of David, named Nathan (Luke 3:31). Mary was therefore not part of that blood curse on the line of Jehoiakim.
B. The Birth of Jesus Christ.
1. (18) Mary, while engaged to Joseph, is found to be with child as a result of a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
a. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: Matthew doesn’t really tell us about the birth of Jesus; Luke does that. Matthew instead tells us where Jesus came from, and it tells the story through the eyes of Joseph.
b. After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph: There were essentially three steps to marriage in the Jewish world of Jesus’ time.
· Engagement: This could happen when the bride and groom to be were quite young, and was often arranged by the parents.
· Betrothal: This made the previous engagement official and binding. During the time of betrothal the couple were known as husband and wife, and a betrothal could only be broken by divorce. Betrothal typically lasted a year.
· Marriage: This took place after the wedding, after the year of betrothal.
c. She was found with child of the Holy Spirit: Matthew plainly (without the greater detail found in the Gospel of Luke) presents the virginal conception and subsequent birth of Jesus. However, the virgin birth was difficult for people to believe back then, even as it is also doubted now by some.
i. We should consider what a great trial this was for a godly young woman like Mary, and for Joseph her betrothed. “Her situation was the most distressing and humiliating that can be conceived. Nothing but the fullest consciousness of her own integrity, and the strongest confidence in God, could have supported her in such trying circumstances, where her reputation, her honour, and her life were at stake.” (Clarke)
ii. The truth of the supernatural conception of Jesus was disbelieved by many then and was later twisted into lies about the parentage of Jesus. References are made to these suspicions in passages like John 8:19 and 8:41. Lies spread that Mary had become pregnant from a Roman soldier. Here, Matthew set the story straight – both then and now.
iii. “There was no other way of his being born; for had he been of a sinful father, how should he have possessed a sinless nature? He is born of a woman, that he might be human; but not by man, that he might not be sinful.” (Spurgeon)
2. (19) Joseph seeks a quiet divorce.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
a. Joseph her husband: The previous verse told us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. This comment shows that even though they were not formally married, Joseph was still considered Mary’s husband by betrothal.
b. Being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example: Being a just man, Joseph knew that if Mary had been unfaithful to him it would be impossible to go through with the marriage. Yet his nature as a just man also did not want to make this an unnecessary hardship or stigma upon Mary. Joseph made the understandable decision to seek a quiet divorce.
c. To put her away secretly: This refers to breaking an engagement by divorce. In Jewish culture of that time, a betrothal was binding and one needed a divorce to break the arrangement.
i. “Their being betrothed was a thing publicly taken notice of, and he could not put her away so privately but there must be witnesses of it; the meaning therefore must be, as privately as the nature of thing would bear.” (Poole)
ii. “When we have to do a severe thing, let us choose the tenderest manner. Maybe we shall not have to do it at all.” (Spurgeon)
3. (20-21) An angel speaks to Joseph in a dream, convincing him not to divorce Mary.
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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.”
a. Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream: This was not the Angel of the Lord, but simply an angel of the Lord. Perhaps it was Gabriel, who is prominent in the announcements made to Mary and Zacharias (Luke 1:19 and 1:26). Yet those were actual angelic visitations; this was presented to Joseph in a dream.
i. The dream came while he thought about these things. Joseph was understandably troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, her future, and what he should do towards her. Though he had decided to put her away secretly, he was not comfortable with that decision.
b. Joseph, son of David: The address son of David should have alerted Joseph that something was particularly significant about this message. Son of David is a reference to Joseph’s legal lineage to the throne of David.
c. That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit: It seems that Mary had not told Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This shouldn’t surprise us; how could she (or how could anyone except God) explain such a thing? This angelic word to Joseph was persuasive.
i. There is no explanation as to how this happened, other than what we have in Luke 1:35. “This wonderful conception of our Saviour is a mystery not much to be pried into, and is therefore called an overshadowing, Luke 1:35.” (Trapp)
ii. “There is no hint of pagan deity-human coupling in crassly physical terms. Instead, the power of the Lord, manifest in the Holy Spirit who was expected to be active in the Messianic Age, miraculously brought about the conception.” (Carson)
d. You shall call his name Jesus: The name Jesus (“The Salvation of Yahweh”) was fairly common in that day (Josephus mentions 12 different men named “Jesus” in his writings), but it is supremely blessed in our day. As was later said by the Apostle Peter, there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12).
i. “The name which the angel commanded Joseph to give to Mary’s Child was one that was common at the time…its full significance was ‘The Salvation of Jehovah.'” (Morgan)
e. For He will save His people from their sins: The angelic messenger briefly and eloquently stated the work of the coming Messiah, Jesus. He will come as a savior, and come to save His people from their sins.
i. This description of the work of Jesus reminds us that Jesus meets us in our sin, but His purpose is to save us from our sins. He saves us first from the penalty of sin, then from the power of sin, and finally from the presence of sin.
ii. “Salvation from sins is an element in the Old Testament hope (e.g. Isaiah 53; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-31) and in later Messianic expectation…but not the dominant one. Its isolation here warns the reader not to expect this Messiah to conform to the more popular hope of a national liberator.” (France)
iii. Wonderfully, it says “His people.” If it had said, “God’s people,” we might have thought it was reserved for the Jewish people alone. But it isn’t belonging to Abraham that brings salvation from sin; it is belonging to Jesus, being one of His people.
4. (22-23) The virgin birth as the fulfillment of prophecy.
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which 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.”
a. That it might be fulfilled: This is the first use of this important phrase which will become a familiar theme throughout Matthew.
b. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel”: Matthew rightly understood that the supernatural conception of Jesus was prophesied in Isaiah 7:14.
i. There has been some measure of controversy regarding this quote from Isaiah 7:14, primarily because the Hebrew word almahcan be translated as either virginor “young woman.”
ii. We know the Isaiah passage speaks of Jesus because it says the virgin shall be with child, and that conception would be a sign to David’s entire house. Those who deny the virgin birth of Jesus like to point out that the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 translated virgin (almah) can also be translated as “young woman.” The idea is that Isaiah was simply saying that a “young woman” would give birth, not a virgin. While the near fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy may have reference to a young woman giving birth, the far or ultimate fulfillment clearly points to a woman miraculously conceiving and giving birth. This is especially clear because the Old Testament never uses the word in a context other than virgin and because the Septuagint translates almah in Isaiah 7:14 categorically virgin (parthenos).
c. Immanuel: This title of Jesus refers to both His deity (God with us) and His identification and nearness to man (God with us).
i. Jesus is truly Immanuel, God with us. “Christ, indeed, was not called by this name Immanuel that we anywhere read of…but the import of this name is most truly affirmed and acknowledged to be fully made good in him.” (Trapp, on Isaiah 7:14)
ii. “In what sense then, is Christ God with us? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation; God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament, in the preaching of his word, in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us, in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment; and God with us and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity.” (Clarke)
iii. We can deeply meditate on the meaning of this name – Immanuel.
· It shows how low God bent down to save man; He added the nature of one of His own creatures to His own divine nature, accepting the weaknesses, frailties and dependency that the creature experiences.
· It shows what a great miracle it was that God could add a human nature to His own and still remain God.
· It shows the compatibility between the unfallen human nature and the divine nature; that the two could be joined shows that we are truly made in the image of God.
· It shows that we can come to Him; if He has come to us, then we can come to Him. “Then, if Jesus Christ be ‘God with us,’ let us come to God without any question or hesitancy. Whoever you may be you need no priest or intercessor to introduce you to God, for God has introduced himself to you.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “John Wesley died with that upon his tongue, and let us live with it upon our hearts. – ‘The best of all is God with us.'” (Spurgeon)
5. (24-25) Joseph marries Mary after the angelic announcement.
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
a. Did as the angel of the Lord commanded: Joseph’s obedience is notable. He did not doubt nor waver; he instantly understood the truth and the importance of the angelic messenger that came to him in the dream.
b. Did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son: The words did not know her till imply that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth.
i. This emphasizes that Jesus was conceived miraculously. “Matthew wants to make Jesus’ virginal conception quite unambiguous, for he adds that Joseph had no sexual union with Mary until she gave birth to Jesus.” (Carson)
ii. This also denies the Roman Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary. “The marriage was thus formally completed, but not consummated before the birth of Jesus. The Greek expression for not until would normally suggest that intercourse did take place after the end of this period…There is no biblical warrant for the tradition of the ‘perpetual virginity’ of Mary.” (France)
iii. This is an unbiblical doctrine which did not appear earlier than the fifth century after Jesus. It should be placed with the dogmas of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, assumption into heaven, and present role as a mediator for believers. Each one of these is man’s invention, meant to exalt Mary in an unbiblical manner.
c. And he called His name Jesus: They did what God told them to do. Though it was a fairly common name, it had a genuinely great meaning and would come to be the greatest name, the name above all names.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission