Don’t you just love genealogies? How many people have been told to read the New Testament and gave up before they even finished the first chapter? Matthew begins his telling of the story of Jesus with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” And from there goes on to list over forty names (If you are unfamiliar with them, you should listen to Andrew Peterson’s great song: Matthew’s Begats, seriously that is a good video, you should check it out!) What a terrible way for Matthew to begin his Gospel!
Well, not if you are familiar with the Old Testament. The people of Israel began with Abraham. They were given promises by God that the people originally reading Matthew would have been very familiar with. Matthew is telling them that Jesus, being born in the line of Abraham, is the fulfillment of those promises. Not only that, but they were longing and looking for a promised King that would come from the line of David.
Why were they looking for such a King? The story of Israel’s kings begins with Saul, who due to his disobedience to God was removed from the throne. Then God chose David to be king. He was the greatest of Israel’s kings and a man after God’s own heart. Before King David died, the Lord gave him a promise recorded in 2 Samuel 7:12-16:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
The Lord told David that he would have a descendent who would reign forever. Of course, many see David’s son Solomon as the fulfillment of this promise, and in one sense they are right, for it was Solomon who committed iniquity. But even though Solomon would sin, the Lord would not take the throne from him as He did with Saul.
Yet, what about that reigning forever part? Solomon did not reign forever. In fact, his sons divided the Kingdom, which eventually led to captivity and exile. By the time Jesus is born, there is no king of Israel. The only other way for this prophecy to be fulfilled is if a descendent of David lives and reigns forever. Yet, who could do that? If a genealogy teaches us anything, it tells us that death is unavoidable. So who will fulfill this promise of reigning forever from the line of David?
It is this question that prepares us for Matthew’s genealogy. You can imagine the wonder of the original readers as they read through the names and realized what Matthew was claiming: Jesus is the promised forever King, born in the line of David. Just like all the other kings before Him, Jesus would taste the sting of death. Yet, unlike all those before Him, the grave would be unable to hold Him, unable to defeat Him, unable to end His reign. The great Jewish king the wise men worshipped (Matthew 2:1-12) was actually the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And 2,000 years later, all who turn from their sins and trust in Jesus’ death on the cross continue to worship the forever King, just as they will through all eternity.
“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new-born King.'”