Son of David
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Matthew began his book with a genealogy; not with just any genealogy but with that of Jesus Christ. And he began not only with a genealogy but with one revealing some ancestors that most people would not necessarily like to claim as their own.
Perhaps, as he himself was somewhat of an outcast, Matthew could relate to that ancestry. After all, he was a Jewish tax collector, who had sold out to the enemy and who actually paid Rome for the opportunity to sit there and tax his own Jewish people. Surely, he would not be a man beloved of his nation.
Nevertheless, humans might look on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart. And no question, looking at Matthew’s heart, the Lord chose him, a despised tax collector, to be among His disciples. And, when called, Matthew accepted, giving up the life he had before for a new life in Jesus.
Thus, Matthew followed his Lord, kept records, and one day he would give something back to his people, and to the world. It would not be a tax receipt but, instead, a precious account of the life of Jesus.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 2.
“This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ . . . the son of David” (Matt. 1:1, NIV).
Right from the start, Matthew calls his work a “book” (from the Greek word biblos, which can mean a “sacred writing”), a “book of the genealogy,” of the ancestry of Jesus. In fact, the Greek word translated “genealogy” or “generation” is from a word that can be translated “genesis.” Hence, it could be said that Matthew started his Gospel with “a book of genesis.”
Just as the Old Testament itself began with a book about the Creation of the world, Matthew (hence the New Testament itself) starts with a book about the Creator Himself and about the work of Redemption that only the Creator could accomplish.
“From the days of eternity the Lord Jesus Christ was one with the Father; He was ‘the image of God,’ the image of His greatness and majesty, ‘the outshining of His glory,’ . . .
“By coming to dwell with us, Jesus was to reveal God both to men and to angels. He was the Word of God,—God’s thought made audible.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 19.
The divinity of Christ, however, was not first and foremost in Matthew’s mind, as in contrast to John (see John 1:1–4), who immediately writes about the deity of Christ before going into the human side of Jesus (see John 1:14). Instead, Matthew focuses very much on Christ’s humanity, Christ as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).He then traces, from Abraham, the lineage of Jesus’ human ancestors up to the birth of Jesus, all in a desire to show his readers that, indeed, Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah predicted in the prophecies of the Old Testament.
Whatever the various views of the Jews regarding the coming of the Messiah, one thing was for certain: the Messiah would be from the house of David. (Even many religious Jews today who await the Messiah believe that He must come from the house of David.) That’s why Matthew began his Gospel as he did; he wanted to establish the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. Because the Messiah was to be the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18, Gal. 3:16), the father of the Jewish nation, and from the lineage of David, Matthew right away seeks to show Jesus’ lineage and how He was directly tied, not just to Abraham (to whom the Israelites were tied) but to King David. Many commentators believe that Matthew had a Jewish audience primarily in mind; thus, his strong emphasis establishing the Messianic credentials of Jesus of Nazareth.
2 Sam. 7:16, 17
Isa. 9:6, 7
Isa. 11:1, 2
Acts 2:29, 30
All this helps us to understand why the Gospel of Matthew begins the way it does: “This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ . . . the son of David” (Matt. 1:1, NIV). First and foremost, Jesus Christ is described as the “son of David.” And just as the New Testament begins with this depiction of Jesus, toward the end of the New Testament He says these words, as well: “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16). All else that Jesus is, He remains the “root and offspring of David.”
What a powerful testimony to the human nature of Jesus and to His essential humanity; our Creator has linked Himself to us in ways that we can barely imagine.
Women weren’t even typically listed in genealogies; so, why would a woman named Tamar be listed here? Who was she to begin with?
Tamar was a Canaanite woman who had been married sequentially to two sons of Judah. Both of these sons died in wickedness while Tamar was childless. Her father-in-law, Judah, promised Tamar that he would give her his third son in marriage when the son got old enough. But this never happened.
So, what did Tamar do? She disguised herself as a prostitute and got together with none other than Judah, who had no idea it was Tamar. Months later, when Tamar’s pregnancy became evident, Judah took action to have the immoral Tamar put to death; that is, until Tamar revealed to Judah that he was the father of her baby.
However much this might sound like a tawdry soap opera, it’s still part of the human ancestry of Jesus.
Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute? Apparently so. After helping to protect the Israelite spies in Canaan, she joined the people of God and, it seems, married into the ancestry of Jesus.
Ruth was a virtuous woman, but, through no fault of her own, she came from the hated Moabites—the product of an incestuous relationship between a drunken Lot and one of his daughters. Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, was, of course, the woman that King David selfishly summoned while her husband, Uriah, was out in battle. David, too, was a sinner needing a Savior. David had many outstanding qualities, but he was no model of a family man, to be sure.
As has often been stated, but is worth repeating, the Bible does not paint a rosy picture of humanity or human nature. From the Fall in Eden (Genesis 3) to the fall of Babylon in the last days (Revelation 18), the sad state of humanity is readily apparent. And though we tend to idealize, for instance, the early days of the church before the great “falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3), that is a mistake (see 1 Cor. 5:1). We’re all fallen, broken people, and that includes the lineage out of which Jesus Himself arose.
“The genuineness, and unlikeliness, of this genealogy,” writes scholar Michael Wilkins, “must have stunned Matthew’s readers. Jesus’ ancestors were humans with all of the foibles, yet potentials, of everyday people. God worked through them to bring about his salvation. There is no pattern of righteousness in the lineage of Jesus. We find adulterers, harlots, heroes, and Gentiles. Wicked Rehoboam was the father of wicked Abijah, who was the father of good King Asa. Asa was the father of the good King Jehoshaphat . . . , who was the father of wicked King Joram. God was working throughout the generations, both good and evil, to bring about his purposes. Matthew shows that God can use anyone—however marginalized or despised—to bring about his purposes. These are the very types of people Jesus came to save.”—Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 9.
That’s the point we need to remember, not just when we look at others but when we look at ourselves, as well. What Christian, at some point in his or her walk, doesn’t get discouraged, doesn’t question his or her faith, doesn’t wonder whether or not he or she is truly converted? So often, too, what brings about this discouragement is indeed our fallen nature, our sins, our shortcomings. Thus, amid this despair we can and should draw hope that God knows all these things and that it was for people just like us that Christ came into this world.
Somewhere in the night air between Matthew 1 and Matthew 2, Jesus was born. It likely wasn’t on December 25. Based on the timing of the priest Zechariah’s temple service, scholars suggest that Jesus was probably born in the fall, when sheep were still out in the fields, perhaps in late September or October.
It’s a great irony that some of the first people to seek out and worship the Jewish Messiah would be Gentiles. While most of Jesus’ own people (and a paranoid half-Jew, King Herod) thought they knew what kind of Messiah to expect, these travelers from the East had open minds and hearts. The magi (wise men) were respected philosophers from Persia, who devoted their lives seeking for truth, wherever it may come from. No wonder, then, that they found themselves worshiping the One who was, indeed, “the Truth” Himself. Though the context is different, we can see here an example of the truth of words spoken centuries earlier, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
These pagans fall down and worship Jesus, in contrast to the king of the nation, who sought to kill Jesus instead!
This story should serve as a powerful reminder that church affiliation is no guarantee of being in the right relationship with God. It should also be a reminder, too, that a correct understanding of truth is very important. Had Herod and the priests a better understanding of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, Herod would have known that Jesus would not have been the kind of threat that he feared. He would have understood that this “King of the Jews” was not anyone to worry about, at least in terms of Herod guarding his own immediate political power.
Further Thought: Look at this quote from Ellen G. White: “It is thus that every sinner may come to Christ. ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.’ Titus 3:5. When Satan tells you that you are a sinner, and cannot hope to receive blessing from God, tell him that Christ came into the world to save sinners. We have nothing to recommend us to God; but the plea that we may urge now and ever is our utterly helpless condition that makes His redeeming power a necessity.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 317. What a powerful idea: it’s our “utterly helpless condition” that makes Christ as our Redeemer a necessity. This truth is no different when we first come to Jesus or if we have been walking with Him all our lives. Like those in the genealogy of Jesus’ human side, we are sinners in need of grace. Our obedience to the law, our overcoming sin and temptation, and our growth in Christ, however much these are parts of the Christian life, are the results of salvation and never the cause. Whether the thief on the cross or a saint translated at the second coming of Jesus, we are all in an “utterly helpless condition that makes His redeeming power a necessity.” How crucial that we never forget this foundational truth.