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Jesus’ Birth and Childhood
(chapter 1, verse 1 through chapter 2, verse 23)
The genealogy of Jesus
Matthew chapter 1, verse 1
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David, the son on Abraham:
The first book of the Old Testament is God’s record of the genesis, the beginning, of the heavens and the earth and all God’s creatures.
Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, is God’s record of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the Son of David. The Son of God existed from eternity together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He always was and always will be. He is eternal. Matthew tells us how he who was the Son of God from eternity became the Son of David in time, how he carried out his mission in this world, and how he returned to his heavenly home.
God’s Old Testament people believed that in due time God would send his Son to redeem the whole world of sinners. When he fulfilled that promise, however, many refused to believe their own eyes and ears. Jesus clearly declared himself to be the promised Messiah. He spoke with obvious authority and performed the miraculous works that the prophets had foretold of the Messiah. Yet his own people, for the most part, rejected him. They demanded that he be executed as a blasphemer. They intimidated Pontius Pilate into condemning Jesus to death, and after Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, they refused to believe he was really alive.
So Matthew, writing to his fellow Jews, says, “Let’s go back to the beginning. I will clearly demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah.” He keeps that purpose in mind in all 28 chapters of his gospel, and he carries it out in a manner that was possible only by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
“The son of David” was a name commonly used for the promised Savior. The Messiah would be a physical descendant of King David. So Matthew begins his gospel by documenting the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, who was known to everybody in the land of the Jews, was descended from David. Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, was a direct descendant of David. Luke chapter 3 traces Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s line all the way back to Adam and Eve. They were the first to receive the promise of the Savior, and the whole Old Testament traces that promise from generation to generation. The New Testament reports the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Jesus, as well as David, is rightfully called “the son of Abraham.” Abraham is called the father of believers. God called him to leave his homeland, Ur of the Chaldees, and to travel to a destination that God would show him in due time. And God gave him a promise: he would make a great nation of Abraham’s descendants, and one special descendant of his would be a blessing for people of all nations on earth. Even when Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless until their old age, Abraham believed God’s promise, and Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness, the Bible says (see Genesis chapter 15, verse 6 and Romans chapter 4, verse 3). Abraham was declared righteous, he was justified, through faith in God’s promises.
That is the only way any sinful human being ever could be or ever has been justified before or after the time of Abraham. That is the primary message of the whole Bible: we are all guilty before God because of our sins, but we are forgiven, we are justified—declared “not guilty”—through faith in the person Matthew calls “Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham”—the Son of God.
Now follows the genealogy of Jesus Christ from Abraham to Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. Matthew divides this genealogy into three lists of 14. The first 14 are in verses 2 to 6.
Matthew chapter 1, verses 2-6
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been
The Jews were proud of their forefather Abraham, and they were familiar with God’s promises to him. They were looking for a Messiah to be born of Abraham’s descendants. Unfortunately, their concept of the Messiah became badly distorted over the centuries, so that they were looking for a political Messiah, one who would literally rule on David’s throne and reestablish a mighty nation in Israel. But that was not the kind of Messiah God had promised.
The purpose of Matthew’s gospel was to remind the Jewish people of God’s messianic promises, to demonstrate that their expectations frequently contradicted God’s promises, and to convince them that Jesus was exactly the kind of Messiah God’s prophets had foretold. Matthew’s gospel shows that Jesus succeeded in establishing his kingdom by sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world, rising from the dead on the third day, and returning to his heavenly home 40 days later. There would be no other son of David coming to be the kind of political Messiah they were hoping for.
Some of the names in Matthew’s genealogy are familiar; others are only names to us.
Isaac was the son born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, when he was 100 years old and she was 90. This was a miraculous birth of God’s grace, a reminder that God always keeps his promises, even though he may make us wait a long time.
Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Although Esau was born first, God chose Jacob to be the bearer of the promise. From his descendants the Messiah would be born.
Judah was one of the 12 sons of Jacob, who was also called Israel. The 12 tribes of Israel were named after these 12 sons of Jacob.
Perez and Zerah were the twin sons of Judah and Tamar. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, not his wife, and these twin sons were born to her when she played the part of a harlot. The whole sordid story is recorded in Genesis chapter 38.
Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, and Jesse are listed in other genealogies such as we have in Ruth chapter 4, verses 18-22. Nahshon is called “the leader of the people of Judah” in Numbers chapter 2, verse 3, and Numbers chapter 7, verses 12-17 lists the offerings he brought for the dedication of the tabernacle. Salmon married Rahab of Jericho, the woman who hid the spies Joshua had sent into the city. Together with her family, she was spared when the walls came tumbling down and the city of Jericho was destroyed by the Israelites. Their son Boaz married Ruth the Moabitess, who came back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi. Their son was Obed, and his son was Jesse, the father of King David.
Most Old Testament genealogies demonstrate that a line of descent has been kept free of gentile contamination. This genealogy does just the opposite. Matthew lists some ancestors of Jesus that no one could be proud of. He reminds us that Jesus, the sinless Messiah, descended from sinners and came for sinners (see Matthew chapter 9, verse 13). Martin Luther observed, “Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners—in fact, he even puts them in his family tree. . . . If the Lord does that here, so ought we to despise no one . . . but put ourselves right in the middle of the fight for sinners and help them.”
The four women Matthew mentions are all notable. Tamar played the harlot, as we have already noted. Rahab of Jericho was a prostitute, but she learned to know the God of Israel, and her faith and the fruits it produced are cited as an example for us all (Hebrews chapter 11, verse 31; James chapter 2, verse 25). Ruth was a Moabitess, not an Israelite. She was a descendant of Abraham’s nephew Lot through an incestuous relationship with his older daughter (Genesis chapter 19, verses 36 and 37). Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite when David desired her and took her for himself, even making arrangements for Uriah to be killed in battle.
Do you find it shocking and offensive that persons guilty of such grievous moral lapses are included among the ancestors of the Savior? Would you prefer not even knowing these things? Do you think it would have been better if the Holy Spirit had not inspired Matthew to record these names in this genealogy?
If this kind of information makes us uncomfortable, it should, because it reminds us of our personal sins and unworthiness. At the same time, this list of sinners can be a comfort to us. It can reassure us that Jesus, who was not ashamed to reveal the sins of his human ancestors, who came to seek and to save the lost, who shed his blood for the sins of the whole world, includes you and me among those for whom he died. “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah chapter 1, verse 18).
Matthew chapter 1, verses 7-11
Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the
time of the exile to Babylon.
This second list of 14 includes some familiar names, for these men were all kings of Israel and/or Judah.
Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, was known for his wisdom and his wealth. He built the magnificent temple at Jerusalem, for which David had made preparations (2nd Samuel chapter 7, verse 13 and 1st Kings chapter 5). But Solomon married many foreign wives. “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. . . . [They] turned his heart after other gods” (1st Kings chapter 11, verses 3 and 4). This angered the Lord, who informed Solomon that, because of his idolatry, his sons would not rule over all twelve tribes of Israel (1st Kings chapter 11, verses 11-13).
When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became king, 10 of the 12 tribes seceded from Israel under Jeroboam as their king, and Rehoboam ruled only Judah and Benjamin. During his reign “Judah did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (1st Kings chapter 14, verse 22). In the fifth year of his reign, Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked Jerusalem and carried off the treasures of the temple and the royal palace (1st Kings chapter 14, verses 25 and 26).
Abijah succeeded Rehoboam as king of Judah. “He committed all the sins his father had done before him” (1st Kings chapter 15, verse 3).
Asa succeeded Abijah and reigned 41 years. He “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (1st Kings chapter 15, verse 11).
Jehoshaphat “walked in the ways of his father Asa . . . ; he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (2nd Chronicles chapter 20, verse 32). Later in his reign, however, he constructed a fleet of trading ships together with wicked king Ahaziah of Israel. The Lord showed his displeasure over this joint venture by destroying the ships before they ever set sail (2nd Chronicles chapter 20, verses 35-37).
Jehoram married a daughter of Ahab and followed the evil example of the kings of Israel. After reigning only eight years, he died of “an incurable disease of the bowels” (2nd Chronicles chapter 21, verses 18 and 19).
Matthew’s genealogy then omits the names of Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Jehoram was actually the great-greatgrandfather of Uzziah, who is mentioned next. There is no doubt that Matthew omitted these three names purposely. He was well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures, and so were the Jews to whom he was writing. But he does not tell us why he does not list those three men. You may learn more about these three kings by reading 2nd Chronicles chapters 22–25. Uzziah was unusual in that he reigned 52 years and “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (2nd Chronicles chapter 26, verses 3 and 4).
Jotham followed the good example of his father, Uzziah, but his son, Ahaz, “did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (2nd Chronicles chapter 28, verse 1).
Hezekiah was a good king whom the Lord richly blessed. When he was stricken with a serious illness and the Lord told him through the prophet Isaiah that he would not recover, he prayed fervently to the Lord, and the Lord extended his life another 15 years (2nd Kings chapter 20, verses 1-11).
Manasseh was only 12 years old when he became king, and he ruled 55 years. He followed “the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites” (2nd Kings chapter 21, verse 2). The rest of 2nd Kings chapter 21 gives us more details concerning the wickedness of Manasseh. Near the end of his life, however, an amazing thing happened. The Assyrians “took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon” (2nd Chronicles chapter 33, verse 11). Finally, then, Manasseh experienced a change of heart. He sought the Lord’s forgiveness, and the Lord actually brought him back to his throne in Jerusalem. Manasseh then made a serious effort to cleanse his nation of idolatry.
Amon reigned only two years (2nd Kings chapter 21, verse 19). He followed the evil example of Manasseh’s earlier days, forsaking the Lord and worshiping idols. An official assassinated him in the palace.
Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim are not included in Matthew’s genealogy (2nd Kings chapter 23, verse 31 through chapter 24, verse 7). Josiah and Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) are listed next. During Jehoiachin’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem. He carried all the treasures of the temple and of the royal palace back to Babylon, leaving only the poorest of the Jews behind (2nd Kings chapter 25, verse 12). He made Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, king of Judah, and changed his name to Zedekiah. In the ninth year of his reign, Zedekiah foolishly rebelled against Babylon. As a result, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and took everything of value to Babylon. They killed Zedekiah’s sons while he watched, then put out his eyes and took him in bronze shackles to Babylon (2nd Kings chapter 25, verse 7). The year was 586 B.C.
Matthew chapter 1, verses 12-16
After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of
whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) is now listed again, this time as the first man in the third list of 14. The Babylonian exile was the next significant period of Judah’s history. The people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been carried into exile in Assyria. That was the end of their history. They ceased to exist as a separate people. But God saw to it that the Jews survived in Babylon, for he had promised that they would survive and return to their homeland after 70 years and that in due time the Messiah would be born of the line of David. God’s providence is evident when, in the 37th year of the exile, Jehoiachin is released from prison and treated royally for the rest of his life (2nd Kings chapter 25, verses 27-30).
We have little information about most of the men included in Matthew’s third list of 14. Shealtiel is mentioned about a half dozen times in the Bible, but all we are told about him is that he is the father of Zerubbabel—actually Zerubbabel’s grandfather (1st Chronicles chapter 3, verses 17-19).
Ezra chapter 2, verse 2 mentions Zerubbabel as one of the leaders of the people who returned from exile to Jerusalem and helped direct the rebuilding of the temple.
About all we know concerning the next nine men is their names. They may have been undistinguished men in the eyes of the world, but they were highly honored by God as forefathers of Christ: Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Akim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob.
That brings us to “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” So here we have the genealogy of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, although the original Greek “of whom” clearly refers only to Mary. The virgin birth of Christ is indicated already here and specifically reported in the verses that will follow. Jesus was a common name among the Jews, but this Jesus is the only one called Christ, the Messiah.
Matthew chapter 1, verse 17
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
“Thus,” Matthew says, there were three groups of 14 generations each. He knew, and his readers knew, that he had deliberately omitted some generations, and we know that “father” can mean grandfather or any male ancestor—just as we speak of the “faith of our fathers.” So when Matthew says “thus” we have 14 generations three times, it’s like saying, “as I have chosen to list these generations.”
As we have already noted, Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) is listed as the last person in the second group of 14 and as the first person in the third group of 14. He lived at the end of the second era of the genealogy and at the beginning of the third and final era, the exile. Matthew has also listed David twice. This is reasonable enough when we consider King David’s prominence. Jesus is called the “son of David” in Scripture. “Son of David” was a clear reference to the Messiah. The Scriptures never called the Messiah the son of Solomon or Jehoshaphat or Zerubbabel or of anyone else who was his ancestor.
Why did Matthew arrange the genealogy of Jesus in three groups of 14 beginning with Abraham? We can only speculate about this. Some have suggested: 3 x 14 = 42; 42 is 6/7 of 49. With Jesus’ birth the final 1/7 begins. For Old Testament Israel, after every 49 years came a Year of Jubilee. That year slaves were freed and properties that had been sold were returned to their original owners, so that no family would permanently lose its inheritance. The birth of Christ ushered in the real jubilee for the whole world, for Jesus came to free all the slaves of sin (the whole human race) and permit them to return to their heavenly Father’s house.
This is an interesting and appropriate thought, but Matthew does not directly state any such thing. He leaves us to wonder and ponder and marvel at the orderly way in which God directed the affairs of his people and preserved the descendants of David until the Savior was born.
It is interesting to compare Matthew’s genealogy of Christ with that recorded in chapter 3 of Luke’s gospel. We’ll make only a few brief observations. Evidently, Matthew reports Joseph’s ancestry, and Luke reports Mary’s. Both were direct descendants of David. After David, Joseph’s line included the kings of Judah, but Mary’s line consisted of lesser known commoners, who were descended from David but were not in the line of royal succession.
It is absolutely clear, however, that Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his legal father, Joseph, were both descended from King David. In the fullest sense of the term, Jesus was indeed the son of David, the promised Messiah.