Messiah's Ancestry: A Family Tree with Several Surprises
For the past several years I have been working on a book focusing on Messianic prophecies. Applying Messianic statements in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms to Jesus is an exciting faith building study. The fulfillments provide overwhelming conclusive evidence that Yeshua of Nazareth -“He who saves” - is the number one and only candidate for the promised Jewish Messiah.
The fulfillment of predictive prophesies along with the evidences for his resurrection provides a solid rational base to place our trust in Him as Savior Lord and Messiah (Christ / King).
This article will show how evidence for His Messiahship is also demonstrated powerfully in the genealogies provided in both Matthew’s and Luke's gospel accounts. (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-37). From a Jewish perspective Messiah’s family tree must include evidence that he was truly a descendant of David. The rabbis and sages of old were keenly aware that the Messiah was coming from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and more specifically from the family of king David (Psalm 89) (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to who it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
Psalm 89 is a beautiful Psalm extolling God's faithfulness to David in establishing his lineage forever.
"I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure" (89:3, 29)
I have made a covenant with my chosen one. I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm, through all generations."
" I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.
O once for all, I have sworn by my holiness-- and I will not lie to David
that his line will continue forever and his throne endures before me like the sun. It will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky." (Psalm 89:35-37)
Many are familiar with the story of David as the shepherd king of Israel. The Messiah would later be called the “Son of David” for a multitude of reasons. One being that he would also be like David, a shepherd king (Micah 5:4) but also by virtue of being physically a descendant of David (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham”
( Matthew 1:1)
It’s no accident that Matthew opens up his gospel narrative with this important record showing Jesus’ Jewishness and his ancestry. Beginning with the family tree of Jesus was not only a bold way to begin his gospel, it sets the tone for the rest of his book which was designed to provide evidence to Jewish readers supporting the reasons Jesus truly was the Jewish Messiah. It is obvious that Matthew’s gospel account was intended for Jewish readers. More Old Testament prophecies are quoted in Matthew’s gospel than any other book in the New Testament. Beginning with the genealogy made sense since ancestry records were extremely important in Jewish culture. These were vital public records establishing legal and family rights. Matthew (a former Jewish tax collector) was no stranger to record keeping. In the case of Jesus' claim of being Messiah it would have been critically important to trace his ancestry to the line from which the prophecies pointed to the Coming One of the seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:18), from the tribe of Judah - Genesis 49:10) and through the family line of David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) (Psalm 89).
Matthew wastes no time in setting forth the royal credentials of Jesus and dispels any doubts regarding his rights to the throne of David. Along the way, Matthew by virtue of who he includes in the family tree, seems to take the opportunity to convey several other important lessons as well. The inclusion of four women and several gentiles in the record would very likely come as a surprise. They declare the uniqueness of the Messianic line and reinforce the promise that the Messiah would be a blessing for all nations, Jews and Gentiles. He was coming for all sinners, men and women. As someone who had some very colorful ancestors, he was going to be a Messianic king who could relate to all mankind, royalty as well as rejects. These surprises in the genealogy also prepared the readers to brace themselves for other unusual aspects of Jesus birth they were about to learn – the virgin conception and the highly unusual marriage arrangement with Joseph to Mary during her pregnancy. Certainly there was gossip surrounding Mary’s possible affairs with Roman soldiers etc. Matthew wrote to clear the record by laying out the strange but godly truth. “ This how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”(Matthew 1:18)
As mentioned earlier, any claims to being the Messiah would require strong proof of an established connection to the royal line of David. An in-depth analysis of the structure of this genealogy will reveal a strong connection with king David. For instance Judaism recognized significance attached to the numerical value of Hebrew letters. This comes from an approach known as Gematria, a system of analyzing numbers in order to reveal interesting facts. Tracing Jesus lineage from Abraham to David in sets of three groups of 14 generations would have held particular interest to Jewish readers. In Hebrew the word David (as in, King David), is three letters with the consonants D-V-D (vowels are not independent letters). D (or daled) is the fourth letter and so it’s given a value of four, and V (or vav) is the sixth letter and therefore has a value of six. Thus, when we put these together the d-v-d correlates to 4+6+4, which has a total value of 14. David, then, equals 14. The fact that 14 generations each separate Abraham and David, David and the exile, and the exile and Jesus, serves to reinforce this connection between Jesus and David. Many Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel would likely be impressed that Jesus in his genealogy was so uniquely connected to David. Having said all this, we now consider the other genealogy in Luke.
The significance of the two genealogies
Have you ever wondered why two genealogies of Jesus are presented, one in the book of Matthew and the other in Luke? Have you ever wondered why there seems to be two different genealogies? If you take a careful look you will see that they both include ancestries from Abraham and David and yet there are differences. Luke also mentions the fact that Jesus was from the house and family of David
"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child." (Luke 2:4)
One of the reasons for including the other genealogy in Luke 3 is to explain how God provided a solution for an ancient dilemma that affected the promised seed line. Starting with David's son, Solomon, the kings that ruled in Judah all descended from the line of David. However, a pronouncement was made to one of those kings that seemed to go contrary to all the promises. Around the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah, the royal line of David was cursed for all who would descend from the last king, Jehoiachin.
"As surely as I live.' declares the LORD, "even if you, Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear- to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the other Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to." Jeremiah 22:24-27
In other words, Jeremiah’s message from God pronounced a devastating curse on the royal line, No one coming (as a physical descendant) from Jehoiachin’s line would rule on the throne. As a result of Jehoiakim’s sins and his son’s sins, God cursed his line starting with his son Jehoiachin (or Jeconiah also known as Coniah).
" Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants?
Why will he and his children be hurled out, cast into a land they do know?
O Land, land, land hear the word of the LORD this is what the LORD says: Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah." Jeremiah.28-30
This brings us to comparing both genealogies. An examination of Matthew's genealogy of Jesus reveals that Matthew is tracing Jesus ancestry through Joseph (Matt.1:16) and that Joseph’s ancestors were actually connected to the royal line of David. In fact, he actually was a physical descendant of Jehoiachin (Matt.1:11). This meant that physically there was a connection of Joseph (Jesus’ legal father) with the royal line that was cursed. Because of the curse, it was not possible for Joseph to be biologically related to Jesus. Genetically connected to Joseph would not be kosher. On the other hand, a close examination of Luke's genealogy of Jesus reveals that Luke is tracing Jesus ancestry through Mary. Luke hints at the indefiniteness of Jesus coming from Joseph when he says, “He was the son or so it was thought of Joseph the son of Heli”. Heli was actually the father or ancestor of Mary. The fact that Mary’s name is omitted is not so unusual. Note also that opponents of the early Jewish believers never tried to disprove the genealogies and after all, all records were open to the public.
Luke’s emphasis is also on Jesus’ human ancestry that goes all the way back to Adam and that his ancestry could be traced back to David but not through the royal line but rather through Nathan, another son of David. The implications were staggering. The genealogy confirmed that Jesus was a true physical descendant of David.
By virtue of Joseph as a legal father (not his physical father) Jesus was not physically a descendant of Jeconiah, and yet legally he had claims to being of the royal line. Jesus was in the unique position to be both physically (through Mary) related to David and legally connected to the royal line (through Joseph) and yet avoiding the curse. In other words he was exceptionally qualified to be the Messiah!!
Think about how amazing this was. Although the Messiah was to come from the house and family of David, he could not be biologically descended from the particular royal line of the Judean kings after Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22:29-30). Jews must have wondered how this could ever be possible? The rabbis must have scratched their beards for some time on this. The promise of God to David that his Messiah would sit on his throne forever was made with an oath.
The answer is actually found in the phenomenon of what is commonly referred to as the virgin birth although it’s actually more accurately the virgin conception! If truth were told, Joseph and Mary were both of the family of David but Joseph had royal blood in his family background as well as cursed royal blood. Matthew’s account is focused on Joseph’s significant role in legally becoming the father of Mary’s child although he did not contribute the physical seed. In other words, Jesus birth through Mary established him as a physical descendant of David but physically not related to the cursed line. The virgin birth was a miracle that made it possible for Jesus to have the rights to reign on the throne of David and yet not be genetically related to the line of David that was cursed. I find this quite amazing. This explains the necessity for the two genealogical accounts and how the gospel writers got it right. The evidence and credentials for Yeshua’s being the long awaited Messiah continues to shine. The case for credibility of the New Testament documents as undisputed history continues to be solid. We need to dig deep to find those golden nuggets of truth that reside within the Scriptures. Those who like to criticize the Bible often superficially read the Bible and thus miss out on the deeper meaning of the scriptures. When we do dig, our eyes will be opened to find a deeper understanding of Him who is the treasures of all wisdom and knowledge as Paul declared in his letter to the Colossians;
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Messiah in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)
In summary: Messiah's ancestry is an important issue. He had to be of the family line of David. The Messiah was regarded as the root of Jesse, the seed of David, the one descendant of David to whom God promised to establish his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 89:3-4. 20-29; 35-37 Isaiah 9:6-7). An interesting dilemma occurred when God Himself cursed the line that the Judean Kings came from. The answer to this dilemma is the virgin birth and is revealed in the two genealogies of Jesus given in the book of Matthew and Luke. Both of these family trees were necessary. Together they reveal Yeshua’s right to be the Messiah, his royal ancestry, his human ancestry, his connection to sinful men, his miraculous birth, and much more. Both genealogies were necessary to establish how God indeed was able to keep his covenant with David, to place a descendant of his that would reign on the throne forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16/ Psalm 89:3-4;). Based on the ancestral record of Yeshua of Nazareth no Jew could argue that he was not qualified to be the Messiah. The genealogies become one of the greatest threads linking the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament books. They reinforce his Jewishness and provide additional powerful evidence that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.
The angel Gabriel summed it all up when he told Mary, that her baby was destined to fulfill Messianic greatness:
“You will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and
will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.” - Luke 1:31-33
As composer genius George Frideric Handel so powerfully said, “Hallelujah,
-- Phillip Lester, Bloomfield, NJ 8/10/12