< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Jesus’ Family Tree

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jesus’ Family Tree

Matthew begins his gospel and story of Christ’s life with a genealogy that is 17 verses long. He did this because his main aim in writing his gospel was first to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews required the proof of a man’s ancestry before they could even consider his credentials for royalty or priesthood. Or even his place among the people of God.

For example to be a priest, one would have to produce an unbroken line of ancestry all the way back to Aaron. Genealogies were very important to the Jews. Therefore, it was imperative that before beginning the story of the birth of the Messiah, His direct line to the throne of David (and therefore His link with Old Testament prophecies concerning that line should be fully traced.

David Baron, a distinguished Jewish rabbi who also was a Christian, stated that if the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to the throne of David had not been well-known in Jerusalem to be flawless, the Jews would never have gone so far as to crucify Him. Instead they would have just denounced Him as an imposter on the day He entered Jerusalem and was received by the people shouting “Son of David” at Him. But no voice was raised to dispute His legal title.

Until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the genealogical records were stored in the Temple and were accessible to all. But when Titus destroyed the Temple all the records were destroyed and only the genealogies in Matthew and Luke remain to give the lineal descent from David. There is no other documentary proof that someone else could prove He is of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David and rightful heir to the throne. No other man can now come along and prove He could be the Messiah.

Before Christ these genealogies were carefully guarded because they were the authentic records of the continuing fulfillment of God’s ancient promises through a particular line and through a particular people. They contained the carefully traced family line through which the promise of Genesis 3:15 was transmitted and thousands of years before. As early as Genesis 49:10 it was prophesized that Judah’s family line would produce the Messiah.

All Bible genealogies culminate in this final one, which ends with Christ’s birth. After that genealogies completely disappear from scripture. Peter’s ancestors aren’t mentioned, Paul’s mother and father aren’t mentioned…

Matthew’s genealogy ends and in Matthew 1:21 it says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Once Christ was born the only family line that God recognizes now is that which has its direct source in Christ. Whether we are reborn in Him and therefore a child of God. This is all the genealogy we need!

John 1:12-13 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Galatians 4:5-7 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.


Matthew’s genealogy is abridged, omitting several names contained in Old Testament genealogies. It includes 42 generations over 2000 years. It is carefully arranged into 3 cycles of 14 generations, each concerning a specific period in Israel’s history.

Matthew 1:1-5 concerns the first period of Israel’s patriarchal history of about 1000 years: namely Abraham to David.

The second cycle of 14 names Matthew 1: 6-11 concerns Israel’s kingdom period of about 400 years from David until the nation went into captivity to Babylon.

The third cycle of 14 names Matthew 1:12-16 covers the 600 years of Israel’s history from their return from Babylon to the land of Palestine until the birth of Jesus.

The difference between Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew and the one in Luke is – in Matthew; Joseph’s family tree is given. In Luke it’s Mary’s. I’ve heard it suggested that both are in the Bible to show that either way you trace it – Christ traces back to King David and beyond.

Some people are thrown in Mary’s family because in Luke 3:23 it records Heli as the father of Joseph. But Heli was actually Mary’s father. Jewish custom is a man becomes his wife’s father’s son by marriage. In Matthew 1:16 Jacob is listed as Joseph’s father.

Another difference between the 2 genealogies is that Luke’s ascends to Adam (so it starts with Jesus and works its way all the way back.) Matthew’s descends and only from Abraham. This is because Luke’s gospel presents Christ as the Son of Man who as Savior of the world belongs to all humanity. His gospel has been called the Gentile gospel. While Matthew wrote primarily to the Jews, who were the first people to accept Christ and be converted and therefore the first to need a record of His life.

So Matthew, who was only concerned with convincing the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah, began where Jewish history begins: with Abraham the first great patriarch and David the greatest of their kings. The Messiah is shown by ancestry to be connected with the covenant promises made to Abraham. He is the seed of Galatians:

Galatians 3:13-16 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. 15Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.

One thing that’s kind of amazing about Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is that it includes the names of 5 women. Almost none of the Old Testament genealogies ever mention women, only the father’s names. Before Christ, Jewish women had no legal status. Check out Matthew 19:8 8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

In spite of the fact that God had included certain merciful clauses in the Law of Moses for a woman’s protection, the Jew still regarded a woman merely as the possession of her father or husband who could do as he would with her. In his morning prayer he thanked God that he was not born a gentile, a slave or a woman! So it really is something that 5 women are listed in Christ’s genealogy.

Even more surprising is the kind of women! 3 of them: Rahab, Tamar and Ruth were from non-Jewish backgrounds. 3 had pretty big sins in their lives: Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba. Since this is a departure from Jewish tradition, we need to look at the reason for including women at all and these 5 in particular for the great honor of being listed in Christ’s pedigree.

Tamar’s story is in Genesis 38. She was a heathen girl when Judah’s eldest son, Er, married her. Genesis 38:7 says he died because “he was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord put him to death.” In that day the dead man’s brother was supposed to marry the widow to insure the continuance of his brother’s line. Well, the next son, Onan did that, but he died for the same reason, according to Genesis 38:8-10.

Tamar’s father-in-law out of superstition blamed his innocent daughter-in-law Tamar for the deaths of his two sons. He didn’t allow the 3rd son to marry her leaving her without legal inheritance or a share in the birthright of God’s people.

She wanted her place in God’s people and to experience His promises to them. So instead of going back to her pagan people and seeking a husband from them she stayed put. This required faith, which is probably one of the reasons her name is included. Faith in the promises of God. Christ came in order that all sinners who believe, Gentile or Jew, should be brought into God’s own family.

Rahab was also a heathen. The Bible says she was a harlot. However when she heard of God’s miraculous leading of His people and of His greatness, Rahab chose to believe this and chose to identify with His people, believing that God would also deliver her. She acted in several specific ways to prove her faith in God. Even risking her own life for her faith. Rahab was notorious for her former sinful life. She was just the kind of person Jesus came into the world to save.

Matthew 9:13 8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
God called her to believe in Him, and then He honored her faith in Him and in grace gave Rahab a position in the direct line of descent of the Messiah.


Ruth. The Bible presents her as a morally pure woman. However she also was a Gentile, but she chose to leave her heathen nation and be identified with God’s people through her mother-in-law Naomi even though it might mean she would never remarry and have children. God also rewarded her faith. She became the great-grandmother of King David.

She thought she had given everything up – but looked what she gained!

Bathsheba. She’s mentioned here as Uriah’s wife – he was an honorable man treated unjustly – so has a place of honor in this list. David and Bathsheba’s first child of adultery dies. Their 2nd, Solomon was born after God’s forgiveness. This is a wonderful example of how God in Christ removes our sin as far as east is from the west and blesses a repentant spirit. When God forgives, He not only forgets, but blesses us far beyond anything we could ever imagine by causing us to be caught up into His redemptive purpose for the world.

The last woman mentioned in this genealogy is Mary. All it says here is “of whom was born Jesus” since Jesus was born of her alone. Jesus was the unique Son of God.
This genealogy tells us that Christ is the promised Messiah and that He came into the world to save ALL sinners- male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and freeman. Those who He has cleansed are clean and fit to be included with the greatest of His saints.

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