The Coming of Christ in Matthew’s Genealogy

Today, we are featuring an abridged version of post that was originally run on the Verity Fellowship’s blog. The Verity Fellowship, a resource for women who minister the Word of God, is a gospel-centered ministry of Western Seminary that launched this past year.

When my family opens the Bible on Christmas morning each year, we turn to the traditional accounts of Jesus’ first advent. Yet, there are some passages that we often leave out or quickly skim over. One of those is the genealogy found at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.

Growing up in youth group, we made fun of genealogies. We always skipped them in the Bible reading time, or made up funny ways to say the names. Even today, I am guilty of skimming genealogies when reading Scripture. However, the importance of genealogies should not be overlooked. Through their content and in their structure, genealogies communicate deep theological truths.

Following are two key things about the coming of Christ found in the genealogy that Matthew begins his narrative with.

Jesus is the Fulfillment of God’s Old Testament Promises

Look at Matthew chapter 1.

The first verse begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Here, Jesus is called the Christ, meaning that he is the Messiah, the anointed one. For the people of Israel, this was the promised savior whom they had been waiting for.

Next, look at the paragraph breaks in the genealogy.

Matthew gives us three sections, each having 13 or 14 names. These genealogies are not intended to provide every person in Jesus’ family tree, but rather are structured to communicate that Jesus is the son of Abraham (first section), the son of David (second section), and the fulfillment of the exile hope (third section).

Abraham received the covenant promise of a people set apart for God, and he was told of a descendant who would bless all the families of the earth. (Gen. 12:2-3). Within the family of Abraham, the promised messiah would be a king, coming from the line of David (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Later, going into exile, the prophets would continue to reference this hope of a coming Davidic king (Jer. 23:5).

Matthew’s genealogy, then, is not just a list of names. Instead, it is intended to show us that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises.

The Message of Jesus is For All People

Another thing that stands out about Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is the way that it features women. At that time, it was not normal to find women in a genealogy. However, if women were to be included, one would expect figures such as the revered Sarah, Rachel, and Leah to show up. Instead, Matthew includes women whose reputations were questionable at best: Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba (by implication), and Ruth.

Tamar slept with her father-in-law when he thought she was a prostitute. Rahab was a prostitute, before her conversion into the people of God. Bathsheba isn’t mentioned by name, but instead by reference to her first husband (Uriah). This reminds the reader of the adultery and murder that occurred in David’s house. Ruth was a Moabitess, who was not to be admitted into the Israelite congregation (Deut. 23:3). One can only imagine the rumors that went around about this woman who arrived in Bethlehem during the time of the Judges.

Through mentioning or alluding to these women with scandalous pasts, Matthew is communicating that the message about Jesus is for all people: for men, for women, for Jews, and for Gentiles. More than this, the message of Jesus is for sinners. The people of the Messiah have always been a people of God’s grace rather than of their own glory. For a people in need of grace, Jesus would live a sinless life and bear their sin in his death.

Conclusion

Matthew’s genealogy perfectly sets up what comes next in his gospel account, wherein a young Nazarene woman, though a virgin, becomes pregnant. Who would believe such a claim – even if true?

But this fantastic story of the Immaculate Conception isn’t an isolated one. Mary’s bearing of this baby is set within the context of a surprising biblical narrative – one populated by women of ill repute who, by God’s grace, are included in the genealogy of the Messiah.

There are many places in the Scripture where you can read about the coming of Jesus. We’ve been waiting for the Messiah since Genesis 3. But when you read the Christmas story this year, don’t forget the genealogies and miss the beautiful significance of the Messiah’s family tree.

Taylor Turkington holds an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary, and is currently a D.Min. student at Western, as well as being the co-founder and co-director of the Verity Fellowship.