The gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew, who was also called Levi, and who was one of the Lord’s twelve disciples; and he was a tax-collector before the Lord called him. One of the features of his gospel is the way he makes clear how events in the life of Christ fulfil what was written in the Old Testament. And so, in ten or so places, he tells us that whatever happened happened in order to fulfil what the Lord had said in the Old Testament. So, for instance, glance forward to verse 22 where Matthew tells us that all this — that is, the birth of Christ to Mary — took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet. And then Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah. He does this ten or so times throughout his gospel in order to make clear that the Lord Jesus is the fulfilment or the climax of the history of our salvation. The whole of the Old Testament was pointing forward to his coming into the world.
And as well as quoting directly from the Old Testament, Matthew includes other kinds of links to the Old Testament. For instance, we have the genealogy which begins his gospel. The genealogy begins with Abraham and then he mentions all these other people, most of whom have appeared in the pages of the Old Testament. And the reason we know about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and David and Solomon and Rehoboam and the others is because their story is part of the bigger story about the Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world to save his people from their sins.
The gospel begins with the words:
The record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.
That’s how the NIV translates the opening words. A more literal translation is the following:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ….
And that’s significant because it recalls two verses in the Greek translation of the book of Genesis. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but it was translated into Greek. When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, it normally quotes the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is why the quoted words in the New Testament are sometimes a little different from our English translations of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Greek version of Genesis 2:4 says: ‘The book of the genealogy of the heavens and the earth….’ And the Greek version of Genesis 5:1 says: ‘The book of the genealogy of Adam’s family line….’ So, when Matthew begins his gospel about the Lord Jesus, he chooses his words carefully in order to link the Lord Jesus Christ to the creation of the heavens and the earth and to Adam. And this is because the Lord Jesus is the Last Adam and he came into the world to save his people from the effects of the First Adam’s sin and to bring his people into the new heavens and earth. And so, in chapter 4, we’ll read how the Lord Jesus withstood Satan’s temptations. Whereas the First Adam gave in to Satan’s temptation, the Last Adam was obedient. And he remained obedient to his Father in heaven even to the point of death on the cross. And whereas the First Adam brought death into the world, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, brought life.
Matthew describes the Lord Jesus as Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. At the end of chapter 1, an angel will explain for us why the Lord was named Jesus. And just to anticipate that, he was called Jesus because Jesus means ‘the Lord saves’ and he came into the world to save his people from their sins. That is, he came to save us from the punishment we deserve for our sins. And the name Jesus or ‘the Lord saves’ has links with the Old Testament, because throughout the Old Testament God appears as the Saviour of his people. Furthermore, the name Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. And Joshua was the one who was appointed by God to lead God’s people into victory over their enemies and he enabled God’s people to take over the Promised Land. What Joshua did for God’s people in the past, the Lord Jesus does in a much greater way, because he came to give us victory over sin and Satan and death and he came to lead us to the Promised Land of Eternal Life.
The word Christ is a title which means ‘anointed’ and it too has connections with the Old Testament, because throughout the Old Testament God promised to send his Anointed King to save his people from their enemies and to give them peace. And that’s what the Lord Jesus came to do for us.
By describing the Lord Jesus as ‘the son of David’, Matthew is connecting the Lord Jesus to God’s words to David in 2 Samuel 7 where he promised that David’s son would rule after him and his kingdom will never end. God’s promise to David was partially fulfilled by Solomon and by all the kings who came after him. But over time God revealed that he was going to send them an even greater king who will reign on David’s throne with righteousness. And the Lord Jesus is that king. He is King’s David’s greater Son, who came into the world to save his people and to give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
And by describing the Lord Jesus as ‘the son of Abraham’, Matthew is recalling God’s promises to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through Abraham. That is, all the nations of the world will be blessed through one of Abraham’s descendants. And the Lord Jesus Christ is that descendant, because whoever believes in him receives the blessing of God, which is the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the story of the Magi or the Wise Men who came to see the newborn king, which Matthew records for us in chapter 2, highlights for us that the Lord Jesus was born as a king. And he was a king, not just for Israel, but for all the nations. And therefore, after his birth, these Wise Men from the East, who represented the nations, came to pay tribute to the new king.
So, in the very first verse of his gospel, Matthew makes all these connections with the Old Testament to make the point right at the beginning of his gospel that the Lord Jesus is the fulfilment of all that has gone before; and he’s the one who was promised in the Old Testament; and he has come to give life to the world.
As we turn now to the genealogy itself, we should note that it’s divided into three parts. The first part is from Abraham to David. The second part is from David to the exile. And the third part is from the exile to the birth of Christ. According to verse 17, each part covers fourteen generations. Fourteen times three is forty-two. However, if you count up the names, there are only forty-one. Perhaps Matthew counted David’s name or Jeconiah’s name twice.
It’s not clear what significance the number fourteen has for Matthew. One commentator points out that there were fourteen high priests from the time of Aaron to the building of the temple in Jerusalem; and from the time of the building of the temple to the last priest mentioned in the Bible. And so, the number fourteen had special significance for the Jews. Others point out that the Jews associated each letter of the alphabet with a number; and if you add up the numbers associated with David’s name, you get fourteen. It seems an odd practice to us, but it was important to the Jews in those days. In fact, in order to arrive at the three sets of fourteen generations, Matthew has had to leave out some names which we would expect to find in the genealogy. However, while the number fourteen was clearly important to Matthew and to the Jews in his day, we’re not entirely sure of the significance.
If you glance over the names, many of the names in the first and second parts are familiar to us, because we read about them in the Old Testament. The names in the third part are less familiar to us, because we don’t know so much about what happened after the return from the exile. However, we’ve come across the name Zerubbabel in our studies in Haggai and Zechariah. It’s noteworthy that the genealogy contains the names of some women. There’s Tamar in verse 3 and Rahab and Ruth in verse 5 and the wife of Uriah in verse 6, who, of course, was Bathsheba. One of the significant things about these four women is that they were probably all foreigners. Tamar was probably a Canaanite. The only Rahab in the Bible is the prostitute who lived in Jericho and helped the spies. So, she was also a Canaanite. Ruth was a Moabite. Bathsheba was married to a Hittite. So, they were probably foreigners, Gentiles originally. As one writer puts it, by listing these women, Matthew anticipates the conversion of the nations to faith in Jesus Christ. And having anticipating it at the beginning of his gospel, he concludes his gospel with the Lord’s commission to his church to make disciples of all nations.
Furthermore, scandal is attached to each of these women, with the exception of Ruth. So, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and slept with Jacob; Rahab was a prostitute; and David committed adultery with Bathsheba. And yet all of them played a role in the history of our redemption and each was part of the big story of the Old Testament which leads us to the birth of Christ. And many of the men who are listed here are renowned for their sins, because, of course, not one of them was sinless. And, of course, the exile figures prominently in the genealogy, which happened as a result of the persistent sin of the whole nation. But despite the sins of these men and women, and the sins of the whole nation of Israel, God was able to work all things together for good so that — when the time was right — our Saviour was born in fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham and David. There is nothing which can prevent the Lord our God — who in infinitely and eternally and unchangeably powerful and wise — from fulfilling his purposes and saving his people. And so, we should marvel at our God, who has kept his promises despite our sins and shortcomings. And we should rejoice in Jesus Christ, who is the son of David and the son of Abraham and the only Saviour of the world.