“Why All These Names?”

Why does Matthew, as he begins his Gospel, includes the names he does in 1:1–17. It may seem to us today as an unlikely way to begin a book, but the Holy Spirit wanted Matthew to give you this at the beginning of the good news.

Honor the Son of David as your King. Jesus fulfills God’s promise to David. Matthew 1:1 introduces not only the genealogy, but the entire gospel. The expression, “the book of genesis” is found twice elsewhere in Scripture: Genesis 2:4 and 5:1–2. Matthew seems to have this in mind. “Matthew is narrating the record of the new age, the new creation, launched by the coming death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And since Matthew is narrating a genealogy of Jesus, it is likely that the Gen. 5:1 reference is uppermost in mind, and that Jesus is being painted with the genealogical brush of Adam.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 389). “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The promise had been made in 2 Samuel 7:12–17. David later sang of this promise as “an everlasting covenant,” 2 Samuel 23:5 It was not exhausted in Solomon, for the kingdom was to be established forever. Jesus is David’s descendant. The genealogy traces the royal line. Joseph, as Jesus’ legal (adoptive) father, is included. Matthew’s genealogy differs from Luke (who traces back to Adam, not just Abraham). Some have suggested that Luke gives Mary’s line, and Matthew that of Joseph. Perhaps, more likely, Luke’s is the physical descent and Matthew the legal (and royal) line. Genealogy may be a hobby for you, but it is serious business for a royal family!

Serve your king. Matthew emphasizes Christ’s kingship, see Matthew 2. The gospel is the story of his ascension to his throne, a position which he earns through his obedient suffering and death. Matthew’s genealogy connects the last book of the Hebrew OT (Chronicles) with the new. 1 Chronicles starts out with a series of genealogies, including a record of those who returned from exile, 1 Chronicles 9. Matthew divides the genealogy into three sections, each with 14 generations. It takes a bit of manipulating to do that: verse 8 does not include Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah, and verse 11 omits Jehoiakim–all found in 1 Chronicles 3 and the parallel passages in Kings. And the third set gets 14 by counting Jeconiah (Heb. Jehoiachin) at the end of the second and the beginning of the third. It’s not that Matthew (the former tax collector) can’t count. Rather he is making a point. 7 is the number of completion, and each section is 7 doubled. At the end of the creation week God entered his rest—but Adam sinned and failed to enter. Abraham was a pilgrim as were his descendants until God brought them into the promised land. But even the kings could not give rest, and Israel went into captivity. Chronicles records the rise and failure of the kingship. Matthew takes you to the true King. Serve him! All power belongs to him. He calls you to submit to his rule, to honor him in all that you do

Trust the son of Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham leads you to Jesus Christ. God established his covenant with Abraham. God graciously comes to Abraham and initiates the covenant relationship. Abraham’s descendants will be a blessing, Genesis 12:3. This covenant also would be everlasting, Genesis 17:6,7. Abraham looked ahead to Christ’s time, John 8:56. By faith he saw the reality of what was promised him, Hebrews 11:13,17ff. The story of Abraham is an account of a walk by faith. Matthew’s Gospel, especially in the birth narratives, reflects the structure of the Exodus, calling you to walk by faith. Christ is the descendant of Abraham, and the genealogy shows it. He is the fulfillment of the covenant promise, and yet you are still on a pilgrimage, still walking by faith, not by sight.

Christ’s kingdom continues and fulfills the covenant line. The Old Testament emphasizes the concept of the covenant. The Gospel accounts emphasize the kingdom. Yet there is a connection, for the promised covenant Redeemer is the King. Matthew 1:1 ties the concepts together. Central to the idea of the covenant is the concept of union and fellowship with God. It is there with Abraham, it is repeated in Exodus 19 with Israel, and (as we’ve seen) it is there with David. Emphasizing genealogy can lead to pride (see John 8:31–33). But this genealogy reminds Matthew’s readers of the exile. The stories behind each name are the stories of sinners. David, though a man after God’s own heart, grieved God with his sin. This week I warned Bill Elder, who I expected would be reading Scripture, that there are a lot of proper names in the New Testament reading. He responded, “No sweat. They’re old relatives!” Good answer! “[Matthew’s] purpose to present Jesus as standing squarely in the center of the historical movement or revelation and redemption becomes more and more conspicuous. . . . As Abraham’s seed and as royal son of David’s line Jesus is seen to be no isolated figure, no mere innovator, but one who can be adequately measured only in terms of what has gone before.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, p. 124).

Recognize Jesus as the Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, has become man. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel. Matthew, like Luke, emphasizes the virgin birth, v.19. The son of Mary is truly the Son of God. His title is appropriately Emmanuel, as we will see next week, Matthew 1:22,23 and Isaiah 7:14. Christ’s human genealogy is important. It ties him in with our history. He is not just a temporary visitor, but is truly one of us. His true humanity gives you hope and comfort as you face trials and temptations. Jesus is real! Notice the people listed in the genealogy–some of them heroes of faith, some of them rather unattractive people. Many of them reflect the surprising grace of God. Rahab, the former harlot, is named in the line of the Savior. Ruth the Moabitess (from the people who had been excluded from Israel’s worship to the tenth generation) is one of his ancestors. The kings involved in the decay of the God’s people are included, as well as the survivors of the captivity. If the genealogy leading up to Christ is this mixed bag, take hope! Those of us who rest on him as our Savior are a very mixed bag. And not one of us is saved on the basis of who we are or what we have done. God’s grace is central throughout. “Matthew tells us who Jesus is. Yet his nature is never separate from his work, for he is the Savior for the nations. Matthew 1:1 introduces us to the hero by stating his name and his origin. He is Jesus the Savior, Christ the anointed, the son of Abraham, hence of both pagan and Jewish lineage, he is the Son of David, the great king.” (Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Vol. 1, p. 5).

Put your faith in Jesus as your Savior. He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. He is the One set apart by God for the work of redeeming his people. His name means “Jehovah saves.” See v. 21. Salvation is God’s work. He is your Redeemer. His name and title point to his work. Recognize him for who he is. Trust him, serve him. Four women are included by name–contrary to ancient practice. Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites, Ruth is a Moabitess. With the possible exception of Naaman, the Syrian, these are the best known Gentile converts to worshipping and serving the God of Israel. The Gospel begins with these, and concludes with “go into all the world. . . .” “The book of the genesis. . . . “ Matthew is giving you the account of the new creation, the line of the new humanity. Note how 2 Chronicles 36:23 concludes the Hebrew Scriitures. What that note of hope anticipates, Matthew reveals to you.

Jesus is the son of David. How will you serve your King this week? He is the son of Abraham. What are the areas in your life in which you need to concentrate on walking by faith? He is your Redeemer. How do you live as a forgiven sinner?

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.