Matthew 1:1-17

Setting and Overview
Those who are unfamiliar with the Bible and are coming to study it for the first time often wonder by there are four Gospels and why they don’t simply just get combined into one. Those who have spent more time in the Gospels are hopefully familiar with the distinct messages and themes of each, even as all are fully true and historical, and recognize that the Gospels are not intended to be only history books but are rather are communicating key truths for us through selected events and teaching in Jesus’ life. We can get something of a feel for the themes of each Gospel by their openings: John’s focus on theology, Luke’s intent to create a detailed account that provides assurance, and Mark’s more concise communication of the good news of Jesus Christ. Matthew is a Jew writing to a predominantly Jewish audience who was largely familiar with the Old Testament and was eagerly awaiting the Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament. Matthew’s focus throughout is to show that Jesus is not only fully God and fully man, but He is also the Messiah, Israel’s long awaited savior.
Matthew’s first verse declares that he is providing a record of the history of Jesus Christ. The word for history can refer specifically to a genealogy (Genesis 5:1) or a broader history (Genesis 2:4) and here it is likely introducing all of the first two chapters. Matthew uses Christ almost as a proper name here, which is unusual for him (as opposed to Paul), but something he does a few other times in the Gospel. While “Christ” referred in the Old Testament to anyone who was anointed for a specific task, by this time it would virtually always be understood to refer to the long-awaited Messiah. His reference to David would certainly raise interest among Jews who longer for another king like David, and the reference to Abraham indicates that His connection to God’s covenant with Abraham.
The genealogy largely follows I Chronicles 2:1-15 and 3:10-19. After beginning with the better known figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we then get into figures who are less familiar, but whose stories nonetheless still highlight God’s sovereignty. Judah is a significant example of this, as it is through him that the royal line is promised to run (Genesis 49:8-10.) This occurs through his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38) who gives birth to the twins Perez and Zerah. Other than Amminadab (Numbers 1:7) we know little about the next several names, and the passage of time would seem to indicate that Matthew is only including specific names and not every generation, but then we come to the more familiar figures of Rahab (Joshua 2 and 6), Boaz and Ruth, (Book of Ruth), and Obed, Jesse, and then King David.
After David and Solomon, we see a mix of unrighteous (Rehoboam and Abijah) and good (Asa and Jehoshaphat) kings. Uzziah in Matthew is the same king named Azariah in I Chronicles 3:12, and we see from I Chronicles 3 that a few generations were skipped there as well. After Uzziah, Matthew mostly follows I Chronicles 3 through Jeconiah/Jehoiachin (II Kings 24:8-9, Jeremiah 22:30, 52:34) and the exile to Babylon and down to Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:2, 5:2.) The remaining names down to Joseph are unknown from other records. In verse 16, there is a significant change in tense in the Greek. Up to this point, the Greek verbs have been active, indicating that the father or ancestor brought about his descendant. In verse 16, we see this changed to feminine, and to passive, at the same time emphasizing Mary’s role while showing that Jesus was born not through human determination but through the Holy Spirit.
Examination and Application
Matthew’s genealogy is distinct in a number of ways. Unlike Luke, Matthew seems to be giving the royal succession, which is emphasized through referring to David as king. Matthew not only emphasizes women, which is unusual itself, but also some women who were unlikely candidates, being outsiders and having questionable pasts. Through that, Matthew seems to be emphasizing that God keeps His promises, and He does so to bring glory to Himself, not necessarily to those through whom He works. Throughout it all, though, Matthew still sticks to an important theme: Jesus is the Messiah, Israel’s long-awaited savior. The Old Testament prophesied about Him and pointed to Him, and Matthew will show their fulfillment in the chapters to come.
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