A Redemptive-Historical Family Tree
God has woven some of the most glorious redemptive-historical details into Matthew's genealogy of Jesus Christ. It is fitting that, at the fulness of the time, we should see how all the things foretold by the prophets would be fulfilled in the person of Christ. Matthew introduces the genealogy by telling us that Jesus is the long awaited "son of Abraham" and the promised "son of David" (Matt. 1:1). In short, Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the true Israel and the King of Kings. This is, no doubt, Jesus' genealogy through his legal father, Joseph. It is showing us that He is the rightful heir to the throne of David, by way of legal representation. But, there is so much more that Matthew is telling us.
The better part of Jesus' legal genealogy contains reference to the many figures who structure the narrative of redemptive history in the Old Covenant. For instance, there is a depiction of the way in which God foreshadowed the redemptive incorporation of the Gentiles into His overarching purposes in the story of Boaz and Ruth (Matt. 1:5). Then there is a reflection on the way in which God, in His infinite wisdom, used the murderous and adulterous sin of David in order to raise up the Solomon, the son of David, to be the great type of the One who is Himself the wisdom of God, and the Prince of Peace (Matt. 1:6).
Furthermore, we cannot read Jesus' genealogy in Matthew without recognizing the way in which Jesus puts Himself in the lineage of a long line of notorious sinners. After all, He came into the world to be "numbered with the transgressors" (Is. 53:12) in order to take away the sin of the world (Matt. 1:21). We see this so clearly in the deceptive scheming of Jacob, the scandalous encounter between Judah and Tamar, the heinous sin of David, the backsliding of Solomon, the foolishness of Rehoboam, the wickedness of Manasseh, etc.
Glorious as these truths may be, there is still more. At the beginning of the genealogy, Matthew mentions three major epochs in Israel’s history: fourteen generation from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Exile. The two redemptive-historical periods--from Abraham to David, and from David to the Exile--mark the totality of Israel’s history as God's people waited for the promised of deliverance. The genealogy of Christ is more than a mere record of lineage. It introduces us to Christ as the fulfillment of the entirety of Israel’s promises; and, it prepares us for the idea of Christ is the one who recapitulates Israel’s history in order to fulfill those promises.
After He is born, Jesus goes down into Egypt and comes up out of Egypt (Matt. 2:13-23), through the waters (Matt. 3:13-17), into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil--where He overcomes by using Scripture that God gave to Israel in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11), up on the mountain to give His people God's law (Matt. 5-7), and down from the mountain to feed the people with bread like God fed Israel with the manna in the wilderness (Matt. 8).
Jesus then recapitulates the Kingdom period, telling the religious leaders of Israel that He was “a greater than David,” “a greater than Solomon” and “a greater than the Temple” (which Solomon built), had arrived as King (Mat. 12). Jesus explains that He and His disciples were the antitype of David and His mighty men, when He walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath–doing something similar to what David did when he took the showbread for his mighty men! The Kingdom typology runs, not chronologically, but thematically throughout the book. Beside the typology of David and the mighty men, Jesus was the antitypical fulfillment of Solomon’s coronation when He, unsuspectingly, rode into Jerusalem on a Donkey. Solomon had ridden to the throne, unsuspectingly, on a mule. Jesus also said in Matthew 12 that He, with His wisdom, was “greater than”--yet analogous to that of Solomon, who built the Temple.
In addition, Jesus recapitulates the prophetic era and ministry when He pronounces woes on the Pharisees (Matthew 23). Here he promised the destruction of the physical Temple that stood in Israel. As in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God departing from the Temple–moving out til it stood at the Mount of Olives–(Ezekiel 1-11), so Jesus (the real glory of God) left the Temple for the last time and went to stand on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple.
Finally, He was exiled at the cross, and brought about the restoration (promised by the prophets) of the true Israel in His resurrection. The entirety of the Old Testament prophetic message was exile and restoration--namely, judgement and salvation that found its fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
While all of these truths ought to thrill our hearts, we see the most astonishing truth in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus in the opening words. This is "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ." Reflecting on the Old Testament background of this phrase, G.K. Beale explains,
"Matthew’s genealogy begins in 1:1 with biblos geneseōs, which can be translated as the “book of the genealogy” or the “book of beginning” or the “book of genesis.” Genesis 2:4 LXX has biblos geneseōs: “This is the book of the generation [or ‘the book of the genesis’] of heaven and earth, when they came about, in the day in which God made the heaven and the earth.” Likewise Gen. 5:1–2 LXX has “This is the book of generation [biblos geneseōs] [some render it as ‘genealogy’] of man [i.e., Adam] in the day in which God made Adam, according to the image of God he made him. Male and female he made them, and blessed them; and he called their name Adam in the day in which he made them.” Then follows the first genealogy in the Bible, beginning with Adam and ending with Noah at the end of Gen. 5.
These are the only two places in the entire OT where the phrase biblos geneseōs occurs. Matthew’s expression thus appears to be an intentional allusion to these two statements early in the book of Genesis. The point is that 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. And just as Adam created others “in his own likeness, according to his image” (Gen. 5:3), so would Christ.
There is also mention of the Holy Spirit in conceiving Jesus (Matt. 1:18–20), who is the beginning of the new creation. Just as the Spirit was mentioned in Gen. 1:2 in bringing about the creation, so Matt. 1:18, 20 says, “Now the generation [genesis] of Jesus Christ was in this manner.… that which is begotten [gennēthen] in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This seems to focus even more on Jesus as the new Adam, as the beginning of the new creation."1
What could be more appropriate as the opening words of the New Testament than a reference to the new creation work of the second Adam. Creation and new creation structure all of human history in the eternal plan of God. They are the two great works of God. In the beginning of time, the Word spoke the world into existence (John 1:1-3). In the fulness of time, the Word comes into the world that He made to recreate a people for Himself (John 1:10-12).
1. G. K. Beale, A New w Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 388–389.