by Dr. D ~ December 17th, 2012
(Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1: Wikipedia)
Every Christmas Eve when we traditionally read the Christmas story in the Bible to our children (and now our grandchildren) the genealogies are usually avoided or quickly glossed over since they seem to get in the way of the ‘real’ story.
However the genealogies in Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) are far more important than many of us realize. They actually answer the question posed by the traditional Christmas carol- ‘What child is this?’ The genealogies identify who this baby really was and how the child born to Joseph and Mary was not only a descendent of David but the rightful heir of the kingly line and a fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the lineage of the Messiah.
The Bible foretold that the coming Messiah would be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10) and a descendant of David ( Is.9:7; 2Sam.7:12-13) and an heir to the throne. However, one major problem stood in the way of anyone in the kingly line of David ever actually becoming the Messiah. The prophet Jeremiah put a prophetic curse on the Davidic kingly line following King Jeconiah (Jer. 22:30):
Jer 22:30– “for no more shall a man of his seed (Jeconiah’s) prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling in Judah.”
So the line was to be condemned for all time and no descendent would ever prosper or sit on the throne? So how then would a Messiah ever come out of the kingly line of David as prophesied and yet the curse of Jeremiah continue to be fulfilled? A real dilemma.
Hundreds of years later, we find the direct descendent of Jeconiah living as a poor carpenter in Nazareth far from the throne and the centers of power and wealth in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-7 which we usually ignore proves that this poor carpenter named Joseph was from the tribe of Judah and a direct descendent of David and heir of the kingly line.
Another problem, according to Christmas story in the Bible, Mary was a virgin (as foretold in Is.9:14) and therefore even if Joseph was of the kingly line of David, Jesus wasn’t really his natural son. How then can it be claimed that this child born in a manger in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of the scriptures- from the tribe of Judah, a direct descendent of David and heir to the kingdom?
The other genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 helps us to answer a couple of these questions. It tells us that Jesus was the ‘supposed’ son of Joseph and then gives us a different genealogy than Matthew. One that confirms that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and a descendent of David but not an heir of the kingly line through Jeconiah.
An early Christian tradition is that the Lucan genealogy actually represents Mary’s family. It does make sense, Mary was a virgin so had to be from the tribe of Judah and a descendent of David if the Biblical requirements were to be fulfilled. However, this still leaves us with one problem- How can her son Jesus be the heir of Joseph and heir to the throne of David? As an adopted son Jesus could only inherit the property of Joseph but not the familial right to the throne.
The Christmas story in the Bible actually explains how this was possible. When Joseph fulfilled his marriage to Mary who was pregnant at the time, rather than breaking it off, he was in essence accepting the coming child as his own. On the eighth day after Jesus was born he was circumcised and later Joseph along with Mary took him to the Temple to be registered and consecrated as his ‘first-born’ son (LK 2:22-24). Therefore Joseph officially recognized Jesus as his son (not by adoption) and first-born heir in the line of David and the tribe of Judah.
Jesus therefore was confirmed to be of the tribe of Judah and a descendent of David through the genealogy of his mother but received his legal rights to the throne of David from Joseph who recognized him as his son and first-born heir.
The Matthew genealogy identifies Joseph as heir of the kingly line through Jeconiah. Therefore if Jesus had been his natural son he would have been subject to the curse. However, as the recognized first-born son and heir he received the inheritance of the kingly line without the curse. Jesus was not from the literal seed of Jeconiah (Coniah) yet was the heir.
While we can’t prove today that the genealogy in Luke was Mary’s this whole scenario is supported by the fact that over 50,000 Jews in Jerusalem alone did end up believing that Jesus was the Messiah prior to 70 AD (CE) while the temple records were still available and the genealogies could still be confirmed. This included a large number of well educated Pharisees who converted to the faith. The genealogies probably received a prominent place in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke because they were very important to the early Jewish-Christian community even if they are not so meaningful to us today.
Therefore, the next time you gloss over the genealogies of Jesus, remember their importance and why they are there in the first place. They confirm that the child born of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem was from the tribe of Judah, a descendent of David, and the legal heir to the messianic throne. They are the credentials that prove that Jesus fulfilled all of the lineage requirements of the Messiah. Also they provide a unique resolution of the thorny and contradictory problem posed by God’s curse (Jeremiah 22:30) on the messianic kingly line. *Top