I will always remember a pastoral visit I made to an elderly saint. I was a seminary student, just beginning a summer internship, and she was the first person I visited. We had a pleasant time, and I was about to end with a Bible reading and prayer. I asked her if she had a passage she would like me to read. Without hesitation, she responded, “I would like you to read the genealogy from Matthew.” So I dutifully turned to Matthew 1 and read her the first seventeen verses. As you can imagine, when I finished reading, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why did you want me to read this passage?” Her answer was simple: “I’ve read it so many times, but I don’t know why it’s there.” As we remember the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ at this time of the year, I thought we could briefly consider why Matthew begins with this genealogy.
Matthew intentionally divides the genealogy of Jesus into three eras: Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian exile, and finally the Babylonian exile to Jesus. The first era we might call the era of nation building. God built one old man who was “as good as dead,” Abraham, into a nation of people as numerous “as the stars of heaven” (Heb. 11:12). And on the throne of that nation, God set David, the man after God’s own heart who would do all His will (Acts 13:22). This first era is the story of God’s royal line created and crowned.
But that royal line did not continue in faithfulness. The second era is the sad story of the royal line’s collapsing and being taken captive because of faithlessness and disobedience. No king who came after David measured up to his lofty standards. The kingdom fractured into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Israel was eventually destroyed and led away captive into Assyria. Judah endured longer under the reign of David’s descendants, and reformer kings such as Josiah and Hezekiah temporarily stemmed the tide of faithlessness. But eventually, the royal line collapsed and went captive into Babylon under King Jeconiah.
The final era from captivity to Jesus Christ is the story of the royal line restored (Matt. 1: 12–16). Many of the names in this section are unknown to us. But we do know Jeconiah and Zerubbabel. We know King Jeconiah for the judgment pronounced over him by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 22:24–25). And we know Zerubbabel because in him Haggai pronounced the judgment reversed (Hag. 2:20–23). Jeconiah was a king, but he was no servant of the Lord. Zerubbabel was no king, but he was the chosen servant of the Lord. David’s chosen line would be restored. God’s covenant promises would not fail.
The royal line in collapse would be reestablished by a Son of Abraham and David. King Jesus came to establish and uphold His kingdom in righteousness now and forever, and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isa. 9:7). Matthew begins his gospel with this genealogy to proclaim that God’s royal line, created and crowned, will now be consummated in the coming of Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord for Jesus our eternal King.