The book of Matthew serves as our gateway into the New Testament. It is fitting then, that it opens with the following verse:
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1 NIV)
This tends to be the sort of jargon-heavy sentence that most readers of scripture casually skip over, assuming that they are fine print of filler. However, a great deal is said in these introductory words that helps frame the world-shattering revelations that follow.
First, the author - commonly believed to be the apostle Matthew, but he never identifies himself - makes clear that this book will be about Jesus. That name has become so familiar to us in the millennia that have passed since that we often forget that it held great significance even before it was given to a child laying in a manger in Bethlehem. In the original language the name Jesus is “Yeshua.” The name itself means “God delivers” and we normally translate it as “Joshua.” Those who have read the Old Testament (and we can be sure that the original audience for this gospel certainly did) should immediately recognize that name as belonging to the successor of Moses who delivered God’s people from their aimless wandering in the desert and led them into the Promised Land. Already, Matthew is making a claim about who this new “Jesus” will be and what He is sent to accomplish.
Next, the author tells us that this Jesus will be the “Messiah.” This term - which means “anointed one” - is another that would have been familiar to students of the Law and the Prophets (what we call the Old Testament). During and after the exile, the prophets God sent to His people spoke of one who would be “anointed” - that is, chosen by God. Some prophets spoke of a suffering savior who would bleed and die for his people (Jewish scholars referred to this man as “Mashiach ben Yosef” - Messiah, son of Joseph), while others spoke of a victorious king, who would establish a utopia-like Kingdom of Heaven on earth (scholars called this man “Mashiach ben David” - Messiah, son of David). As we continue reading the genealogy that follows, Matthew makes the startling claim that this Jesus would be both son of David and son of Joseph - suffering savior, and reigning king.
Finally, the author refers to this Jesus as a “son of David” and “son of Abraham” - today we would probably phrase it “descendant of David/Abraham.” As we will see in the genealogy, of course, this Jesus was like anyone a descendant of a great many people. Why single out these two ancestors?
Looking back at these characters from the Old Testament, we find that both men had something in common: God had made a covenant, that is a “promise” or a “contract” with each of them. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be numerous and be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. (Gen. 22:18). To David, God promised that one of his descendants would sit on the throne forever. By mentioning that this messiah is a descendant of these two men, Matthew is telling his audience that Jesus will fulfill the promises that God made to their ancestors - that this “anointed one” would be the blessing to all people, and the king who would rule for all time.
In all of this, Matthew is reinforcing that Jesus’ ministry and work - as revolutionary as it is - is rooted in the Old Testament. As Jesus himself will say in chapter 5, He did not “come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17 NIV) In Jesus, God is finishing the work that He began with David, Moses, Abraham and Adam: He is redeeming His people - ALL of His people, once and for all. This isn’t some new mission; it has been the plan all along.
And now, this new “Joshua” - God’s anointed deliverer, rightful King of Creation, Blessing to All, who sits on Throne of Heaven from now until eternity - looks out from the pages of Matthew’s account directly at you and asks:
“Will you follow me?”