Have you ever heard the saying, “You get it honest”? This saying means that you have inherited some trait from your mother or father (whether you like it or not) and someone has noticed that characteristic in you! We all pick up some qualities from our grand ‘ole family trees and knowing where we came from can typically tell us where we are going. That is most certainly the case with Jesus and that is why it is so important that we understand Jesus’ human lineage. Let’s first take a quick look at what Scripture says about his ancestry and then talk about why is it so important.
Two Lengthy Lineages
The two most comprehensive collections of Jesus’ family tree can be found at the beginning of Matthew and at the start of Luke. Though very similar, there are a couple of differences that make for some excellent points. Let’s take a look:
- The first thing that most will notice is that the family-line that the Gospel of Matthew paints goes only as far back as our father Abraham (Matt. 1:1-17). The tracing of Jesus’ line back to Abraham is important because Abraham was given a covenant promise by God of more descendants and land so great that could be not be measured (Gen. 12:1-3) – and Jesus carries that promise forward. Jesus is a part of the very same inheritance and covenant promise tradition that we know from Abraham!
- Secondly, the genealogy that Luke records seems to be much more detailed than that of the genealogy that Matthew records. Most understand Luke to be the most detailed researcher of the Gospel writers; he seldom fails to include more details than everyone else, even if it means writing a Gospel that is longer than the others. So where Luke has a very historical, detailed account, Matthew has a very theological record of Jesus’ forefathers (and even foremothers, which is very unusual for an ancient ancestry).
Though there is much more to be said about the genealogies of Christ, these two notes in themselves, some may argue, may be of most importance. What points are the Gospel recorders Luke and Matthew trying to make and, ultimately, why is the human lineage of Jesus so important?
First let’s look at the importance of Matthew tracing Jesus’ relationship to our Father Abraham. Some people argue that the entirety of Scripture, and that includes both the Old and New Testaments, can be summarized by one single word – Covenant. If you think about it, the Bible is really just a series of covenants, isn’t it? God continually creates covenants with his people as He moves closer to renewing the earth and all of the people on it. You can see examples of this with Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. The genealogy of Christ in the book of Matthew walks the reader through the very truth that God is a God of promise-keeping covenants. God is faithful to His word. In the opening scene of Matthew, by reading through the genealogy of Christ, readers realize that the God of Israel is not finished with His people. In fact, the story of the Old Testament continues on in Christ Jesus.
Though Luke also records the genealogy of Jesus, there appears to be a different point being made because of how detailed he is. Remember, Luke traces the family line back to the beginning of humanity, beginning with Adam. In fact, Luke is right on the money with the names he gives throughout this lineage. The names that Luke lists in 3:23-38 can also be matched in resources outside of the Bible. We see Matthew connect Christ to Abraham but Luke appears to be driving home the fact that Christ is both (1.) a descendent of King David as well as (2.) the Son of God (see Luke 3:38).
We see in just this short study that the human lineage, or genealogy, of Jesus is important because it shows that Jesus continues the covenant promises that God gave to Abraham. In other words, when we think of the birth of Christ we should also consider the continuation of God’s work done through Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. The human lineage is also important because it shows Jesus as the root of David (Rev. 22:16), the kingly messianic figure that Israel has long awaited. And finally, quite possibly of most importance, the human lineage proves that Jesus is himself the very Son of God.
Now having a better idea of the purpose as to why the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke included the genealogy of Christ, does that change the way that you read them? More than what many may see as just a boring inventory of names, the lengthy lists of those who went before Christ should encourage you in your faith. Christ is a piece of this great work that God is doing. What is more, Christ concludes his earthly ministry with the commissioning of believers to continue on in that great work. In Matthew 28, right before Christ ascends to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, Christ instructs his disciples to GO into all of the world, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit. As a believer in Christ Jesus, you now belong to this Heavenly family. With being adopted into this family, now an heir to the inheritance that God shares with us, we are instructed to tell others about Christ. So the story shall continue until the return of our King, Jesus Christ.
 Maybe without even realizing it, we are learning about God in the opening verses of Matthew (and whenever we learn and study God, that is called theology) thus making Matthew’s approach rich theologically.