One of the joys of expository preaching is that you get to be exposed to all different portions of Scripture. Not many preachers would on their own choose to preach through genealogies, but expository preaching is a method of preaching that requires you to move verse by verse, passage by passage through the Scripture. So, I’m forced to do this, but gratefully so. I am very much encouraged by this passage and I hope you are as well. There’s more good news for you this morning. This is just going to be a morning of good news. We’re going to do this genealogy in one shot, okay? So there are 77 names in this genealogy. That’s doesn’t mean 77 sermons for you, okay? I’ll just do one sermon. Write it down: 15 verses of Luke’s Gospel here in a single week.
Thank you very much, yes. That’s not going to happen that often, I can assure you. Visitors, welcome to our church, but this is not typical at all. We typically go a little bit slower, and I’ll admit that it seems quite challenging, especially for me as the preacher, to keep your attention with a list of names.
As I said, there are a total of 77 names here. And so for those of you who like lists, maybe those of you who are some bean counters by nature, or you like studying minutia, this is right up your alley. And may today’s sermon inspire you for further study. For the rest of you—I’m assuming the rest of you means a vast majority of you—genealogical record-keeping is the cure for insomnia. It’s what you do if you want to go to sleep at night. You’re going to be relieved to find me among your number, but I hope that what you see here in this genealogy is not sleep-inducing. I’ll be watching. But it’s actually cause for great rejoicing. I think you’ll see that as we move through the text. The more you slow down and the more you think carefully about Scripture, as is always the case, you find more than meets the eye at first glance.
So, we’re not going to walk through the names just to relieve you, or warn you, whichever kind of person you are. We’re not going to walk through this list of names, commenting on each entry. That would actually be impossible, actually, for a number of names because we know nothing about some of the names that are in here. And that is not the purpose of Luke’s genealogy anyway. What we’re going to do is get some clarity about Luke’s genealogy, learn some lessons from it, and then understand the purpose and the significance of it. Why is it here? Why did Luke put it here right between the baptism and the temptation of Jesus Christ? It’s a very important question. It’s a very important purpose for the genealogy. Actually, it’s quite remarkable that once you get into the details and the controversies surrounding the genealogies of Jesus in the Bible, you know that Luke’s genealogy is not the first one recorded in the New Testament. I’m sure you know that. It’s the second one. The first one is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. It was the very first thing Matthew wrote down—the genealogy of Christ—before he recorded any of the events of Jesus’s life and ministry.
In fact, as we get started here, I’d like you to turn over to Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 1, verses 1 to 17. Just get your finger in that text and keep it there. We’re going to be turning back and forth just a little between those two records as we get into our first point. And here’s how we’re going to cover the ground—just trying to get a bird’s eye view of Jesus’ lineage. We’re going to swoop in from time to time to look at some details. But here’s the outline: Point number one: The Nature of the Genealogy; point number two: The Teaching of the Genealogy; and point number three: The Purpose of the Genealogy. Now, I’m going to admit to you that those outline points are a little lackluster—they don’t exactly inspire interest or pique your curiosity in any way, but they do accurately summarize the ground we’re going to cover. Let me try to capture your attention for the sermon not with those outline points, but this way. Here is why you should pay attention this morning; here’s what you’re going to find deeply meaningful today as we study the lineage of Jesus Christ. First, by studying Jesus’ genealogy, you’re going to find some good reasons for putting all of your confidence in the Bible. The Bible, as we know, is God’s Word. As such, it is inerrant, it is without error, it is utterly reliable—and because of that, it is absolutely sufficient. You can and you should put all of your confidence in the Bible as a divinely inspired, historically accurate record guaranteed by the faithful character of God himself. So there is a first reason to pay attention. I want to solidify your conviction about God’s word.
Secondly, by studying Jesus’ genealogy, you’re going to find even more reasons in Luke’s Gospel to praise God for our great salvation. We’ve already learned so much in these first three chapters. We’ve learned so much about all that God did already to plan and secure our salvation. And this genealogical record just adds to the wonder of God’s divine wisdom. That’s what you’re going to see—God’s wisdom on display in planning and securing our salvation.
The third thing that will motivate you to pay attention this morning is that by studying the genealogy this morning, you’re going to find more reasons for your personal devotion to God, for worshiping him and also for a desire to spread the Word to others, to tell others about him. And this last issue really is the point here. This is one of the main reasons that Luke inserted Jesus’ genealogy in this Gospel right here in the text. It was because he wanted to assure his Gentile readers that God has an interest in saving them as well from their sins. Jesus is not just the Messiah for the Jews, he’s the Savior of the whole world. This is very important to understand for our own devotion, our own appreciation of what God has done, but also to inspire and motivate us and strengthen us as we go out to tell others about Jesus Christ the Savior of all people. He wants to save them.
So, does that help get you interested, at least just a little bit? I hope so. Good. Let’s get started with the first point here: The Nature of the Genealogy. As you look at Luke 3:23 to 38, and as you just kind of let your eyes scan the text, let me point out just a few features here. There’s an introductory verse, which we’re going to get into in a moment—it’s a very important verse. And then there’s a long list of names following from that, starting with a man named Heli—or Eli is really the name—and then ending with Adam, the first man that God created. And it’s not typical for Jewish genealogical records to move that way—in reverse order. Typically, they move from antiquity on up to the present. Luke’s record—he moves in reverse order. He goes back to Adam. And Luke puts Jesus at the very center of human history. And then he moves backward to the beginning of time from him. This a comprehensive genealogy of absolute precision. When Luke said in Luke 1:3 that he intended to write an orderly account—remember we studied that? He intended to study everything carefully and write an orderly account, and that extended to everything he wrote. No exceptions, especially right here in the genealogy. These names that are connected to Christ, as I said a total of 77 human names—78 if you include God as an additional name. The repeated phrase that separates each of the names from one another—“the son of”—is inserted by the ESV translators just to show the relationship, but it’s not repeated in the Greek text. Literally, it just says, “Eli of Matthat, of Levi, of Melki,” and so on. It’s a very basic structure. It’s a long list of names here going all the way back to Adam.
Now by way of comparison and contrast, if you turn over to Matthew’s genealogy—keep a finger in Luke 3—we are going to start this morning by reading that genealogy and you’re going to see as we read some immediate and some obvious differences between Matthew and Luke. Here we go. Matthew starts with a thesis statement in verse 1 to let us readers know what we we’re about to read. He says:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
That sets up his Jewish readers for the purpose and the significance of his genealogy, and then he proceeds from verses 2 to 16 to give the genealogy.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Let me get my tongue from being numb again. I want to bring it back to life. Wait until we read the 77. That’s 41 names starting with Abraham and then moving forward. Comparing his list with Luke’s genealogy, we know that Matthew has clearly skipped some names. He’s skipped some generations. But notice his final verse there in 17. He has a purpose and he’s explicit about his structure. He says:
So all generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
People ask, “Well, why 14? What’s the significance of the number 14? Maybe we should write that new book, Fourteen Days of Purpose and make a million.” Matthew—he hasn’t told us why 14, and we really don’t know for certain. We can’t get into his head. We can’t ask him, “Why 14, Matthew?” But the best explanation and probably the reason there is this repetition of 14 and this structure is that this a mnemonic device. It’s for the purpose of helping Jewish Christians memorize the Messianic genealogy. Considering that the temple where many of the genealogical records were kept was destroyed in A.D. 70, it may be good to memorize Jesus’ genealogy. Jews would have known their history well, and they would have known it well enough to recognize there were gaps in Matthew’s genealogy. It wouldn’t have been a big surprise to them. It wouldn’t have been misleading for Matthew to exclude some generations, some of the names. This device just merely helped them with their memory, which in a few short years of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel would become very important.
“God’s wisdom on display in planning and securing our salvation.”Travis Allen
Matthew’s genealogy parallels Luke’s with the names that are between Abraham and David. But then once it gets to David, it differs considerably from Luke from David forward. Some other features of Matthew’s genealogy, which are remarkably different from Luke’s, are that Matthew has included some different notes of commentary. He’s elaborated just a bit on some of the names and some of the situations and circumstances. Again, that is just a reminder for that time in history for his Jewish audience. He’s included the names of some of the women in his genealogy and their significance. That not only differs from Luke’s genealogy—and Luke, by the way, is the one who emphasizes women and their role in the Gospel story—but this sets Matthew apart not only from Luke, but also from official records, which only included the names of fathers. Matthew is not trying to duplicate official records; he’s teaching the Jewish people about their history. Jews, by the way, were fastidious about keeping genealogical records ever since they entered the Promised Land when Joshua divided the land among the tribes of Israel. The accurate transfer of property from generation to generation depended on keeping accurate genealogies. People in northern Colorado understand this really well—land ownership means the opportunity to provide for the family, to produce and increase wealth. Providing for your family, planning for the future—this by the way was Israel’s retirement plan—all of this depended upon keeping accurate genealogical records.
So, all the tribes were careful to keep accurate records among themselves. There was one tribe that didn’t receive a land grant from the Lord. Do you know which tribe that was? Levi, right, good. The Lord told Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in the land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel,” Numbers 18:20. So the Levites were set apart for a special honor in Israel—to serve the Lord in the tabernacle, later in the temple. They were set apart for a wonderful and glorious purpose. And to ensure the perpetuation of the priesthood, the priestly house of Aaron and the tribe of Levi, they kept very, very accurate records. In fact, that continued all the way into the time of Josephus, who was born just after Jesus died and rose again—his life span was from A.D. 37 to A.D. 100. And Josephus wrote in his autobiography—kind of defending his heritage against his detractors—he said, “The family from which I am derived is not an ignoble one, but hath descended all along from the priests. Now I am not only sprung from a sacerdotal family in general [that is a priestly family in general], but from the first of the 24 courses. I am of the chief family of that first course, also, nay farther by my mother, I am of the royal blood. My grandfather’s father was named Simon.” And on he goes. Josephus supported his claim by saying this, “This is the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records.”
So he’s pointing people to check out the records and see where he comes from. That’s his claim. In his little work Against Apion, he wrote about the completeness and the accuracy of the public records open for anybody’s scrutiny: “We have the names of our high priests from father to son set down in our records for the interval of 2,000 years, and if any one of these have been transgressors of these rules, they are prohibited to present themselves at the altar or be partakers in any other of our purifications.” Do you know what that means? He’s saying, “Anyone who’s faked the records—anyone who’s tried to cheat the system—they’re punished by being cut off from Israel’s worship.” That’s significant. It may not seem significant to you not to be able to come to church—you would just go to another church. In Israel, this is all there was. Being cut off from Israel’s worship meant excommunication, and that meant social and financial suicide. You cut off yourself and your whole family. Anybody who faked the records—they’d be easily discovered by those who protected these records as a matter of their livelihood, as a matter of the perpetuation of their claim. They’d be cut off.
Now, notice how God in his infinite wisdom has ensured this level of precision in record-keeping in Israel. It wasn’t just for the transfer of property that God was concerned. It wasn’t even just for the succession of the priesthood, as important as that was. God intended to make sure Israel paid attention to its history and its lineage so that it could identify its Messiah as coming from the tribe of Judah. By looking at the public records, by scrutinizing Jesus’ family tree, just as Josephus invited the people to do about himself, people could identify and verify the lineage of the Messiah for themselves. You don’t find anybody claiming he didn’t come from whom he’s said he came. That’s why Matthew started his Gospel with the genealogy of the Messiah to demonstrate his royal lineage, his legal right to ascend the throne of Israel. The transfer of legal right was passed from male heir to male heir. Most often that meant from physical father to physical son—that is a blood relationship. But in some cases, when it concerned a legal transfer—when a man fathered no sons, he had no male heirs—the legal rights were passed maybe to a son-in-law, perhaps to an adopted son.
Sometimes a legal right was passed on to a son that was produced through what’s called levirate marriage—that is, when a man marries the widow of his close kin to raise up an heir for him. That happened most famously, as you all know, in the case of Boaz, who married Ruth, the widow of Chilion, the son of Elimelech of the tribe of Judah. Boaz was the kinsman-redeemer, and he married the young widow Ruth to produce offspring for a family other than his own—a selfless sacrifice. And from Boaz and Ruth came Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. So, God used Boaz to keep the legal right in the right family, passing from male heir to male heir.
Now with Matthew’s genealogy to provide that basis for comparison, keep your finger in Matthew 1 and turn over to Luke 3:23. Let’s get into a few of those details and understand Luke’s perspective because as you’ll clearly see Luke’s genealogy differs from Matthew’s in a number of pretty significant ways. Matthew’s genealogy is structured, like I said, into those 14 generations. He even skips some names so he could conform his genealogy to a memorable structure. He provided some explanatory notes—again helpful with memory. He names some of Israel’s famous moms. He stuck with names found in the biblical records so that everybody could identify them. By contrast, Luke’s genealogy is very simply structured, moving from name to name without pause, without explanation, without elaboration. It’s far more comprehensive—as we said, his 77 names to Matthew’s 41 names. Luke names only the fathers, and he provides the names of many men who are completely unknown, not just in Scripture, but in history. We can’t find their names anywhere except here. The two genealogies also differ in sequence. Matthew’s starts with Abraham and moves forward to Jesus from the past to the present. That’s the common, normal form. Luke’s goes from the present to the past, starting with Jesus and moving backward to Adam and God. That’s not common, which is why we know it’s very purposeful here—intentional.
Notice in verse 23 the focus here immediately is upon Jesus. Reading from the ESV translation it says, “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age.Just a note on that. The significance of the 30 years of age is to identify it as a marker for understanding the time here, but also just to acknowledge he was of age for public ministry. David was about 30 years of age when he entered into the kingship. The priests, according to Numbers Chapter 4, served from 30 years to about 50 years. So 30 years is the publicly acknowledged age of service. So he was about 30 years of age. “Being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, son of Heli,” and on it goes. Now, for the sake of the smooth translation, the Greek is not conveyed literally here. If it were, it would read like this, “And he himself was Jesus when he began.” Another way we could read that literally is, “And this one, he was Jesus when he began,” and on it goes. So, coming out of that previous scene—Jesus’ baptism, that amazing affirmation of God the Father that this Jesus in the waters of baptism is the very Son of God—Luke is trying to draw our attention to this same Jesus coming out of the waters of baptism, affirmed by God as the eternal Son of God, and he wants us to know that this Son of God is also the Son of man. He is very human, as well as God of very God.
Now, also as we look at this first sentence of Luke’s genealogy, we notice another significant difference from Matthew. It would appear that Luke names “Heli” as the father of Joseph, but look back at Matthew 1:16. Who did Matthew name as Joseph’s father? Jacob, right, not Heli. So, what’s going on here? Who is Joseph’s true father? We look at Luke’s genealogy in reverse order—that is if we start with Adam and move up to Jesus, we can see that Luke is as accurate as he is comprehensive. We go from Adam to Noah’s son, Shem, and Luke is following the table of names in Genesis 5 exactly. Again, when we go in Luke’s genealogy from Shem to Abraham, Luke follows again the tablet that’s in Genesis Chapter 11. Now, I want that fact to settle into your brain just for a moment. Luke, according to Luke 1:3, remember, has “followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you […] that”—Luke verse 4, Chapter 1—we “may have certainty concerning the things we have been taught.” If Luke’s record is comprehensive and accurate, and if Luke, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has just corroborated the tables of names in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, you know what, folks? We have here the records of time, of actual time right here in the pages of Scripture.
Sadly, evolutionary theory has been far too influential on some Bible scholars. It’s eroded their conviction about the Bible and the accuracy of its records, especially in these early genealogies. They want to insert gaps into all those names in Genesis 5. Keep in mind that when scientists date things in this world, in this earth, things they can see—it’s a world that’s been radically altered from the effects of the Noahic flood—the atmosphere, the chemistry, the rates of decay, the effect and rate of entropy. All of that effects the reliability of modern dating methods. And we have to ask, “Do we trust in the changing models and methods provided by modern scientific theory, informed by evolutionary, secular, materialistic presuppositions; or do we trust in the unchanging testimony of the Creator recorded in black and white on the pages of Scripture?” Ultimately, this is a question of authority and of who you choose to believe. According to the testimony of God, biblical chronologists have added up about 2,000 years between Adam and Abraham. Since Abraham lived from 1996 to 1821 B.C., that puts the beginning of the world at around 4000 B.C. You either believe that, or you do not, but that’s what the Bible shows.
Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has just provided us with a comprehensive genealogy of Jesus and, by the way, it goes all the way back to Adam. These biblical records support one another. They confirm one another. They corroborate each other’s testimony. There’s no reason to doubt their accuracy or to disregard the evidence that God gave us about the age of the earth and the accuracy of the history that it records. Having said all that, it is true that there are times when our confidence in that is tested. There are times when our loyalty to biblical authority is tested, and in comparing and contrasting the genealogies of Matthew and Luke and noticing the differences—some of them significant—some have been shaken in their confidence in the Bible. And there’s no good reason for that. While it’s true we can’t answer every question of the Bible and its history, some things are shrouded in the recesses of time to us. I think, though, that some people too quickly give up studying its testimony carefully. Many fail to invest sufficient time and energy to see how the Bible harmonizes with itself, how its testimony never contradicts itself. God, as we might understand, never ever, ever, ever—add as many as you want—contradicts himself. God is always consistent with himself. What he says in one place harmonizes with what he says in another place. If there’s a failure to understand how they harmonize, the failure is not in God, it’s not in his Word. It’s in us. It’s in the details we have. It’s what we’ve noticed and haven’t noticed. It’s in the facts we have at our disposal.
Sometimes, and I’ll admit this, we have a text that isn’t exactly accurate—we don’t have the original autographs, so what we have is copies of those autographs. And by comparing copy to copy to copy, we come up with the text we have. We think we have the most accurate version. I can show you my UBS Greek New Testament and with that and all of the footnotes it contains, you have the original autographs. But you’ve got to do some work, you’ve got to do some studying. That’s how God preserves his Word—by forcing us to go back in and reconcile these things and to reckon with genealogies that don’t seem to reconcile with each other. We have to be forced to go in and do that work. So that is what we do. God is always consistent with himself. His Word harmonizes with itself. We can’t always know how, but we have to study to learn it, okay? If there seems to be a contradiction, it’s just that we don’t know enough, we haven’t studied enough. So, don’t give up too quickly is what I’m trying to say. And don’t cave in to the charges from a secular, unbelieving, sarcastic, scornful age. They don’t want this to be consistent with itself. They don’t want it to harmonize because they don’t want to have to bow the knee to it.
But how do we reconcile what seems to be such an obvious contradiction right out of the gate about something as straightforward as the identity of Joseph’s father? Was it Jacob or was it Heli? Other questions come up as well when we compare Matthew and Luke. Two genealogies are in lock-step with one another from Abraham to David, but then they diverge with David’s two sons. Matthew follows Solomon’s line and Luke follows Nathan’s line. But then they converge again during the captivity with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. Now how did that happen? That’s another puzzle. How did those two lines come together again in one man—Shealtiel? And then after Zerubbabel, the genealogies diverge again until they come together again in Joseph. Again, how did that happen? What’s going on?
Well, as you might expect, as I’ve already alluded to, liberal scholars and those who are influenced by left-leaning scholars—even conservative people influenced by left-leaning scholars— point to these differences as instances of outright contradiction, and they just move on. They don’t care to think more carefully about it because they have no interest in harmonizing the text. They just say, “Hey, I’m happy to live with contraction. I’m actually superior to you—you have to have everything put together in a little box, but I’m superior because I can live with ambiguity.” Listen, that’s not a virtue. Those people are looking for evidence of contradiction. They think they’ve found it here. Others have looked more carefully. Others have considered the evidence through believing eyes.
And one of the earliest attempts to harmonize these genealogies was from a scholar named Julius Africanus. I love that name. I wish I had that name—Julius Africanus. It sounds like I could conquer a lot of stuff. But this guy lived in Palestine around A.D. 220. Far from being a conqueror, this guy was a scholar. He just studied and studied, and he put forth a theory to reconcile the evidence in a letter to a man named Aristides—we don’t have a copy of that letter, but it’s preserved by the early church historian Eusebius. Eusebius quotes from it. And Africanus said that Luke’s genealogy of Joseph involved several instances of what I described earlier—Boaz and Ruth—the levirate marriage. He proposed that Heli died childless and his brother, Jacob—so Jacob and Heli are brothers as they had the same mother and different fathers—married Heli’s widow and then he fathered Joseph. So, as Africanus proposed, Matthew provides us with Joseph’s physical genealogy through Jacob, his actual father; and then Luke gives us his legal heritage through Heli, his legal father. Now after Africanus proposed his theory, it was subsequently discovered he had built his model on a copy of Luke’s Gospel, a Greek text that actually had a few names added to it—a scribal error. And it sometimes shows up and it’s easy to spot when things are repeated or copied over or inserted accidentally into the text. That is discovered through a normal process we call textual criticism. Africanus’ scheme suffers from much complexity. His manner of resolving these genealogies does provide a possible solution. That’s one way people go, but I do think it’s a bit improbable. I won’t go into detail on that. That’s all you’ll get for right now.
Much closer to our time, J. Gresham Machen followed the approach of a scholar named Lord Hervey. Similar to Africanus, his approach considers both of these genealogies to be tracing Joseph’s descendants. “Matthew,” he says, “gives the legal descendants of David,” so that’s where he differs from Africanus. And Luke lists the physical descendants, to which Joseph, by marrying Mary, finally belonged. Since Joseph’s father, Jacob, from Matthew’s account, died childless, the line of Jacob continued through Joseph via Heli, who was Mary’s father. Okay? Now if those schemes seem complex to you, you better get it down because there’s going to be a test before you can leave here—no, I’m just kidding. But if you’re having difficulty following these, don’t worry. I’m about to give you the one you need to pay attention to. So, if you’ve been sleeping, wake up now. Get up. Stand up if you need to. I’m about to give you the one that I think makes the most sense, and you can follow this right from your Bible.
This solution was first proposed—you can find evidence of it all along—it was really articulated most robustly during the period just prior the Reformation when Greek texts and other books of antiquity were being discovered in their original languages and that is, by the way, one of the positive outcomes of the Crusades. It sent Europeans back into the Holy Land where they found libraries. They brought things back, gave them to the scholars, and said, “Here. I don’t know what it is, but take a look.” So these guys did a lot of scholarly study. That’s why we had the Reformation and the Renaissance coming out of Europe—because of all of that discovery. The man who first articulated most carefully this solution was Annius of Viterbo, which is northern Italy. He wrote this down in 1490, and his work has been developed by more recent scholars—Frederic Godet is one that I found very helpful here. Let me give you the punchline up front, and then I’m going to show you why I think this is the best solution. Matthew gives us a genealogy of Joseph, which is the legal lineage of David. That is, it’s the right to rule passed on legally from father to son. And then Luke provides the genealogy of Mary, but it’s not Mary—it’s Jesus through Mary’s father Heli, which is the actual physical lineage of Jesus. Matthew is Jesus’ legal lineage through his legal father Joseph. Luke is Jesus’ physical lineage through his actual mother by blood, Mary, through his grandfather, Heli.
Now if you look closely again at verse 23, notice that the translators provided these helpful markers we use in English called parentheses. There are no parentheses in the Greek text, but they are warranted here to provide clarification. And I think after more careful scrutiny of the Greek text, the parentheses actually should be adjusted slightly so we get the most accurate sense. I’m not going to bore you with the grammatical detail, which has to do with the use of the Greek article, the genitive case, the name that modifies—and all the rest. Let me just show you how I believe that these parentheses should be drawn. Currently, you can see in the ESV, the parentheses read like this, “Jesus being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli.” That reading with the parentheses like that makes Joseph the son of Heli in some way. That’s been the source of much confusion. I believe the sentence should be structured this way, “Jesus being the son (as was supposed of Joseph), the son of Heli.” So in effect, we have just extended the parenthesis to the right by two words so that the phrase, “as was supposed of Joseph,” is read together and is considered together and I think that’s exactly right. “Jesus being the son as we supposed of Joseph, [but in reality], he is the son of Heli, of Matthat,” and so on. So Heli is Jesus’ maternal grandfather, the father of his mother Mary. The Talmud cites Heli as the father of Mary as well, so there’s no doubt about that fact. As I mentioned earlier, Luke’s concern here, fresh off this divine affirmation of Jesus as the eternal Son of God, Luke wants his readers to remember that Jesus is also the Son of Man, that he has a very real, actual physical connection with the human race. And that is why Luke takes Jesus’ lineage through Mary, his physical mother, through her physical father, his physical grandfather and all the way back to Adam. We’re going to talk about that more in a moment.
So Matthew records Jesus’ legal lineage, his legally inherited right to the throne of David, which was of great interest to his Jewish readers. But Luke wants to show Jesus’ true humanity, which was of great interest to his Gentile readers. Remember, Jesus had no human father as Luke has already made plain by focusing on the virgin conception and birth. But Jesus still possessed true humanity through Mary and was thereby connected all the way back through David, to Adam, to God. So what first appears to be contradictory actually reflects a difference in purpose, a difference in intention, a difference in writing. And once again—I just want to emphasize this, folks—we find every reason for putting all of confidence in the Bible. This is—without any competitor at all—the most scrutinized text in the entire world throughout all of human history, and you know what? We’re still preaching from it. It has always held up to honest, intellectual scrutiny, even dishonest scrutiny as well. God’s Word is inerrant. It is rock-solid reliable and it’s absolutely sufficient. It’s worth building your life upon, okay?
So, now that we understand whose genealogy this is, let’s look at some of the features of the genealogy itself and see some of the lessons we can learn. This is the second point in our outline, and I promise these will go a little bit quicker. The Teaching of the Genealogy. There are a number of things we can learn from the genealogical records of Scripture. I’m only going to mention a few just briefly from this. To begin with, let’s read, starting in verse 23 going to verse 27, so we’re going to break it up in chunks.
“There are a number of things we can learn from the genealogical records of Scripture. “Travis Allen
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph [but in actuality—that’s what we just studied], the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Matthathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Matthathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joannan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri.
After Jesus and Joseph, and then before Zerubbabel and Shealtiel, do you recognize any of those names? Probably not. They may seem familiar because some of these names show up in other parts of the Scripture, but actually, these people don’t show up in other parts of Scripture. And if it weren’t for this page of the New Testament, they wouldn’t register in human history in any way at all. We know nothing about them, and yet, each one of these people is significant to the divine plan. Even though they couldn’t have planned or predicted it, each one of these people—even though they lived just normal mundane lives like most of us—God connected Adam to Abraham to David to the Christ through them. All of those generations of humanity represented by all those names, and they themselves represent millions of people who have never been known—but they’re known to God, aren’t they? Every single one. And they are all important to him. God knows each one by name, each one figures into the outworking of his eternal plan to glorify himself through Christ. There, at the very center of all human history, there in the very middle of the mass of all humanity is Jesus. None of us is unimportant. All of us counting, all of us registering if not on the pages of Scripture, then in the mind of God.
Another lesson here. This centers on the two names from that list at the end that we do recognize—Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. Do you remember that those names show up in Matthew’s list as well? And that means that Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, according to Matthew’s genealogy, are involved in establishing the Messiah’s legal right to the throne. And at the same time Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, according to Luke’s genealogy, are also in the physical lineage of Jesus. Both things are true. Both are true. We do not have time to set out all the complexities of what I just said, but believe me you do not want me to do that, but the fact that Shealtiel and Zerubbabel show up in both genealogies is a complex issue. It involves piecing together a puzzle when you don’t have all the pieces. The pieces are sometimes hidden way back like 2,000 years ago—you can’t go find them. With that said, let me emphasize two important facts about these men—Shealtiel and Zerubbabel—names that are shared by both genealogies. Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, as I said, are part of the legal line of David through Solomon. They are also part of the physical line of David through Nathan, and as such they’re essential to the Messianic plan. First of all, Shealtiel is part of the legal line of David back in Matthew 1:11 and 12 if you want to look there. Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are legal descendants of King Jechoniah, who is a physical descendant of Solomon.
Josiah, the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.
And on it goes. Jechoniah, a descendant of Solomon, he is the legal father or grandfather of Shealtiel. He is not his physical father. They’re not of the same bloodline. We know that because—second fact—Luke puts Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in the bloodline of David through Nathan, not Solomon. Look at verses 27 to 31 in Luke Chapter 3.
The son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David.
It may seem like we’re making a big deal over nothing, but stick with me here. This is actually a very, very big deal. Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, part of the legal line of David through Solomon, eventually Jechoniah, but not a part of the physical offspring of Jechoniah. They belong to the bloodline of David through Nathan, not Solomon, not Jechoniah. Why is that important? Because according to Jeremiah 22:30, God cursed Jechoniah’s bloodline. This what he said:
Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.
That is a very comprehensive and unmistakable curse. “Anybody coming from your body is not going to be sitting on the throne.” That speaks to physical descent, right, not a legal, but physical. So because Shealtiel descends physically from David through Nathan, not through Solomon, he and his son Zerubbabel are essential, herein bypassing the curse of God on Jechoniah that God would never allow his offspring to sit on the throne of David. Not only that, but because Shealtiel and Zerubbabel descend physically from David through Nathan, Solomon’s brother—who share the same mother, Bathsheba, by the way—but because Shealtiel and Zerubbabel descend physically from David through Nathan, Solomon’s brother, God could remain also faithful to the promise he made to David in 2 Samuel 7, to raise up the Messiah from his physical offspring. That’s why God pronounces the restoration of the Messianic line through Zerubbabel in the prophesy of Haggai, one of the post-exilic prophets. Haggai 2:23, God said this: “I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” By calling Zerubbabel a signet ring, God has identified him as the resumption of the Messianic line, and in this way God has kept his word on both accounts. God has fulfilled his promise to David to allow his physical descendant to sit on his throne. God has also fulfilled his curse on Jechoniah, along with the wickedness that he represented and all of Judah’s kings, to disallow one of his physical descendants to sit on the throne of David.
God takes sin seriously, folks, and he deals with it, but it doesn’t nullify his grace. It doesn’t compromise his faithfulness. God is wise to continue his plan moving forward. It didn’t take him by surprise. Paul says about God in Romans 3:26 that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” That is to say, God is just in punishing sin. He deals with sin just as he did with pronouncing a curse on Jechoniah’s line. He didn’t tolerate the evil. He followed through to ensure that no physical descendant of his would ever sit on David’s throne. God is just to punish sin. God is also merciful. God is also kind, and by his amazing grace, faithful to his promises, according to his infinite wisdom, he makes sure that sin will never thwart his purposes. While he never lets even the smallest sin go unpunished, he also does not let one jot or tittle of his precious Word fall to the ground unfulfilled. Isn’t that awesome? God made sure the promise to David was fulfilled. He preserved a faithful line through David’s lesser known son, Nathan. God made sure the Messianic line was physically connected from David to Nathan, from Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Heli, Mary and Jesus. And I’m so thankful God did that because he promises to justify the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. Beloved, that’s my only hope—it’s yours, too.
Now that we see how God overcame the curse on Jechoniah, there’s one more obvious lesson that we can learn from this genealogy. We’ll just keep reading. Continuing from verse 31 to the middle of verse 34:
The son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.
Now, I’ll just mention this quickly because we’ve talked about it so much already in our study of Luke’s Gospel and the time is short, but by tracing Jesus’ ancestry through David back to Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, we see clearly that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the promise of the seed that God made to Abraham in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. He’s also the promised offspring of David who will sit on his throne forever, according to 2 Samuel 7 and Luke 1:32. Jesus fulfills all Jewish hope. These are just a few of the many things we can learn from the teaching of the genealogy. And if I could just wrap all of that up, just summarize it before we move on into one main lesson, it’s this: God is faithful. He keeps his promises. And for those of us who trust in him, believing in Jesus whom he sent, we can see all of the lengths that he goes to in these genealogies to keep his word. It’s exactly what Joshua told Israel before he died in Joshua 23:14. He said, “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth”—when an older man speaks, by the way, you need to listen. When an older man speaks before he’s about to depart from the earth, you want to pay attention. He said:
And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in our hearts and in your souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.
That’s what we learn from studying the genealogies in Matthew.
Well, one more outline point we haven’t talked about yet, Luke’s purpose for the genealogy record in the Gospel—why he placed it where he did. So point three: A Purpose of the Genealogy. Matthew put his genealogy right at the beginning of his Gospel. Luke’s comes within the narrative wedged in between the baptism and temptations of Jesus. The question is why? It seems to break up the flow of the narrative here pretty significantly. So what is Luke’s purpose for this genealogy? We stopped reading at verse 34. Let’s pick it up there. It’s a theological reason Luke has here.
The son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad [we thought of naming our firstborn Arphaxad], the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Now in Luke 3:22, at Jesus’ baptism, we read the divine affirmation, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” So Jesus is the Son of God in the divine sense, but he is also a son of God, sharing in the same nature as the rest of his human brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus identified with sinful humanity by entering into the waters of John’s baptism in Luke 3:21, he is also identified as the true son of humanity by normal, natural descent. He is the Son of God, and he is truly the Son of man. That means he has a concern for all humanity—every single person. And that’s why even though Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews, he does not belong to the Jews exclusively—he’s ours too. He came to save all those who believe in him—Jew and Gentile. Do you remember that’s what the Samaritans learned in John 4:42 when they said to the Samaritan woman who had met Jesus earlier at the well? They said, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world,” not the Savior of the Jews. He is that, too. He’s the Savior of the world. The apostle John said the same thing, summarizing this in 1 John 4:14: Jesus isn’t just the Savior of the Jews, but of all people. “We have seen and testified that the father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” What is the world? Jew and Gentile. Luke demonstrates this to his target audience—a predominantly Gentile readership of this Gospel. He takes Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam, the first Son of God, and it’s yet another indication of God’s universal concern in this great Gospel.
So Luke has recorded this comprehensive genealogy extending from Jesus through Mary’s father Heli all the way back to Adam to demonstrate the solidarity our Savior has as one of us, to demonstrate the universality of the Savior as the Son of man. There is one more purpose that Luke has in mind. It’s no accident that Luke placed the genealogy where he did, that he chose to go against normal convention to reverse the order and trace Jesus’ lineage backward to Adam. Luke was very intentional to oppose Adam’s name with the temptation of Jesus. Luke wanted us to read Adam’s name and then to see Jesus entering into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Now, why do you think that’s important? What’s the theological point he’s making here? You guessed it, I think. When Adam was tempted by the devil, he fell, didn’t he? But when Jesus was tempted by the devil—you can see there in Luke 4:13—Jesus exhausted the devil; he sent the devil away licking his wounds. He sent the devil away checking his book to see what he missed. “This always works with people. What’s going on?” “When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time,” Luke 4:13. What Adam failed to do—standing up to temptation—Jesus did. He accomplished. He withstood every temptation. He pleased God in every single way. Luke wants us to see that Jesus here is the last Adam, that he is the only one who has the power to deliver us from every temptation, to strengthen us in every weakness, to save us from every sin and failure.
One of Luke’s more famous traveling companions, one of his closest friends—you read this in 1 Corinthians 15:45, “The first man Adam became a living being,” but, “The last Adam [that is by virtue of his perfection and righteousness] became a life-giving spirit.” Our union with Jesus is our salvation. Earlier in that same chapter, Paul wrote this in verses 21 to 22, “For as by a man came death [thanks, Adam], by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Thank you, Christ! Thank you, Last Adam! As the last Adam, Jesus is the new representative head over a new humanity, and just as those in the first Adam die because he represented them in unrighteousness and unbelief, so also those who are in the last Adam, who belong to him—they live. He represents us in righteousness and we live in him by faith.
So, before taking us into the wilderness to observe Jesus standing firm against the onslaught of satanic temptation, Luke wanted us to see the theological significance of what Jesus did, what he was about to do, so we could have a basis for understanding the implications for us. Jesus is our perfect representative. He is the last Adam and this is his lineage, showing his solidarity with humanity, his full and final representation of those who trust in him.
Just a final note—it’s interesting that as important as genealogies were to the Jews in the ancient times—being absolutely fastidious about accurate record keeping, their ancestry, we read earlier about that, right, from Josephus who lived just after Christ and died at the end of the first century—it’s interesting to note that, as one author put it, “This characteristic accuracy seems to have ended at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70. It’s almost as if the genealogies of the Jews had served their purpose. No more need to track the succession of priesthood or royalty among the Jews. Why? Because those roles have been permanently filled by Christ. Not even needed any longer to make sure the land grants remained within the tribes to be passed down within each family because the Messiah will return one day, and when he does he’ll usher in the Millennial Kingdom, the Millennial Reign, and he will restore the land to Israel and he will ensure the proper allocation of the land tribe by tribe.” You can read all about that in Ezekiel 47:13 to 48:29.
All that to say, these genealogies, folks, have served their purpose—to show us the Messiah. And since Jesus came, you know what? Physical connection to him—it’s not of any account. We don’t need to be connected to him by bloodline. It doesn’t matter about our birth. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, what our intellect is. It doesn’t matter what our background it. It doesn’t matter what our culture is. He is the Savior of all the world by faith. Only a spiritual union matters, one that comes by the Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ. That is a connection, folks, that is more profound than blood, that lasts longer than all this life. Look—all of the names in that genealogy—those people are dead, folks. There’s only one who continues to live, right? Jesus—he rose from the dead, and through him all of us live through faith in him. Live. Those united to Jesus by faith are the ones who are in his spiritual lineage eternally, and he’s keeping the record book. There’s a book of life and in it, he writes the name.
Well, that’s the genealogy—not too painful, right? I promise we won’t come back and review all of the names next week.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we want to thank you for putting us through the genealogy so that we can recognize some very important names. We’ve learned why you are so wise and holy, how you are just, taking all of our sins seriously, but also punishing them fully in Christ our Savior, our substitute sacrifice.