True God of True God, the Greater Son of Abraham & David Ends The Greater Exile
The Gospel of Matthew begins with genealogy. In laying out the genealogy of Jesus the way he does, Matthew intends to highlight the identity of Jesus by the triple division of the history he is presenting. The divisions are “all the generations from Abraham to David…and from David to the deportation to Babylon…and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ.” (Matthew 1:17) In exploring these divisions, and the persons associated with those divisions, we will gain insight into what Matthew intends for us to see of Jesus’ true identity – namely that Jesus, the LORD God as the eternal unique Son of God, is given in the flesh, greater than Abraham & David, to be the Savior who brings a final end to greater exile of mankind resulting from the fall; an exile greater than that of Babylon. Thereby, the Son is able to inherit the promises of God to Abraham and David.
Abraham’s Greater Son who inherits the promises
As with all genealogies in the bible, the list of names is about the connection between the father of the list and the son to whom it connects. The genealogy found in Matthew’s Gospel hinges on 3 people; 1 father and 2 sons (or perhaps 2 fathers and 1 son) – Abraham as father, with David and Jesus as sons (or Abraham and David as fathers to their common son Jesus). “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1)
Grounding this genealogy first in Abraham lays the foundation upon which, and out of which, the rest of the book finds its context; namely God’s fulfillment to the covenant promises made to Abraham. What is this promise? “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:16-18) Abraham’s offspring would a) be multiplied, b) possess the enemies territory and c) bless all the nations of the earth. This 3 fold promise is grounded in the foundational elective promise of God that Abraham’s offspring to inherit the promises would be the son given to him by his wife, Sarah. “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:14)
Consider also that Jesus is listed as the second, younger son of Abraham in Matthew’s overall genealogical context. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1)This is significant because the afore mentioned context which God promises the 3 fold blessing to Abraham’s offspring, God specifically links Abraham’s obedient faith to being willing to offer up Isaac, his promised son given to Sarah. “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld [Isaac], your only son.” (Genesis 22:16) Notice Isaac is called Abraham’s only son. Yet, Abraham had another, older son, Ishmael (Genesis 16:11). Therefore this “only son” status is that of uniqueness, election and promise, not numerical precision.
Just as Isaac (the second, younger son) was the only, elect, promised, greater son given for, and as, the promise rather than Ishmael (the first, older son), so also Matthew will aim to show that compared even to chosen David, Jesus stands as the only, elect, promised and greater son given to Abraham for, and as, the promise. Jesus, as the promised son given, is able to inherit what Abraham was not able to receive nor able to bequeath; the promise of God to be multiplied, posses enemy territory and be a blessing to all nations.
David’s Greater Son sits on his thrown forever
God promised, “[David] shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (1 Chronicles 17:12-13a) How can this be so when Matthew himself speaks of the exile to Babylon, thereby revealing the fall of, and break in, the Davidic kingship in Israel? To that, we shall respond shortly. But first…
God, in the context of declaring he will forever establish David’s lineage on the throne of Israel, also declares a father/son relationship to David and by extension, his progeny. “[David] shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (1 Chronicles 17:12-13a) Matthew functioning within that covenant promise, with Jesus as the Son of David (1:1), makes sure then to present in his Gospel a revelation that the Chronicler was not able to convey at the time of his writing. (“For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:17]) Jesus, even as son of David, is greater than David, for he is David’s Lord. “[Jesus] said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’ (cf. Psalm 110:1)? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”(Matthew 22:43-45).
Who is Lord to the King of Israel save the LORD God? Yet, Jesus says that it is “in the Spirit” that David had referred to this Lord, who sat at the right hand of the Lord, as his own Lord! This is how the throne of David could be established forever and how this son could be greater than his father David. The One who sat on the LORD’s right hand was already David’s Lord and the throne of David would then be incorporated into the throne of the One Lord who already was King and Lord of Israel. As it is written, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Psalm 45:6-7) Jesus, as the Greater Davidic King, is shown to be the Lord with the LORD, and God with God.
Here we see Matthew drawing out a personal distinction between the Lord and the LORD, yet both, according to Psalm 45, are called God. Knowing that there is only One True God (Deuteronomy 6:4) we are now coming to see that the nature of the One True God is where his oneness lies, not in the numerical precision of his personhood. So not only is the uniqueness of Jesus in that he is able to inherit the promises of God as the unique son of Abraham but is also the One who is the Lord of David because he is True God of True God who is now in the flesh.
The Deportation & Isaiah
While Matthew’s genealogy is concerned with the persons Abraham and David it points to Isaiah as well. The first way is by inference – connecting the triple division to the deportation of Israel into exile. “So all the 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.” (Matthew 1:17) Isaiah’s prophetic writings cover the time before, during and after the exile, which makes him the prophet from which to draw concerning the overall meaning of Israel’s exile as it connects with the narrative of the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants.
The second way Matthew points us to Isaiah is explicitly – quoting from Isaiah as a fulfillment of prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:22-23, cf. Isaiah 7:14) What does this association with Isaiah tell us of the identity of Jesus?
Jesus’ Isaian identity seen in his prescribed name. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The name Jesus, Y’shua in Hebrew, means YHWH (the LORD) saves. This name is prescribed specifically because he is a savior; indeed Jesus is the Savior. But again, the Isaian context of who the savior of Israel is becomes key. “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.” (Isaiah 43:11) In the original context, the LORD is the savior from the opposing kingdoms; here, the ‘opposing kingdom’ the LORD saves from is sin. And the people whom he saves from their sins are “his people.” The very name Jesus then is an identifier of who Jesus is to Israel, and by extension, to all humanity. Jesus then is the LORD, the lone savior from the ultimate opposition to humanity within itself – the indwelling corruption of sin. The name Jesus then is an identifier of who is because it tells us who he is to his people – the Savior.
Not only do we see Jesus’ Isaian identity in the name prescribed, but also in what he is called. ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7:14b) Those who come to know Jesus truly, recognize that he is God with us. Jesus has been shown to be the son of Abraham, yet greater than Abraham; the son of David, yet greater than David. So also is he the ‘son’ (meaning inheritor of the mantle) of the son promised in Isaiah 7 and born in Isaiah 9, yet greater than that son. The way Matthew develops these concepts means to show that Jesus is not merely a human son who is a representation of God being on our side, but that he, while human as conceived by the virgin, is a divine son. What he is called further reveals who Jesus is because it tells who he is to us – God. He has not left his people, but is among them as God.
Lastly, Matthew highlights, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit…“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:18, 21) Matthew is clear that Jesus had a mother and developed and was born as all children are. So he was certainly human. Yet, even more stressed is that he has no natural father. He is conception in the flesh is by the very Holy Spirit of God the Father. (Matthew 1:18, 10:20) His being conceived in the flesh then, is a gift. Therefore, Jesus is a given son. The connection here is to Isaiah one that the Church has made since its inception. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) This divine Sonship is from the beginning; it doesn’t begin in his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:3), nor at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:5) nor his baptism (Matthew 3:17), nor even at his conception in the flesh. Together with the previous Isaian identity markers, we see come to see in the human child born is also the divine Son given.
As the prescribed name Jesus shows he is savior to us, and the name called Immanuel shows he is God with us, so also as the Son given, the names Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace show who he is to us.
Jesus is the greater end of the greater exile!
When utilizing Isaian themes, Matthew is not merely proof texting. He is drawing out the identity of the Jesus by showing the faithfulness of the covenant God who by the birth of this child signals the defeat of the enemies of Israel (Isaiah 7-9). Notice again Isaiah links the promise of victory over the enemies with the throne of David. When speaking of the son given he goes on to say, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7) Matthew sees that Isaiah links the exile to the continuing narrative of Abraham & Davidic covenants. Matthew applies this truth as prophetic history for what God is doing in his own day. It is in this sign of covenantal faithfulness, and Spirit-moving power, that God will not let Israel be eradicated neither by Assyria nor Babylon in exile. Matthew sees in the birth of Jesus (given as the divine Son and Savior) that God is showing his covenant faithfulness by saving his people from the even greater enemies and exile to death because of sin. It is through this elect, unique greater son of Abraham, son of David that God defeats the evil one and brings back Israel from ‘exile’; and through it, all the world. The victory of God begins in Matthew, when True God of True God, True Lord of True Lord, the divine Son is given in the flesh to become the new and everlasting father to a new and everlasting humanity, rescued from sin, death and the devil, never to die again and thereby inherit the kingdom of heaven. As the Magi speak for all gentiles, ““Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we…have come to worship him.”” (Matthew 2:2)
Let us praise him who is Wonderful in his Counsel to us! Let us worship him exercises his Might as God for us! Let us glorify has become the Everlasting Father of our new humanity! Let us walk in the way of Peace that our Prince has given to us. Glory to him who is God with us! As the wedding hymn of the Church says in the ‘Dance of Isaiah’: “Oh Isaiah, dance for Joy! For the Virgin has conceived and will bear a child, Immanuel, and Orient is his name, whom magnifying, we call the Virgin blessed!” Christ is born! Glorify him! Alleluia!