top of page

Jesus' Family Photo Album

You can also download a copy of these notes if you prefer.

Jesus' Photo Album

This morning, we looked at Jesus' family photo album. The Gospel of Matthew begins with the photo album the ancient world used called a genealogy. Genealogies were important in the culture of the Ancient Near East. They determined a person's status in society, "religious purity, rights to political leadership, inheritance rights, marriage eligibility, and ethnic connections."1 The genealogy in Matthew reveals quite a bit about the family into which God chose to become flesh. Matthew 1:1 opened the Gospel with this photo album, a "book of genealogy," and this will set the tone for the themes of Matthew's Gospel. He tailored the genealogy (a common practice) to accentuate the themes of the Gospel and to make a list that breaks down into three sections with 14 names in each section. Tailoring a genealogy is no different than deciding what photos go in the album and which ones are left out. This is not a rewriting of history, but focusing on certain parts.

Gematria: In order to understand Matthew's genealogy and its structure, we must know about something called gematria. This is an ancient system of equating letters to numbers. The Israelites adopted this practice from the surrounding cultures. The three sections of 14 names in Matthew's genealogy is based on the gematria of David's name. "David” is spelled in Hebrew with three letters (dwd - d = 4; w = 6; d = 4, so 4 + 6 + 4 = 14). Matthew's main audience were Jews who became Christians, so the significance of the name David and the number 14 would not be lost on them. Matthew makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is the promised Messiah through the line of David.

First, Jesus is the Christ, that is the Messiah. (1:1): This title means He is the promised anointed one for whom Israel had been waiting. We must not miss the gravity of what Matthew states here. There were competing views on what the Messiah would be like and what His role would be when He came. The word messiah means "anointed one." Kings, prophets, and priests were traditionally anointed with oil when they were set apart for their roles. Many Jewish groups expected the messiah to be a king who would liberate Israel. Some expected the messiah to be a prophet as Moses had promised (Deuteronomy 18:15). Some, like the group who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, expected a priest messiah. In fact, they expected two, possibly three messiahs, one fulfilling the role of king, another the role of priest, and another the role of prophet. (Read the book of Hebrews to see how Jesus alone fulfills all three roles.) The common denominator among all these views is that the Messiah was expected to liberate Israel. For Matthew to claim Jesus as the Messiah while Rome was still in control of Israel is no small matter.

In other words, Matthew was a Jew who considered Jesus to be the promised Messiah despite the fact that Israel was still not liberated from Rome. We have to ask what convinced him to make this assertion. Obviously, Matthew was an eyewitness to Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection. This challenged Matthew's expectations and helped him see the truth. Matthew's Gospel was intended to provide the reasons that Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew used the lineage into which Jesus chose to place Himself as one aspect of Jesus' identity.

Jesus was "the son of David" (1:1): We must not forget that "son of..." in the ancient world was not limited to the immediate generation, as in the father who literally raised his son from birth. This expression, “the son of…” can skip many generations to indicate a person is a descendant of David. David lived almost 1,000 years before Jesus, yet Jesus was considered a "son of David." This title was required f