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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 4:22

One question would naturally arise for the Jewish readers to whom this Gospel was addressed: Who is Jesus? Whose son is he?

Before approaching the ministry of Jesus, Matthew first makes answer to this preliminary question. He sets out to demonstrate, on the basis of the Old Testament, that Jesus is indeed the legitimate heir of David and of Abraham. He shows that God himself has prepared his coming and guided his history from the very first moment, as he had guided the history of his people across the centuries.

Verses 1-17

Genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1-17)

The modern reader is not much interested in the genealogies which adorn the Old Testament. He willingly passes them by without stopping. The Jews, however, jealously preserved their family records. They were the proof that they belonged to the Elect People. The genealogies which are found in the Bible have a theological significance: they underline the continuity of the purpose of God through history. The genealogy of Jesus announces the fact that the One with whom this book is concerned is the heir of all the promises made to the fathers; in other words, he is indeed the promised Messiah.

The simple designation "Jesus Christ" is in itself a confession of faith: Jesus (Joshua) signifies "the LORD is salvation." "Christ" is the translation of the Hebrew word for "Messiah," which means "Anointed One." The ancient kings of Israel were consecrated by an anointing with oil.

Each of these words has a history. The first, "Joshua," was the name of the man chosen by God to lead Israel to the Promised Land. He was a sign of the "Savior" to come, as the Promised Land was a material sign of the Kingdom of God (see Heb. chs. 3 and 4). This time it is no longer a question of snatching Israel from the slavery in Egypt, but of saving Israel from her sins (Matthew 1:21). The term ’’Christ" gathered up all the Messianic hopes of the Old Testament. The prophets had announced the glorious coming of the "Son of David," and of a kingdom which would have no end, bringing peace and justice on the earth (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 2:1-5; Jeremiah 23:5-6). The term "Christ," then, means nothing less than the coming of the promised King.

The words, "The book of the genealogy of . . ." (Matthew 1:1) , reproduce literally (in Greek) the words of Genesis 5:1. Here is a new "genesis," a new beginning. The evangelist divides the history of the People of God into three periods. The number 14 (2 X 7) is the symbol of plenitude, of something complete. The first period goes from the call of Abraham to the apogee of royalty under David; the second extends from the beginning of the kingship to the abasement and humiliation of the Babylonian Exile; the third moves from the return from exile to the birth of Jesus, a period during which a faithful remnant maintained and transmitted the faith of the fathers. Thus the plan of God sovereignly unfolds from epoch to epoch up to the hour of its fulfillment.

Some women are mentioned in the course of this long enumeration, and they are not those whom one would expect, such as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel; but Tamar (Gen. ch. 38), Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24; Joshua 6:22-25), Ruth (the Book of Ruth), Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1 to 2 Samuel 12:25). What has motivated the inclusion of these? Each of these women either had kept the Covenant or had entered into the Covenant by an act of faith. But their names remind us also that the Covenant is a Covenant of grace. This long line of ancestors is not a line of moral saints but of forgiven sinners, through whom the faithfulness of God is ever and again manifested anew. It is certainly intentionally that Matthew mentions Rahab the prostitute, and Ruth the Moabitess. In opening the Kingdom to prostitutes and pagans, Jesus could declare himself the bearer of the divine initiative to which the Old Testament testifies.

In conformity with Jewish custom, Matthew does not give the genealogy of the mother but that of the father, even though Joseph was father only by adoption. In Jewish law, adoption conferred the same status as biological kinship.

Verses 18-25

Birth of Jesus Christ (1:18-25)

We stand here before the mystery of the Incarnation. To say that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary is at the very least to affirm his double sonship divine and human.

While the Gospel by Luke centers on the annunciation to Mary and on the humble faith and submission of the Virgin, Matthew’s story is centered on Joseph, for it is through him that the kinship to David was passed. The fact that Jesus had been conceived by the Holy Spirit before Mary had known her betrothed exposed her to the suspicion of adultery. Joseph, we are told, was a "just" man, that is to say, upright and good. He wishes neither to excuse nor to reproach the one who has betrayed him. He determines to break off with her secretly. An angel of the Lord reveals the truth to him in a dream. The evangelist thus underscores the fact that it is on a direct order from God that Joseph accepts Jesus as his legitimate son, thus recognizing him as belonging to the Davidic succession. It is noteworthy that this succession never seems to have been contested (see Mark 10:47-48; Romans 1:3).

It was the prerogative of the father to name a child. In the biblical tradition, a name defines or characterizes a person. In prescribing the name of Jesus, God revealed his mission: "He will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Thus the redemptive role of the Messiah is affirmed from the very first. He will save his people, not from Roman domination, as many hoped, but "from their sins." In him is granted the hope of the centuries: God himself descends among men and comes to dwell on the earth. Jesus is "Emmanu-el," "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). Whatever may have been the immediate historic meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14), Matthew sees in the birth of Jesus its true accomplishment.

This first chapter of the Gospel is already a complete profession of faith: Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God, is the promised Messiah, the Savior, "God with us."

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-1.html.
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