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Jesus’ family tree

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Published: 25 December 2020 (GMT+10)

When we read through the Old Testament, many people skip the various genealogies and lists of names in the historical books. However, these details were included for a reason, and the person who studies them is rewarded with insights not given elsewhere. One reason it’s important to study these passages is that they give us Jesus’ family tree; these are the details God thought it was important to preserve.

Illustration by Caleb SalisburyJesus-genealogies
Click for larger picture.

No one good enough to save us

One theme throughout the Old Testament is that all have sinned—even the people who are presented as righteous—sometimes catastrophically in ways that affect their families for generations. Noah was ‘perfect in his generations’, and his family were the only people saved through the global Flood. Yet Genesis draws a deliberate comparison with Adam when it tells the story of how Noah got drunk. Both sinned in relation to fruit, and suffered shame related to nakedness as a result. Noah can be called a “Second Adam”—in contrast to Jesus who is the sinless “last Adam”. The message is clear: sin is still present in the post-Flood world, and in the post-Flood human family.

Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of the nation through whom the Messiah would be born (Galatians 3:16). Yet Abraham is far from perfect. Rather than trusting fully in God’s promise, he fathers Ishmael with Hagar, and Ishmael’s descendants would plague Israel for generations.

Judah slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute. David, a man after God’s own heart, raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband to try to cover up the crime. Solomon, who was renowned for both his wealth and wisdom, was foolish enough to be led astray by his wives into idolatry. This laid the groundwork for his son Rehoboam to lose most of the kingdom.

Most people would try to cover up if their family tree had this sort of history. Yet the Son of God chose to become incarnate in this family—why? Because any family would be just as sinful; that’s the whole point of why Jesus had to come to earth in the first place. As Gabriel told Mary, Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Luke 1:26–38).

Kings and Priests

The varying status of the different tribes of Israel is reflected in the amount of genealogical material preserved from that tribe. Very little is preserved from Reuben or Dan, for instance. The people with the most genealogical information are the Levites and the kingly line of Judah, for obvious reasons. The Levite Aaron’s descendants were the priests, and Judah’s descendants were the kingly, and ultimately Messianic, line of David. Interestingly, these lines often intermarried with one another. The first recorded Judah/Levi intermarriage is Aaron’s marriage to Elisheba, a fifth-generation descendant of Judah, and sister of Nahshon, a direct ancestor of David (Exodus 6:23).

Another marriage between Judah’s and Levi’s descendants ended up saving the Davidic line. Jehosheba, sister of King Ahaziah, saved Joash from his murderous grandmother Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. She and her husband, Jehoiada the high priest, kept the child Joash hidden inside the Temple complex for 6 years (2 Kings 11).

Even Mary herself must have been the result of a Davidic/Levitical marriage, because Elizabeth, a Levite, was her close relative. How could this be if Mary was of the house of David? Mary’s father must have been from the Davidic line, but her mother could have been a Levite, and the one through whom she was related to Elizabeth.

As closely as these two lines were allied throughout Israel’s history, kings couldn’t be priests, and priests couldn’t be kings. When King Uzziah tried to improperly serve as a priest, God judged him by making him a leper—now unable to participate in public worship even in the capacity he would have formerly been able to do. (2 Chronicles 26:16–21).

In Jesus, however, the kingly and priestly offices unite in one person. By virtue of his lineage, He is the Davidic King who will sit on David’s throne forever. His sacrifice qualifies Him for the perpetual priesthood—not the Levitical priesthood, but the superior priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7).

We are all connected to Jesus’ family tree

While Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes further back, to Adam who was directly created by God (Luke 3:23–38). Jesus is thus related to every human being—so He can be our foretold Kinsman-Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20). This is important because Jesus came specifically to save “His people” from their sins. But who are His people? Some might think this refers to Jews, and they did get priority regarding Jesus’ earthly ministry being directed to them. But even during His earthly life, there were clear indications that having Abraham’s genes was a lot less important than having Abraham’s faith (see also Galatians 3).

After the resurrection, Jesus explicitly included all people in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This is because the same descent from Adam that made them sinners also makes them the relatives of Jesus, and thus eligible for the forgiveness that comes through trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice.

The birth of Christ is one of the most important world events, second only to His death and resurrection, because the Saviour, the son of God, was born as a tiny human baby. However, it would be a mistake to still think of Jesus as the baby in the manger, or even the man on the cross. While we look back to these events with gratitude for God’s amazing saving grace, we should realize that today Jesus is the triumphant risen Lord, currently at the right hand of the Father where He makes intercession for those who have trusted in Him (Romans 8:34). And we look forward to the day He returns to manifest His victory over sin and will restore the entire earth, overturning the effects of sin and death.

Helpful Resources

From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
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How Did We Get Our Bible?
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