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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
US $14.00
Soft Cover
How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Nicholas A.
Hi! I was talking to my old son about Jesus' lineage and we read Luke and Matthew's genealogy a couple of days ago. I will print this chart so he can keep it on his Bible.

Could you please give more details about what happened on the X with Jeconiah, Neri, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel? I read about Levirate marriage but still couldn't understand based on your chart.
Lita Cosner
Thank you for this question! It is important to note that Matthew is not primarily concerned with biological relationships, but how the royal line means Jesus is 'next in line' as Joseph's legitimate heir for the Davidic kingship. Luke is concerned more with biological relationships because he is showing us how Jesus is descended from Adam.

As I noted in The genealogies of Jesus:

In 2 Kings 20, Hezekiah showed the Babylonian envoys all the treasure of Israel, and Isaiah tells Hezekiah that all the treasure will one day be taken away to Babylon. In addition, some of Hezekiah’s descendants will also be taken and made into eunuchs (2 Kings 20:16–19). It is likely that this happened to Jeconiah when he was taken away to Babylon. If this is the case, he may have adopted Shealtiel son of Neri in order to pass on the right to the throne. And in this scenario, both Mary and Joseph would be descended from Zerubbabel.

In this interpretation Jeconiah had no physical descendants, so he adopted a the 'next in line' from among David's descendants. Shealtiel was the physical son of Neri, and God confirmed that this was now the kingly line by the 'signet' proclamation in Haggai 2:23. Jeconiah and any potential physical line from him was disinherited from the Davidic kingship by another 'signet' proclamation in Jeremiah 22:24. So that explains why both Matthew and Luke's genealogies include Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, but list different fathers for Shealtiel.

Regarding the two fathers of Joseph in Matthew's and Luke's genealogies, it is possible that Mary's father was Heli, and he had only a daughter, or multiple daughters of whom Mary was the eldest. In this case, the daughters would inherit in the absence of sons, but they would have to marry within their own tribe so that the inheritance would not transfer from tribe to another. Joseph could have been considered the son of Heli to perpetuate Mary's father's name in a patrilineal society.
Peter W.
As Christians, this is the important truth to understand, the birth of Jesus, his life as a servant king, his death on a cruel cross, his defeating the curse of death through his resurrection. Why? To benefit for eternity all who would put their trust in him.
Thank you Lita and Rob for the presentation, your interaction with questions and answers with each other was a delight to engage, simple, factual and biblical. Thank you.
Robert S.
Very good Lita! Thank you for your comment that ‘His people’ also includes me, a Gentile.
Rob
Leslie G.
Thank you for that, especially for that very helpful diagram.
However, may I suggest that "his people" were those the Father had given Him to save. Those are the people He actually did save from their sins.
But thanks again for all your wonderful evangelistic work.
Lita Cosner
I would suggest that if the Bible chooses to highlight the sin of rejecting Christ by calling them "his own people" (John 1), we would do well to agree with Scripture!
Jason D.
Genealogy is the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages. Genealogists use oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. This definition is from Wikipedia. I really appreciate the work done on the earthly lineage and genealogy of Jesus and its clarity and delightful images. But doesn’t the Bible also provide us with a third genealogy of Jesus in John 1:1, His heavenly lineage? I’d like to see how that lineage could or would be superimposed, or subimposed into the earthly lineage. For us as Christians, don’t we also have a spiritual lineage and genealogy? I’ve read many stories of how one person, way back, came to Christ, and that person’s actions and/or caused another person to come to Christ, which caused another person, etc. So besides an earthly genealogy and pedigree, as Christians, we also have a spiritual pedigree and genealogy which can also be traced back to Before Adam and Eve, right back to Papa Good and Amazing God!
Seth K.
In the lineage image, all of the people are black. Does Creation have an article making the case for that? I can think of two quick reasons off the top of my head why that likely wasn't the case. Yes, I understand the idea that Adam and Eve were mid-brown, containing all of the genetic diversity that we see today. I can even see that going at least as far as Noah. But were Mary and Joseph also black? I think not. In the Song of Solomon 1:5 the subject claims to be black, but comely. This would be an odd statement to make if Solomon, or the general population at that time, were also black. Also, Jonathan Sarfati, who claims to be ethnically Jewish, disclaims that his ancestry is from Khazar (light-brown, a.k.a. white) converts, implying that his middle-eastern Jewish ancestry was also likely light-brown:a.k.a. white. Obviously, we shouldn't be too dogmatic about topics that aren't explicit in the Bible, but in my mind's eye it seems like Jesus would likely have been much lighter skinned than Mary is depicted above. If there is a strong case to make otherwise, please link me to it. Thank you.
Lita Cosner
Perhaps one could quibble about the exact shade, but Jesus and His ancestors certainly would have had middle-brown skin, and probably looked similar to modern middle-easterners.
Ira E.
Amen and amen.
Michael R.
Thank you for a beautiful message on Christmas day.

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