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The Family Tree of Jesus

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38

The genealogy of Jesus is important in establishing His qualification for being Israel’s Messiah. It is also an important reminder that God graciously works in the lives of sinners like us to redeem us and make us a part of His eternal family.


The Family Tree of Jesus

Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38


In our last Wisdom Journey study, the Gospel of John introduced us to the preincarnate life of Christ—that is, Jesus’ divine and eternal life before He was born. He was God the Son long before the time when He took on flesh and became Jesus the man.

Now we are going to slip over to Matthew and Luke as they give us the genealogy, or the family tree, of Jesus.

The opening verse of Matthew reads, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Since Matthew is writing primarily to a Jewish audience, he is going to show that Jesus descended from David and Abraham; and that will be critically important for proving that Jesus is the Messiah King of Israel.

In chapter 3 of his Gospel, Luke is writing primarily to a Greek audience, and so he emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, tracing His family tree all the way back to Adam, the first man.  

I want to focus on Matthew’s very unusual genealogy of Jesus. During the days of Jesus, a woman had very few legal rights. In fact, a woman could not provide testimony in a court of law, and she did not normally inherit property—she was basically the property of her husband.

Women lived very difficult lives. It will be the gospel that elevates women and gives them great dignity. To this day, in countries where the gospel of Christ is rejected, women often still live difficult lives without dignity or respect or honor.

In the days of Christ, an orthodox Jewish man got up each day and prayed a morning prayer that included the words, “God, I thank You that You did not create me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”

With that in mind, I want to point out how Matthew, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, records this unique genealogy. He includes the names of four women in Jesus’ family tree. This was most unusual, but it pointed to the truth that women and men, boys and girls, are all equally precious in the sight of God.

The first woman, mentioned here in Matthew 1:3, is Tamar. Now if you are going to leave any woman out of the limelight—out of the lineage of Jesus—it is going to be Tamar. Back in Genesis 38, she married into the line of Judah. Her husband, the son of Judah, had died, and she was desperate to carry on the family line and have a child. She ended up dressing like a pagan temple prostitute and going out to where her father-in-law, Judah (one of the twelve sons of Jacob) was shearing his sheep. Not recognizing Tamar, Judah had relations with her, and she conceived and bore twin sons.

Imagine the grace of God in choosing to continue the Messiah’s line through Tamar and Judah. If I were God, I probably would have switched the royal line from Judah to Levi or Benjamin, but the messianic line from which Jesus descended continued through the oldest twin boy of Tamar and Judah.

Now the second woman in Matthew’s genealogy, in verse 5, is Rahab. Rahab was a little like Tamar, but unlike Tamar, prostitution was Rahab’s profession. She ran a brothel in her home on the wall of Jericho. But she renounced her pagan idolatry and became a follower of the God of Israel. When the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, she was rescued. She went on to marry a Hebrew man, who just happened to be in the royal lineage of Jesus.

The third woman in the genealogy is also listed in verse 5: Ruth. Ruth was a pagan Moabite. The wicked history of the Moabites now intersects the genealogy of the Messiah.

The Moabites were the result of incest between Lot and his unmarried daughter. In fact, both of Lot’s daughters wanted to have a child but were not married; and after God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, their hometown region, they had no prospects for a husband. So, they got their father drunk to the point that he had relations with them, and they conceived. The oldest daughter had a son she named Moab. From the other daughter’s son came the Ammonites.

The Moabites and the Ammonites became bitter enemies of the Israelites. In fact, Deuteronomy 23:3 tells us that no Ammonite or Moabite was to enter the assembly of the Lord. Well, that is going to be a problem here for Ruth, right? No. You might know that Ruth left her idolatrous nation behind. She followed Israel’s God and ended up marrying the Israelite Boaz; so, a former idolater and pagan Moabite joined the royal family line. Ruth became the grandmother of King David and part of the lineage of David’s descendant, Jesus Christ.

In verse 6 we find the fourth woman in this genealogy, even though she is not mentioned by her name, Bathsheba.

We read here, “Jesse [was] the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah. This is probably one of the darkest events in Israel’s past. It involved adultery, murder, and deception. Oh, don’t bring this up—you need to cover it up. This is not going to look good in the genealogy of Jesus. You should just leave this out of His family history.

This reminds me of the wealthy, high-society woman who wrote to a well-known author and asked him to write a book on the genealogy of her family. He agreed and began to compile the facts about the woman’s family. In the process, he discovered that one of her ancestors had been a murderer and was executed in the electric chair in the famous Sing Sing prison. He told her about it and said, “I’m an honest author, and I’m going to include this in your family history—your genealogy.”

She begged him not to include it. But he insisted on doing so. Finally, she said, “If you must include it, please write it in such a way that the truth that he was electrocuted at Sing Sing prison be somewhat hidden.”

He agreed and ended up writing, “One relative occupied the chair of applied electricity in one of America’s best-known institutions. He was very much attached to his position and died in the harness.”

Well, that story is no doubt fiction. But it does represent the way we think. We need to keep certain things about our family history quiet.

But here in verse 6, the Lord actually brings it into the spotlight. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba, who had been the wife of Uriah.

Our Lord gets it out into the open. Why? Is it because God doesn’t care about sin? No, it is because God does care about sin. He sees every sin and ever sinner. Nothing is hidden from His sight.

An angel is going to show up later in this chapter and tell Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (verse 21). You see, right here in the opening lines of the New Testament, God is effectively saying, “The world is full of sinners—and that is who Jesus came to save.”

And here is more good news: If Jesus is not ashamed of His ancestors, He is not going to be ashamed of His spiritual descendants—and that is you and me. This genealogy is an announcement of the grace of God.

It does not matter who you are or what you have done; if you have believed in Jesus Christ, your name has been included in the Lamb’s Book of Life. That is the Lord’s family tree, and you are included—a spiritual descendant and member of the family of God—by faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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