The genealogy at the beginning of Matthew is a long list of names that we average modern Christian’s glances over. We have a vague notion that the list is of some importance, but not to us, perhaps to the theologians and the Jews, but the average modern believer rushes on to get to the story of the adult Jesus for inspiration.
However, we need to understand the New Testament was not written to us twenty first century Christians. It was actually directed to an educated Jewish audience in the mid first century in an effort to convince them that the Jesus that Matthew followed was not some random prophet come from the desert, but was in fact THE Messiah, the long overdue promised saviour and redeemer of the nation of Israel.
To have any semblance of believability, the document had to begin in one place and one place only, the linage of Jesus. Matthew had to prove Jesus was of the right linage or any claim to the mantle of Messiah was a fraud.
The Messiah was to be the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:3), the seed of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and the seed of David (Psalm 132:11). Therefore only one genealogy weaves its way through the entire 1,500 years of the Old Testament, the genealogy of David. Matthew’s genealogy therefore lays the crucial foundation for all that follows. This genealogy lays the foundation for the believability of Jesus claim to be the saviour of the house of Israel. Jesus does indeed come from the line of David, on both sides (Luke 3:23-38)!
Matthew intriguingly mentions that Joseph is descended from Jeconiah (Verse 11). Jeconiah had a curse placed on him by Jeremiah declaring that no descendant of his would sit on the throne of Israel (Jeremiah 22:24-30). If Jesus was Joseph’s natural son he would have been disqualified for the mantle of Messiah. Of cause Matthew and Matthew’s audience knew this. This is why Matthew launches straight into the story of the virgin birth after the genealogy. Jesus is not really the son of Joseph, but the son of God through the virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-24). He came from the line of David through Jeconiah to Joseph, but was not really Joseph’s son.
Matthew also mentions four gentile women in the linage of Jesus. In doing so he breaks the Jewish tradition of only mentioning males in genealogies. Why? The purpose of the coming of Jesus was to bring a new covenant (contract) to humanity in which gentiles and sinners were welcome into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 22:1-14). Matthew uses the women to represent both gentiles and sinners, since three of the women were involved in sexual vice.
There are many other layers of meaning in this genealogy. However this short summary gives us enough reasons to re-evaluate and begin to appreciate the power of this list on its original intended audience.