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Lesson Three: The Son of David in Matthew’s Gospel
1. To understand the symbolism Matthew uses to convey the truth that Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of David.
2. To see how the baptism of Jesus corresponds to the anointing of the Davidic kings.
3. To understand how Matthew sees Jesus’ kingdom as the fulfillment of the promises in the prophets.
- Beginning with the Old Testament
- The Lord’s Anointed
- The Kingdom
- Discussion Questions
The very first chapter of the New Testament begins by recapitulating the Old Testament:“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (see Matthew 1:1).
A long genealogy of Jesus Christ follows.Many readers skip over these first seventeen verses of Matthew, and with some good reason. The genealogy seems to be simply reference material: it tells no story, and it does not preserve any sayings of Jesus.
But a closer look at this passage reveals that it carries some very important messages for us.First of all, the placement of the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, which later Christians placed at the beginning of the New Testament, tells us something very important about who Jesus Christ is. The first thing to know, Matthew tells us, is how Jesus is related to Old Testament Scripture.
Matthew even chooses his words to echo the Old Testament.Compare Genesis 5:1, “This is the record of the descendants of Adam,” to Matthew 1:1: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that the early Christians used, “the record of the descendants” in Genesis is the same as “the book of the genealogy” in Matthew.Now notice how Matthew divides the genealogy into three parts. He sums up his method in verse 17:
“Thus the total number of generations"
- from Abraham to David is fourteen generations;
- from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
- from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations (see Matthew 1:17).
The number three suggested perfection. Often the two numbers are used together to signify absolute completeness: Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines from all nations, symbolizing his authority over the whole world. (Not that it was a good idea for him to have all those wives; see 1 Kings 11:1-8.)There is another numerical significance that is less obvious to us, but that probably would have been obvious to Matthew’s first audience.
Most scholars think that Matthew’s Gospel was written primarily for Jewish Christians. Those Jewish Christians would have learned Hebrew as part of their education: it was essential to be able to read the Scriptures in the original.Just as the Romans and the Greeks did, Hebrew uses letters to represent numbers. (For example, in Roman numerals we write the year 2005 as MMV.)
It was common to take the numerical values of the letters in a name and add them up, coming up with a number that was supposed to have mystical or symbolic significance.Hebrew has no letters for vowels, so the name David is spelled daleth-vau-daleth (DVD).
In Hebrew numerals the letter daleth (D) stands for 4, and the letter vau (V) stands for 6.Numerically, then, David’s name is 4 + 6 + 4, or fourteen.
In other words, when Matthew divides the genealogy into three groups of fourteen generations, he numerically repeats David’s name a perfectly complete three times. Matthew is showing us that Jesus is the perfect Son of David, in whom all the promises God made to David are completed.C. Still in Exile
For Matthew, history falls into three important periods:
- from Abraham to David;
- from David to the Babylonian exile;
- from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah (see Matthew 1:17).
Another historian might have thought that the restoration of Jerusalem was as important as the deportation to Babylon. But for Matthew, the Babylonian exile did not end then. It ends only with the coming of the Messiah.Why would Matthew see it that way?
First of all, we should remember that only a tiny remnant of Israel retuned to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Over the many years of exile in Babylon, many of the transplanted Israelites had grown rich, or at least comfortably prosperous. They saw no reason to leave their luxurious surroundings for the risky project of resettling a land most of them had never seen.At the time of the Exile, other refugees had made their way to Egypt (see 2 Kings 25:26) - symbolically undoing the Exodus. They, too, had prospered. By the time of Christ, Alexandria in Egypt was second only to Rome in wealth and splendor, and about a quarter of its population was Jewish.
And, of course, the northern kingdom of Israel had been completely dispersed even before Judah was conquered (see 2 Kings 17:5-6). The northern tribes never returned to their homeland (see 2 Kings 17:22-23).Some remnants of the northern tribes remained: Zebulun and Naphtali, the first to be conquered, had not been entirely displaced, and we read that the prophetess Anna was of the tribe of Asher (see Luke 2:36). But most of northern Israel was gone completely, dispersed among the nations so thoroughly that the remnants tribes could never even be identified.
So most of the original twelve tribes were lost completely; and even of those that could be accounted for, most lived outside the Promised Land.Yet the prophets, as we saw in the previous lesson, had promised that all the descendants of Israel would be brought back together - “from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own land” (see Jeremiah 23:8).
And along with that incredible promise came the even more incredible promise that the kingdom of David would be restored.“Thus says the LORD: If you can break my covenant with day, and my covenant with night, so that day and night no longer alternate in sequence, then can my covenant with my servant David also be broken” (see Jeremiah 33:19-21).
Even after the kingdom of David’s descendants had fallen in a heap, the prophets were promising that the covenant with David could never be broken.This promise was not fulfilled when Jerusalem was restored under Cyrus (see Ezra 1:1-4). Even after the Jewish nation, against all odds, won its independence (as recorded in the books of the Maccabees), no son of David sat on the throne, and most of the exiles were still in exile. And by the time of Christ, the Promised Land was once again merely a province of a great foreign empire.
In fact, the promise seemed impossible. How could all the tribes ever be reunited? The northern tribes had been so thoroughly scattered and mixed up with other nations that they had lost all memory of being descendants of Israel. How could the whole house of Israel be gathered together if most of them didn’t even know they were supposed to be gathered?
A. The Baptism of Jesus
John the Baptist was a popular and successful preacher who lived in the wilderness and called the people to repentance. As a sign of their repentance, he baptized them - that is, gave them a ceremonial washing - in the river Jordan.All kinds of people came in crowds to be baptized by John. But one of those people was a surprise to John. It was John’s own cousin Jesus.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed him” (see Matthew 3:13-15.)Jesus’ response is a little hard to understand. What did He mean when He said, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”?
Even though Jesus had no sin himself, it was necessary for Him to be identified with sinners.But John the Baptist was a Levite and a prophet, and his baptizing Jesus had another ceremonial significance. 1 Samuel 16:13), a Levite priest and one of the most illustrious prophets of the Old Testament. Saul, who was king before David, had also been anointed by Samuel.
The anointing was done by pouring oil on the head of the anointed one. The effect that followed the anointing was the coming of the Spirit of the Lord:“The spirit of the LORD will rush upon you” (see 1 Samuel 10:6); “the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David” (see 1 Samuel 16:13).
When the king had been anointed that way, he was known as the Lord’s Anointed One.Even Saul, wicked though he was in his later years, was still the Lord’s Anointed in David’s eyes. In spite of years of civil war between Saul and David, when David had a chance to kill Saul, he refused.
“He said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’S anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for he is the Lord’s anointed’ “(see 1 Samuel 24:7).The Hebrew word for “Anointed One” is “Messiah.” The Greek translation is “Christ.”
In other words, every king in David’s line was the Christ, the Anointed One.C. Son of God
David and all the kings of his line were given an extraordinary promise by God: “I will be a Father to him and he shall be a son to Me” (see 2 Samuel 7:14).As we saw in the first lesson in this series, this is the first time in Scripture that the idea of divine sonship is applied to one individual. While God had referred to Israel as His first-born son, no one as yet in the Bible has been called, in effect, a “son of God.”
Psalm 2 puts the promise in poetic form:“I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, ‘You are my son; today I am your father. Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth’ “(see Psalm 2:7).
Not only is the Lord’s Anointed, promised that he will be Son of God, but he also has all nations to “the ends of the earth” for his inheritance.D. Jesus Anointed in the Jordan
Matthew has already shown us that Jesus was the perfect Son of David, the heir to the kingdom of David.David and the kings that followed him were anointed by Levites. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by a Levite.
When an Old Testament king was anointed, “the spirit of the LORD rushed upon” that king (see 1 Samuel 16:13).“After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him (see Matthew 3:16).
David and the kings of his line were also were adopted as sons of God: God promised them that He would be their father.When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven made the same proclamation about Him: “And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ “(see Matthew 3:17).
All the familiar images of the Davidic king from the Old Testament come back at once in the story of Jesus’ baptism. Matthew shows us that Jesus is not simply being washed in the river: He is being anointed by a Levite prophet.Jesus is the Lord’s Anointed, the Son of God - the titles that by God’s unalterable promise belong to the Son of David who reigns as King of Israel.
A. What the Kingdom is Like
What will this new kingdom be like?Jesus gave his followers a good citizens’ manual for life in the Kingdom. We know it as the Sermon on the Mount, the longest continuous collection of Jesus’ sayings in the Bible. It stretches across three chapters, from Matthew 5:3 to Matthew 7:27.
The whole sermon begins with the kingdom:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (see Matthew 5:3).
The poor, the mourners, the meek, the seekers of righteousness, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted - these are the people to whom the kingdom belongs (see Matthew 5:3 to 5:11).The kingdom is also rooted in the Old Testament. “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (see Matthew 5:19).
But the true citizen of the kingdom is held to an even higher standard than the law of the Old Testament. The spirit of the law, not the letter, is the guiding principle (see Matthew 5:21 to 5:48, and compare Jeremiah 31:33-34).In this world’s kingdoms, the rich and powerful rule. But the poor and forgotten will inherit the new kingdom of the Son of David.
“And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed (him), crying out, ‘Son of David, have pity on us!’ “(see Matthew 9:27). The blind men call on the Son of David, and because of their faith they receive their sight.“Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. All the crowd was astounded, and said, ‘Could this perhaps be the Son of David?’ “(see Matthew 12:22-23). Here it is the miraculous healing that causes the crowd to suspect they might be seeing the promised Son of David.
“And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon’ “(see Matthew 15:22). In this case, a non-Israelite - a descendant of the hated Canaanites who were always leading Israel astray - recognizes Jesus as Son of David. She acknowledges that the Son of David has authority over all nations, not just Israel.The emphasis on healing is not surprising. The prophets had foretold that no one would be sick in the time of the Messiah.
“No one who dwells there will say, ‘I am sick’; the people who live there will be forgiven their guilt” (see Isaiah 33:24).Matthew shows us that Israelites and Gentiles alike recognized Jesus as the Son of David foretold in the prophets.
When John the Baptist preached, his main theme was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (see Matthew 3:2).When Jesus first began to preach in public, his message was exactly the same (see Matthew 4:17).
When Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach, he gave them the same message again (see Matthew 10:7).The most important thing for followers of Jesus’ way to know is how to prepare for living in the Kingdom of Heaven. And the most important preparation is repentance - turning our lives away from sin and back toward God.
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus told his disciples (see Matthew 28:18). We recall the promise in Psalm 2:8: “I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth”- a promise now finally fulfilled.Matthew recalls it, too. The last words of Jesus that he records are these:
“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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (see Matthew 28:19-20).As followers of the Son of David, we share in the responsibility for His kingdom. We have the duty to help extend it to “the ends of the earth.” And we have our King’s promise that the kingdom will endure forever.
- In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, how many divisions does he make in the list? How many generations in each division?
- How are these numbers significant?
- In Matthew’s division of history, when does the Babylonian Exile end?
- According to the prophets (Jeremiah, for example), when would the covenant with David be broken?
- What ceremony marked the beginning of the rule of a king of the house of David?
- What spiritual effect did this ceremony have?
- What equivalent ceremony did Jesus undergo? How was it equivalent?
- According to Christ’s teaching, what kinds of people will inherit His kingdom?
- What is the most important thing we can do to prepare for the coming of Christ’s kingdom?
For personal reflection:
Are you ready for the coming of the kingdom? What would it mean to be “poor in spirit” in the everyday life of today’s world?