What's the Point of Reading Matthew 1?
If you're anything like me, when digging deeper into the Gospels you may find yourself skipping the long genealogy that kicks off Matthew. I mean, why wouldn't you? The list takes longer to read than the Declaration of Independence and seems just as confusing. Who cares that Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah? Who cares that Jesse was the father of David? I already spent time reading the Hebrew Bible, bring on the important stuff!
I felt the same way about Matthew 1 until I started researching the significance and the culture Matthew was writing to. After digging deeper, I applaud Matthew for his approach, and find myself smacking my forehead wondering why I didn't understand the significance sooner.
Well friends, smack your forehead no longer. Let's dive in to the importance and the power within the lines of Matthew 1.
1) Matthew, one of the twelve disciples that walked with Jesus, is believed to have written the Gospel of Matthew some time between 60 AD and 100 AD. Many scholars are uncertain exactly when the Gospel was actually written. We do however believe that Matthew used Mark's Gospel (which was written first) as a source. Many believe Mark was written between 66 AD and 75 AD. So, most individuals believe that Matthew was written somewhere between 80-90 AD. Jesus is believed to have died 30-40 years prior to the Gospels being written. This is significant to understand because for nearly four decades, Christ followers were basing their faith on word-of-mouth and eye-witness accounts. They didn't have "the entire Bible" to reference for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus. So Matthew is writing his Gospel to a evidence-craving group of individuals. They waited decades for reassurance that their faith in Jesus was not a mistake. Matthew recognized this, and so the way he kicks off Matthew Chapter 1 is the perfect avenue for his readers. I'll explain why in point #3.
2) Matthew is writing to Messianic Jews. Messianic Jews are Jews that believe that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah. After Jesus died and resurrected and then ascended to Heaven, there was a huge divide amongst religious groups. There were Jews (those that did not believe Jesus was the Messiah), Messianic Jews (Christ-followers/individuals who were Jewish but believed in Jesus the Messiah), and a large population of faith craving nones (didn't know what to believe or who to believe). Matthew chooses to direct his Gospel to the Messianic Jews because he recognizes that they are in desperate need of a reassurance that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. How does he do this? By opening with a list of names.
3) Matthew opens with a list of names because it reassures the Messianic Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. Not only this, but the genealogy also serves as a "shot of adrenaline" for the Messianic Jews because the family that Jesus derived from and the suffering that they went through prove that through Jesus, we can succeed. If Jesus can come from as broken of a family as He did, and still be the Messiah, who is to say that we can't survive Roman oppression? The genealogy served to motivate and remind the Messianic Jews that God will never forget about them. Regardless of their suffering, their brokenness, their sin, and their idolatry, God is for us. If David, the individual who is believed to have raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah, can still be in the same family-line as Jesus, who is to say that God can't use a sinner like me? The genealogy proves that no enemy can stand against the Kingdom of God. Regardless of how hard the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Romans tried, God still prevailed... and Matthew wanted the Messianic Jews to know this.
The genealogy is more than just a list of names. It is a powerful testimony that says God is for us, God is with us, and God has not forgotten us. If Rahab can be a part of Jesus' family, why can't we? Who can stop us when God uses the weak to dismantle the strong by using love?
Nobody, absolutely nobody.
Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation by Alexander John Shaia