- What is the historical and literary background?
The fundamental message of Jesus’ Gospel, according to Matthew, can be read and understood with little help. However, it is written for an audience that has a good handle on the old testament.
Matthew’s list of names would not carry much significance to someone without the knowledge of the OT; a Jewish audience with biblical understanding would quickly see the connection to OT and Christ. We are seeing a continuation from where the OT narrative has concluded.
If the Bible were to finish only with the Old Testament Scriptures, we conclude to say God is wonderfully powerful. He is good and kind. But we would not be able to say without any real evidence that God has been able to fulfill His plan He first set out to do through Abraham.
Chapter one will lay out the significant themes Matthew wishes to explain further with his version of the Gospel. Namely, Jesus is the Christ who is heir to Abraham and David’s promises (v1). His mission is to save His people from their sins (v21).
2. What Can We Observe About God?
He is the God who Fulfills His Promises.
When you think about what Scripture has revealed, human history has been formed and subjected to the agenda of God’s promises since the beginning. Though humanity may not be aware of God’s work, if the Bible is true, humanity is only waiting when God says, “Now is the time.”
The opening of Matthew reminds all God-fearers of the two major promises He once prophetically gave to Abraham and then to David.
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Matthew assumes the reader has read and is well acquainted with the Torah, for no one will find any explanation to the significance of these two names in chapter one. The importance of these two names is not the lives they lived or the achievements they were able to secure, rather the promises God graciously gave them, and by extension, to the world.
Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is relative to the modern reader, let the ready by exhorted to appreciate the same messianic fervor first-century Jews would have had towards the promised anointed one God. In Abraham, God would bless the world. Not in Abraham only, but specifically through one of Abraham’s heirs.
“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
“And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
What sort of blessing did God have in mind? Learning the answer to that was part of the fun and mystery as people learned to fear and trust God. Though the blessing is not immediately explained, God still gave hints to the observant reader. Once they arrived in the land, Lot observed how good the land appeared, “even as the garden of the Lord” (Gen. 13:10), and later in Exodus, God described it as a place flowing with plenty, a land of milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). These hints are not clear, but that is on purpose to keep the reader guessing in the right direction. God wants to bless humanity in the same way Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden.
The garden God planted was a place of no death as they had access to the tree of life. It was where God and people walked together in perfect union, enjoying each other and their work together. That, of course, was all lost when man sinned and God cursed the ground for his sake.
But God wouldn’t let that be the end. His promise to Abraham was a strong push in the direction of blessing for humanity. God gave a condition with the promise that Abraham (and his seed) should remain loyal to God. This one condition also hints at the kind of blessing God wants to bestow, a blessing where the created world can realize unity between God and man again. However, by the end of the Old Testament, Abraham’s descendants have struggled dramatically in a worsening cycle of corruption. God ultimately gave the Hebrews over to slavery in Babylon.
“And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon.”
If the Bible were to end there, one might argue that God was gracious and good to a people who did not deserve a blessing. But no one could say that God successfully brought about the ultimate end of His prophetic promise to Abraham.
Concluding the Old Testament, we would have to summarize that sin and disloyalty of God’s people were too great for the promise of blessing to be realized. How could God again walk with man in perfect harmony in a perfect world once again?
The answer to the Old Testament’s ultimate question is the subject matter of Jesus Christ’s Gospel. Jesus is Emmanuel, the solution to God and man’s unity problem. To be unified with Christ is to be unified with God, in perfection.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
The Old Testament has long said that God is coming and would eventually be with His people again, but until Jesus, that prophecy was an obscure hope. But with the angel’s announcement to Joseph, the Emanuel prophecy literally took on flesh as Abraham’s heir, Jesus Christ. Emmanuel and Abraham’s son would be the same person.
But how does God walking amongst us again really settle anything? Won’t humanity continue to find ways to fail God and sin against Him? Israel’s first king seemed to seal the nation’s fate. King Saul led the people away from God rather than toward Him. But God sought out a man the same way He sought out Abraham. He found David and promised that he would be king and his sons would reign forever.
“And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.”
2 Samuel 7:16
God’s promise to David meant that God would never remove David or the heir to this promise from the throne. This assures that somehow God could indefinitely extend mercy on David and his son, even when they choose to sin against God. The promise is clearly stated:
“I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.”
2 Samuel 7:14-15
David’s promise is a never-ending throne and mercy that never fails, even when the king is guilty of iniquity. But again, at the end of the Old Testament narrative, Israel has been taken captive. When Jesus was born, Israel was a part of the Roman Empire. Caesar and Caesar’s under-kings ruled over the Jews. Abraham’s promise seemed far away, but people were taught God is sovereign. They still had hope that God would bless Israel again.
God is about to reveal not only will He keep his promises to Israel but also how these blessings can extend to anyone anywhere in the world.
3. How does this passage point us to Jesus and the Gospel?
Jesus is the heir to Abraham and David’s promises.
This passage starts from Jesus and points back to the promises. God didn’t let these promises die under the sin and unfaithfulness of the Hebrews. The desperate situation of the people, which God speaks into, only magnifies His glory of what He is about to do.
From the void and chaos of desperation situation, God raises up an heir that will simultaneously fulfill the promises of both Abraham and David (v1). Though these promises are now centuries old, the expectation of the Messiah was very high.
But even though the expectation of the Messiah was high, still sin reigned in God’s people. The world will eventually take Him and murder Him on the cross. It would appear that the forces of darkness would extinguish the promises of Abraham and David with this one heinous act. But we are told that God meant it to bring salvation from sins to the entire world.
The angel commanded Joseph to name the child, Jesus, “Jehovah saves.”
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
The promises of Abraham and David are now realized in Christ. Christ adds another promise to those who believe on His name, even the forgiveness of sins. Paul would later expound on this in his writings and preaching.
Abraham’s promise was realized in Christ for all.
“Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
David’s promise was realized in Christ for all.
“And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
4. How do we apply this passage
We apply the message the same way first-century Jews were meant to apply it, by making Jesus our Lord and Savior if you have not already. If initially, there were no other reasons to trust Christ besides these two promises, we would still have forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.
These are, at least, the claims Matthew is making. His greatest evidence for such claims will be the resurrection of Christ. If indeed Christ is alive today, where else can one reasonably trust an offer for eternal life and forgiven sins?