Jesus as son of David, son of Abraham

(This is a continuation of the notes for Matthew chapter 1.)

Jesus’ genealogy will list many ancestors, but Matthew highlights in advance two particularly key points: David and Abraham.

As heir of David, Jesus is the promised king. Yet Jesus, David’s royal descendant, exercises authority far greater than David. The Gospel’s conclusion shows us that he is not only king over Israel, but has all authority in heaven and earth (28:18). Even already on earth, Jesus exercised special authority to help people. Thus blind people come to him pleading, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (9:27; 20:30-31). His success in casting out demons leads others to suspect that Jesus is “son of David” (12:23), even in the case of a foreign woman who might otherwise not have submitted to Israel’s new king (15:22).

In the Old Testament, David did minimize the influence of evil spirits on Saul, and Jewish tradition made his son Solomon an exorcist. But why do even the blind hail Jesus as Son of David? David did not cure blindness. Jesus demonstrates authority far greater than David. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus displays authority over sickness, spirits, seas and storms. We can trust him with the problems of our lives! Yet Jesus also invites the submission of followers under his authority. He is king not only of the natural world but rightful king of humanity. We can submit our lives to him, enrolling in his service.

The title “son of Abraham,” by contrast, may identify Jesus’ kinship with the rest of Israel. Thus Jesus will spend forty days tested in the desert like Israel spent forty years; Matthew will apply to Jesus biblical passages about Israel’s ideal mission. Matthew shows that Jesus identified with his people’s heritage and fulfilled what they could not fulfill on their own. Even more generally, we recognize that Jesus has embraced our common humanity; we do not suffer or celebrate alone, because he has shared our place. Beyond all this, it is possible that Jesus evokes Abraham’s mission in some way: it is clear from Genesis that the nations of the earth should be blessed in Abraham. In Matthew, Jesus becomes a blessing to the nations.



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