I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Advent in Matthew I

The other day, Fanny and I were discussing the genealogy of our Lord recorded in Matthew’s gospel and the profound significance it has in connection with the first Advent of our Lord in history. In the next few posts, I'll share some of those observations.

Matthew 1:1 is a flag, evoking in the readers’ hearts millennia of salvation history. Approximately 2000 years before, God covenanted a people for himself. Through the loins of Abraham would come One through whom God would bless “all nations” (Gen 22:18); and through this coming One, Abraham would, with all his spiritual children “inherit the world” (Rom 4:13). Matt 1:1 is the cry that salvation history was climaxing...the coming One had come!

If the Promise-Fulfillment paradigm for understanding the unity between the Old and New Testaments is taken up, few verses could challenge the sheer volume of that motif when compared to Matt 1:1.

From v. 2 through v. 16, Matthew gives us a detailed catalogue of names. The Advent of the Messiah was not happenstance; it was sovereign Providence. Furthermore, despite a history of bitter warfare and all the best efforts of the “seed of the serpent,” the “Seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) had arrived; he had come to take possession of the “gate of his enemy” (Gen 22:17). This covenant promise of God to Abraham, that his seed would posses the gate of his enemy, was also a blessing over Isaac’s—“the son of Abraham”—bride, Rebekah (Gen 24:60). In it’s fulfillment, the same blessing is given to Jesus’—the Greater “Son of Abraham”—bride, the Church (Matt 16:18).

How often do we slog and plod through this genealogy (if not simply skip it altogether) in order to get to the “good stuff”? But this is the “good stuff”! Matthew did not include this list merely to prove Jesus regal right to David’s throne. That’s one purpose to be sure, but that’s not all.

From the time of Yahweh’s special, redemptive promises and purposes, beginning in his sovereign election of Abram (Gen 12), til the climax and fulfillment of that covenant in the Person and work of Jesus, the epinarrative of history—historia salutis—was being wrought by God through the micronarratives of the lives behind these names. This is Gospel! This was the soil in which the Seed of the woman, of David, of Abraham would be planted; from this loamy heritage the “Root of Jesse” would shoot forth his branches, creating a plant so great that “all nations” would come and find their eschatological Rest beneath its boughs (Matt13:32).

The chapters immediately preceding the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham (Gen 10, 11) and his Seed is the table of “all the nations” in rebellion to God, God’s judgment and his turning from “all nations” to one nation—one family, Israel. Matthew’s genealogy takes us from that great turning point and its Promise to the Great turning point and its Fulfillment, when God’s Kingdom would turn again. Thus in the chapters that follow Matthew 1, we see God through Jesus turning from that one nation in judgement to again adopt and baptize “all nations” (Matt 28:19) into his one family, the New Israel.

And who is at the center? Christ Jesus our Lord, King of Israel, King of Kings, King of Glory. Promise at one foot and Fulfillment at the other, they bow and kiss the Son:

A. Abrahamic Covenant (Promise – Gen 12 – 22)

B. Davidic Covenant (Promise – 2 Sam 7; Ps 89)

C. “Jesus Christ, the son...” (Matt 1:1a)

B'. “...of David...” (Fulfillment – 1:1b)

A'. “...of Abraham.” (Fulfillment – 1:1c)

Matthew’s genealogy, therefore, is a list of those who “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar...And all these, though commended through their faith, did not received what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:13, 39—40).

“And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). And through your adoption “in Christ Jesus you are all son’s of God, through faith!” (3:26).

Therefore, the names we too often slog and plod through are the first half of the Great Drama of Grace, the story of redemption; it’s their story and it’s our story too. In Christ, the Center, their promises are ours, and his fulfillment becomes theirs. We share their history, they share our future. It’s the history and the future of a people created and redeemed by God, for his glory. Christ, the Center, is Father’s gift to us; we are the Father’s gift to him, the Bride of his choosing.
Redemptive history is not over; it’s accomplished in Christ, being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit daily in our micronarratives and throughout the world in God’s epinarrative. “Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham” is at the center of the latter, by grace, O’ Lord, let him be at the center of the former!


  1. Very helpful. I think Christopher Wright would agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion. In his book, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Wright explains that the identity, mission and values of Jesus are only rightly understood in light of the Old Testament storyline which culminates in him. Wright begins with the genealogy in Matthew’s gospel. He explains that this genealogy serves several functions. First, it indicates that Jesus was truly Jewish. The establishment of Jesus’ “Jewishness” is one of the ways his situatedness within the story of the Hebrew Scriptures is made emphatic. Secondly, Matthew’s genealogy establishes Jesus as truly human. Wright argues this based on the fact that Matthew begins with Abraham, who is the one through whom all peoples would be blessed. Thirdly, Matthew’s genealogy establishes Jesus as the Son of David. The Davidic dynasty was the agency through which God was to establish his reign on the earth. The tracing of Jesus, then, to the Davidic line underscores this connection.

    In addition to these factors, Wright explains that Matthew’s genealogy ties Jesus to the story of the Old Testament. The story of the Old Testament, Wright explains, begins in Genesis 1-12 with the entrance of sin and the corruption of human society. God responds to this problem by initiating a plan of salvation. The answer to the problem of sin and corruption has its beginning in God’s promises to Abraham. In the same way that the problem of sin is shown to be a universal problem in the opening chapters of Genesis, so too God’s answer to the problem of sin would include a promise in which all nations would be blessed. God’s promises to Abraham include the promise of the land, the promise that his offspring would become a great nation, and the promise of a seed through whom all the nations would be blessed. The person of Jesus, then, is only rightly understood in light of this history.

  2. How encouraging! Although I don’t have any of C. Wright’s work, it’s not for lack of want (if Fanny’s looked at my Amazon wishlist, maybe this will be remedied;). Every since you shared some of his thoughts on Deuteronomy (during one of your classes at Wheaton?), I’ve been eyeing his stuff. I have read his Old Testament ethics book...fantastic! I truly appreciated his missional hermeneutic.

    Thanks for the clarifying remarks.

    PS. How generous of you to leave my chiasm unscathed ;)