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ISBN-13: 9780891077268
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 04/15/1993
Series: Crossway Classic Commentaries Series , #2
Edition description: Abridged
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

J. C. RYLE(1816–1900) was a prominent writer, preacher, and Anglican clergyman in nineteenth-century Britain. He is the author of the classicExpository Thoughts on the Gospelsand retired as the bishop of Liverpool.

Alister McGrath (PhD, University of Oxford) is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College in Oxford. He is also a noted author and coeditor of Crossway's Classic Commentaries series.

J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best-seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.

J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best-seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.

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CHAPTER 1

A JEWISH LOOK AT JESUS

Matthew 1:1–17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.

We do not know definitively who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, but the universal testimony of the early church is that it was penned by Matthew, one of the twelve disciples. Matthew was called from his labor as a tax collector, which was one of the most despised vocations any Jew could hold, yet because of his training as a tax collector, Matthew was acquainted with lists and genealogies from the public registry, so he would know the family history of the people being taxed. He was also, obviously, literate and probably spoke two or three languages. Therefore, his work as a tax collector, under the providence of God, was the Lord's preparation for Matthew to begin his most important and celebrated task. This book has been called, even by critics of historic Christianity, the greatest book ever written.

The Genealogy

Matthew begins his Gospel with these words: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (v. 1). Here is a Jew writing principally for Jews, and his first assertion is that he is writing about Jesus Messiah. Christ is not the name of Jesus. His name is Jesus bar Joseph or Jesus of Nazareth. The term Christ is His title, and it means "Jesus the Anointed One" or "Jesus the promised Messiah." Matthew mentions another important title that would resonate with his Jewish audience: the Son of David (v. 1). This title for Jesus, Son of David, is used more by Matthew than by any other Gospel writer, because the Messiah was to come from the loins of the greatest king of the Old Testament; He would be of the seed and lineage of David. So from the very beginning of his Gospel Matthew calls Jesus "Christ, the Son of David."

Matthew then adds, the Son of Abraham (v. 1). One of the great difficulties of harmonization in sacred Scripture is the relationship between the genealogy presented by Matthew and that presented by Luke in his Gospel. There are many places where these two genealogies do not agree. The first point of difference is that Luke traces the genealogy of Christ back to Adam, indicating that this Christ is not simply the Savior of the Jews but that the scope of Jesus' redemptive activity is universal. He is the new Adam, who recovers the promise that God made originally to Adam and Eve in the garden. Matthew, on the other hand, goes only as far back as Abraham because he is writing to a Jewish audience, to people who would want to know about the ancestry of Jesus as well as that of Matthew. It is important that His ancestry can be taken back to Abraham.

Ancestry was important to Jewish people, as it has been to people of all cultures throughout history. Probably the culture that is least concerned about ancestry is our own, which is why we often fail to understand the import of lists such as this.

When I enrolled as a student at the Free University of Amsterdam, I had to fill out a form with personal information. One of the questions on the form asked, "What was your father's station in life?" The university wanted to know my cultural class standing. That was also important for the Jew, which is why Matthew begins by giving us Jesus' ancestry. Additionally, the ancestry was important to demonstrate that Matthew's Gospel did not pertain to a mythical character or hero. To the Jew, the ancestry testified to historical reality.

Several years ago a friend of mine, a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, worked among a people who had never heard the gospel in their language. The people could not write or read, so all their communication was oral. The missionary's first task was to learn the language of the tribe. Then she had to change that oral language into written form and teach the people to read and write it. It was a laborious task that took many years. Only after all that was accomplished could she undertake the task of translating the Bible into this language. She began with the Gospel of Matthew. To expedite the project she skipped the genealogy to get to the meat and substance of the story of Christ, and then she sent her translation work off to be printed by a publisher in a distant city. She waited months for the first copies of Matthew to arrive at the compound, and when the trucks came in with the Bibles, or, at least, the Gospel of Matthew, the people were much more interested in the trucks than they were in the translation. After having spent ten years on the project, she was crushed when she saw that the people didn't care at all. Nevertheless, she persevered in her task, and in the second edition of Matthew she included the genealogy. When that arrived the missionary explained the genealogy to the tribal chief, and he said, "Are you trying to say that this Jesus you've been telling us about for ten years was a real person?"

She replied, "Yes, of course."

He said, "I thought you were telling us a story about some mythical character."

Once he understood that this Christ was real in space and time, the chief came to Christ, and shortly thereafter the whole tribe came to Christ.

There are three sections in the genealogy, and Matthew divides these three sections into three groups, each of which has fourteen names. The significance of that has puzzled New Testament scholars. The Hebrew language uses a gematria, which is a kind of numerological symbolism. We find an example of this in the book of Revelation, where we read that the number of the beast is 666 (Rev. 13:18). Those numbers can be applied to real persons to identify the beast. If you look at this same kind of structure in the genealogical table, you will see that the number fourteen is the number of David. David is the central character of the ancestry, and Matthew is taking great pains to show that Jesus is from the line and lineage of David and that He has come to restore the fallen booth of the great king of the Old Testament.

Another difference between the genealogy in Matthew and the genealogy in Luke is that Matthew lists the father of Joseph as Jacob; in Luke's Gospel it is Eli. However, Luke does not use the term begat; he uses simply of someone. If you look through the genealogies, you will see that both the lists are selective, and that Matthew and Luke do not select the same people. The most notable difference is that in Matthew, the list moves from David to Solomon, whereas in Luke, it moves from David to Nathan. Solomon and Nathan were both sons of David, and, actually, the elder son was Nathan, not Solomon. Nevertheless, the kingship passed from David to Solomon rather than to Nathan. This gives us a clue as to why these genealogies are different.

What scholars tend to agree on is that Matthew's genealogy is the royal lineage of the kings of David. When Matthew gets to the sons of Jacob, he lists not the firstborn, Reuben, but Judah. The tribe of Judah was given the kingdom: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah ... until Shiloh comes" (Gen. 49:10). In Matthew's genealogy the heirs to the throne of David come down finally to the father of Joseph, whose name is Jacob. In Luke's Gospel the genealogy does not come through the lines of the kings but from the son of Nathan.

The genealogies differ past David, and we do not know why. Suggested repeatedly throughout church history is that Matthew is giving us the genealogy of Joseph, and Luke is giving us the genealogy of Mary. This suggestion is highly disputed, but I am inclined to think it is the right solution. We have every reason to believe that Mary also was descended from David, and Jesus, of course, gets His human nature not from Joseph but from Mary. However, in Jewish society the fatherhood of Joseph, even though he was merely Jesus' stepfather, as it were, is important for legal genealogical considerations.

So why does Luke tell us that Joseph is of Eli while Matthew tells us that Jacob begot Joseph? Obviously Joseph didn't have two different fathers. I think Matthew is giving us the physical descendants from Jacob to Joseph. In Luke's Gospel, Joseph is not called "the son of Eli" but "of Eli." In other words, Joseph is "of Eli" in the sense that he was Eli's son-in-law. Noticeable by its absence in Luke's genealogy is any reference to King Jeconiah, who is mentioned twice in Matthew's list. Jeconiah came under the curse of God such that his seed would never be on the throne of David. This means that if Luke had traced Jesus' genealogy through Joseph, Jesus couldn't have been king, but since Jeconiah does not appear in Luke's list, it is likely that Luke's list traces the line through Mary.

Significant about the genealogies is the reference to four women. Although not the norm, including women in such lists was not unheard of in Jewish genealogies. The four women mentioned are all non-Jews. Perhaps the most significant one is Ruth the Moabite, who was the grandmother of David. We see here the promise to Abraham, that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed, including Gentiles like Rahab and Ruth.

In Martin Luther's study of the genealogies, he sees Jesus as the Son of David who restores the kingdom to Israel, but as the Son of Abraham He brings the kingdom of God to the whole world. All of that is pointed to by what appears, in the beginning, to be nothing but a list of names.

CHAPTER 2

THE BIRTH OF JESUS

Matthew 1:18–25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

When we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmastime, our attention is most often given to Luke's account, because it gives us so much information. It tells us of the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the peasant girl Mary. It includes the story of the shepherds as well as the infancy hymns that are sung by Zacharias and by others during that time. Matthew's version is much briefer.

We notice at the outset that Matthew gives his account from the viewpoint of Joseph, whereas Luke tells his account from the viewpoint of Mary. Luke assures us that what he wrote in his Gospel was well researched from eyewitnesses, and tradition affirms that Luke got much of his information from Mary herself. Of course, when Matthew wrote his Gospel he had no opportunity to interview Joseph.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows (v. 18). This opening assertion is rich in content, as brief as it is. The word used here for the birth of Jesus is genn eosis. Our word genesis comes from the Greek ginomai, which means "to be, to become, or happen." Matthew is asserting that this is how Jesus came to be, which, as we noted in the last chapter, places the birth of Jesus within the framework of history rather than mythology.

The Betrothal of Mary and Joseph

After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit (v. 18). This takes place after betrothal and prior to marriage. In our society, a betrothal is considered to be an engagement between two people who intend to become married at a certain time, yet there are countless occasions in which engagements are broken and the marriage never comes to pass. Among the Jews in Jesus' day, however, a betrothal was far more serious. It was an unbreakable pledge customarily undertaken one year before the wedding, and it carried almost the weight of marriage itself; it was so close that it required virtually a writ of divorce to end it.

Following betrothal the bride remained under the roof of her parents. She would not move into the home of her husband until after the actual marriage. Therefore, it was serious when a betrothed woman was discovered to be with child; the implications of such a pregnancy were enormous in Jewish society and could, indeed, result in execution of the woman who violated her betrothal by becoming pregnant. Yet we are told here in Matthew that before Mary came together with Joseph, "she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." The father of this child in Mary's womb was not some illicit lover, nor was it Joseph; the paternity was accomplished through the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. In the Apostles' Creed we recite, "Jesus Christ ... was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary ..." Those two miraculous aspects — His conception and His birth — were integral to the faith of the Christian church of the early centuries. Jesus' conception was extraordinary, not natural but supernatural, accomplished by the divine work of the Spirit, and as a result a baby born to a virgin.

Perhaps no assertion of biblical Christianity fell under greater attack by nineteenth-century liberalism than the account of the virgin birth. For some reason more attention was given to that than to the resurrection. Because the story is so blatantly supernatural, it became a stumbling block to those who tried to reduce the essence of the Christian faith to all that can be accomplished through natural humanity.

When Mary's pregnancy was discovered, Joseph, being a just man — one who was also kind and gave detailed attention to the observance of the law of God, not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly (v. 19). He was not willing to call down the wrath of the courts upon his betrothed, and he decided to deal with it from a spirit of compassion. After he thought it over deeply and carefully, he decided to divorce her or put her away in a private manner, so as to save his betrothed from total public humiliation.

While he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David" (v. 20). The New Testament makes so much out of the fact that Jesus is the Son of David that it's almost amazing to find Joseph being given that same title, but this is also important for the lineage of Jesus. For Jesus to be a Son of David in Jewish categories, legally His father also had to be a son of David. That is why the angel gives this honorific title to Joseph when he addresses him, saying, Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (v. 20). This is the second time in this brief narrative that the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary is attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.

In Luke's version, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she had conceived the child and would bring forth a baby, she was stunned and said, "How can this be since I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34). The angel replied, "With God nothing will be impossible" (v. 37).

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Matthew"
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Copyright © 2013 R. C. Sproul.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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