“Prophecies of His Human Descent”
December 11, 2016
Scripture points us more and more narrowly to Jesus.
I. Narrowing the focus
The Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15)
Through Abraham (Genesis 12:3)
Through Abraham’s son, Isaac (Genesis 17:21)
Through Isaac’s son, Jacob (Genesis 28:14, Numbers 24:16-19)
Through the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8)
Through the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15-16)
Through the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1)
Through the house of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 2 Samuel 7:13)
II. Intersecting the beams.
Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38.
Ok, I want to apologize in advance, because I’m going to get a little nerdy or geeky here. As I was thinking about our topic for today – the human descent of God’s Messiah, and how that is revealed in prophecy, I thought about something from World War 2. You’re probably not surprised. Specifically, I thought about the so-called ‘Battle of the Beams.’ This began during the timeframe of my first book, when Britain was being bombed nightly by the Germans. They used a series of fascinating radio guidance beacons, which were opposed by an equally fascinating array of counter-measures. I don’t have time to go in to all of that now, but it’s an amazing and truly geeky story.
What I do want to describe is the simple foundation for a lot of these radio guidance systems. Not surprisingly, it’s a radio transmitter, one that has two antennas. Every radio signal spreads out from its antenna. Even from a directional antenna the signal spreads out in a cone shape. So it’s not much use for providing guidance, especially from two hundred miles away, because the signal is spread out over a huge area. But if I put two antennas next to each other and point them just slightly apart, the cones of their signal overlap by just a little bit for quite a long distance. One of the systems the Germans used had an overlap of just 100 yards at a distance of two hundred miles. So if you send a Morse code dash from the left antenna, and a Morse code dot from the other antenna, the radio operator can tell if he’s in the left beam – dash, the right beam, dot, or right in the middle, a continuous tone.
It’s a genius system. The beams spread: they have to, by the laws of physics, but you can still guide a plane right down the middle. And then if you put a cross beam that makes a different tone, the navigator can know exactly where he is over the blacked out English countryside, and drop his bombs precisely on target. That’s what the Germans did, notably in the bombing of Coventry.
The human descent, the family tree if you will, of the Messiah, is a lot like this. God did two things that allow us to know that Jesus is the promised Messiah. First, he kept narrowing the field of possibilities, starting with all of mankind and ending with the descendants of David. And then, from those descendants, he intercepted two beams, two lines in the form of Mary and Joseph, the human parents of Jesus. The point is that prophecy points us more and more narrowly to Jesus and that God keeps these prophetic promises to a T. And therefore we can trust that this Messiah he has sent is both true and faithful.
So let’s begin by looking at the narrowing of the Messiah’s human line. We’ll walk through a number of Scriptures, many of which we’ve already talked about as we’ve looked at redemption history. This is God’s Big Story as seen in the Old Testament. For a few verses after the first sin, there was no hope at all. Adam and Eve hid themselves in shame, God found them in the garden and he declared the ways human flourishing would be cursed because of this sin.
But in the middle of this gloom, he mentions a blessed hope. Genesis 3:14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Verse 15 is called the proto euangelion, the first prototype of the Good News. The woman’s offspring, one of her descendants will come and will take up the enmity or active hatred that exists between the Serpent, Satan and all the descendants of Eve. The Serpent will try with his usual Satanic lies to strike down this promised offspring, but he will only strike his heel. This son of Adam and Eve, on the other hand, will crush the Serpent’s head and make an end of his ages-long dominion. All we know so far, then, is that some person, some descendant of Adam and Eve will win the victory over the evil one who tempted them into sin.
But God was far from content to allow humankind to search all the tribes and nations of the earth for a deliverer. After the flood and the dispersion of the nations in the tower of Babel, he chose one man and one nation to be the narrowing of the promise. He chose Abraham and said, Genesis 12 Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God says “Abraham, all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed through you, or in you.” Later God promises that this will come through Abraham’s offspring. Genesis 22:18 “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” You may remember that the Apostle Paul talks about this promise, and says it pointed to Jesus. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
We know that Abraham finally had a son, the next in what we sometimes call the line of promise. Genesis 17:19 God said, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”
He was of the line of promise, but he was not the fulfillment of the promise. God said to Isaac “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
So God says that the blessing will come not in Isaac, but through the offspring of Isaac, and then Genesis 28:14, through the offspring of Jacob, Isaac’s son. God says to Jacob “Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Later after the Exodus, God renews this promise to the family line of Jacob. As the people of Israel are fighting their way through the wilderness, Balaam prophecies about Jesus, saying “This is the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: 17I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” So Jesus is coming, but God says, it’s not soon, it’s still far off, but he’s coming out of Jacob, out of Israel, the nation that took on Jacob’s covenant name, like a star rising in the darkness of the night.
But even before that prophecy was given, Jacob himself had spoken in a way that narrowed the line of promise, the genealogy of the Messiah even more. On his deathbed Jacob spoke of each of his twelve sons, and of his son Judah, he said “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 9Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Jesus, of course, is known as the lion of the tribe of Judah. He’s called this explicitly in the book of Revelation. This prophecy makes it clear that the sons of Judah will be kings, holding the scepter and the ruler’s staff. The first fulfillment of this was David, who was of the tribe of Judah, but the final fulfillment was Jesus.
Generation after generation, God narrowed the line of promise until it was clear that the one who would crush the Serpent’s head would also be the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the kingly offspring of Judah. But at the same time he broadened the promise to show that Jesus would be prophet and priest.
Moses told the people that a new prophet like him would arise. Deuteronomy 18:15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. Though there were many powerful prophets after Moses, in the Gospels Jesus is often recognized as ‘the prophet,’ the one like Moses. So when Philip invites Nathanael to follow Jesus he says “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And when Jesus fed the 5000, a miracle directly compared to the miracle of manna in the desert, John writes that “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’”
Jesus was a prophet. In him the beams of kingly descent and prophetic calling intersected. There is perhaps no greater prophecy in Scripture than Jesus’ revelation of his own passion: “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” One greater than Moses was the incarnate Christ.
I mentioned last week that Islam claims to find Mohammed in the Old and New Testaments. In fact they have to find such things, because the Quran claims it to be so. But the pickings are slim. This verse, point to a prophet like Moses, is one of only two that they really camp on, and and we’ve already seen that the verses point easily to Jesus and not to one 700 years later than Jesus.
Jesus was the prophesied king, prophet and priest. In Psalm 110, which is quoted in more often than any other, David says of Jesus not only that he will sit at the right hand of God as Lord and ruler, but that he is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is that mysterious priest figure to whom Abraham gave offerings in Genesis. The New Testament book of Hebrews makes much of Psalm 110, saying of Mechizedek, and then of Jesus: “He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.” And “we have such a high priest.” So Jesus whom we celebrate is promised as prophet, priest and king.
The final narrowing of Jesus’ human line came almost 1000 years before his birth, at a key moment in God’s Big Story, 2nd Samuel 7. We’ve looked at this before, and we’re going to pull a another key phrase from it next week. 2nd Samuel 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring – there’s that key word – I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Verse 16: And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” David and the prophets who followed understood this to point to one from David’s line who would sit on the throne forever. Isaiah says There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Notice, as we’ve said, that the Messiah is not just from David, but also from his father Jesse, and so also from all those who came before Judah and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham all the way back to Adam and Eve. Jeremiah says Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Jeremiah is looking for Jesus. By the time he writes Judah is within one or two kings of exile. But he’s looking forward to the fulfillment of the promises. And he knows that God does keep his promises.
What, in fact, does all this signify for us? We started the Advent part of this series last week by looking at the astounding accuracy of prophecy, the astounding accuracy of Scripture. How can it be, in human terms, that the only man ever to have fulfilled the clear prophecies is also the one descended from the David and all these others. It’s too much coincidence to be coincidence, too clear an intersection to be an accident. Now some of the skeptics around us will say that the Bible was written or re-written after the events to slip all this prophecy in. But there is an overwhelming amount of historical and even archaeological evidence to show the Bible was written at the times claimed. Certainly, for the Old Testament, fully written and preserved since before the time of Jesus.
I mention this partly because three interesting archaeological finds caught my attention over the last year or so. I keep a little list of these things. One of them is from the time of Isaiah, and it’s a little thing, a royal seal about the size of a dime. But it says “belonging to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah.” It was found by archaeologists outside Jerusalem during an excavation of an ancient rubbish dump that dates to the eighth century BC. It’s a remarkable confirmation of the historicity of this king. Dating from about the same time is another remarkable find, a papyrus fragment which has been translated “From the king’s maidservant, from Naʽarat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.” “This is a rare and original shipping document from the time of the First Temple,” the archaeologists said. Na’arat is a place, named in the Bible as on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin in Joshua 16:7. “The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah,” said the archaeologists. So an Isaiah who could write this kind of prophecy and have it be preserved is not surprising, though many liberal scholars have scoffed at such an idea.
The last find, though more recent, is my favorite. It seems that in the caves near the Dead Sea a tiny charred scroll was found. It was dated to slightly before the time of Christ, but was too charred to be unrolled. But recently a variation of an imaging x-ray was devised that could discern the boundaries between each layer of the rolled scroll. Then archaeologists could digitally unroll the image, revealing what was written. The content was portions of two chapters from Leviticus, and the remarkable thing is that this content agreed, to the last jot and tittle, with the modern Hebrew text. That’s awesome. It shows that the text was perfectly preserved, with no changes from before the time of Jesus.
My point is that all this prophecy really took place, that it took place 700 years and more before the time of fulfillment, and that it was remarkably accurate. The line of human descent for Jesus was prophetically described and narrowed from potentially all of mankind to a descendent of David. But that’s still a lot of people. If you imagine David’s children, and all their children and all their children, over many generations, even with the many who were lost in wars and plagues and exile, that’s still a large population by the time of Christ. I mean, couldn’t anyone stand up and say they were David’s descendant?
No, as it turns out. First, these people were fanatic for genealogies. You can sense that from their abundance in Scripture. In fact, prior to the time that Herod’s temple was destroyed and the nation eliminated, most Jews could tell their family line back many generations. Ezra and Nehemiah show us clearly that the Jews who came back from the exile came back with knowledge of their genealogy. Even in Jesus’ day, a census could be taken in which everybody had to go to their ancestral home town. And where did Mary and Joseph go? To Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. It’s not surprising, then, that two of the Gospels have genealogies of Jesus. What is a little surprising is that the two genealogies do not correspond with each other. I’ve seen this explained away as if it was a problem, but today I’d like to see it as a wonderful proof of who Jesus was, because in Jesus not just one but two beams of genealogy come together to shows that Jesus was an eligible descendant of David, a perfect answer to the prophecies of the Messiah.
One of the genealogies is in Luke. I’m going to read it, but before I do I want to explain what I’m calling the two beams that intersect at Jesus. First of all the two genealogies are substantially the same up to King David, or in the case of Luke, who starts with Jesus and ends with Adam, down from King David. But Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry through David’s son Nathan, while Matthew traces it through David’s son Solomon. Clearly Solomon was king, so Matthew’s genealogy preserves what we might call the kingly line and corresponds to the kings named in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
But Luke’s genealogy splits at Nathan, and except for an intersection at Zerubbabel, it never comes back. There are many theories as to why this is so, most of them involving what amounts to an adoption, by Levirate marriage, of one of Joseph’s ancestors a generation or two generations back. But the simplest explanation, held by many in church history, is that Luke records the descent of Mary, but names her husband Joseph as the father because in Jewish culture any child not illegitimate had to have a known father, and Jesus was, as Luke says, the son, as was supposed of Joseph. But the line of descent he gives is Mary’s and that’s one beam of this prophecy, an important one, because it ties the humanity of Jesus back to the humanity of David and all these others.
So here’s Luke’s genealogy. Luke 3:23-38 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
He gives the genealogy from the bottom up, because he wants to identify Jesus as, ultimately, the Son of God. So this is one beam, and it focuses on Jesus. Matthew has a different beam, reading down the genealogy and starting with Abraham. I’m going to let Andrew Peterson ‘read’ this to you using his song called “Matthew’s Begats.” “Abraham had Isaac / Isaac, he had Jacob / Jacob, he had Judah and his kin / Then Perez and Zerah came from Judah's woman, Tamar / Perez, he brought Hezron up and then came / Aram, then Amminadab / Then Nahshon, who was then the dad of Salmon / Who with Rahab fathered Boaz / Ruth, she married Boaz who had Obed / Who had Jesse
Jesse, he had David who we know as king / David, he had Solomon by dead Uriah's wife / Solomon, well you all know him / He had good old Rehoboam / Followed by Abijah who had Asa / Asa had Jehoshaphat had Joram had Uzziah / Who had Jotham then Ahaz then Hezekiah / Followed by Manasseh who had Amon / Who was a man / Who was father of a good boy named Josiah / Who grandfathered Jehoiachin / Who caused the Babylonian captivity / Because he was a liar / Then he had Shealtiel, who begat Zerubbabel / Who had Abiud who had Eliakim / Eliakim had Azor who had Zadok who had Akim / Akim was the father of Eliud then / He had Eleazar who had Matthan who had Jacob / Now, listen very closely / I don't want to sing this twice / Jacob was the father of Joseph / The husband of Mary / The mother of Christ.
There’s the other beam, and Jesus is right at the center of the signal. Scripture points us more and more narrowly to Jesus, and God keeps his promises of human descent through two independent genealogies. Jesus is the promised Messiah. Galatians 4:4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” This is, Romans 1:2 “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.