Series on Luke, II The Identification, H The Background Analyzed, Text: 3:23-38, Title: A Gentile Genealogy


Today genealogy has become a big public interest and hobby, especially with the development of internet resources. According to some sources, genealogy is one of the most popular topics on the Internet. Historically in Western societies the focus of genealogy was on the kinship and descent of rulers and nobles, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. The term often overlapped with heraldry, in which the ancestry of royalty was reflected in their coats of arms. In modern times, genealogy became more widespread, with commoners, beginning with the Genealogical Society of Utah, founded in 1894, and which later became the Family History Department of the Mormon church. The department's research facility, the Family History Library, which has developed the most extensive genealogical record-gathering program in the world, was established to assist in tracing family lineages for special religious ceremonies that Mormons believe will seal family units together for eternity.  But in Israel genealogy was always important. It begins in the book of Genesis and is carried through to the New Testament. First of all, because the Jews were the chosen people of God, it was vital that they be able to trace their ancestry back to Abraham who was the father of the Hebrew people. In Genesis, as well, important prophecies are uttered regarding the 12 sons of Jacob who became the 12 tribes comprising the nation. One of the most important of these would be the tribe of Levi whose descendants were appointed priests in Israel and the priests and Levites had to be pure descendants. The other one was the tribe of Judah, the tribe of David which would be the tribe of the Messiah. In fact as a result of the Babylonian captivity Jewish historians write, "When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took possession of them; they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come!’" The Exile stimulated genealogical zeal. The old tribal organization had passed away, and the congregation gradually but steadily adjusted itself to the tripartite scheme: priest (Zadokite), Levite, and Israel, with Israel as a "holy seed." Ezekiel was a prophet of the Babylonian captivity and in God’s condemnation of the false prophets in the thirteenth chapter of Ezekiel, we read in verse 8 and 9, Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. In other words to be excluded from the genealogical records was to lose your inheritance. Jesus genealogy recorded in our text is important for three reasons, His mother, His majesty, and His manhood.

I His Mother

When Matthew traces Jesus’ heritage he does it through Joseph. For Jews what was important was the Father’s status. Even though Jesus was not Joseph’s biological son, he was according to Levirate laws, Joseph’s heir, being adopted. Luke traces Jesus heritage through his mother, Mary. He has already made clear in his gospel that Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph, because his focus is on Mary and the wonder of the virgin birth of the Savior. He does not even mention, like Matthew, the angelic visit to Joseph. He clearly traces Jesus line through Mary’s father Heli in verses 23 and 24 where we read, Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph. Luke says it was thought by some that he was the son of Joseph, or as it was supposed.  Paul uses this word, “thought,” in I Timothy 6:5 to describe those who think that Godliness is a means to financial gain. Obviously what they think is wrong. Paul says their minds are corrupt. That is the way the word is used here, they thought but they were wrong. The only reason Luke mentions Joseph at all is because it was not customary among the Greeks and Romans for whom he was writing to insert the name of a woman in a lineage list.

II His Majesty

Luke continues to record the genealogy of Mary’s father, Heli, tracing it back to David the king in verses 25-31, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai,  the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melki, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David. Matthew who is writing to Jews begins his gospel with the general statement in 1:1, A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. He does this because it is so important to His Jewish readers.  Luke has a different purpose in writing for Gentiles. Still he does not omit the important fact that Mary and Jesus are descendants of the house of David. In doing this Luke acknowledges the vital truth that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne. Thereby His majesty is declared. From the other gospels we learn that Jesus was worshiped as a king while still a child, acclaimed as King on his triumphal entrance to Jerusalem preceding His death, and occasionally referred to as the Son of David in the gospel narratives. Luke places much less emphasis on this fact than Matthew because he has a different perspective. That perspective comes into view as we follow the genealogy.

III His Manhood

The import of Jesus’ manhood appears in the remainder of the genealogy in verses 32-38, The son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. In taking us back to Adam, the first man created by God, Luke is meeting the need of his Gentile readers. Norval Geldenhuys says, “The most fervent passion of the best of Greek idealism and philosophy was the perfecting of human personality. The educated Greek sought for the ideal, the perfect individual. Thus, Luke shows Jesus as the one in whom manhood is perfected.   Luke is anxious to show his Gentile readers that Jesus came to accomplish a universal redemption. Jesus is not as much the Messiah of the Old Testament as He is the redeemer of the whole world. If you are a son of Adam then this gospel is for you. Luke’s emphasis on Jesus manhood in no way compromises  Jesus’ perfect deity. He is Christ the Lord, the son of David, the son of man, but also the son of God, the divine redeemer who has come to seek and to save what is lost.