Read: Matthew 2:13-23
Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies is a recurring theme in Matthew. Here in the latter part of chapter 2, Matthew shows how Jesus’ flight to Egypt as a baby fulfills at least three distinct prophecies (probably more) from the Old Testament.
- v15: The first prophecy comes from Hosea 11:1, a prophecy about how God called Israel out of Egypt to be his people. Matthew likens this to Jesus, who sojourned in Egypt for a while and was called out. Jesus in a symbolic fashion spent time in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). In all this, Jesus remained obedient and faithful to God so that he might fulfill the requirements of the Law, unlike Israel.
- v18: The second prophecy comes from Jeremiah 31:15. The entire chapter of Jeremiah 31 is a series of prophecies concerning the future blessings that would be given to Israel. Matthew invokes Jeremiah to show how mothers grieving over their children slaughtered by Herod points to a prophecy concerning the children “coming back”, speaking to a future time that even though they have lost them in the moment, they are certainly redeemed by God and Jesus’ coming makes this possible.
- v23: The third prophecy is really more a generalized statement from many prophets, which is plural in the text. The root word for “Nazarene” in the Hebrew means “root” or “branch”. Many believe that Matthew may have originally been written in Aramaic, but nevertheless Matthew was undoubtedly familiar with this word. Without a specific reference, it is impossible to know what prophecies Matthew had in mind, but Isaiah 11:1-16, specifically verses 1 and 10, Zechariah 6:12, Jeremiah 23:5, and Jeremiah 33:15 area few possibilities. These all speak of a future king in David’s line – a very familiar theme in Matthew.
The number of prophecies that Jesus fulfills is amazing. While it is difficult to quantify this probabilities, most all estimates put the probability of Jesus fulfilling just a few prophecies as odds that are so astronomical that the numbers become a statistical impossibility that he fulfills dozens if not hundreds of prophecies. In other words, it is no mere coincidence. The fulfillment of prophecies themselves are intermingled with historical events too. Matthew is not merely showing that Jesus fulfills prophecies, but that the fulfillments are anchored in real world events, not some vague references to motifs from the Old Testament. Given this, the fulfillment of prophecy vindicates Jesus’ message and mission as being true and from God! The message of Christ is not pie in the sky, rather it is realm message grounded in history that simply cannot be written off as legend. Christians can use the power of this testimony to Jesus as tool to point people to the reality of Jesus and the salvation that he brings!
Lord, all of history points to you! Help the world to know this truth!
Read: Matthew 1:1-17
Matthew launches right into Jesus’ genealogy without as much as an introduction or purpose in writing the book of Matthew. Matthew’s purpose in writing his gospel was to show that Jesus was indeed the messiah that was promised to the Jewish people. In order to do so, Matthew needed to show that Jesus was indeed a descendant of David and ultimately Abraham.
Jewish genealogies would generally follow the lineage from the father to the son. Matthew follows this tradition, but also inserts the names of women in the text as well. This is no mere coincidence either. Each one of the women presented in the genealogy as some thing about her that makes
- Tamar was actually Judah’s daughter-in-law who posed as a prostitute and seduced Judah. She became pregnant and presented his staff and cloak to incriminate the father (Genesis 38:13-26).
- Rahab is mentioned here as being the mother of Boaz. She can’t be the Rahab from Joshua 2 because Boaz lived much later. She was probably a foreign woman like Rahab from Joshua 2 though .
- Ruth was a Moabite woman who married Boaz and has an entire book in the Bible written about her virtuous deeds (Ruth 1:4, Ruth 4:13-22).
- Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon. She committed adultery with David, who tried to conceal by having her husband killed in battle (2 Samuel 11:1-5, 2 Samuel 11:26-27).
- Mary is mentioned as the mother of Jesus, who conceived him while she was till a virgin (Luke 1:26-38).
Another remarkable feature contained in Matthew’s genealogy are the remarks concerning the number of generations between various events in Jewish history: 14 from Abraham to David, then 14 from David to the exile, then another 14 from the exile to Jesus. Apparently, Matthew omitted a number of names from his genealogy that are found elsewhere (Ezra 7:1-5, 1 Chronicles 6:3-15). Scholars have offered explanations as to why this is the case – and some see this not as 14 biological generations, rather 14 divisions of history to mark time, similar to how the contemporary culture has “The Greatest Generation”, “Boomer”, “Gen X” and so on. The ebb and flow of this from Abraham to David is a rise, from David to Babylon is a fall, then from Babylon to Christ is another rise. Jesus in a manner of speaking is at the zenith of this rise and thereby “destined” in a manner of speaking to be great.
The entire story of Jesus’ coming is remarkable even from the beginning of time. God in his providence knew this and was able to redeem even sin and even used non-Jewish people to bring about his purposes. The women in the genealogy work as markers to remind his readers of many of these occasions. Likewise, Jesus numbers mentioned show that Jesus was the culmination of that history, standing with David . This sets the stage for the rest of the book – a story of how the Jewish Messiah comes into the world to redeem it!
Lord, you redeemed history to bring about salvation! Truly, you are amazing!
Read: Luke 3:1-2
Luke starts Chapter 3 in a similar fashion to how he starts several of the previous “chapters” of Jesus’ early life by placing the events during the reign of a particular historical figure (Luke 1:5, Luke 2:1-2). This time though, he lists a number of people.
- Tiberius Caesar – the emperor in Rome and the stepson of Agustus Caesar. Luke notes that this was during the 15 year of the reign of Tiberius. Tiberius’ reign started in 14 AD, so this places the start of Jesus’ public ministry around 29AD.
- Herod Antipas – he was the son of Herod the Great, and he himself was not a Jew, but ruled over the Gallilee. He was the Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:10) and the Herod that Jesus went to see leading up to his crucifixion who was in Jerusalem at the time of crucifixion. Jesus, being from Galilee, was sent by Pilate to Herod so that Herod could deal with him.
- Herod Phillip – He was the son of Herod the Great from another woman. Antipas was his half-brother and was more moderate and tempered than his brother. He rule from Caesarea Phillipi, which as a important place in Jesus ministry (Matthew 16:12-18).
- Lysanias – Little is known about this Lysanias, however another Lysanias is mentioned by Josephus. It is thought that Luke’s Lysanias is a descendant of the one mentioned by Josephus in the same way that the name “Herod” was used by a number of rules. Archaeological evidence supports this view.
- Pontius Pilate – Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea directly responsible for the emperor. His job was to maintain the peace and collect taxes to support Rome. He played an important role in Jesus’ public trial where he attempted to appease the crowd (John 18:16-19:23).
- Annas – Annas was the defacto high priest and father-in-law to Ciaphas. He was the priest that Jesus went before in his trial (Johm 18:13-23) and also the priest Peter and John went before in Acts.
- Caiaphas – Caiaphas was the official high priest appointed by Rome. He prophesied concerning Jesus’ death conspired with others to have Jesus killed (Matthew 26:3-4, John 11:47-53)
The tendency of readers and even many commentaries is to gloss over verses that can historical data or genealogies. But Luke’s goal in writing his gospel is stated clearly in Luke 1:3 where he declares he wanted to write an orderly account of the ministry of Jesus. With this in mind, when readers come across historical figures, it’s good to take some time and read about these figure because in doing so it helps set the stage for the events that are unfolding in the gospel. The life of Jesus is not some myth set in some obscure time, rather it set in real history with real people. JRR Tolkien noted that this what set the story of Jesus apart from other mythologies even though it shared some things in common with other mythological stories. He and C.S. Lewis called the story of Jesus the “true myth”. Understanding the historical setting of Jesus’ life and ministry then helps one understand the sayings and action of Jesus too.
Lord, history is your story. Help me understand it so that I may know you better!