by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
I was absolutely stunned and extremely saddened when I read the e-mail message on my computer screen. A long-time member of God's church was imploring anyone who read the message to prove him wrong! "I would appreciate it if you could show me the error that I must be making," he writes.
Why? He had come into possession of certain "evidence" that was shaking his faith to the foundations! "I am having a terrible problem with the claim that [sic] Jesus was the Messiah," he begins and then presents his argument. He closes his message by writing, "Please shoot this full of holes, because it seems to undermine the authenticity of Jesus as the Messiah and the entire [New Testament]"!
Obviously, the man was wrestling with his "findings," but even so, for a member of God's church to be so confused on such a basic, vital subject like Jesus' Messiahship is disheartening. Has the famine of the Word (Amos 8:11) become so dire that even Jesus, our Lord and Master and soon-coming King, has come under such scrutiny?
Indeed, it has.
The man's argument is fairly simple, but its simplicity is the trap. If the "proof" is so plain, how can it be wrong? The deception arises because the argument's simplicity comes at the expense of the facts.
The man advances two points:
1. Jeremiah 22:30 very clearly prohibits any descendant of Coniah (also called Jeconiah and Jehoiachin) from "sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah." The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 makes no apologies for listing Jeconiah as a forebear (verses 11-12).
2. I Chronicles 22:10 is part of a prophecy to David that he would have a son named Solomon who would carry on his dynasty. God promises, "He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever." Yet Luke 3:31 plainly lists another son of David, Nathan, as Jesus' ancestor.
So, neither account [genealogy] gave Jesus a right to the throne of David, if so, then, can Jesus be the messiah [sic]??? So, where is the line to prove Jesus' [sic] had the right to inherit the throne of David? Without this where are we?
If he were correct, he might have a point. However, the matter of Jesus' claim to be our Messiah rests on far firmer footing than this flimsy legality and false allegation!
The Missing Facts
Since the man presented these points separately, it is best to answer them in that order.
Point One: Coniah
On its face, this point seems unassailable until we search a little deeper into the Scriptures. God indeed curses Coniah, more often called Jehoiachin, for his evil deeds, "according to all that his father had done" (II Kings 24:9). His father "had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon" (verse 4). During Jehoiachin's reign, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, and when the Babylonian king demanded he capitulate, Jehoiachin surrendered himself and most of his family and government to the Chaldeans (verses 12-13). Though they avoided execution, they became captives and never returned to Judah (II Kings 25:27-30; Jeremiah 22:24-30).
This part of the story is correct. Archeologists have found Babylonian records that verify the rations that Nebuchadnezzar gave to this king of Judah. Jehoiachin died in Babylon many years after the Chaldeans reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
The foil to this argument appears on the other end of the "proof"—in the very genealogy he uses to make his point! The book of Matthew opens with a stylized genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 1:1-17). Matthew presents the list in three parts—from Abraham to David, from David to the captivity in Babylon, and from the captivity to Christ—each with fourteen generations. The genealogy is perfectly correct in every way.
What Matthew records is not Christ's biological ancestry but His legal one. Verse 16 gives the proof: "And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." It is Joseph's family tree! Remember, Christ was not begotten of Joseph but of the Holy Spirit. Legally, Christ could trace his ancestry back to David through his "father" Joseph, though He had not one drop of Joseph's—or Jehoiachin's—blood!
We must remember a major purpose of Matthew's gospel: to present Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah to the Jews. The Jews were, and still are, very particular about genealogies. Anyone claiming to be the Messiah would have to present a bona fide, airtight ancestry back to David if he were to be taken seriously (see Psalm 110:1; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; etc.). Matthew does just that in introducing Jesus in the first verses of his book.
Thus, Jesus, untainted by Jehoiachin's curse, has a legal claim to the throne of David through His stepfather, Joseph. Such a thing was legally acceptable under Jewish law.
Point Two: Solomon
Jesus' other genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 comes into play in the man's second argument. Verse 31 lists "Nathan, the son of David" rather than Solomon as a direct ancestor. Supposedly, this disqualifies Jesus from Messiahship, for does not I Chronicles 22:10 say the Messiah would come through Solomon?
No, it does not! The Bible nowhere makes such a stipulation! What does I Chronicles 22:10 actually say? The critical part of the verse is "I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever." This does not mention Messiah whatsoever!
What does God establish? "The throne"! He is not even talking about a person in this verse, but a thing, the right to rule over Israel. God gave this right to David and his "seed" in a covenant, part of which is contained in II Samuel 7:16: "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."
Psalm 89:34-37 describes this as a perpetual covenant:
"My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: his seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky." Selah.
This promise becomes even more specific in Jeremiah 33:17: "For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.'" None of these sections mentions that David's heirs, especially the Messiah, must trace their roots through Solomon!
So the genealogy in Luke 3, which is most likely Jesus' biological genealogy through Mary, is just as valid a claim to David's throne as the one in Matthew 1. In fact, it strengthens His claim because He can trace his lineage to David through two separate lines!
How do we know that the Luke 3 lineage is Mary's? We do not know it for certain, but that conclusion is the most reasonable. One factor is, again, the purpose of this particular gospel. Luke wrote primarily to Gentiles, and he stresses Jesus' humanity throughout his book. The evangelist thus gives our Savior's natural, biological family tree to show He shares humanness with the common man. He is not just the Jews' Messiah, but He is also the Gentiles' Messiah! So Luke's genealogy goes all the way back to Adam, rather than stopping at Abraham as Matthew's does.
Another factor is that Luke had to deal with a virgin birth. What a unique situation for a genealogist! Luke had to determine, therefore, what points would matter to a Gentile. Would he be concerned with Jesus' Davidic ancestry? Not initially. Would he care that Jesus is a Jew and an Israelite? Maybe. Would he desire to know if Jesus was a man like he was? Certainly! Thus, Luke would record a line of descent that showed His universality to every man, and this would go through Mary, Jesus' link to humanity.
Some raise objections to this on the basis of verse 23, particularly because it says, "Joseph, the son of Heli." Notice, though, that Luke does not use the word "begot" as Matthew does. In fact, he uses no word at all, just a marker to denote possession. So the phrase literally says, "Joseph, of Heli."
Some say, then, that this connotes a levirate marriage because Matthew says Joseph's father was Jacob. Levirate marriage, however, was fairly rare, so this is an unlikely stretch. Others argue that this is Jesus' "priestly" lineage, but this is even less probable, since it shows Judah, not Levi, as an ancestor (see Hebrews 7:14).
Bullinger, in his Companion Bible, gives a more likely explanation: "Joseph was begotten by Jacob, and was his natural son (Matt. 1:16). He could be the legal son of Heli, therefore, only by marriage with Heli's daughter (Mary), and be reckoned so according to law." At that time, Jewish law traced inheritance and descent through the male, not the female line. Thus, Luke 3:23 would be clearer if translated as, "Joseph, the son-in-law of Heli," or "Joseph, the legal son of Heli."
No matter which we choose, it traces Heli's line from that point on back to Nathan, the son of David. There is no stigma or disqualification in Solomon's name being absent from the list. In messianic terms, David's name is the vital one.
"Many Infallible Proofs"
Perhaps the most worrisome element of this man's entire argument is what is not included in it. Though Jesus' lineage is important in verifying His Messiahship, it plays only a small part. Other factors are far more significant.
1. The miracles, healings, resurrections, exorcisms and other signs that Jesus did on a daily basis prove He is our Messiah. John writes:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)
3. Jesus acknowledged that He was the Messiah.
He said to [the disciples], "But who do you say that I am?"' And Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-17)
4. Matthew in particular goes out of his way to highlight as many Old Testament prophecies as he could that Jesus fulfilled (see Matthew 1:23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23; 4:13-16; 12:15-21; etc.). The odds are so greatly against any one person fulfilling even a few of the hundreds of specific prophecies about the first coming of the Messiah that for Jesus to have fulfilled them all is spectacular proof that He is indeed the Christ.
5. Finally, Jesus of Nazareth did what a Messiah should do: He became the Savior of all mankind! He lived a perfect life, died for our sins, rose the third day from the dead and ascended to heaven as our High Priest and soon-coming King.
If He acts like a Messiah and has all the qualities of a Messiah, He must be the Messiah! In Acts 1:3, Luke writes that Jesus showed the disciples "many infallible proofs" that He was who He claimed to be. It was certainly beyond question to them. Why should we have such a hard time with it?
Satan would like nothing better than to derail our faith, especially in our very Savior! He works through doubt, suspicion, distrust and deception. Now, as the end approaches, he "walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). He is out to get us any way he can!
Peter's advice? "Resist him, steadfast in the faith" (verse 9)! We should not give him an inch of ground in our lives! Fight him with the Word of God, as Jesus did (Matthew 4; Luke 4). Paul writes, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). This is a battle we can and must win.
The apostle John gives us some idea just how serious this doubt of Jesus Christ is to our salvation:
Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (I John 2:22-23)
Denying Christ puts us in direct and total opposition to God! There can be no more dangerous ground than that.
We should have no doubt in our minds who the Messiah is. The proofs are overwhelming! Jesus disqualified? Not on your eternal life!