Apr 21, 2012

Jesus' Right to David's Throne

Arnold FruchtenbaumBy Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum
Ariel Ministries

Twitter Facebook RSS Contact Amazon

One question that is often raised is, “Because Yeshua (Jesus) was only the son of Mary and not the real son of Joseph, does He have the right to sit on David’s Throne?” [1] Related to this is the issue of the genealogies found in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38:

  • If Jesus had been the son of only Mary, why was it necessary to give Joseph’s genealogy?
  • How would someone know that Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary if she is not named in it, but Joseph is?

These are questions that need to be answered satisfactorily in order to provide a basis for understanding why Yeshua could claim the Throne of David.

The Purpose of the Genealogies

Of the four Gospels, only two record the events of the birth and early life of Yeshua: Matthew and Luke. For this reason, it is only natural that these two would bother recording a genealogy. While both Matthew and Luke give the story of the birth of Jesus, they tell the story from two different perspectives: Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s perspective and Luke tells the story from Mary’s perspective. Moreover, the purpose of Joseph’s genealogy in the Book of Matthew is set forth to show that if Jesus truly had been the son of Joseph, He could not be king. In the Book of Luke, the purpose of the genealogy of Mary is to show why He could claim the Throne of David.

The Need for the Genealogies

The question still arises, “Why is there a need for these two genealogies, especially when Yeshua was not the real son of Joseph?” Whereas one popular explanation suggests that Matthew’s Gospel gives the “royal” line and Luke’s Gospel the “real” line, this post will show that the opposite is true.

In his genealogy, Matthew breaks with Jewish tradition in two ways: he skips names, and he mentions the names of four different women: Tamar, the wife of Judah, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Why does he mention these four when there are so many other prominent Jewish women he could have mentioned in the genealogy of Yeshua? One thing that the four women had in common was that they were all Gentiles. By naming these four women and no others, Matthew was pointing out that one of the purposes of the coming of Yeshua was not only to save the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but also that Gentiles would benefit from His coming. Three of these women were guilty of specific sexual sins: one was guilty of adultery, another of prostitution, and another of incest. With this, Matthew begins pointing toward the purpose of the coming of the Messiah—to save sinners.

While Matthew breaks with Jewish tradition in these two ways, Luke, however, follows strict Jewish law, procedure, and custom: he does not skip names, and he does not mention the names of any women.

The Old Testament Requirements for Kingship

But again, “Why is there a need for Matthew’s genealogy of Joseph at all?” Everyone agrees that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus. Let’s look at the Old Testament for further detail.

After the division of the kingdom at the death of Solomon, there were two basic requirements for kingship, one pertinent to the Throne of Judah in Jerusalem and the other to the Throne of Israel in Samaria.

  • Judah—No one was allowed to sit on David’s Throne unless he was a member of the House of David.
  • Israel—No one was able to sit on Samaria’s throne unless he had divine appointment through prophetic sanction. Anyone who attempted to rule without prophetic sanction was assassinated (I Kings 11:26-39; 15:28-30; 16:1-4, 11-15; 21:21-29; II Kings 9:6-10; 10:29-31; 15:8-12).

With this background, the question of the Messiah’s right to the Throne of David can be resolved vis-à-vis the two genealogies.

Matthew 1:1-17: Davidic Descent and the Line of Joseph in Matthew’s Genealogy

Matthew’s genealogy traces the line of Joseph, the stepfather of the Messiah. In verses 2‑6, the line is traced from Abraham and continues down to David and Solomon. In verses 7‑11 the line is traced to Jechoniah, who was one of the last kings before the Babylonian Captivity. It is the person of Jechoniah that is significant in dealing with the genealogy of Matthew because of the special curse pronounced on him in Jeremiah 22:24‑30. In verse 30, the content of this curse was that no descendant of Jechoniah would have any right to the Throne of David. In the genealogy of Matthew, it should be noted that Joseph was a direct descendant of Jechoniah (Mat. 1:16). So, if Yeshua had been the son of Joseph, this would have disqualified Him from sitting upon David’s Throne.

The point of Matthew’s genealogy, then, is to show why Jesus could not be king if He had been Joseph’s son. For this reason, Matthew starts out with the genealogy, and then proceeds with the account of the Virgin Birth, which is the way out of the Jechoniah problem from Matthew’s viewpoint.

Luke 3:23-38: The Line of Mary in Luke’s Genealogy

Luke’s genealogy traces the line of Mary and portrays how Jesus could claim the Throne of David. Luke begins his genealogy in the reverse order of Matthew’s, going from the present back into the past. The line is traced until it returns to the family of David in verses 31‑32. However, the son of David involved in this genealogy is not Solomon but Nathan. The important point here is that Mary was a member of the House of David totally apart from Jechoniah. Since Jesus was truly Mary’s son He, too, was a member of the House of David, totally apart from the curse of Jechoniah. In the days of Jeremiah, there was the added requirement for kingship that one had to be a member of the House of David apart from Jechoniah (Jer. 22:24-30). Zedekiah, who reigned after Jechoniah, was not the son of Jechoniah. In the case of Yeshua, He was a member of the House of David through Mary, totally apart from Jechoniah. In this manner, He fulfilled the first Old Testament requirement for kingship.

Divine Appointment

Furthermore, although there were a number of other descendants of David who could claim equality with Yeshua to the Throne of David, only Jesus was divinely appointed as such (Luke 1:30-33).

Thus, unlike the purpose of Matthew’s genealogy, Luke’s genealogy shows why Jesus could be king.

There are three further lines of reasoning to suggest that Luke’s account records Mary’s genealogy.

  1. The Talmud refers to Mary as the daughter of Heli. Mary was recognized to be the daughter of Heli as mentioned in Luke 3:23.
  2. The absence of Mary’s name is quite in keeping with Jewish practices on genealogies, and it was not unusual for a son‑in‑law to be listed in his wife’s genealogy.
  3. Matthew is clearly writing from the viewpoint of Joseph—with Mary in a passive role—and in Luke’s Gospel, Joseph is the one who plays the passive role.

[1] This post is a modified version of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s original Messianic Bible Study. The full version may be obtained here.