In order to fulfill Biblical prophecy, the Messiah had to come from the seed of David. He had to be of the tribe of Judah, in the line of Solomon, yet he could not be of the seed of Coniah, whom (because of a litany of evils) God essentially removed from the royal lineage in Jeremiah 22:30:
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.’ ”
Consequently the genealogies introducing Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels are important, in that they demonstrate the lineage of Jesus as legitimately Messianic. Yet the genealogies are different. Why?
Matthew presents in his Gospel the genealogy from Abraham to Joseph, the husband of Mary. Matthew lists fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Deportation, and fourteen from the Deportation to Jesus. Not every name in the lineage of Jesus is mentioned, as some were excluded (Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, Jehoiakim, and Eliakim, etc.). It is also significant that Matthew mentions women in his genealogy (highly unusual in Hebrew genealogies), specifically Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, (Bathsheba is alluded to but not named), and of course, Mary. Also note that 42 generations are mentioned, yet only 41 names, as David is mentioned twice, perhaps for the sake of symmetry. Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, is identified as the son of Jacob.
Luke presents a different genealogy, working from Adam. As in Matthew’s, there are gaps in Luke’s genealogy of Christ. It was more important for the Hebrew genealogy to demonstrate legitimate descent rather than to present a comprehensive listing. Luke traces from Nathan the son of David rather than from Solomon (as Coniah was in the line of Solomon), and identifies Joseph as “of Eli,” suggesting that Joseph was Eli’s son in law, by virtue of his betrothal to Mary. Actually, then, it seems that Luke recounts the genealogy of Jesus through Mary. Matthew traces Jesus’ legal lineage and right to the throne through Joseph, recognizing God’s covenant promises regarding Solomon. Luke traces Jesus’ physical lineage through Mary, showing, perhaps, how Jesus avoided the curse of Coniah.
So there is really no dilemma in Jesus’ genealogies: He is qualified physically by virtue of His bloodline through Mary, and if that wasn’t enough in the eyes of some, He was also qualified legally by His relationship to Joseph, though He was (importantly) not descended from Joseph’s bloodline. This key distinction (that Jesus was not of Joseph’s bloodline) not only helps us understand how Jesus was not subject to Coniah’s judgment, but also how God’s very first promise of deliverance would be literally fulfilled (Gen 3:15).
Because of who Jesus is we can have joy – not just during holiday seasons– but by believing in Him, we can have joy that lasts forever.
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Adapted from A Concise Bible Survey, pp. 172-173.