A Genealogy of the Ages (Matthew 1:1-17)
If you were to ask me about my least favorite chapters to read in the Bible, I would probably mention genealogies. They are either filled with names that are difficult to pronounce (Zaphnathpaaneah, Hazarmaveth, Ammishaddai), or they are filled with characters of which we have little to no historical knowledge outside of that particular genealogy. Of course, we recognize that they are providing a historical lineage, but is that all? Welcome to your first lesson on "The Theology of Genealogy."
In the Biblical canon, genealogies function to reveal the end of one era, or what we call a
"dispensation" (not to be confused with Dispensationalism). A dispensation is a particular era in which the Covenant of Grace is manifested among God's people. So, you could call the period of the covenant with Abram, since it is part of the overarching Covenant of Grace, a dispensation. You can do the same with the Law given at Mt. Sinai and the Davidic Covenant. These are all dispensations of the Covenant of Grace. And how do biblical authors prefer to distinguish these ends and beginnings of an era? With a genealogy.
These genealogies act as "seams" in the Bible, sewing together the various dispensations so that the reader understands that one significant era is coming to an end and a new one is beginning. Thus, when you read the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17, you witness the ending of one era, theOld Covenant, and the introduction of another, the New Covenant.
It is the New Covenant era that Christ's birth ushers in. It is this era in which the long-awaited Messiah will reign. It is this era in which we can finally say, "Behold the lamb, who takes away the sins of the people." It is the era that Abraham longed to see (John 8:56). It is this era which every previous covenant pointed toward: The birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, dwelling among us!
There will be no more genealogical seems in the future, save one. The final genealogical seam will be found in the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 20:11-15). It will close out God's redemptive plan as his elect are all brought in, and the non-elect are cast aside.
So, as you read through the genealogies this Advent season--don't skip them! Remember your "Theology of Genealogy." They are not merely there to bore you, but they are in place to show God's all-encompassing sovereignty and to reveal the glory of his redemptive plan, progressively reaching fruition in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ—The Genealogy of the Ages. This is what we celebrate on Christmas!