Matthew offers us several beginnings regarding Jesus in the introductory portion of his gospel (1:1-4:16). There’s the beginning of the preaching concerning the kingdom Christ is bringing in the work of John the Baptist (3:1ff). Then there’s the beginning of Jesus’ public life marked by His baptism (3:13ff) and the beginning of His ministry in Galilee (4:12-16).
The bigger, more obvious beginnings are marked by the word genesis. The first of these usages occurs in 1:1 where Matthew begins his gospel by telling us, “This is the genealogy (genesis) of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” And with that He has said a mouthful! He has connected Jesus with two of the three most important figures in Jewish history. (He is, of course, connected to Moses in other ways that are outside Matthew’s purpose in writing at this juncture).
Matthew first connects Jesus with David. In doing this, he connects Christ with the kingship. David was one of three kings who ruled over all Israel. More to Matthew’s concern, he was promised that a descendant of his would sit upon his throne and God would rule forever through Him (2 Samuel 7:11-16; Psalm 89:3-4, 29-37). Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is that person (2:2, 16:28, 21:5). Even his enemies testify to this (Matthew 27:11,37).
It was to Abraham that God had promised “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). God had wanted to bless the word through the Jewish nation but they were unresponsive at best and disobedient at worst. Although the good news of Jesus first goes out to the Jewish people (see the book of Acts), the conclusion to Matthew’s gospel shows that it is for “all nations” (28:18-20).
The other place the word genesis occurs is in 1:18 where we are told, “This is how the birth (genesis) of Jesus came about.” What follows is how Mary was “found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (v. 18) and how this was the fulfilment of prophecy (v. 22-23). There is also the familiar story of the angel’s birth announcement to Joseph and his response (v. 20ff). What is unusual is that Matthew devotes just six words to the actual event: “she gave birth to a son” (v. 25). (Clearly Matthew wasn’t a sentimentalist!).
The genealogy he presents is a bridge between the two genesis texts and is fascinating. Four women are mentioned—highly unusual for a Jewish genealogy. They are unusual in that one was a prostitute, one prostituted herself, and one committed adultery. At least two of the women were Gentiles.
In his summation of his genealogy, Matthew points out that it features Abraham, David, the exile and the Messiah—which is also the term he uses to introduce Jesus in our two genesis passages (v. 1 and v. 18). Putting it all together, I think we’re to see something like this: Jesus is the Messiah: the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham and David, and the One who delivers mankind out of exile through His rule.
And maybe that’s why Matthew chooses to use the word genesis. It echoes Genesis 2:4 and 5:1 and by doing this challenges us to see Jesus as the start of God’s new creation. This is the larger story of Matthew (as well as the other gospels). Through this Jewish man, God is making a new way for all people.
Matthew wants us to see that in and through Jesus we have exactly what we need.