Many a new Bible reader have run into Matthew’s Gospel, eager and determined, only to trip over the first seventeen verses. We come expecting story, expecting drama, expecting angels and magi and a baby born in Bethlehem. What we find instead is this:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David . . . (Matthew 1:1)
Had Matthew consulted us as editors, we may have suggested he begin at verse 18: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened in this way.” Here is a story.
But in truth, Matthew’s opening words tell a far better tale than appears at first glance. For ever since the days of David, God’s people had waited for a son of David. They had waited for David’s royal line to run, unbroken, until the Anointed One, the Christ, should be born in David’s city. They had waited for God to keep his ancient promise and fill their empty throne. They had waited, in other words, for a King to come and reign.
And here, in the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, Matthew says, “Wait no more.”
From Genesis 3:15 on, God’s people had hoped for a son who would overthrow the serpent’s kingdom. Over time, that hope grew more defined: he would come from not just Noah, but Shem; not just Shem, but Abraham; not just Abraham, but Jacob; not just Jacob, but Judah; not just Judah, but David.
The climactic promise comes in 2 Samuel 7, where God makes a covenant with David:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13)
Note the grand dimensions of this promise: When David dies, God will raise up a son of David who will build a house for God’s name. God will establish this son’s kingdom. And his kingdom will never end.
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, this promise shines like the brightest of stars in the sky. Every other light may darken. Every other star may fall. But the light of this promise can never fail.
Stump of Jesse
At first, the promise seems fulfilled in Solomon, son of David and builder of God’s temple — until Solomon descends to sins far darker than his father’s (1 Kings 11:1–8). Something more than a physical house is needed, and someone greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42).
Generations come, and generations pass; David’s sons reign, and David’s sons die. Many seem for a time to carry the government upon their shoulders (Isaiah 9:6): Jehoshaphat, Azariah, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah. But they too fall from their thrones, and each fall swings another axe against the leaning tree of David. By the time Babylon takes a final hack, only a stump remains (Isaiah 6:13; 11:1).
As the Jews watched Nebuchadnezzar wrap David’s heir in chains (2 Kings 24:11–13), the ancient throne seemed forsaken by God. The star seemed black as night. The psalmist Ethan spoke for many:
You have cast off and rejected;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust. (Psalm 89:38–39)
To which God patiently responds, through prophet after prophet, “I have not.” Far easier for the sun to fall from heaven than for David’s line to die (Jeremiah 33:19–22). The ruined city will be rebuilt, its breaches repaired and its walls strengthened (Amos 9:11–12). And in time, a shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse, a righteous Branch to rise and rule (Isaiah 11:1).
“Far easier for the sun to fall from heaven than for David’s line to die.”
Even in exile, David’s genealogy remained unbroken. And from that line, God says, a child will be born, a son given. He will be the son of David — and far, far more: “His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Great David’s Greater Son
We can understand, then, why Matthew begins his Gospel, his book of good news, with a family tree ending on one glorious Branch (Jeremiah 23:5–6). In Jesus, David’s son had come — and as it turns out, so had David’s Lord.
Jesus unveils the wonder in a famous exchange with the Pharisees. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” Jesus asks. They’ve read 2 Samuel 7 and the Prophets; they know the answer to this one. “The son of David,” they say. So far, so good. But then Jesus turns to Psalm 110:1:
How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”? If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son? (Matthew 22:42–45)
And there on the streets of Jerusalem, silence falls before the Mighty God — the Son and Lord of David (Matthew 22:46).
“In Jesus, David’s son had come — and as it turns out, so had David’s Lord.”
We always needed a son of David greater than David. One who would be anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 3:21–22). One who would slay not Goliath but Death (Romans 1:3–4). One who would win his bride not by shedding another man’s blood but by spilling his own (Ephesians 5:25–27). One whose end wasn’t the grave but the throne (Acts 2:29–36).
And such a King we have in Christ.
Come and Reign
Among all the glorious titles of our glorious Lord, Jesus would have us remember him still as the Son of David. Hear his last recorded words in Scripture:
I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. . . . Surely I am coming soon. (Revelation 22:16, 20)
When we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20), we ask not just for a Savior, but for a King. Or, to gather up some of the biblical hope surrounding David’s son, we say,
Come and rule “like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:4).
Come and take “dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72:8).
Come and reunite wolf and lamb, calf and lion, and let the little children play safely on your holy mountain (Isaiah 11:6–9).
Come and cure our waywardness, rule our inner rebel, and heal our aching hearts (Hosea 3:5; Ezekiel 34:20–24).
Come and clothe your enemies with shame, and wear your shining crown (Psalm 132:17–18).
Yes, Root of Jesse, Son of David, come and reign.