The Coming King - The Family Tree
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Genesis 49:10).
Judah is part of Jesus’ genealogy.
“the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah” (Luke 3:33)
I’ll admit it. The verses which list out genealogies in the Bible are not what I generally turn to for inspirational moments. They are not my favorite verses to quote in any context of ministry. After all, they are long lists of often odd and hard to pronounce names with little or no information about the lives of the people listed. I did have a roommate in college who found joy in figuring out who was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent of who, but that’s pretty much the extent to which I have ever considered them “fun” Bible reading.
Additionally, we don’t live in a society which thinks much about genealogies in terms of birthright and heritage. Who our parents and grandparents are might impact our lives if they are famous, infamous, or rich enough to cause people to talk but that is pretty much the extent of how our family heritage impacts what others allow our future to be. In our current American culture, the fact that your great-great-great-great grandfather was the president is an interesting party fact but it doesn’t entitle you to be president or hold a public office. It doesn’t mean you’ll inherit millions of dollars or large pieces of property. We don’t have a royal family with a guarantee to a crown based on who were born to and in what order.
However, in the culture of Middle East in the first century, who your relatives were multiple generations back really did matter. There were multiple reasons for this. First, the nations of that time were ruled by kings and pharaohs who justified their right to rule over the people based on their family lineage. Sure, from time to time there was an uprising and a ruling family was overthrown but those were the exceptions, not the standard order of the day. It was believed that the gods had chosen the rulers of the people, or that the rulers were gods themselves, and no one was overly keen on angering the gods.
The people of Israel also followed a form of this custom. They traced their heritage back to Abraham who God had made a covenant with (see Genesis 12 & Genesis 17). Part of God’s promise to Abraham is that his descendants would become a great nation with great numbers. Specifically, God promised that, despite their old age, Abraham and Sarah’s son would be born and, because of this, Sarah would be known as the mother of nations. The promises he makes the Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 17 are forever. And so, even still today, the Jewish people trace their heritage back to Abraham and Sarah through their son Isaac.
Keeping this in mind, we begin to see the role the words spoken a couple of generations later to the sons of Jacob (Abraham’s great grandsons) will play in validating Jesus as the messiah. Remember, Sarah was promised that her descendants would include kings? Here we begin to see through which descendant more specifically those kings will someday rise. Verse 10 singles out Judah as the one who holds the scepter (a symbol of authority, generally carried by rulers on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of sovereignty) and will continue to hold this position of authority until such time as the King of kings, “he to whom it belongs” comes. Verses 11 and 12 go on to talk more about how the people will know this person has truly arrived.
Fast forward many years to when Luke is writing his Gospel. Luke is the Gospel which was written with a gentile audience in mind. In other words, Luke is writing to anyone who isn’t Jewish by birth. He has a couple of challenges to overcome to establish Jesus as a person who matters and so he must tap into those things which are universally understood throughout the known world at that time. One of those things is being able to trace your bloodline, your heritage, back through many generations to various important people in history…including kings. Luke establishes Jesus not only as a descendant of the great King David, but Abraham as the father of the nation of Israel, Noah, and even Adam, the very first human ever created.
Luke does two things by including Jesus’ family tree in his Gospel. He establishes Jesus as a rightful king of Israel. This not only gives him a level authority among the Jewish people of the first century, but also puts the rulers of the world on notice that he is someone they should give some level of real attention to. Additionally, Luke acknowledges passages like Genesis 49:10 which promise those of previous generations that their descendants will include kings.
So how did the people of Jesus day, when he is able to trace his lineage all the way back to Adam, miss that Jesus was the Messiah? They were limited in their vision. They could only see the Messiah as an earthly king, as someone who would gain political power and drive Roman forces out of the Promised Land. And so when Jesus was born in a manger, to someone who did not have great wealth or political power, and then focused on an eternal kingdom, he was largely dismissed as little more than a charismatic teacher. May we not fall victim to the same limited vision in our world today.
- Describe a time when God worked unexpectedly in your life. How long did it take you catch on to what God was trying to do? How did you finally see God’s work happening?
- The lineage of Jesus, when you study it, had all sorts of people. Some really great, some not so great. What does your lineage have to teach you about who you are?
- What is the heritage you are leaving your future generations?