Have you ever wondered why Matthew is the first book of the New Testament? Before addressing this question, consider the following: The last book in the Hebrew Bible is Chronicles, so named by Jerome (347-420) in his Latin translation, completed in 405 AD. The Jews commonly attribute the authorship of Chronicles to Ezra, the scribe. His focus was to awaken a small, struggling community of exiled Jews to their heritage in Jehovah. They had lost their perspective of being God’s covenant people, His chosen people on earth. Chronicles calls the Jews into remembrance of the Levitical priesthood, the glorious kingdoms of David and Solomon, and of God’s promised Messiah, a descendant of David who would rule as king over Israel forever. Within 1 Chronicles 1-8, Ezra provides the historical means of connecting this discouraged people to the beginning of their nation – through extensive genealogies, “so all Israel was recorded by genealogies” (1 Chr. 9:1).
So why is Matthew the first book of the New Testament? The opening sentence both introduces the theme of Matthew and answers our question: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1). The principal topic is the direct fulfillment of the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants through Christ.
These were unilateral covenants that God had made with David and Abraham, but never had been completely fulfilled. For the Jews, the hope of permanent royalty from a man after God’s own heart, and the acquisition of the promised blessing originally committed to the friend of God, were paramount.
The genealogy of Matthew 1 serves as proof to the Jews that Jesus, through Joseph, was a direct descendant of David and thus the legal and rightful heir to David’s throne. As to not distract from his theme of covenant fulfillment, Matthew begins with Abraham, not Adam, in rendering Christ’s genealogy. Luke’s genealogy of Christ, however, is for a different purpose. Luke upholds Christ as the “Son of man,” or more specifically, the “Son of Adam” (Lk. 3:38). In so doing, Luke shows Christ to be the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), God’s replacement representative of righteousness and the literal fulfillment of the prophesied Messiah being derived from the seed of a woman (Gen. 3:15-16).
God thought it critical for mankind to understand that the Messiah would not be of the seed of fallen man, yet His royal lineage would be established through a man, Joseph, back to Solomon and finally to David. The two genealogies accomplish this: Luke focuses our attention upon the Lord’s humanity derived from Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, while Matthew demonstrates Christ’s official authority through Joseph.
The Hebrew Bible concludes with genealogies from Adam to the point in time in which God invoked 400 years of silence concerning His rebellious covenant people. This prophetic hush was broken with the announcement of the Savior’s coming to earth. In Matthew 1, the genealogies pick up again after the centuries of silence and lead the Jews to their much-anticipated and predicted Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He would be the literal fulfillment of God’s promise to David. God said, “I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:13). Matthew provides the culmination of the story, which Chronicles only partially disclosed, and bridges the remaining gap between the first Adam and the last Adam, who would restore righteousness and rule forever.
Clearly, God’s covenant with Abraham had not been completely fulfilled, for the Jews were under brutal Gentile rule and were clearly not the esteemed people of the earth. Secondly, they have never possessed, at any time during their entire history, more than ten percent of the land promised to Abraham by God in Genesis 15. (Note: Josh. 21:43 refers to all the land to be possessed at that time.) As Zechariah prophesied, through Christ, the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled (Lk. 1:68-75).
The order in the first verse of Matthew is important: “the Son of David,” then “the Son of Abraham.” Normally, when these two chief patriarchs of the Jewish history are mentioned, Abraham is referred to first, for he walked upon the earth more than a thousand years before David was born. The order arranged by Matthew, however, introduces us to the “authority” theme of his Gospel. The “Son of David” refers specifically to the office of king. The Lord Jesus is the king of the Jews, but more than that, He is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). He simply has not yet returned to the earth to establish His throne; presently He resides upon His Father’s throne in heaven (Rev. 3:21).
The reference to the “Son of Abraham” is of a much wider scope than the reference to the “Son of David.” Through the Son of Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Paul speaks of Abraham as the spiritual father of all spiritual seed and of the eternal blessings which God promised to Abraham that are likewise offered to all those who, like Abraham, would simply believe God (Rom. 4:3).
This is God’s means of saving souls throughout all human history, whether Old Testament or New Testament. There may be varying messages of repentance and obedience to heed, but justification only occurs by grace through faith. Only by faith can the work of Christ be accredited to our personal account.
In Christ, we see the very best aspects of both Jewish patriarchs. As the Son of David, Christ was the righteous king, and as the Son of Abraham He lived to do the Father’s will: “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn. 6:38). So why is Matthew the first book of the New Testament? Because Matthew upholds the official glory of Christ as King and refers to Christ nine times as the “Son of David” (Mt. 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30,31; 21:9,15; 22:42). Thus it is properly placed first among the gospels and first in the New Testament.
The Lord Jesus is the fullness and the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). He is the rightful heir to the throne of David, He will deliver the Jews from all oppression and then He will rule over them in righteousness and peace forever. In so many words, Matthew beckons the Jews to “Behold, your King” (Mt. 21:5).
By Warren Henderson
Until The King Appears
Paul’s Charge To Timothy, And To Us:
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org