Christ's ancestors Abraham and David

Anthony Zimmerman
January 6, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Matthew puts Abraham at the head of the human ancestry of Christ, whereas Luke begins with Adam. We gather from this and other passages that Matthew addressed his Gospel directly to his fellow Israelites first of all, whereas Luke directly addressed the people of all the world with the new-found spirit of the emerging missionary Church.

By focusing on Abraham, Matthew points to a heritage of faith rather than of biological descent. Jesus longed to gather under His wings first of all the Israelites who would believe. Their's was the first love of Jesus, His very dear Jewish nationals. The Apostles and other Jewish converts were then to appeal to all mankind.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28: 18-20).

St. Paul explains that Abraham is the ancestor of all who believe, whether Jews or gentiles. Abraham's faith, even beyond his genome, was to generate an immense multitude:

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:13).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states that Abraham is our father in regard to the faith:

59 In order to gather together scattered humanity God calls Abram from his country, his kindred and his father's house, and makes him Abraham, that is, "the father of a multitude of nations." "In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."

60 The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the promise made to the patriarchs, the chosen people, called to prepare for that day when God would gather all his children into the unity of the Church. They would be the root onto which the Gentiles would be grafted, once they came to believe.

Even the initial Church did not yet understand that Jesus came to save all mankind, not only the Jews and those of the gentiles who would first convert to Judaism. We read in the Acts of the Apostles how the Lord first convinced a stubborn Peter that the Church was also for the gentiles, and how he in turn prevailed upon his fellow Jews to accept this hard lesson. Finally the new Church saw the light and thereafter joyfully welcomed gentiles as well as Jews into her membership. It was a crucial decision of the Church:

When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18).

Today, in reference to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, we may ask whether Israel has a special right to claim territorial borders because God made a promise of land to Abraham and again to David. The answer is NO. The land promised to Abraham is as wide as the extension of the Faith of Abraham. It covers all the world. Faith in Jesus Christ the Savior of the World is the title by which the Jews in Israel can participate in the inheritance promised to the descendants of Abraham. The Israelites in Palestine of today cannot validly claim their land on the basis of the Old Testament promises because those promises were attached to the Faith of Abraham, and this Faith is now universal, spread around the globe, the Faith given to us by Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew reminds us that with the faith of Abraham we inherit the Old Testament as well as the New. For the New is built upon the Old, and the Old is a precious part of our heritage. The faith that Abraham placed in God is a great example for us. Read his fascinating story in Genesis chapters 15 to 25.

Christ's ancestor David

The inclusion of King David among the ancestors of Jesus had Messianic implications for the Jews at the time when Matthew wrote his Gospel. The Jews rightly expected the Messiah to be born of David's royal family line, even though David's descendants were no longer kings after the Babylonian Exile. Yet God had promised to David that He will have an offspring who will establish a kingdom that will last forever. As the Prophet Nathan had solemnly proclaimed, this descendant would be a great king:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth 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. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me (2 Samuel, 12:14).

But when the fulness of time came, God did not announce the Messiah to the priestly rulers in Jerusalem. Instead of that He sent the noble Archangel Gabriel on a secret mission to the humble town of Nazareth, and there proposed to Mary that she become the Mother of the Messiah. This Messiah would be great beyond the fondest hopes of Israel: He would be not only the son of David. He would be the Son of God:

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David (Luke 1:30-32).

What the Jews expected so ardently, however, was not the mission that Jesus had in mind. Jesus came to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, not a kingdom of this earth. He would establish the kingdom by calling for a conversion of hearts, not by a call to arms. Believers would carry their cross, not swords or guns. They would be humble as children, likened to Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem, not a new army to conquer nations by force.

That Jesus came to save us from our sins and so to prepare us for entrance into the bright lights of heaven was hard for the Jews to accept. Even the apostles expected Jesus to be a warrior-conqueror. They were so intent upon the idea that the Messiah would be a political strong-man that when Jesus died on the cross, faith in Him as the Messiah practically collapsed. As the two disciples said on the way to Emmaus after His death: "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened" (Luke 24:21). They would soon be surprised by His new appearance when He broke bread for them.

One version of the expected the Messiah as a military prince is described as follows:

The Messiah himself was conceived as a great prince to be sent by God to establish His kingdom on earth, as a warrior and judge. As the king who will reign eternally. Generally, too, he is conceived as already existing, awaiting the day of his coming, but he is never conceived as himself divine, nor did the general conception ever associate with his coming and the execution of his mission the idea of vicarious suffering and expiation (Phillip Hughes, A History of the Church, Vol 1, p. 25).

Because the Israelites so completely mis-understood the true meaning of the Messiah, Jesus walked on egg shells, as it were, teaching with authority, and working miracles, yet refusing to be the princely Messiah that the people expected. He divulged to the Apostles that He is the Messiah indeed, but not the crass earthly conqueror whom the people expected. When the crowds who had eaten the loaves and fish sought to crown Him as their Messianic King, He disappeared from them into the night:

When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself (John 6:14-15).

Today some Jews still look in vain for a political Messiah. But Jesus calls them to Faith, not to military ventures. And today some rebel Catholic theologians espouse "Liberation Theology" which is a warmed over false expectation of a warrior Messiah. However, the preaching of Peter and the apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, brought 3000 converts into the Church on the Day of Pentecost. And today, not a few Jewish converts enter the Church to rejoice with us by accepting the true Messiah. May Jesus bring peace to Jews and Palestinians alike in the Holy Land. May He also convert "Liberation Theologians" to abandon their mistaken hopes, and to humbly join the shepherds who found the Baby Jesus not in Jerusalem but in Bethlehem, lying there in a manger.