Reading the list of Christ’s ancestors may seem about as entertaining as thumbing through a phone book. But the truth is, there’s more to a genealogy than is apparent at first glance.
Throughout Jewish history, the authenticity of historical events was underscored by these lists, which recall the lineage of important people. Far from a dry list of names, these genealogies offered a wealth of information to those who knew the “back stories.” And so it is with Jesus.
The following is a survey of some of the many individuals who preceded Him—righteous men and scoundrels, leaders and rebels. The lives they led, whether for ill or God’s glory, often pointed to the coming Messiah. As we celebrate the birth of Christ in December, let us also consider the people and events God used leading up to His arrival. The full genealogies can be found in Matt. 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38.
The First Man
3941 B.C. to 3011 B.C.
The first man and the “last Adam”—Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45-48)—are a study in contrasts. Adam, who was created and given life, came from the earth and returned to it; Christ, the Giver of life, “existed before anything else” (Col. 1:17 nlt); He came from heaven and returned there after His resurrection (John 6:38; Acts 1:9).
A Replacement Son
3811 B.C. to 2899 B.C.
Eve considered Seth, her third child, a replacement for murdered son Abel (Gen. 4:25). His birth did “fix,” or reroute, the Messianic lineage through the bloodline of God’s choosing. Seth was born when Adam was 130 (Gen. 5:3).
Avoiding Death Altogether
Born 3319 B.C. (lived 365 years)
This righteous man is best known for disappearing. In a manner reminiscent of Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:9), Enoch was “taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up” (Gen. 5:24). He was the son of Jared and great-great-great-grandson of Seth.
A Life Long Lived
Methuselah (“when he is dead it shall be sent”)
3254 B.C. to 2285 B.C.
The son of Enoch lived 969 years—the longest lifespan recorded in the Bible. He died the same year God sent the flood in judgment upon the earth (Gen. 5:27; 6:13).
Spared from Wrath
Noah (“rest” or “comfort”)
2885 B.C. to 1935 B.C.
A grandson of Methuselah, he lived a righteous life during a time of great wickedness and obeyed the Lord despite the sacrifice of time and reputation. By means of the ark, God spared Noah’s family from devastation by the great flood (Gen. 6:8-18)—and gave us an illustration of salvation through His Son. According to early church fathers, the ark is a prefiguring of the church.
Birth of the Semites
Shem (“name” or “fame”; root for Semite)
2385 B.C. to 1785 B.C.
“Be fruitful and multiply” is usually associated with Adam and Eve, but God also gave the command to Noah’s family after the flood (Gen. 9:1). From his three sons, “the whole earth was populated” (Gen. 9:18-19), and through Shem, the Messianic lineage continued.
A Language Preserved?
Eber/Heber (“sojourner”; root for Hebrew)
2220 B.C. to 1756 B.C.
Eber was the great-grandson of Shem (Gen. 10:24). One Jewish tradition ties the Hebrew language to him: Eber allegedly refused to work on the tower of Babel and was allowed to keep his original language.
Father of Faith
Abraham (“father of a multitude”)
1995 B.C. to 1820 B.C.
This “father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5) is also considered a father of faith: though childless until old age, Abraham believed the Lord’s promise of numerous descendants, and God “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Out of obedience, he offered up Isaac, the child of promise (Heb. 11:17-19); in a gesture echoing Christ’s death on our behalf, God intervened by providing a substitute sacrifice.
Son of Promise
1895 B.C. to 1715 B.C.
On hearing they would become parents in their later years, Abraham and Sarah reacted with laughter. They were 100 and 90 when Isaac was born. For 60 years, Isaac also experienced childlessness. He prayed for Rebecca to conceive, and God answered with twin sons (Gen. 25:21, 26).
Usurper of His Brother
Jacob (“leg-puller” or “deceiver”)
1835 B.C. to 1688 B.C.
While older brother Esau rejected his parents’ values, younger twin Jacob pursued the faith of his father. Later, he tenaciously wrestled the angel of the Lord to claim a blessing (Gen. 32:26), during which encounter his name was changed to Israel (“he struggles with God”).
The Royal Tribe
1774 B.C. to 1655 or 1645 B.C.
In blessing his sons, Jacob identified Judah as the royal tribe through which Messiah would come (49:10). Jesus is known as the “Lion of Judah” (Rev. 5:5).
A Christ Figure
Boaz (possibly “swift” or “strong”)
Married Ruth c. 1115 B.C.
Often called a “type of Christ,” Boaz is the kinsman-redeemer who generously provided for and then married the foreign widow Ruth. The term “kinsman-redeemer” used of him in Ruth 4:14 is the same word found in Job’s well-known pronouncement, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).
Father to the King
Jesse (“God exists” or “God’s gift”)
Circa 1080 B.C.
The grandson of Ruth and Boaz, Jesse was the father of David, whom the prophet Samuel anointed as king. Identifying Jesse’s line as the one through which Messiah would come (Isa. 11:1-5), Isaiah spoke of “a shoot from the stump of Jesse”—this prophecy indicated that by the time the Anointed One arrived, the royal line would not appear regal.
A Promise Made
1040 B.C. to 970 B.C.
The prophet Samuel tells us that God saw David—the second king of Israel—as “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). It was to David whom the Lord promised a “kingdom [that] shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever,” (2 Sam. 7:16). This Messianic promise points to the eternal kingdom of “the Son of David,” Jesus Christ. reinforced by The angel Gabriel, in appearing to the virgin Mary, reinforced that message: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
A Kingdom Divided
Rehoboam (“he who enlarges the people”)
Solomon’s son Rehoboam forsook the advice of his father’s counselors and levied much heavier taxes on the Israelites (1 Kings 12:11). As a result, the kingdom split into two: Rehoboam ruled the southern kingdom of Judah, and Jeroboam—a former servant of Solomon—reigned over the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:16-24).
A Return to Worship
Hezekiah (“the Lord is my strength”)
Hezekiah was king of Judah when Israel fell to Assyria in 722 B.C. Though his father Ahaz had been an evil king (2 Kings 16:1-4), Hezekiah instituted a number of measures to return the people to God (18:3-6).
Isaiah—Prophet of the Messiah
Ministry 740 B.C. to 701 B.C.
One of the latter prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah spoke the word of God during the reign of four kings of Judah. His frequent prophecies about the coming Messiah—fulfilled in Jesus Christ—included His birth by a virgin (Isa. 7:14), His Davidic lineage (9:7, 11:1), and the famous “suffering servant” picture of Isaiah 53.
Restoration before Destruction
Josiah (“healed by God”)
The great-grandson of Hezekiah, Josiah ascended to the throne at age eight. Unlike most of his predecessors, Josiah sought God (2 Chron. 34:3) and restored the Mosaic Law that had been long abandoned (v. 19-21, 29-33). He was considered the last good king of Judah prior to its sacking by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Leader of Those Returned
Zerubbabel (“offspring of Babylon”)
Circa 530 B.C.
When Cyrus, king of Persia, sent the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem, he set Zerubbabel as governor over the region. Zerubbabel was responsible for building the foundation of the Second Temple (Ezra 3:8-13)—the same one at which Jesus often taught.
Protector of the Christ
Joseph (“God will increase”)
90 B.C.-18 A.D.
The adoptive father of Jesus, Joseph was of the Davidic line through Solomon. He obeyed when an angel of the Lord told him to take the pregnant virgin Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:18-25).
The Eternal King
Jesus (from same root as Joshua, “God saves”)
From Luke chapter 1: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (v. 31-33).
Why Two Genealogies?
The two New Testament gospels that trace Jesus’ human lineage contain noticeable differences. This raises the question, Why does Scripture have two genealogies?
There’s no shortage of theories—including levirate marriage and adoption, primogeniture, and royal versus “real” lines. There is, however, a simpler answer: one list traces the Messiah’s ancestry through Joseph, the other through mary. The genealogies reveal that both of Jesus’ human parents were directly descended from David, an Old Testament requirement for kingship (2 Sam. 7:16). So it is typically reasoned that Joseph was heir apparent to the throne, and Jesus, through adoption, could also claim the right. But there’s a problem with that assumption—and his name is Jeconiah (Coniah). This ancestor of Joseph was placed under a divine curse that precluded his descendants from ever sitting on a throne (Jer. 22:30).
In light of that, author Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains the reason for two lists: “The purpose of Joseph’s genealogy in Matthew is to show that if Jesus really is the son of Joseph, He could not be king. The genealogy of Mary in Luke shows why He could claim the throne of David.”
Women in the Genealogy
It’s interesting to note that in addition to Mary, four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. This was unusual, given the patriarchal society of Israel. What’s more, the list includes Gentiles, a reminder that Christ made sacrifice for all humanity.
(Editor's Note: Contemporary scholars differ on certain dates in the Bible; those included here are for comparative reference only.)