The Messiah Would Be a Descendant of David
Second Samuel 7 features God’s promise to raise up David’s descendant Solomon as king, with the promise that he would build the Temple (“a house”) in verse 13. Yet the “house” also means the line of Davidic descendants, as verse 16 suggests (“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me”). This promise includes a father-son relationship between God and the Davidic kings (verse 14); a warning that royal sin will come with consequences (verse 14 — amply illustrated in the history of Israel’s and Judah’s kings); but a promise that the Davidic kingship would always remain objects of God’s chesed (“steadfast love”) and would be everlasting.
The prophets of ancient Israel looked for a day when this promise would be fulfilled in an ultimate descendant of David — the Messiah – who would rule over the nation. Isaiah 11:1, in a great messianic passage, tells us that “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Jesse, as we learn elsewhere, was the father of David. Jeremiah writes: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
The New Testament presents Jesus as the fulfillment of this requirement for the Messiah, that he be descended from King David. And so we have verses such as:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)
In addition, both Matthew and Luke provide genealogies tracing Jesus back to David.
The title “Son of David” is found on the lips of various people in the gospel accounts, for example, a blind beggar sitting near the road:
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)
With this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it.” (Acts 15:15-16)
The “tent of David” mentioned by Amos and quoted by James refers to the house or line of David. To rebuild the house of David implies the coming of the Messiah.
And in a quote combining Psalm 2 and this passage in 2 Samuel, we read concerning Jesus:
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? (Hebrew 1:5)
The New Testament, therefore, consistently depicts Jesus as a descendant of David (for an apparent exception, see the article on Psalm 110:1-4). The two genealogies in Matthew and Luke, however, differ from one another and this has led to questions as to whether the two gospels contradict one another. Matthew begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus. Luke begins with Jesus “being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (Luke 3:23) and works backward beyond Abraham all the way to Adam. Matthew traces the line through Solomon, David’s son (the royal line), while Luke traces it through Nathan, a different son (a non-royal line).
It is possible that Matthew traces Jesus’ descent through Joseph, and Luke through Mary, who is assumed then to also be of Davidic descent. Or, if both run through Joseph, the difference can be accounted for by certain laws of inheritance by which, in the case of those who die childless, another family member inherits (and thus that person’s name enters the genealogy); or by the custom of levirate marriage, whereby the brother of a man who died childless raises up descendants for the deceased (and his name thereby enters the genealogy). These ideas have been discussed for many years. We should note that the early followers of Jesus never saw a contradiction in the genealogies, but saw both as proof that Jesus was descended from David – even if both take different routes down the family tree to get there. As scholar Michael Brown has observed, “Common sense would also tell you that the followers of Jesus, who were totally dedicated to demonstrating to both Jews and Gentiles that he was truly the Messiah and Savior, would not preserve and pass on two impossibly contradictory genealogies.”1 Just because we cannot figure out why the genealogies differ doesn’t mean there cannot be a good explanation, even if it is not entirely clear to us some two thousand years later. The problem, as C. S. Lewis said in another connection, is that “all the men who know the facts are dead and can’t blow the gaff.”
But that Jesus is descended from David is a fact.
1. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4 New Testament Objections (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 76. For a detailed discussion of the differences and problems in the genealogies, see this book, sections 5.10 through 5.12.