The opening chapters of the Gospel of Matthew portray Scripture as a storyline—a diverse but unified narrative of God’s work in history. Jesus’ genealogy and birth, coupled with the quotations from the Old Testament, show that the drama of the nation of Israel had reached new heights in the One born of a virgin. Matthew 1-2 presents the fulfillment of prophetic hopes established in the Old Testament.
God had been at work in the history of Israel. In the Garden of Eden, the Lord said to the serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). The Advent of Jesus thus marks a significant point in the storyline of Scripture, preceded by days of promise, setting the stage for the last days, and the consummation of the kingdom of God among men. Matthew’s reliance upon the Old Testament is further evidence that the Gospel writers did not see the coming of Jesus as an event to be understood in isolation.
(1) In Matt 1:1-17, Matthew marked off Jesus’ genealogy in equal numbers from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, and from the exile to Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ genealogy signaled fulfillment. Matthew presented David as the central figure in Israel’s history, setting up the prominent role David would play in his Gospel (Matt 1:20; 9:27; 12:3, 23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42-45). Matthew composed Jesus’ genealogy to signal the fulfillment of God’s work in Israel and to present a new beginning, God’s revelatory and redemptive work in Jesus.
(2) In Matt 1:23, Matthew stated that Jesus’ birth fulfilled Isa 7:14: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.” When the kings of Israel and Syria came against Judah and King Ahaz in order to force Judah to join them in an alliance against the rising Assyrian threat, Ahaz shook with fear. Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign from the Lord that the Lord would deliver Judah, but Ahaz refused (Isa 7:3-11). But the Lord promised deliverance anyway—and in time sent His Son to save His people from their sins.
(3) In Matt 2:6, Matthew noted that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled Micah’s prophecy that from obscure Bethlehem God would raise a mighty deliverer. In Mic 5:2, the prophet reminded his audience of God’s power. Even though the Lord had brought foreign powers against Israel to discipline His people, so mighty was God to deliver that from even tiny Bethlehem the Lord would raise up a deliverer to shepherd His people to victory. The scholars Herod gathered to inquire as to the birthplace of the Messiah had gotten it right. Herod felt threatened when he heard the prophecy that a military shepherd, like David, might arise from Bethlehem. Herod took the word of the Lord seriously and killed the baby boys of Bethlehem to eliminate any possible threat to his reign.
(4) In Matt 2:6, Matthew noted that Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt fulfilled Hos 11:1, which says, “Out of Egypt I called My son.” Hosea indicted Israel and Judah. Even though the Lord had been faithful to them since the time of the exodus, when He called His son, Israel, to worship Him in the wilderness (Exod 4:23), Israel and Judah continued in idolatry. As God had sent Israel to Egypt during a severe famine in Canaan (Genesis 46) and had rescued them from Pharaoh’s oppressive hand (Exodus 4-15), so God sent the baby Jesus and family to Egypt to protect them from Herod. Matthew used Hos 11:1 to portray a new kind of exodus occurring in Jesus.
(5) In Matt 2:18, Matthew wrote that Jeremiah’s description of mourning anticipated families in Bethlehem weeping at the loss of their children. Jeremiah 31 records the prophet’s words of hope, looking to the day when the Lord would restore His people and bring them back from exile. Hope is expressed by those who are suffering loss, and in Jer 31:15, the prophet described Rachel weeping for the loss of her children as they went into exile. The weeping of the families in Bethlehem looks back to Israel’s history and the need for a deliverer who would rescue Israel from sin. Only Jesus’ life-giving death could end the kind of grief Israel experienced at the exile and at the hands of Herod.