The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Jesus: The Illegitimate Lion of Judah

JESUS: The Illegitimate Lion of Judah

Ironically, we know nothing about Mary’s family tree from the Bible. One popular rumor you might have heard is that one of the four Gospels provides us with Mary’s lineage, but this just isn’t true. Look for yourself and you’ll see that only two of the Gospel writers (Matthew 1 & Luke 3) give us a lineage for Jesus, and both only talk about His ancestry on His father’s side by saying “Joseph was the son of…” No one talks about who Mary’s father was. Her parents remain conspicuously unidentified. And yet you will often here Jesus referred to as “the Lion of Judah”—a title which refers to the fact that He descended from the tribe of Judah. Well, if He did, there’s certainly no evidence of it.

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. (Matt. 1:5-6)

Matthew’s main focus is on tracing male Jewish bloodlines: Salmon to Boaz to Obed to Jesse to David. Eventually he’ll get down to Joseph. Now and then he tosses out a side reference about who someone’s mother was, yet that mother’s ethnicity is considered irrelevant. The point of Matthew’s list is to prove that Jesus was a descendant of Judah—meaning all of His male ancestors were from the Jewish tribe of Judah. The problem is that Jesus was not biologically related to Joseph. Male human sperm didn’t play any role in Jesus’ miraculous conception. The Holy Spirit simply created a living embryo within the virgin Mary’s womb without the usual insemination process. And since the bloodlines of a man’s mother do not determine his legal lineage in the Jewish world, Jesus should have been recorded as a blank in the Jewish genealogical records. But because everyone erroneously assumed that Jesus was Joseph’s biological offspring, the illusion that Jesus was a descendant from Judah became firmly established.

Now if Mary’s father was from the line of Judah, you’d think that someone would throw that in just for the sake of making Yahweh look good when He prophesied in the Old Testament that the future Messiah would descend from the tribe of Judah. But the fact that everyone is deathly silent about Mary’s bloodlines strongly suggests that nothing about her bloodlines would have helped promote this Lion of Judah image. We do know that Mary had Levite cousins (Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist). But this doesn’t help us because the tribes often intermarried and we don’t know how close a cousin Mary was to Elizabeth, nor do we know if she was related to these people through her mother or father. Mary’s father could have been from any of the Jewish tribes, and his tribe would have determined what his daughter’s legal bloodlines were. In a lineage as important as Jesus’, it is quite striking that no one is throwing in a comment about His mother’s bloodlines. We get the feeling that people are trying not to muddy the waters by admitting Mary has no Judah blood in her. The Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of Judah. That’s what Yahweh predicted through the mouths of His Old Testament prophets, so that’s what Matthew and Luke are trying to prove for us. But they both know that their “evidence” of Jesus’ ethnic heritage is being severely marred by the fact that Jesus and Joseph are not biologically related.

A nice neat genealogy would say, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, who was the father of Jesus.” But no one can say this and be truthful, because Joseph is not really Jesus’ father. So this is how Matthew awkwardly ends his genealogy:

“…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matt. 1:16)

The best Matthew can do to connect Joseph with Jesus is to mention how Joseph is the husband of Mary. But this is also quite weak, for Mary conceived Jesus before she and Joseph were even married. Jesus was actually conceived out of wedlock, and therefore fits the definition of a bastard—an illegitimate child. How’s that for irony?

Luke is also quite aware of how hokey this genealogy business is in Jesus’ case, so he starts his list by saying:

“Now Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when He began His ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat…” (Luke 3:23)

We have to appreciate the honesty of Luke’s “so it was thought”. Luke knows that Jesus’ biological father is God Himself—and we get the feeling he is really dwelling on this fact as he traces his list back to the very start of creation.

“…the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” (Luke 3:3:37-38)

It’s quite unusual for a genealogy to reach back this far. Usually the Jews stop at someone famous, like King David. Once you can trace back to someone whose ancestry is well known, there’s no need to go any further.  Luke is really going the extra mile by reaching all the way back to Adam.  Why is he doing this?

When tracing ancestry, whoever you stop at is usually the person you want to emphasize your relationship with. Matthew stops his list with Abraham, who is often called “the father of the Jews”. Luke stops his list with God Himself. But no matter how far back these men go, they are only proving biological facts about Joseph, not his illegitimate Son. Yet because no one in the Jewish community was about to take the miraculous conception story seriously, everyone assumed Jesus was Joseph’s blood relation. And based on this erroneous assumption, Jesus was considered a descendant of Judah because that’s what Joseph was. Therefore the prophecies of Jesus’ bloodlines were fulfilled…from a certain point of view. From another point of view, they were a bunch of baloney, for Jesus had no biological human father, therefore His only earthly bloodlines were through Mary, and we get the strong feeling that she wasn’t from Judah. So if we’re going to be technically correct, Jesus was probably the Lion of some other tribe.  But no one likes that idea so our Gospel writers conspicuously avoid the topic of Jesus’ maternal bloodlines and at the same time say, “Wow, look how Yahweh fulfilled His prophecies.”  And Yahweh smiles and says, “Yep, I sure did.”  Such is the wildness of our God.

As uncomfortable as these observations make us, the day comes when we need to stop avoiding the subject of how squirrely God can be. Whenever He predicts that something specific is going to happen in the future, there’s no way to know what form that fulfillment will take unless He provides extra clarification. Many is the time some Christian has heard God promise, “I will be with you,” only to end up devastated when that promise wasn’t fulfilled the way they expected. Sometimes God fulfills His promises to us in technical truths only—He doesn’t physically abandon us, therefore He can say “I was with you.” But while He was technically by our side, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically, He left us feeling like He was a million miles away. Other times, God will make a promise that He never technically fulfills—He only seems to fulfill it based on false assumptions that people make, like this business of the Messiah being a blood descendant of David. God is wild.

In Revelation 5:5, God gives John a vision in which he sees men in Heaven referring to Jesus the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David. Such titles are based on the way God has taught the Jews to perceive His Son, even though these titles really don’t make logical sense. According to the rules of Jewish genealogies, Jesus has no earthly ancestry because He had no earthly father. But there He is in Revelation, calling Himself the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and laying claim to bloodlines that He didn’t actually have. God is wild. He bends and breaks the rules whenever He feels like it. Sometimes He uses our false human assumptions to His advantage, and other times He uses our false assumptions to teach us shocking lessons about His technical truths. It is very true that God never leaves us—but try telling that to a Christian who is being bombarded with strong sensual evidence of His absence. Our senses and perceptions are very important to us. We rely on them to tell us what truth really is. Yet as we mature in the faith, God will teach us that we must look to Him to define truth for us. Sometimes the statements He makes will feel supported by our sensual experiences; other times they will not. Sometimes His claims will feel logically sound—like the claim that Jesus paid the price for our sins. But other times He will say things that completely baffle us—like Him saying He loves us so much He considered us worth sacrificing His Son for. God is unpredictably wild. To stay close to Him, we must be always willing to change course and accept whole new revisions of truth. One minute Yahweh claimed to be the only God in existence (Isa. 45:5), the next minute He introduces us to a second God, Jesus, who is equal to Him in every way. One minute animal sacrifices are enough to secure atonement. The next minute salvation can only come through faith in Christ. God is wild. Whenever we think we’ve finally got Him all figured out, we’d better think again.

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