Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism presents Him as the divine Ambassador receiving His credentials from heaven to present to the embassy on earth. The legitimate high priest in the eyes of God was John the Baptist, who said in John 1:31, “I did not recognize Him” until the baptism. In other words, John formally “recognized” Jesus in the government of the Kingdom on earth.
From this point on, however, a conflict arose, because Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem, believed that he was the true high priest, having been appointed by Valerius Gratus, the Procurator representing Rome, in 18 A.D.
Thus, Rome recognized Joseph Caiaphas, while God recognized John, and therein lay the seeds of the New Testament conflict. Not only would John be killed soon, but Jesus too, for the usurpers wished to maintain their position of authority.
Luke 3:23 gives us Jesus’ genealogical credentials to show us that He was indeed the One called by God and witnessed by the prophecy.
23 And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being as was supposed [nomizo] the son of Joseph, the son of Eli…
The age of physical maturity was twenty, when a man was eligible to fight in war, but the age of spiritual maturity was thirty, when a priest was eligible to minister in his full capacity in the temple to “war the warfare” (Num. 4:3, literal translation).
So both John and Jesus had to wait until they reached the age of thirty before entering their ministries. John turned thirty at Passover of 29 A.D., and he baptized Jesus a few months later on the Day of Atonement, which was ten days after Jesus’ thirtieth birthday.
Luke says that Jesus was “being as was supposed the son of Joseph.” The Greek word nomizo is translated “supposed.” It means “to deem, think, or suppose.” Luke was thus reminding us that Jesus was actually begotten by His Heavenly Father, though raised as Joseph’s son.
Perhaps too it is significant that we see two men named Joseph, the first being Jesus “supposed” father, and the other being Joseph Caiaphas in the temple. The first Joseph was doing his duty as a father; the second ought to have acted as a spiritual father to Jesus, grooming Him to take over his duties as high priest—if that were possible.
Legal and Biological Fatherhood
Jesus’ legal father was Joseph. The difference between a biological and a legal father are established in Deut. 25:5-10. This law also shapes the term “father” in Hebrew culture, showing how the term was applied often in a non-biological way.
If a man died childless, his brother was to take his brother’s wife and beget at least one son to inherit his brother’s inheritance. That son had a biological father, but his dead brother was the legal father of that son. As such, the law took precedence over biology. Hence, in the example found in the book of Ruth, we see that Ruth gave birth to a son, but Ruth 4:17 says, “A son has been born to Naomi.”
This particular law of legal sonship also explains why there seems to be a discrepancy in the two genealogies of Jesus. In Luke 3:23, 24, we read that Jesus was supposed to be the son of Joseph, son of Eli (or Heli). But Matt. 1:16 says that Joseph was begotten by Jacob.
To resolve this discrepancy, some say that Luke gave Mary’s genealogy, while Matthew gave Joseph’s genealogy. But Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in the early fourth century, gives us an alternate view. He tells us that Heli died childless, and that his brother Jacob begat Joseph, according to the law in Deuteronomy 25.
“When Heli died childless, his brother Jacob took his wife and by her became the father of Joseph in the third generation. According to nature Joseph was his son—and according to reason, so that Scripture says, ‘Jacob begot Joseph’; but according to law he was Heli’s son; for Jacob as a good brother ‘raised up’ offspring to him.” (Ecclesiastical History, I, vii, 3)
The genealogical accounts are complicated further, Eusebius says, because Heli and Jacob themselves were begotten by two different fathers but had the same mother. He records that their mother’s name was Estha, who first married Matthan (or Matthat), and bore him Jacob. When Matthan died, she married Melchi, who begat Heli. Hence, Eusebius says that Jacob and Heli were half-brothers.
Matthat (or Matthan) marries Estha, who also marries Melchi
Jacob (half brothers) Heli (died childless)
Joseph, biological son of Jacob, but legal son of Heli
Jacob’s lineage through his father Matthat (Matthan) traced back to Solomon, while Heli’s lineage through his father Melchi traced back to Nathan, the brother of Solomon.
Eusebius seems to write with confidence and even knows the name of Joseph’s grandmother, Estha. So perhaps he was familiar with the family history. Yet if he was engaging in mere speculation, we have an alternate view that Luke was recording the genealogy of Mary, rather than Joseph, and that it was her own genealogy that traced back to Nathan, son of David.
If both genealogies were of Joseph, then the curse upon Jeconiah (Matt. 1:11; Jer. 22:30) would have had no effect upon Jesus, because Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. On the other hand, if Luke recorded Mary’s genealogy, then it is clear that she was not descended from Jeconiah, and that Jesus was in no way descended from him. The curse on Jeconiah, son of Jehoakim, is given in Jer. 22:30,
30 Thus says the Lord, “Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.”
This curse in the days of Jeremiah had the effect of eliminating Jeconiah as a possibility of bringing forth the Messiah. Luke’s record, given in Luke 3:23-38, is complete, going all the way back to Adam, whereas Matthew’s record goes back only to Abraham.
Luke lists 76 men going back to “Adam, the son of God.” If we count God in the list, then the number is 77. But in Matthew’s account the number is 41 or 42 going back to Abraham.
Luke’s list is too long to quote directly, but here is his list with a few comments:
Zerubbabel (first governor of Judea after the Babylonian captivity)
Nathan (Solomon’s brother)
David (the King)
Obed (son of Ruth, given to Naomi)
Nahshon (who was first to dedicate Moses’ tabernacle, Numbers 7:12)
Perez (who was born of Tamar along with his twin, Zerah, Genesis 38:29, 30)
Judah (the first Judahite, or “Jew”)
Jacob (the first Israelite)
Heber (the first Hebrew)
Shem (the first Semite)
It took 76 generations from God to Joseph before Jesus could be born as the 77th generation. The number 76 is the biblical number for “cleansing.” It appears that Adam’s sin required 76 generations to pass before Jesus could be born.
Likewise, it was 76 x 7 years from the end of the Babylonian captivity in 534 B.C. until Jesus was born in 2 B.C. In fact, Jesus was born at the start of the new year on Rosh Hoshana of 2 B.C. This means that He was born after sundown after the final 76-year cycle had ended. Once again, it seems to have required 7 x 76 years of cleansing after their Babylonian captivity before Christ could be born.
So Luke’s account reveals first of all that Jesus began to minister at the age of thirty to comply with the law (Num. 4:3). Second, Jesus was not descended from Jeconiah but was a direct descendant of David through whom the Messiah was to come. Third, Jesus was the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), coming 76 generations later when the time of cleansing had passed.
These were His credentials as the Ambassador of Heaven. The genealogy of Jesus presents Him to the kings of the earth as the rightful Heir of the world’s throne. What follows is Luke’s depiction of His righteous acts and holy character, which proves that He is worthy to rule the earth. His love, not only for Judah and Israel but also for the whole earth, is ultimately why He will be accepted as King by popular acclaim. For this reason, He does not need to establish His Kingdom by force or by fear, but rather as a Prince of Peace. In the Song of Moses and of the Lamb, Rev. 15:3, 4 says,
3 Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed.