Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel, concluding that “all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).
There’s a problem, though. 14 + 14 + 14 generations should give us 42 names, but we are only given 41 names from Abraham to Jesus. Someone seems to be missing. And this seems like a weird mistake for Matthew to make. I mean, he’s the one listing the names. Why would he say there were 42 generations but only list 41?
Unless… he didn’t make a mistake.
Take a closer look at verse 11: “Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brethren about the time they were carried away to Babylon.”
If you look it up, you’ll find that Josiah didn’t beget Jeconiah; Josiah was Jeconiah’s grandfather, not his father. The missing king (Josiah’s son and Jeconiah’s father) would bring Matthew’s count up to 42.
So that begs the question: Why did Matthew leave this mystery king off the list? And the answer is simple: He didn’t. Notice that the text doesn’t just say that Josiah begot Jeconiah; it says Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brethren. Matthew doesn’t just bring up Jeconiah; he is mentioning a group of male family members: Jeconiah, his brother, his uncles, and his father. This is made more clear when we see how Matthew groups his three lists of 14. He doesn’t say “from David to Jeconiah are fourteen generations”; he says “from David to the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations.” When we plug in this mystery king during the vague time period of “about the time they were carried away,” our 14+14+14 list falls perfectly into place.
So the next question is: Who is this mystery king, and why doesn’t Matthew mention him by name?
The mystery king is Jehoiakim, and according to the scriptures “he did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:37). After his father Josiah died, the enemy Pharaoh of Egypt appointed Josiah’s son to be king, changing his name from Eliakim to Jehoiakim. Though he was the rightful heir to the throne, his reign was polluted from the beginning by the influence of pagan Egypt, leading to generations of idolatry in Israel.
Eventually his kingship became so corrupted that God vowed that none of his descendants would ever sit upon the throne of David again: “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out” (Jeremiah 36:30). This pronouncement of judgment upon his bloodline was repeated over his evil son Jeconiah: “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days. For none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30).
Matthew only alluded to Jehoiakim (without mentioning his name) because it was during his turbulent and evil reign that his line of kings came to an end (it should be noted that this isn’t the first name left off of Matthew’s list for shameful reasons: Bathsheba is only alluded to, because her sin with David led to the eventual civil war in Israel).
But this leads to another problem: If none of Jehoiakim’s descendants will ever sit upon the throne of David… how does Jesus—the heir of David—become king? And the answer is simple: Jesus wasn’t a descendant of Jehoiakim; Joseph was. But Joseph had no biological relationship to Jesus; he was Jesus’ adoptive father.
Matthew records the kingly line of David through Solomon, which ends with Joseph. Luke provides a different genealogy, following the line of David through Nathan, which leads to Mary, the biological mother of Jesus. As such, we clearly see that Jesus was the rightful legal heir to the throne of David through Solomon, Jehoiakim, and his adoptive father Joseph, even though he didn’t have a drop of Solomon’s, Jehoiakim’s, or Joseph’s blood in Him. But Jesus is also the biological heir of David through Nathan and Mary, having the royal blood of David coursing through His veins.
In this way, Jesus uniquely has a claim to the throne of David. He is a biological descendant of King David through Mary, the rightful heir to the throne of David through King Jeconiah and Joseph, and yet avoids the curse brought upon the biological descendants of King Jehoiakim. He is, as Matthew claims, “Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”