When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-17]*
Although many contemporary theologies give lip service to Jesus Christ being the Son of God, the meaning they impute to the phrase is nothing close to the meaning as it was understood and used by the first century AD Jewish mind. Consequently, they are more likely to define Jesus as the radical/revolutionary [liberationist theologies], the sage/guru/magician/mystic [new age/feminist theologies], or merely a teacher of ethics [the Jesus Seminar] or some such syncretism of all of the above as long as it does not acknowledge Him as being the prophesied Jewish Messiah who was God Incarnate.
But, as Jesus indicated in His words of approval to Peter, there is only one correct answer to this question.
Therefore, my next few studies will be focused on an examination of the Biblical evidences as to what is embodied in the identification/confession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the God of Israel in the flesh.
This is a definitional doctrine of Christianity. In other words, while our understanding of doctrines such as election and eschatology may be secondary or even tertiary, if one will not confess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and God Incarnate, that person is not a Christian, no matter what claims he may make to the contrary. Therefore this is a crucial area of study for the following reasons:  The identity of Jesus as the Incarnation of the God of Israel is crucial and necessary to the formulation and an understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The identity of Jesus as the Messiah is crucial and necessary to the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to His people, Israel.  We are commanded in Scripture to earnestly contend for the Faith which was once delivered. (Jude 3) How can we contend for that which we do not know?  Many of the ancient heresies concerning the nature of Jesus and His identity have been revived in the past 150-200 years.
What is believed to be the first prophesy of the Messiah is found in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 3:15 we read: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
The language here is an oddity. This is the only time in the OT where the Hebrew word zera [translated “seed”] refers to the offspring of a woman without reference to a male progenitor. In every other instance where this word refers to offspring or human reproduction, it refers to the male, not the female. Because of this, some commentators see this passage as a prophesy pointing to the Virgin Birth [John Gill in his commentaries, W. A. Criswell in The Believer’s Study Bible (aka the Holy Bible: Baptist Study Edition), Joseph Exell in the Biblical Illustrator, David Guzik in his commentaries, F. B. Hole in his commentaries, Matthew Henry, Chuck Smith, Adam Clarke in their commentaries].
Another prophesy of the Virgin Birth [or, more aptly, the virgin conception§] of Christ is found in Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. In this passage, the word rendered “virgin” is almah, in contrast to the word betulah, which is also rendered as “virgin.” However, the word almah also signifies a woman who is of the age to bear children, while betulah does not have any such connotation and can equally apply to a pre-teen girl or to a spinster.
Although liberal commentators, who wish to deny or question the miraculous nature of Jesus’ conception and birth, assert that the Hebrew word almah can refer to a young woman of child bearing age who is not literally a virgin, such comments miss [or ignore] the fact that, in every instance of the Old Testament where the word almah is found, the word is used to indicate a woman who is a literal virgin of child bearing age. Moreover, the understanding of the Jewish people that this passage refers to a woman who has no prior sexual experience is evidenced in the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek, made ca. 250 BC [or BCE for the secularists], in which the word almah is rendered as parthenos, which is a technical term which specifically relates to a woman of child bearing age, yet has no sexual experience.
Another indication is found by the use of the word ‘oth, translated as “sign,” which always indicates that what is prophesied is something outside of the ordinary course of human events.
Finally, there is the testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself, who so inspired the words chosen by the apostle Matthew when he penned the gospel which bears his name, that the fulfillment of this passage is found in the conception and birth of Jesus to Mary in Bethlehem. [See Matthew 1:18-21; Luke 1:26-38.]
While the discussion is centering around the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, let’s look at His genealogy from the human perspective.
This promise was given to Abraham: I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. [Genesis 12:3]
This covenant promise to Abraham is extended through Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and eventually, to Jesse and David. [Genesis 17:19; 24:60; 28:14; 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:3-4; Isaiah 11:1]. The Jewish people, kept, and still maintain, extensive genealogies [which make the genealogies maintained by the Mormons look amateurish in comparison]. But the probability that Jesus of Nazareth could fulfill these prophecies by sheer chance and NOT be the Messiah are 1 in 9,338,880.
There are two genealogies of Jesus indicated in Scripture—one in Matthew 1 and another in Luke 3. There are significant differences which some see as a contradiction. However, careful study and knowledge of Jewish culture and practices shows no such contradiction exists. The first difference is that the genealogy indicated in Matthew starts with Abraham and moves forward in time to Joseph, while the genealogy in Luke starts with Joseph and moves backwards in time. The second difference is that Matthew only traces the human genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham, while Luke’s genealogy traces the human ancestry of Jesus all the way back to Adam.
A more subtle difference is found in the exact wording of the text, and is highly significant. Matthew 1:16 states: And Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. Luke 3:23 states: Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli.
According to Matthew’s account, Joseph’s father was Jacob, while according to Luke’s account, Joseph was the son of Heli. A few commentators suggest that since it was common practice for Jewish people to be called by more than one name, that “Heli” and “Jacob” are the same person. The problem with such an explanation is that it does not deal adequately with the rest of the texts, which show that Heli was a descendant of David through his son Nathan, while Jacob was a descendant of David through Solomon.
The more plausible, the historically accepted, and most likely explanation is that the genealogy shown in Matthew is the physical lineage of Joseph, using the term gennaō, which is indicative of physical descent. Being a physical descendant of David through the line of Solomon and later of Jeconiah, no physical descendant of Joseph could rule, for reasons I shall explain later.
On the other hand, the prophecies require that the Messiah be a descendant of David [but there is no prophecy which points to which offspring of David’s would be the progenitor]. And Scripture does state that Jesus is of the offspring of David according to the flesh. [Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 22:16] Therefore, the genealogy in Luke is believed to be the genealogy of Mary. It appears that Heli had no sons, and therefore, according to Mosaic law, his daughters, in order to preserve the inheritance rights, would be required to marry within their tribe/clan. [Numbers 27:1-11; Deuteronomy 36:1-9] In doing so, Joseph would have become the son of Mary’s father Heli as by a form of adoption.†
Moreover, it must be noted that the genealogy cited in Matthew 1 traces the lineage from Abraham to David and then to Joseph through Jeconiah. As I mentioned earlier, Jeconiah brought a curse upon himself and all his offspring such that nobody descended through him could prosper on the throne of Israel [Jeremiah 22:28-30]. Therefore this genealogy cannot be the natural lineage for Jesus, but only the legal lineage securing His legal claim to the throne.
Finally, it must be noted that, as suggested in Adam Clarke’s comments on Luke 3:23, that, in tracing the human genealogy of Jesus back to Adam, Luke provides the link of the virgin conception of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 3:15—that He is the seed of the woman who would break the curse brought by the serpent.
* Unless noted otherwise, all Bible references are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
§ Which should not be confused with the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox dogma of “Immaculate Conception”–which is the teaching that Mary was born with a perfect, sinless nature instead of a fallen human nature.
† For more extensive explanations, please see any of the following resources: The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pp. 18, 212-213; Hindson & Kroll, The KJV Bible Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), electronic edition; Adam Clarke’s Commentary on Luke 3:23 (electronic edition in Bible Explorer); Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary on Luke 3:23 (electronic edition in Bible Explorer); W. A. Criswell, The Believer’s Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), pp. 1331-1332, 1440-1441; John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), pp. 1393, 1518-1519.