This passage of scripture is placed directly after the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel account. Through the previous verses, Matthew has demonstrated a particular theme with gematria. The name of David is referenced four times throughout the genealogy. The sections of the genealogy are segregated by the number fourteen which symbolizes the name of David. Therefore, it is apparent that the author is intending his audience understand the biological connection between Jesus and King David. This information must be taken into account as one proceeds throughout the following verses.
The author begins verse 18 by announcing the contents of the following verses. He says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Matthew is obviously trying to explain to his reader that Jesus is the promised Messiah through his effort in the genealogy, but if there was any uncertainty as to this intent, Matthew clarifies by attaching the title of christos to the name of Jesus.
In the next two sentences Matthew articulates the flow of events that would have taken several months to happen. He acknowledges the reality that the conception of Jesus was a miracle enacted by the Holy Spirit and allows the reader to understand the precarious situation of Mary, being pregnant outside of marital relations. Matthew then asserts the integrity of Joseph and demonstrates that he was not only a man of wholesome moral quality but that he was also merciful in that he desired to “divorce her quietly”.
The significant portion of this section arrives with the appearance of an angelic messenger. It is important that the very first dialogic words spoken in the book of Matthew come from an angel and they are aimed at announcing the divinity and purpose of Jesus. He calls Joseph “son of David”, alluding to the kingly lineage that Matthew has already established through his thorough genealogical composition. There are two very significant theological statements that are made by the messenger.
The first is that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. It is very important for Joseph to understand that Mary was faithful to her betrothal commitments; however, it is even more important that Joseph understand that Jesus is the divine Son of the Most High. His divine Sonship carries Messianic implications and purpose.
The second statement, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” exposes the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew dramatically exposes the message of his gospel with the angel’s announcement. Jesus was not coming to earth to set up a temporal kingdom that would overthrow the Roman establishment. Instead, he was coming to earth to establish reconciliation for all of humanity through his death on a cross. His name would be “Jesus” or “Yahweh Saves” for a particular reason- he was going to save his people from their sins.
Matthew gives credibility to this announcement by quoting Isaiah 7:14. He concludes that the birth of Jesus would fulfill the prophecy made by Isaiah. Matthew continues by rapidly concluding the activities of Joseph after he awakens from his dream much like he did prior to the angel’s announcement. This again clarifies for the reader that the angel’s message is the most important thing in this section of his writing.