Question: If we can trace the ancestry of Jesus through the Bible, why can't Jews today?
Discussion: They can if they read and accept the New Testament accounts written by Christian believers. However, Jesus' lineage is not in dispute so much as whether He's the long-awaited Messiah. Many Jews believe He had the powers and calling of a prophet, but the Crucifixion blinded them from seeing Jesus as their Savior. Such books as the Gospel of Matthew or the Epistle to the Hebrews may help people with a Hebrew heritage to recognize Jesus as the sinless Lamb of God who gave Himself as the supreme sacrifice for sin. (To learn more about the sacrifices God prescribed and described to Moses many centuries before Christ, check out the book of Leviticus.)
Jesus' death was also foreshadowed by the unblemished lamb slain for Passover. Exodus 12 gives the full story, but in brief, the Angel of Death passed over every house in Egypt that the Hebrew people (and others who believed in God) had obediently marked with the blood of a lamb. After that life-saving experience, Moses led the descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel out of bondage, which, by then, had lasted a few hundred years.
In addition to those redemptive acts, which are so key to Judaism, the resurrection of Jesus Christ resuscitated all believers into eternal life from the spiritual death that began in the Garden of Eden. Unmerited grace can be hard for anyone to accept, especially those who think the salvation of their souls depends solely on their adherence to the Law of Moses or on their own goodness.
Question: I thought the Bible talked a lot about the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but when I asked a Jewish friend which tribe his family belonged to, he didn't seem to know what I was talking about. How could that be?
Discussion: In a word, emphasis…. A longer explanation, however, might begin with the Messianic prophecy in Genesis 49:10, which states, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples" (Revised Standard Version). In keeping with that prophetic word, the Bible refers to this son of Israel and his tribe as a lion, which, symbolically at least, is the king of all creatures.
Primarily, Genesis 49 records the blessings (and sometimes, cursing) Jacob (aka Israel) gave to each of his sons, but verses 8 through 12 show that Judah and his tribe received a special blessing and prophetic word. Over the centuries, this kingly line or Lion of Judah produced King David, King Solomon, and ultimately Jesus of whom verse 11 speaks prophetically: "He tethers his donkey to the vine, his purebred ass to the choicest stem. In wine he washes his garments, his robe in the blood of grapes" (NAB).
Obviously, Judah and his tribe received an extraordinary word from the beginning, so biblical writers carefully followed and recorded the Judaic line, not only in the Old Testament but also the New. For instance, Revelation 5:5 states, "Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." From Genesis to Revelation then, many generations of Bible writers kept track of Judah and his lineage with the result being almost 900 references included in Holy Scripture.
Since the Bible does not give other tribes this much emphasis, those lines of descent can be harder to follow. Also, many records were lost when the Jewish people were exiled from their homes and the Temple razed in the centuries before Christ. The OT books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount how the peoples eventually returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but by then they had intermarried with other tribes and cultures, further tangling the lines.
Most importantly though, a person's lineage no longer mattered once the birth of Christ had been recorded. Because of his life, death, and resurrection, all believers from all tribes, races, cultures, and ancestries could be "adopted" into His family, which makes us, as Christians, part of the kingly Tribe of Judah. For those of Jewish extraction who do not accept this royal inheritance, an in-depth search for ancestral roots can become problematic since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A. D. also destroyed the central place for keeping tribal records. However, earlier information had been recorded on the Twelve Tribes of Israel, so we can talk about those references a little more — next time.