In many ways the Gospel of Matthew is just such a discussion and debate. It is an extended defense, in a narrative form, of the claim that a new sect within Judaism, known originally as “the Way” and later as Christianity, is in fact true authentic Judaism, the completion or fulfillment of God’s purpose for Israel and the world. At the time of the writing the debate had reached a fevered pitch, with strong words flying in both directions. The authentic people of God, the narrator affirms, are defined no longer by ancestry or ethnic identity but by allegiance to Jesus the Messiah.
The Gospel of Matthew has long been considered one of the most important books of the NT and has therefore been properly placed first in the NT cannon. Although the order of the books came from human choice rather than divine inspiration (Mark was actually written first), this gospel, easily provides a bridge between the Old and New Testaments and it fittingly introduces the books that follow. Any thoughtful Bible student would do well to begin by studying the Gospel of Matthew. It truly fulfills a divinely inspired purpose of being an introduction for the rest of the New Testament.
The Author of the Book
A. External Evidence
- Ireneaus: “Matthew indeed produced his Gospel amon the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and founding the church.”
- Eusedias: “For Matthew, who had at first preaching to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other people, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obligated to leave for the los of his presence.”
- Papias: “Matthew therefore wrote the oracles in the Hebrew dialect and everyone interpreted them as he was able.”
- Conclusion: All church tradition affirms that Matthew was the author
- Matthew's fitness for the task. It is certain that Matthew’s occupation involved familiarity with the art of writing, and with other forms of literary activity. There is more frequent mention of money in this Gospel than in any other others.
- Matthew quotes both the Hebrew and LXX OT. It uses the OT more than any other gospel writer
- Conclusion: The complexion and content of the Gospel abundantly confirm that the author of the book is Matthew.
The Purpose of the Book
Matthew presents a twofold purpose for writing his Gospel. He writes to primarily prove that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, but he also writes to explain God's kingdom program.
The Purpose is to Prove Jesus is the Messiah
Matthew portrays Jesus in a way to prove that He is the fulfillment of the OT prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. The Hebrew word Messiah is equivalent to the Greek word Kristos (Christ). Both of these words are equivalent to the English expression Anointed One. The Gospel of Matthew appeals directly to the Jews Messianic expectation. The central thrust of the Gospel may be summarized as follows: Jesus is the anticipated Messiah, and in Him the OT promises have been fulfilled.
Textual Data: Matthew goes out of his way to provide an OT setting for significant events in Jesus’ life, especially in its early stages:
- 1:23 – his birth
- 2:15 – the return from the Egyptian sojourn
- 2:18 – the killing of the babes of Bethlehem
- 2:23 – residence in Nazareth
- 3:3 – the work of the forerunner
- 4:15-16 – the location of his principle labors
- 8:17 – his healing ministry
- 12:18-20 –his demeanor as God’s servant
- 13:35 – the parabolic cast of his teaching
- 21:5 – the offer of himself to Israel
- 26:56 – His arrest
Matthew’s Gospel was not merely a record of astonished, isolated events. Rather, it was the fulfillment of the divine purpose in the promised Messiah. Thus Matthew writes to prove that Jesus is the predicted Messiah of the OT. Matthew is striving to refute incipient antinomianism - the gospel does not contradict but fulfill the OT.
The Purpose is to Present the Kingdom Program of God
A nonbelieving Jew would scoff at any notion that Jesus was the Messiah let alone King. In any unbelieving Jews mind Jesus could not be king because there was not visible kingdom. If Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, where is His kingdom? Where is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of Israel? The Hebrew Scriptures are replete with fore views of a Utopian age headed by Israel and their Messiah. Therefore, the objector would contend Jesus could not be the Messiah because he did not fulfill OT prophecies promising a kingdom for Israel.
Because of the validity of these objections, Matthew explains God’s kingdom as it relates to Jesus, to Israel, and to the church. Matthew presents the kingdom program in three aspects that were highlighted by Stanley Toussaint in his book Behold Your King:
- The earthly literal kingdom was offered to Israel in the person of Jesus, the Messiah, at His first coming
- The kingdom was postponed because Israel rejected the Messiah
- Jesus is now engaged in building his church, composed of those who in this age the heirs of the kingdom.
Matthew thus agrees with Paul who writes, “For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for his mercy.” (Rom. 15:8-9)
The Theme of the Book
Of the three offices of the Messiah – prophet, priest and potentate – Matthew places a special stress on the royal aspect of the Lord’s person and ministry. There are many factors in the book that indicate that Jesus the Messiah is especially a king:
- In the opening verse He is called “the son of David” (1:1) and David is described as “king” (1:6)
- Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, is addressed by the angel as, “Joseph, son of David” (1:20)
- The magi searched for Him as one who is born “King of the Jews” (2:2)
- The prophecy of Micah 5:2 predicted the great ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem is applied to the Lord Jesus (2:6)
- A number of times Jesus is addressed or obliquely referred to as “Son of David” (9:27, 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:45)
- "The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2, 4:17; 10:7)
- “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:28)
- “The Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (16:28)
- “ . . . Your kingdom” (20:21)
- “ . . . In my Father’s kingdom” (26:29)
- The book concludes with Jesus holding all authority in heaven and earth (28:18)
Central Theme = Jesus the Messiah brings salvation to its historical climax, saving His people from their sins.
- Matthew 1:21 “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins."
- Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
- Prologue: The Genealogy and Birth Narrative of the Messiah (ch. 1-2)
- The Appearance of the Messiah (3:1-4:11)
- The Ministry of the Messiah (4:12-11:1)
- The Responses to the Messiah (11:2-20:34)
- The Messiah Confronts Jerusalem (21:1-26:1)
- he Messiah Is Rejected Yet Victorious: The Passion and Resurrection (ch. 26-28)
Final Concluding Thoughts:
Modern readership of Matthew often cringes when reading some of the strong language Matthew uses against Jesus’ Jewish opponents. The history of Anti-Semitism that has stained the pages of both world history and church history makes these passages sound dangerously provocative. Indeed, through the centuries Matthew’s Gospel has been used to justify Jewish persecution.
Yet to read these passages as Anti-Semitic is to reach anachronistically (“out of their proper time”) and thus to misinterpret them. Matthew’s Gospel is not an indictment on the Jews as a people. After all Matthew himself was a Jew and the majority of the church at the time was Jewish. The Gospel is rather an internal debate within Judaism, between those who believe that Jesus is the culmination of salvific history and those who reject his claim as Messiah. Matthew seeks to show Jesus is the Messiah and thus has brought salvation to the world. The prophecies have been fulfilled! If Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, then the church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, is the authentic people of God. God’s plan of salvation for the world is now going forward, not through the synagogue but through the new people of God made up of all nations. This is the critical issue for Matthew and his community.
Seen in this light, the questions Matthew answers are just as profound and important today. What is God’s purpose and goal for this world? What characterizes the true followers of God? What must people do to find salvation? The first Gospel rejects any claims of truth, which do not find their center in the kingdom of heaven inaugurated through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. All other worldviews, religions, and philosophies fall short.
Posted by Caleb