Perhaps one Saturday afternoon you were relaxing on your front porch when two men in white shirts and ties came up to your door carrying several books and pamphlets with them. You will no doubt immediately recognize them as Mormons because of their attire and perhaps the titles on their books. If you decide to converse with them before long your conversation will no doubt be turned to the nature of authentic faith. They may contend to you that the Book of Mormon is really just the completion of the Christian faith. Are they correct? Is Mormonism really the completion of God's plan of salvation?
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
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:
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:
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:
Central Theme = Jesus the Messiah brings salvation to its historical climax, saving His people from their sins.
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
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