THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
Suggested Readings: Matthew 1-2, Matthew 5-7, Matthew 10, Matthew 13:1-53, Matthew 18, Matthew 21:33-43, Matthew 24-25, Matthew 28:16-20
The Gospel According to Matthew is the first Gospel, by order, to appear in the New Testament, and it is the longest. It is attributed by ancient tradition to Matthew, also known as Levi, who was a tax collector that Jesus called to follow Him as an apostle (8:9-13). Most biblical scholars today hold that the author of Matthew was an unknown Jewish Christian who wrote in Greek to the Christians in Antioch, an ancient city in Syria. However, some scholars accept the possibility that the apostle Matthew may have gathered stories and teachings about Jesus into a book and these stories and teachings were included in this Gospel. Another source of stories and teachings of Jesus the author of Matthew likely used was the Gospel According to Mark. About 80% of Mark is incorporated into Matthew. Scholars believe that the author of Matthew had a copy of Mark, as well as stories and teachings about Jesus from other sources. He gathered these together into his Gospel, written after AD 70, perhaps between 80 and 90. While most scholars conclude that Mark was the first Gospel written, it is proper to recognize the ancient tradition that Matthew was written first, and that there is a significant and respected minority of scholars that hold to that ancient tradition. These scholars agree that Mark was written sometime in the AD 60s, and conclude that Matthew was written as early as the AD 50s.
The Gospel According to Matthew was written by a Jewish Christian to a church that was changing from one made up largely of Jewish Christians to one dominated by Gentile Christians. It was important for Matthew that those who had placed their faith in Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles, understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the Jewish prophets, but that He also transcended Moses and the prophets. In other words, Jesus is not just another great Jewish prophet in a long line of prophets, called by God to restore the Jews to faithfulness to the Law. Jesus is the Messiah and, as such, He is Savior to all people, Jews and Gentiles.
Matthew begins with a list of Jesus’ ancestors, stretching back to Abraham, the great patriarch of the Jews (1:1-17). Throughout the first four chapters of Matthew, which include his story of Jesus’ birth (1:18-25), examples are given of how Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament regarding the Messiah (1:22-23; 2:5-6; 2:14-15; 2:16-18; 2:22-23; 3:1-3; 4:12-17). We find here, too, the story of the magi, the wise men who came from the east (2:1-12). These men are not Jews. Rather, they represent all the Gentile nations. Jesus is revealed to them, and they worship Him. The Church celebrates the visit of the magi on the feast of the Epiphany, a Greek word that means “manifestation” or “revelation.” Matthew shows that the One Who is the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel is also manifested as Savior to all the nations.
Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment, not just of the ancient prophecies, but also of the Law, and as the interpreter of God’s Law over against the Sadducees, scribes and Pharisees, who are portrayed as having rejected God’s Law in favor of man’s laws. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (5:17). Matthew shows that Jesus’ interpretation of the Law is superior to that of the Jewish leaders of His time (15:1-9; 22:23-33; 22:34-40). These leaders have neglected their care of God’s “vineyard,” so God has sent His own Son to restore right order. In the parable of the vineyard (21:33-43), the vineyard represents God’s people, Israel. The landowner is God. The tenants are those to whom God has entrusted the care of Israel: the kings, priests and elders. The servants the landowner sends to collect his fruits are the prophets, beaten, stoned and killed by the kings, priests and elders of Israel. The son, of course, is Jesus. The tenants cast him out of the vineyard and kill him, just as Jesus was taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and crucified. Because they have rejected the Son, the priests and elders will be removed, and care for God’s people will be given over to new tenants who are charged with the care of God’s Church, of which Christ is the cornerstone.
As a Jewish Christian, Matthew would have revered the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. The Gospel According to Matthew is set apart from the other Gospels by the Five Sermons of Jesus. The Sermons are spaced evenly throughout the Gospel, and the common theme of each Sermon is the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5-7. The first of these Five Sermons of Jesus is easily the most famous. It is called the Sermon on the Mount. Moses delivered the Law from a mountain. Jesus delivers His Sermon from a mount. Jesus is the true interpreter of the Law. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching transcends the Law of Moses. On several matters, the faithful are called to an even higher standard of perfection than the Law of Moses demands. Why? Because the Sermon on the Mount does not merely speak of how we are to love God and love our neighbor here on Earth. The Sermon speaks to what is required, both in attitude and behavior, of those who would enter the kingdom of God. Jesus does not simply call us to live a good life. He calls us to the divine life.
Matthew 10. The second of the Five Sermons is called the Mission Sermon, where Jesus sends the Twelve forth to proclaim the coming of the kingdom. In the two previous chapters, 8 and 9, Matthew writes of a series of miraculous healings and exorcisms by Jesus. Chapter 9 closes with Jesus charging his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest will “send out laborers for his harvest,” (9:38) workers who will reap a plentiful harvest of souls. In the Mission Sermon in chapter 10, Jesus calls the Twelve to Him and extends to them the same authority over demons and the same power to heal the sick he had demonstrated in chapters 8 and 9. The authority of Jesus is now given by Him to His apostles, a Greek word meaning “sent out.”
Matthew 13. The third of the Five Sermons is called the Parable Sermon. Parables are stories about people or experiences from everyday life that Jesus told in order to help others understand truths about God. Chapter 13 contains no less than seven parables of Jesus, all of which speak to some feature of the kingdom of God, so they are often referred to as the “kingdom parables”: the parable of the sower (13:1-9, 18-23), the parable of the weeds (13:24-30, 36-43), the parable of the mustard seed (13:31-32), the parable of yeast (13:33), the parable of the hidden treasure (13:44), the parable of the pearl (13:45-46) and the parable of the net (13:47-50) are all here. Jesus also explains why He teaches in parables: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand’” (13:13).
Matthew 18. The fourth of the Five Sermons is called the Sermon on the Church. This Sermon is addressed to leaders of the Church about how they are to conduct themselves until Jesus returns. The teachings focus on relationships, emphasizing the point that those in positions of leadership are not to lord it over others or take advantage of their positions for personal gain. Rather, they are to serve in humility, as true servants, eager to seek out the lost and forgive the sinner.
Matthew 24–25. The last of the Five Sermons is called the Eschatological Sermon. Eschatology is a fancy word that refers to the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. In chapter 24, the disciples ask Jesus about the end of the world, when it will come and how they will be able to tell when the end is coming. Jesus tells them that only the Father knows when the end will be, and that all must be ready at any time, for “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (24:44). The faithful will suffer much hatred, imprisonment, and even death, “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (24:13). Chapter 25 includes two parables about ten young women (25:1-13) and three servants (25:14-30) that teach the lesson of being prepared for the coming of Christ. Finally, the Sermon ends with Jesus preaching about the final judgment, when all will be divided into sheep or goats, the righteous and the unrighteous, depending on how they treated Jesus when He came to them under the guise of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. Those who treated Jesus poorly, “will go off to eternal punishment but the righteous to eternal life” (25:46).
The Gospel According to Matthew ends with the account of the Passion (suffering), death and Resurrection of Jesus. The Risen Jesus gives to His disciples the mission of proclaiming the gospel to all the world, and the promise of His being with them always: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:19-20).
WHAT DOES THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW TEACH US ABOUT JESUS?
- Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.
- Jesus is the Savior of all people, Jews and Gentiles.
- Jesus is the true interpreter of God’s Law, and His teaching transcends the Law of Moses.
- Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God and teaches us how to enter God’s kingdom.
- Jesus gives us the mission of proclaiming the gospel to all and the promise of His being with us forever.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.