A brief overview of the Gospel of Matthew.
The Gospel of Matthew is the gospel written by a Jew to the Jews about a Jew. His task is to present Jesus as the kingly Messiah that had been prophesied. The extensive geneology in chapter 1 and the many references to Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus' life all gave further proof that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed one. Matthew tries throughout the book to persuade Jews to accept Jesus as king. This was no small task since the Jews of the time were looking for a charismatic leader who would re-establish Israel as a military power.
Matthew speaks more frequently than any of the Gospel writers about prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus. The other three Gospels combined do not use the phraseology "that it might be fulfilled" as much as Matthew does. Mark will show more miracles and Luke will contain more parables. John is written on a theological, almost ethereal plane unlike those of the synoptic Gospels. We think that the Gospel of Mark was penned first in about AD 55, then Matthew sometime between 58 and 68, Luke more than likely after 70 AD, then the Gospel of John between 85 and 90. Matthew and Luke use much material common to Mark.
There were reasons why the council at Nicea in AD 323 chose to place Matthew first in its list of New Testament books. It likely was only second in terms of chronological origin. All books of the canon are inspired (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) but Matthew seems to give the best balanced account of all of Jesus' life. Whereas the other Gospels dwell heavily on the last ten days to a week of Jesus' life, Matthew uses more "white space" to describe Christ's early and middle ministries. We read more of his compassion in healing and in teaching. The Sermon on the Mount is given in its most nearly entire form in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.
Chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Matthew show the birth of Jesus. It was a birth that was in many ways both common and miraculous. Jesus was not born to earthly parents of any notoriety, but His greatness came from the Father, who sent Jesus that man might have life, and that more abundantly.
The birth of Christ is told in a different perspective from that of Luke. Herod's jealousy is depicted, and the visitors to Christ come when He is a child, not a babe. Jesus now lives in a house (Matthew 2: 11) and not in a stable. The maji or wise men arrive after following a star in the east for some time. It seems unlikely that the visitors that Matthew described were present on the night of Christ's birth, when the shepherds were there. In fact, Jesus may have been as much as two years old when the wise men arrived. The typical Nativity scene has a number of historical problems with its accuracy.
One of Jesus' first public acts was not that of a great miracle or public arrival, but that of baptism (chapter 3). Jesus had no sin and did not have to have his sins washed away (see Acts 22: 16; also Hebrews 4: 15). But he submitted to baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3: 15).
In Matthew chapter 4 and its companion chapter (4) in Luke, three of Jesus' temptations are described. In being tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4: 15), he faced a lust of the flesh (turning the stones to bread), a lust of the eyes (the kingdoms and property of the world), and the pride of life (casting himself down from the top of the temple in order to prove to Satan that He was Christ). These are reminiscent of the three types of temptations described by John in I John 2: 15-17. Satan left, to return at another time.
The Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5 through 7 is unrivaled by any speech or lesson given by any other person at any other time. In it are the most basic issues of how to live at peace with God and with one's fellow man. Jesus went beyond the external behaviors of man and looked into their hearts. With regard to marital fidelity, He said in Matthew 5: 27-32: "27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
Jesus taught people a perspective about riches. He told them to lay up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves do not break in and steal (6: 19-21). Jesus did not teach that people should never make decisions about what was going on around them, as some twist Matthew 7: 1, 2 to say; rather, in the same utterance He told them to judge people by their fruits (7: 15-20). The Christian must always avoid making judgements about people without knowing all the facts.
Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to preach to Israel first (Matthew 10) before they would go to preach to the Gentiles. The Jews, many of them, were unresponsive to the Gospel, and by the events of Acts 10, the Gentiles were being converted more quickly than the Jews.
Many of the miracles of Jesus are recounted in the book of Matthew. Among those are the cleansing of the leper (8: 1-4), the casting out of demons (8: 28-34), the feeding of the 5, 000 in Matthew 14, and the healing of many (15: 29-31).
Increasingly, as Jesus became more popular with the common people, the Pharisees came to hate Him. They began to plot to kill him, and the plan came to culmination in the Garden of Gethsemane (chapter 26). After being betrayed by Judas, Jesus was paraded before six different judges or officials in the same night, in defiance of the law at the time that provided for any kind of criminal trial to be made public, to be carried out in the daytime, and for rules of evidence to apply. Pilate, the judge on the fourth and sixth trial, finally delivered Jesus over to the people in an effort to avoid a civil unrest. Jesus was crucified between two thieves, though he was never found guilty of any crime.
The end of the Matthew story is the part that sets the Bible apart from all other books. In Matthew 28 the resurrection of Jesus is described. Only in the Bible story does the hero die but come back to life again. And Jesus is seen alive by the twelve on several occasions, by two men on the road to Emmaus, and by others during the 40 days that He was on the earth after the time of his resurrection.
To those who seek a greater faith, either through the genealogical proofs of Matthew, or by the miracles described therein, the book of Matthew is a great faith-builder.
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