Matthew’s Gospel is believed to have been written by Matthew, otherwise known as Levi, a tax collector who Jesus called to leave his work to become one of the first disciples (9:9). The Gospel includes coinage details that would suggest someone who knew about money (drachma 17:24; stater 17:25; talent 18:24,25).
The date of the Gospel is unknown, with some favouring a date around AD 85. However, there is good reason to believe it was written before AD 70 as the Gospel is partly aimed at Jews, but there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Irenaeus, one of the early church leaders, believed it was written when Peter and Paul were in Rome (around AD 60-67).
The Gospel includes 130 plus references to the Old Testament in its pages. The author focuses on the way that Old Testament prophecies and themes find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. It is well positioned as the first book in the New Testament, and thus closest to the Old Testament.
A list of names
It is very easy to ignore the first 16 verses of Matthew’s Gospel containing a long list of names which are hard to read! But these verses are the key to understanding Matthew’s Gospel. The list is split into three parts: the first starting with Abraham, the second with David and the third with the return from the exile. God made great promises that His blessing would come through a son of Abraham, a King greater than David, to bring a future better than Israel’s. Matthew tells us that the promised time, the promised blessing and the promised One had come.
All the Gospels focus on an aspect of Jesus’ identity. Matthew shows Jesus to be the promised Messiah (Christ), a King directly descended from King David. The Old Testament prophets had predicted that someone in that line would be God’s anointed leader. The Jews looked for a king who would restore Israel to its former greatness. At the time of Jesus, they were looking for someone to overthrow the Romans; but many were disappointed that Jesus was a man of peace who was building a Kingdom that was not of this world. Matthew shows that Jesus did build the Kingdom, God’s global Kingdom that would spread throughout the earth.
This Gospel is not just for Jewish readers but for Gentiles (non-Jews) as well. Jesus gives special recognition to the Gentile believers giving them an equal place in His Kingdom. The genealogy in chapter 1 includes Gentiles such as Rahab and Ruth; chapter 2 shows how the Gentile Magi arrived to honour His birth; the Roman centurion displayed a faith superior to any Israelite (8:5-13); the great faith of the Canaanite woman led Him to heal her daughter (15:21-28). The Gospel ends with Jesus sending His disciples to the ends of the earth (28:19-20).
The Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew’s Gospel is all about the King and His Kingdom. Matthew also refers to the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven 32 times. The Gospel is about how to live in God’s Kingdom and how much greater it is than all the pictures that had come before. Moses was a great teacher, but Jesus is even greater!
The Gospel is carefully arranged: there are five teaching sections with the same closing words at the end of each (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The law in the Old Testament is identified with the first five books of the Bible and some think Matthew imitated this in his structure.
The best known section is the first, known as the Sermon on the Mount, in chapters 5 to 7. It reveals God’s perfect standard for living along with the godly motives of people who follow Jesus. These are standards which the believer is enabled to keep by the power of the Spirit.
Mathew’s Gospel was probably written to convince the non-believing Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah and to help Jewish converts to be reassured that following Jesus is in keeping with Old Testament prophecies and therefore the purposes of God. These Jewish converts may have been persecuted and tempted to give up their faith. The Gospel is also to be valued by Gentiles too, as we have seen, and the Great Commission at the end explains why the apostles took the Gospel beyond Israel to the ‘ends of the earth’.
Why read it?
To be reminded that Jesus is the King
Many people today fail to understand how uniquely great Jesus is. This Gospel reminds us that centuries before Jesus came God inspired people to write about Jesus so that when He came to earth, we can look back and marvel at how God planned our salvation and kept every one of His promises.
To understand all of the Bible is God’s Word
Some Christians wrongly believe that the division of the Bible into Old and New Testaments (or Old and New Covenants) means that Christians, who are New Covenant people, can ignore the Old Covenant. In fact, New Covenant people need to value the Old Covenant as its foundation. Matthew helps us make that transition, understanding how the two Covenants connect. He shows how the cross of Jesus fulfils God’s ancient promise to save His people.
To understand that Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal
Jesus calls people to enter His Kingdom by believing in Him. Many of His parables show the greatness of His Kingdom; that it is eternal and finally fulfilled in Heaven. But before then believers have a taste of Heaven on earth as they follow Jesus. In the last verses of the Gospel (28:18f) Jesus instructs His disciples to teach future believers to obey everything that He had commanded them. Matthew’s Gospel explains what that teaching should be, and so it provides a ‘manual’ for new disciples.
To be encouraged to follow Jesus by obeying God’s Word
Find out how God wants you to live. Jesus is clear that we must put God’s Word into practice, and not just read it. Make sure you don’t become a Christian who knows more than you actually do!
|1-2:23||Introduction - Genealogy and Infancy - the Old Testament promise of a King is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus|
|3:1-7:29||Jesus interprets the Old Testament law - bringing a New Kingdom and a New Law|
|8:1-11:1||Jesus heals and commissions - calling people to enter the Kingdom|
|11:2-13:53||Jesus confronts religious leaders as He shows what the New Kingdom is like|
|13:54-19:1||Jesus shows who He is and how to serve Him in His Kingdom|
|19:2-26:1||Jesus teaches about the Last Days and final judgement when the Kingdom will fully come|
|26:2-28:20||Jesus’ death and resurrection opens the Kingdom for everyone to come in|