The Gospel According to Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and one of the three synoptic gospels in the Bible. These three gospels often overlap, however, at least 20% of Matthew’s content is unique. It tells the story of Jesus’ life from his birth until his crucifixion and resurrection, encompassing the calling of his disciples, several miracles and many parables. Most scholars believe the Gospel was written between AD 80 and 90, however, other suggestions place it anywhere between AD 70 and 110.
Despite being known as Matthew’s Gospel, the identity of the author is unknown. Originally, the authorship was attributed to Matthew the Apostle, however, this is largely rejected today. What can be ascertained, however, is the author was likely a Jew whose religious beliefs fluctuated between traditional and non-traditional values.
The Gospel was written just after the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), which saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Although Christianity had begun with Jesus, it was more a Jewish messianic movement until after this war, when it gradually evolved into a separate Gentile religion. Matthew was more likely a Jewish Christian, meaning he was a member of a community who had cut itself off from its Jewish roots in order to follow Christ. As a result, the Gospel was written for Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, possibly in Syria, who were already familiar with Jewish customs, therefore, the author did not feel the need to explain them, unlike the Gospel of Mark, for example.
Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17), tracing the descent from Abraham to David and David to Jesus. This is further evidence that Matthew was Jewish because, unlike the Gospel of Luke that provides a genealogy from Adam, the father of the human race, Matthew begins with Abraham, the father of the Jews. Following this, Matthew describes the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, including the visit from the magi (2:1-12) and the massacre of the innocents. The rest of chapter two tells of the flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth.
Chapter three begins with the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John, during which the Holy Spirit descends upon him. The following chapter describes the period of 40 days that Jesus spent praying and meditating in the Judean desert. During this time Jesus was tempted by Satan on three occasions but the devil had no power over him. After this period, Jesus travelled to Capernaum where he gradually called his disciples. He then moved on to Galilee where he began his ministry.
The Gospel of Matthew is split into five narratives or discourses with the aforementioned chapters being the prologue. The first discourse encompasses chapters 5-7 and is often referred to as Sermon on the Mount. This section is the most quoted part of the New Testament as it includes the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. The latter is expressed as a series of blessings and presented new ideas about love and humility. Along with mercy, spirituality and compassion, which Jesus also spoke about in this discourse, the Beatitudes present the ethics of the Kingdom of God. Jesus also taught about issues that could result in persecution, such as divorce, lust and materialistic values. He also warned of false prophets and taught the disciples how to pray (The Lord’s Prayer; 6:9-13).
Between the first and second discourse, Jesus performed a series of miracles. Notable ones include the calming of the storm (8:23-27), healing a paralytic (9:1-8), the raising of Jairus’ daughter (9:18-26) and giving sight to the blind (9:27-31). Shortly after the healing of a paralytic, Jesus called Matthew - a potential author of the Gospel - to discipleship. "As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me", he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." (9:9, NIV). As a tax collector, Matthew would have been an unpopular person and an unusual choice for an apostle - so the Pharisees expressed.
The second discourse has been given different names by various scholars, including the Mission Discourse, the Missionary Discourse, and the Little Commission. The latter is in reference to the Great Commission that occurs later in the Gospel (28:16-20). The discourse spans chapters 10-12 and begins with Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. Jesus commissioned Simon (Peter) Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James of Alphaeus (which mean "changing" in Greek), Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot to travel to Israelite communities to proclaim “the Kingdom of heaven is near”. He encouraged them to “Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases, and drive out demons. You have received without paying, so give without being paid.” (10:8, GNT) Jesus also performed three miracles of his own: healing a man with a withered hand (12:9-14), exorcising a blind-mute man (12:22-28) and driving out a demon or unclean spirit (12:43-45).
The third narrative - the Parabolic Discourse - takes place in chapter 13. Divided into 58 verses, this chapter contains seven parables that attempt to explain the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus gave the first four parables on a boat on the Sea of Galilee from which he could address the crowds of people standing on the shore. Matthew records these parables in the following order: Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Tares, Parable of the Mustard Seed and Parable of Leaven. According to Matthew, Jesus only provided explanations for the parables of the Sower and the Tares. The remaining three parables were given to Jesus’ disciples: Parable of the Hidden Treasure, Parable of the Pearl and Parable of Drawing in the Net. Some scholars claim verse 52 as an eighth parable: “Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” (KJV) At the end of the chapter, Jesus is rejected by his home town of Nazareth. (13:53-58)
Following the death of John the Baptist at the beginning of chapter 14, there are several events and miracles that occur before the fourth discourse. Chapter 14 contains the feeding of the 5000 (14:13-21), walking on water (14:22-33) and the healing of many through the touching of Jesus’ cloak (14:34-36). Miracles continue throughout chapter 15, including the exorcism of a Canaanite woman’s daughter (15:21-28) and the feeding of the 4000 (15:32-39).
Some scholars say the fourth discourse begins in chapter 16, whereas others say it is exclusive to chapter 18. The Discourse on the Church, as it is known, reveals the increasing opposition to Jesus, which prompts Jesus to prepare his disciples for his crucifixion. In chapter 16, Simon declares that Jesus is the Messiah, to which Jesus responds by renaming him Peter, meaning rock - “and on this rock, I will build my church…” (16:18). Peter is given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and is told, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (16:19). The phrase is repeated to all of the apostles in chapter 18, verse 18, hence why some scholars claim the fourth discourse to have begun in chapter 16.
Jesus predicted his death at the end of chapter 16 and did so twice more in chapter 17. At the beginning of that chapter, however, is Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus speaks to Moses and Elijah on a mountain (17:1-13). This is followed by the exorcism of a boy possessed by a demon (17:14-21) and the miracle of the coin in the fish’s mouth (17:24-27).
Chapter 18, in which the majority of the Discourse on the Church takes place, focuses on the preparation of the disciples for the post-crucifixion church. It begins with the teaching of Jesus about little children, which is repeated briefly in chapter 19: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (18:3, NIV) Jesus went on to say that anyone who caused someone to “stumble” would never go to heaven. He advised it would be better to chop off the parts that caused you to stray, be it foot, hand or eye than spend eternity in hell. Jesus followed with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (18:10-14) and concluded the chapter with the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (18:23-35).
The final discourse does not begin until chapter 23. Before then, Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, speaking to people along the way. He gave the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (19:1-16) and healed two unnamed blind men near Jericho (10:29-34) before eventually making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11). Several notable events occur in chapters 21 and 22, starting with the cleansing of the Temple (21:12-17) and the cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22), which lead to Jesus having his authority questioned (21:23-27). Jesus responded to this with three parables: The Two Sons, The Wicked Husbandman, and The Wedding Feast (21:28-22:14).
Jesus was subjected to several debates throughout chapter 22. Firstly, Jesus was asked if he believed in paying taxes to Caesar, which prompted the response: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.” (22:21) Secondly, the Sadducees tried to trick Jesus by asking complicated questions about the resurrection of the dead, to which Jesus reminded them that God was the God of the living. Finally, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (22:36, NASB) Jesus responded by paraphrasing the Torah: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (22:37-39, NASB, see Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 9:17-18)
The fifth and final discourse includes Matthew 23, 24 and 25 and is usually known as the Olivet Discourse because it was given on the Mount of Olives, however, some refer to it as the Discourse on the End Times. Jesus’ disciples were curious about the future, particularly the “end of the age”. Jesus responded by predicting the destruction of the Temple, which sat opposite the Mount of Olives. He warned them about the Antichrist, false prophets and persecution. He warned of earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and fearful events that would lead up to the Second Coming of Christ. Having concluded his final discourse, Jesus turned his attention to his approaching crucifixion.
The events of the final three weeks of Jesus’ life had already begun before the Olivet Discourse with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple. The next event, after the discourse, was the anointing of Jesus, which is recorded in all four Gospels. Jesus visited the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany and while he was there “a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.” (26:7, NIV) The act was a sign of Jesus’ approaching death - perfume was often used to prepare a body for burial. Following this, Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and offered to hand Jesus to them in exchange for money - 30 pieces of silver.
The famous Last Supper takes place in Matthew 26 during which Jesus identifies Judas as his betrayer. Jesus also told Peter, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." (26:34) Although Peter protested, before the end of the chapter it had come to pass as Jesus had said. Jesus then went to the Garden of Gethsemane, taking only Peter, James and John, where he prayed to God until Judas arrived with a large crowd who arrested Jesus. He was tried by the Sanhedrin before Pontius Pilate, who symbolically washed his hands of the matter. Chapter 27 details the torture Jesus was subjected to, ending with his death upon the cross.
Chapter 28, the final chapter in the Gospel of Matthew, contains the Great Commission. Mary Magdalene “and the other Mary” had gone to look at the tomb only to discover that Jesus was no longer there. Jesus then appeared to them asked, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (28:10, NIV) The Great Commission only encompasses verses 16 to 20 but is important, nonetheless. In Matthew’s account, which is considered the most famous version, Jesus gives the disciples the following instructions: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” These are the final words of the Gospel.
The Gospel of Matthew contains approximately 76% of the content of the Gospel of Mark, suggesting the latter was written first. Matthew has appropriated the key Christological texts from Mark - the theological doctrine of Christ - rewriting them from his own understanding. Matthew’s main concern was to preserve Jewish traditions that were gradually being eradicated in the increasingly Gentile church. Quoting or paraphrasing verses from the Old Testament was one method of doing this. Matthew painted Jesus as a new Moses and emphasised that Jesus was fulfilling and not destroying the Law.
Believing in the divine nature of Jesus separated Matthew’s community from the other Jews. Although the Gospel is sometimes considered to be a reinterpretation of Mark, Matthew’s subtle changes specifically emphasised Jesus’ divinity. For instance, Mark writes of “a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe” (Mark 16:5, ESV) by the empty tomb, whereas Matthew describes the figure as an angel of the Lord whose “appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” (28:3, NIV) Matthew’s record of Jesus’ miracles also expresses his divine nature, whereas Mark writes as though Jesus was an emissary of God. Despite primarily being the story of the life of Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew is a reflection of the struggles between the evangelist communities and the other Jews, particularly the Pharisees.
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon