The Gospel of Matthew

 

What is a Gospel?  The word "Gospel" originates from a Greek word and means "Good News."

 

Note:  Remember that I will use the following outline when I discuss each NT book:

·         -Author

·         -Place and Time of Writing

·         -A Unique Characteristic of that Book

·         -Audience

·         -Theme:  A one-sentence summary of the contents of the book

·        - I will then give additional information

 

Also, for an introductory class of this type, I can only give you an overview of each NT book.

 

Author: 

·         -Matthew, one of the 12 Original Apostles. 

·         -A tax collector from Capernaum (northern Israel, close to Nazareth where Jesus grew up).  This would have made him a hated man amongst the Jews, and especially amongst the Zealots.  He either collected taxes for the Romans or for Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great), who was a puppet ruler propped up by the Romans.  Tax collectors were often wealthy men; they gained some of their wealth by charging more than the taxes they were supposed to collect.  This made the Jews hate them even more. 

·         -Also called "Levi."

 

Place and Time of Writing

·         -The place is unknown, and the time of writing is approximately 80. 

·         -Please note:  Different New Testament scholars have different theories on the place and time of writing.  After reading many sources, I am giving you the most commonly held dates. 

·         -Optional:  As an example of different dates for Matthew:  The Gospel of Matthew mentions the Temple in Jerusalem.  We know that the Temple was destroyed the second time in AD 70, and some scholars believe that, in order for the Gospel of Matthew to mention the Temple, it must have still been standing.  Therefore, some scholars believe Matthew was written before 70.  Other scholars say that Matthew was referring back to a time when the Temple was still standing.  Think about this example:  if you visited New York City before 2001, you might have gone to the top of one of the two towers that were destroyed.  You might say today:  “I went to the top of one of the towers.”  We all know that they were destroyed, but in your statement you would mention them as if they were still standing.  Some scholars say Matthew does the same thing.  In the year 80 everyone knew the Temple was destroyed, but when he spoke about a time before its destruction he spoke as if it was still standing. 

 

Unique Characteristics

          -The Gospel of Matthew is a Synoptic Gospel. 

         - "Synoptic" means "same perspective."  ("syn" like synonym and means “same,” and "optic" like “eye” or “perspective”).  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share many of the same stories whereas the Gospel of John mainly contains new information.  Therefore these three Gospels are called Synoptic Gospels to signify this commonality.  Nevertheless, although they share many of the same stories, but they do have different themes. 

 

Audience

         - Jews

 

Theme

         -Jesus was a spiritual Messiah.  (Remember that “Messiah” means “chosen one.”)

         -Note:  Since Matthew was writing mainly to Jews, he focused on presenting Jesus as the Messiah (or leader) that they had been waiting on.  Also, some Jews (notably the Zealots) wanted a military Messiah, and so Matthew showed that Jesus was not a military Messiah but a spiritual Messiah.

 

Opening Matthew Up

 

Jewish aspects of Matthew

 

Matthew frequently includes (32 times) the little phrase "kingdom of heaven."  This phrase does not appear anywhere else in the NT.  Matthew does this because he is trying to show that God's kingdom is not on earth (See the Covenant with Abraham) but is a spiritual kingdom.  This means that it is everywhere God's people are and is not limited geographically to one place, such as Israel. 

 

The Gospel of Matthew has 5 divisions

1.       Narrative, chapters 3-4; Teaching, chs 5-7

2.       Narrative, chs 8-9; Teaching, ch 10

3.       Narrative, chs 11-12; Teaching, ch 13

4.       Narrative, chs 14-17; Teaching, ch 18

5.       Narrative, chs 19-22; Teaching, chs 23-25

·         In addition, it includes a Prologue (chs 1-2) that tells of the birth of Jesus, and an Epilogue (chs 26-28) that tells of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So in between the birth and death stories of Jesus are five sections.

·         In addition, at the end of each of the Teachings, Matthew includes the phrase “And when Jesus had finished saying these things” (or something similar).  This phrase occurs five times in Matthew to show the five main divisions of Matthew.

·         But you have to ask, “Who cares?  Why is that important?”

·         Because Matthew as written mainly to Jews.  The first five books of the Bible are known as the Pentateuch to Christians, but are known as the Torah to Jews.  To Jews the Torah is the most important part of the Tanak (or Old Testament) because it includes descriptions of the Covenant of Abraham and the Law of Moses, which are the two cornerstones of Judaism.  Therefore Matthew is trying to show that Jesus fulfilled the Tanak/OT.  Gentiles (which is what non-Jews are called) would not pick up on that, but Jews would have recognized the five-division clue. 

 

The birth story of Jesus:  The Magi vs the Shepherds

    The Nativity or birth story of Jesus has these main characters:  Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds, and the Magi.  But this is the interesting part:  Matthew describes Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the Magi, whereas Luke describes Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the shepherds.  (Mark and John do not discuss the birth story of Jesus, and we will discuss that more once we get to those two Gospels.)

    Why does Matthew discuss the Magi and Luke discuss the shepherds, but neither discusses the other aspect?  Because of what each author is trying to do.  Matthew is trying to show that Jesus was a Spiritual Messiah.  If you are trying to show that, whom do you discuss:  the Magi or the shepherds?  That is why Matthew discusses the Magi, because he is trying to show that Jesus was a spiritual leader and so he has leaders visiting Jesus.  We will see that Luke’s theme is the compassion of Jesus and how Jesus was accessible to everyone, and so Luke has everyday working people visit Jesus, i.e., the shepherds.

 

One of the first actions of Jesus after he was baptized was to preach the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  This sermon is significant in making another connection to Judaism.  We have discussed the Law of Moses, but we did not discuss where Moses was when he received the Law.  The OT books of Exodus-Deuteronomy describe Moses on a mountain when he received the Law.  Therefore, Matthew is trying to show the Jews of his day that Jesus is the new Moses by mentioning that Jesus preached his first sermon from a mountaintop. Jesus even says this in this Sermon:  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (5:17)

·         Note:  This will be an important piece of the puzzle which ties Judaism and Christianity together, but I will wait until we discuss the book of Acts before I explain this in full because we have to discuss other events first.

 

Jesus repeatedly quotes from the OT in the Gospel of Matthew.  This connection was important to Jews who read this Gospel.  As an example, Luke was writing to Greek Gentiles, who didn’t care about the Jewish religion.  Therefore, Luke does not mention many verses from the OT. 

·         In doing this, Matthew shows how Jesus fulfilled or completed many of the prophecies of the OT.  To explain a bit more:  Matthew believed that God spoke to people in the OT and told them that Jesus would come one day and even described characteristics of Jesus.  That is known as a prophecy.  Matthew discusses many of these OT prophecy verses and shows how they described Jesus. 

 

Matthew mentions Jewish practices but does not describe them in the Gospel of Matthew.  Let me discuss the Gospel of Mark briefly as an example of this difference.  Mark was writing to Gentiles (non-Jews).  Whenever he mentioned Jewish practices he sometimes described them for his non-Jewish audience because they would not have known what they were.  On the other hand, whenever Matthew mentioned Jewish practices he did not need to describe them for his Jewish audience.

·         From Matthew:  Hand washing 15:2:  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

·         The same story in Mark 7:2-4:  “[The Pharisees] saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed.  (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.  When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash.  And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)”

 

A characteristic of all the Gospels

 

Jesus often talked in parables:  This is a story that has a meaning.  Jesus used parables many times in the Synoptic Gospels but only occasionally in the Gospel of John.  (Remember that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called Synoptic Gospels because they share many of the same stories; this includes parables.)

 

What did Jesus have to offer the people of that day? 

·         Anyone can come to God through Jesus

o    Someone did not have to join a race (such as Jews) or a cult or group (such as the religion of worshipping the Roman emperor) in order to come to and pray to God, but anyone could get to God by faith in Jesus.

·         God’s forgiveness does not require sacrifice (offering an animal to be killed) but repentance (being truly sorry)

o    All other religions of that day required sacrifices.  Jesus taught that obedience to God was better than making a sacrifice.  In other words, God desires one’s heart and mind to be focused on God instead of simply offering a sacrifice to try to please God.

·         Love for everyone

o    In a world where everyone focused on him/herself, Jesus tried to teach the importance of loving everyone. 

 

Why did the Jewish leadership want to kill Jesus?  (In other words, why was he a threat to the Jewish leadership?)

·         He represented a radical change in society:  This could cause problems with the Jews and the Romans.  Jesus gained many followers.  At one point, 5000 men plus women and children came to hear him speak.  The Jewish leadership saw this as a threat to the status quo and instead wanted to maintain the system they had with the Romans (Remember, this was more the attitude of the Sadducees and Herodians than of the Pharisees and Zealots.) 

·         He represented a threat to the Jewish authority:  By saying that anyone can come to God, and they could come through Jesus, this undercut the authority of the Jewish High Priest and the Jewish sacrifices. 

·         He represented a radical change in religion:  Jesus attempted to move people from a Jewish faith based on Abraham and Moses to one based on him.  He mentioned this in the Sermon on the Mount when he said he came to fulfill the “Law and the Prophets” but not to do away with them.  Jesus intended to cause a change in the faith of the Jews, and the Jewish leadership did not like that. 

Why did Jesus die on a cross?  There were simpler ways for the Romans to kill someone.

Capital punishment took on many forms, yet the most “popular” form used by Romans was crucifixion.  But why? 

    Let’s talk about the process of crucifixion in order to answer that question.  Usually a person was beat or whipped before being crucified.  You may think that being crucified was bad enough, so why beat or whip someone first?  Think about it this way.  If someone grabbed you and started to crucify you, would you fight back?  Most likely yes.  So, recognizing this, the Romans usually beat the fight out of someone before they crucified them. 

    Also, the Romans always crucified someone outside the city and not inside.  The reason is that they used crucifixion as a symbol to the people they conquered:  if you rebel, we will do this to you.  Therefore, as you approached a city you would see people crucified outside the city gates.  This caused people to think twice before they committed any crime, especially rebellion. 

    Plus, you did not have to rebel against the Roman government in order to be crucified.  The Gospels state that two thieves were crucified with Jesus.  So something as simple as theft could get you crucified.  But I want to be clear:  theft did not get you automatically crucified.  Since crucifixion was used as a symbol, people could be arbitrarily crucified for lesser crimes than rebellion.

    And what killed you during crucifixion?  Suffocation.  Loss of blood didn’t kill someone because the Romans only whipped or nailed a person to the cross.  Instead, after being hung on the cross, a person would get tired and slump his body and suffocate.  This could happen in hours or could take days.  So crucifixion was a horrible death because someone slowly suffocated over many hours.

Outline of Matthew

 

Chapters

1-2:  Genealogy and Birth story of Jesus

3-4:  Baptism and early ministry of Jesus

·         Baptism by John the Baptist

·         Temptation of Jesus in the desert by the devil

·         First sermons

·         Called first Apostles

·         Begins to heal

5-7:  Sermon on the Mount

8-9:  Lists of healings

10:  Jesus sends out the 12 Apostles

11:  Jesus describes John the Baptist, denounces cities that wouldn’t repent, and prays

12:  Jesus declares he is the “Lord of the Sabbath” and denies he is from the devil

13:  Jesus tells numerous parables

14:  John the Baptist beheaded, and Jesus performs two miracles

15:  Jesus describes someone with a “clean” heart, and performs two miracles

16:  The Pharisees and Sadducees question Jesus, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus predicts his death

17:  The Transfiguration (where Jesus is physically changed and meets with Moses and Elijah), Jesus heals a boy, and a miracle with a fish

18:  Jesus answers questions and tells a parable

19:  Jesus discusses divorce, has little children come to him, and invites a rich young man to join him (the man declined)

20:  Jesus tells a parable, predicts his death, has a conversation with his Apostles, and heals two blind men

21:  First part:  The Triumphal Entry (where Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem the week before he is killed)

21-28:  These chapters discuss the events and teachings of Jesus in the last week of his life.

Last part of 28:  At this point Jesus takes his Apostles to a hilltop.  He gives them his last instructions, which is known as the “Great Commission”:  He tells them to travel to the entire world and tell others about him.  He then ascends out of sight.

Readings from Matthew

The first part of the Sermon on the Mount:  5:1-12:  5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

A teaching:  11:25-30:  11:25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

A parable with an explanation:  21:28-32:  21:28 "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 29 " 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. 31 "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes [or ordinary people] are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you [who were the religious leaders]. 32 For John [the Baptist] came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

 

Timeline so far      Additions are boldfaced

63BC

Rome Empire conquered Israel without fighting

44BC

Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and others.  Mark Antony tries to seize power, and he and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew) fight for power.

40BC

The Roman Empire made Herod the Great king of Israel

37BC

Antony married Cleopatra in Egypt

31BC

Octavian’s forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces; they committed suicide the next year.

27BC

Octavian is given name of Augustus, becomes Augustus Caesar.  This is the beginning of Pax Romana

4 BC

Jesus born

He could have been born as early as 7 BC, but we will use 4 B.C.

4 BC

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt because Herod the Great wanted to kill Jesus

4 BC

Herod the Great died

4 BC

After Herod the Great died, the kingdom of the Jews was divided and given to Herod’s three sons:

  • The northern part, north of Nazareth, went to Philip.

  • The middle part called Galilee, north of Jerusalem but where Nazareth was located, went to Herod Antipas.  (He is referred to as “Herod” in the Gospels and so this can be confusing.)

  • The southern part called Judea, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem was located, went to Herod Archelaus. 

AD

All years after this point are AD

Before

6

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return to Nazareth instead of moving to Bethlehem

6

Archelaus is removed from power because he was so brutal

6 and after

The Romans did not choose another of Herod’s descendants to control Judea (southern Israel) but instead appointed Roman governors.

8

Jesus lost in Jerusalem at age 12; Joseph and Mary find him in the Temple; possible Bar Mitzvah

8-27

Jesus probably worked as a carpenter

26-36

The Roman governor in charge of southern Israel was Pilate

27

Jesus baptized by John the Baptist

27-30

Jesus traveled in Israel while preaching, teaching, and performing miracles

30

Jesus was crucified under the Roman governor Pilate; Jesus raises from the dead three days later and ascends out of sight about a month-and-a-half later

66

Some of the Jews got tired of the Roman rule and killed many Roman soldiers.  They thus took back the land of Israel for the Jews.

66-70

The Romans counter-attacked.  The Romans lost one battle, but won the war.

70

The Romans captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple. 

80

Matthew written around this year

81-96

Domitian is Roman emperor

95

Persecution of Christians

367

First listing of the 27 books in a letter written by an Egyptian bishop

390s

Two councils “closed” the NT canon to those 27 books

1200s

NT divided into chapters

1500s

NT divided into verses

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