Good News for Jews and All Other Religious Peoples
Although the arrangement of the books of the Bible may not be inspired by God, it is an historical fact that spiritual and scholarly men supervised the arrangement of the books of the New Testament canon. Therefore, it is no accident that the Gospel of Matthew is first. Even Renan, the French skeptic, said of this Gospel, “…the most important book in Christendom — the most important book that ever has been written.” This Gospel stands like a swinging door between the two Testaments. It swings back into the Old Testament and gathers up prophecies fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, and it swings into the New Testament and speaks of the “new creation” of God, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
Notes and Audio Lessons
The Apostle Matthew seems to have written to strengthen persecuted Jewish believers in their faith and to assure them that the gospel was not a rejection of Old Testament prophecies but rather an outworking of the great promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. The Jews needed to know of the Messiah’s Person and work and to have objections removed that hindered unbelieving Jews. The writer achieves this purpose by proving:
- the kingship of the predicted divine-human Messiah;
- that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament predictions in His Person and work;
- that He produced the credentials of Israel’s King and announced teachings of the kingdom;
- that His Person and work were rejected by the nation;
- that He announced a new program, His death, resurrection, and second advent; and
- that after this present age of His building the church, He will return to set up His kingdom.
The gospel of Matthew is thus uniquely the gospel for the Jews, especially devout, religious Jewish persons looking for Messiah’s return.
Between the Old and New Testaments
There is a significant gap in time between the Old and New Testaments. But while He may have been silent, God was certainly not inactive during that period. God was using world leaders and historical events to shape the world for the coming of the Messiah. CLICK HERE to access an interactive historical timeline of world leaders and events from 480 B.C. to the birth of Christ.
Keys to Understanding Matthew
Matthew presents the program of God. The “kingdom of heaven” is an expression which is peculiar to this Gospel. It occurs 32 times. The word “kingdom” occurs 50 times. A proper understanding of the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is essential to any interpretation of the Bible. The kingdom of heaven and the church are not the same. John the Baptist was the first to use the expression “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 3:2). He began his ministry with the bold and startling announcement, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry, He likewise began with this very announcement (Matthew 4:17). Neither John nor Jesus attempted to explain the meaning of the term. It is reasonable to assume that the people to whom the message was given had some conception of its meaning. The Jews of the first century in Palestine had a clearer understanding of the term than the average church member in Christendom today. They were not confused by the theologians of 19 centuries who have attempted to fit the term into some system of theology. In this they were fortunate. They understood the term to be the sum total of all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the King from heaven to set up a kingdom on this earth with heaven’s standard. The concept is not new (Daniel 2:44; 7:14, 27).
“The Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand”
To read into this expression historical occurences since John and Jesus first made that pronouncement is inconsistent with Scripture. The kingdom was near in the person of the King, Jesus. The kingdom has not been postponed, as God still intends to carry out His earthly purpose on schedule — “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). God’s dealing with men since the rejection and crucifixion of the King has been in the framework of the kingdom of heaven. He is carrying out a heavenly purpose today “bringing many sons unto glory” (Hebrews 2:10). The calling out of the church is not synonymous with the kingdom of heaven, though the church is in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13). Neither is the term “kingdom of God” synonymous with “kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom of God”’ is a broader term that encompasses all of God’s creation, including angels. The graphic below may be helpful in thinking of these terms with the proper distinction.
The Church in the Kingdom of Heaven
The church is in the kingdom of heaven, but it is not the same; likewise it is in the kingdom of God. Los Angeles is in the state of California, but it is not the same. California is in the United States and is part of it, but it is not identical to the whole country — in spite of what the Chamber of Commerce claims.
The Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven
It will be seen that the term “kingdom of heaven” is a progressive term in the Gospel of Matthew. It assumes the mystery form during the days of the rejection of the King, but the King becomes a sower in the world (Matthew 13). The kingdom will be established on this earth at the return of the King (Matthew 24, 25).
The Four Gospels – Like A Modern Website
The four Gospels constitute a modern website: Matthew is like a glitzy flash intro, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”; Mark carries bold page headers, “Behold my servant” (as a minimum we need to know the major events of God’s program); Luke provides the detailed content and blog pages — he alone records the songs connected with the birth of Christ, the stories of the Good Samaritan and of the Prodigal Son; John provides the “About Us” pages — he has written in detail on the bread of life, the water of life, the true vine, and the Christian life.
The subject of the gospel of Matthew is outlined in the first verse, it is “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). The Jews of that day were diligent about maintaining their genealogies to show their tribal heritage. For example, land ownership and positions of authority were based on tribal heritage. Similarly, a Jew could not serve as priest unless he could show he was of the tribe of Levi. In that first verse of Matthew, our Lord is related to two of the most important OT covenants, the Davidic (2 Samuel 7:8-16) and the Abrahamic (Genesis 15:18). Matthew, accordingly, describes Jesus Christ in this twofold character. In line with the scope indicated in Matthew 1:1 he sets forth first the King the son of David, then the son of Abraham in His obedience unto death. In this book the covenant King of Israel, David’s “righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15) is presented. The first twenty-five chapters deal with the King of the Davidic covenant; His royal birth in Bethlehem, fulfilling Micah 5:2; the ministry of John the Baptist, the King’s forerunner, fulfilling Malachi 3:1; the ministry of the King Himself, His rejection by the nation Israel, and His predictions of His second coming in power and great glory. S. Lewis Johnson says, “The theme of Matthew, then, is the presentation of the King and His kingdom to the nation in fulfillment of the OT prophecy” (Bibliotheca Sacra 112 [April 1955]: 144). Not until the closing part of the book (Matthew 26-28), does Matthew revert to the Abrahamic covenant. He then records the propitiatory death of the son of Abraham. To determine the “structure” and purpose of the gospel, one must take this division in 1:1 into consideration. The book is peculiarly the gospel for Israel, but as proceeding from the atonement of Christ, a gospel of world outreach.
Outline: “Behold Your King”
Matthew presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the King of Kings:
- Person of the King: Chapters 1, 2
- Preparation of the King: Chapters 3:1 — 4:16
- Propaganda of the King: Chapters 4:17 — 9:35
- Program of the King: Chapters 9:36 — 16:20
- Passion of the King: Chapters 16:21 — 27:66
- Power of the King: Chapter 28
There is a progression in Matthew from the first chapter through the twenty-eighth. You must know Matthew to understand the Bible. You can no more understand the Bible without understanding the Gospel of Matthew than you can write without an alphabet.
The Gospel of Matthew was incontestably written by Jesus’ apostle Matthew. Matthew’s original name was Levi and he was a Jew whose father’s name was Alphaeus. As a Jewish tax collector (Matthew 9:9) for the Romans at Capernaum, he would have been much hated by the Jews from whom he extracted taxes. So it is unimaginable that his name would have been attached to the first gospel. Seventeen independent witnesses of the first four centuries attest to the genuineness of the Gospel of Matthew. Thus, Matthew, the converted publican, was chosen by God to write to the Jews concerning their Messiah.
Despite the critical claim that Matthew originally wrote the gospel in Aramaic, this contention has never been proved. If there was an Aramaic original, it disappeared at an early date. The Greek gospel, which is now the church’s heritage, was almost beyond doubt written in Matthew’s lifetime. The Jewish historian Josephus furnishes an illustration of the fate of the Hebrew original of Matthew, if such ever existed. The celebrated historian himself tells us that he penned his great work “The History of the Jews’ Wars” originally in Aramaic, his native tongue, for the benefit of his own nation and that he subsequently rendered it in Greek.
The book of Matthew, like the other synoptics and the book of Acts, does not report the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple but describes these events as still future. These books had been written either before this tragedy or a long time after it. But it would be indeed rash to put them long after a.d. 70. Therefore, they must have been penned before that date. Since Luke’s gospel is earlier than Acts, and Matthew is certainly earlier than Luke, it seems entirely probable that if he wrote an Aramaic original he did so around a.d. 40-45. This would place the Greek Matthew around the middle of the first century a.d.
(Information Sources: The New Ungers Bible Dictionary and Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible Notes and Outlines – Matthew)