The Title.—The title comes from the one believed to be the author of this Gospel, Matthew or Levi. Converted under the ministry of Christ, he became an apostle and his name appears seventh or eighth in the New Testament lists of the apostles (Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18; Lk. 1:15).
The Author.—According to early historical testimony, the traditional view of authorship has been that of Matthew or Levi. Externally, there is strong evidence for the traditional position. Papias says that "Matthew composed the Logia in the Hebrew tongue; and each one interpreted them as he was able". In further support of this Irenaeus testifies: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect". Origen and others also believed the same, making it appear that by the second century most recognized Matthew as the writer of this Gospel.
Internally, this view is strengthened by the following considerations:
(1.) The Gospel displays the background of Matthew. This is especially evident in the numerical interest of the writer as seen in the genealogy and in the parables which involve monetary items. See also Mt. 18:24; 25:15.
(2.) The writer refers to himself as "Matthew the tax-gatherer" (10:3), while the remaining Synoptics simply call him Matthew. This may suggest his feeling of unworthiness in taking his place as an apostle. Furthermore, in referring to the feast in Matthew's home, Luke calls it a great feast and all the Synoptics report it as held in Matthew's home except Matthew who says nothing of its magnitude nor of the fact that the feast was held in his home. This may suggest that Matthew was the author, but felt it improper to discuss himself as the other Gospel writers do.
(3.) The book throughout appears to have been written by a Christian Jew who knew a tremendous amount about the life and teachings of Jesus as well as the Old Testament. On this point Thiessen writes:
If we note that he quotes or alludes to the Old Testament more frequently than any other of the evangelists; that he quotes from both the Hebrew and the Septuagint; that he makes use of Hebrew parallelism; that his thought and outlook are Hebraistic; that he speaks much of the "kingdom of heaven," perhaps in allusion to the prophecies in Daniel; we feel impressed that this Gospel was written by a patriotic Christian Jew.
All of these factors point to Matthew as the probable author.
At this point, a question concerning composition needs to be asked: Did Matthew write an Aramaic original from which our Greek Gospel is a translation? Evidence for this idea comes from Papias who testified that "Matthew wrote the words in the Hebrew dialect and each one interpreted as he could".
While many affirm from this that Matthew's Gospel is a translation from an original Aramaic, several problems present themselves to this view. The Greek text of Matthew does not bear any marks of being a translation. Further, there is no real trace of an Aramaic original in Matthew.
In view of these contentions how is one to understand Papias? Some believe that Matthew recorded only the discourses of Jesus in Aramaic and later used these when he wrote his Greek original. The problem with this, however, is that it seems to do injustice to the evidence of Papias. The word "logia" as used by Papias refers to "oracles" or God's complete message to man in the New Testament (Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2; Heb. 5:12; I Pet. 4:11). There is no indication that Papias used this word differently in his writing. Furthermore, Papias, according to Irenaeus, "always taught the things he had learned from the apostles". In view of this it seems best to suggest that Matthew wrote both an Aramaic original and a Greek original. This reconciles both Papias and the internal testimony of Matthew's Gospel. Once the Greek Matthew became current and popular, the Aramaic Matthew dropped out.
The Date.—It seems evident that the book was written prior to a.d. 70 since the book speaks of Jerusalem's overthrow (Mt. 24:1-28), but gives no evidence of this as a past event. One would not then date the composition subsequent to a.d. 70 since the city was destroyed by Titus in a.d. 70.
The book further seems to have been composed some time after the death and resurrection of Christ as seen in 27:8 and 28:15. Matthew 27:8 reads: "wherefore, that field was called, the field of blood, unto this day". In Matthew 28:15 he writes: "So they took the money, and did as they were taught; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day".
The two phrases "unto this day" and "until this day" allow for a period of time following the experience with Judas and the bribe of the soldiers.
It seems best therefore to date the composition of Matthew between a.d. 50 and a.d. 70.
The Historical Background.—The background for this Gospel may be traced through the book of Acts. As the book of Acts shows, the Church began in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had been sent according to the testimony of Christ (John 16:7-11) and His baptizing work had begun. The Church grew to 3000 converts and shortly after to the large number of 5000 men, not counting women and children (Acts 4:4).
These converts were Jews, being situated in Jerusalem, and naturally were still attracted to the temple there. While they had their own private meetings (4:23-31), they still worshipped in the sacred precincts of the temple. Persecution came immediately. Peter and John were arrested (Acts 4:5), and Stephen was stoned for his proclamation of Israel's true condition (Acts 7). Saul also arose at this time and greater persecution broke out. The result was inevitable; to scatter was necessary for physical safety.
Because of this scattering and opposition, it became necessary that something be written to encourage these Jewish believers in the faith and to clearly demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah who came in fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and to his seed. Matthew thus wrote his Gospel with this in mind.
The Purpose.—The purpose of Matthew is to encourage and confirm to the persecuted Jewish Christians that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah and the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations and covenants. The book also became a clear refutation to the disbelieving Jews who failed to submit to Christ as Messiah.
In fulfilling this purpose, the writer introduces Christ as the one having both legal and moral grounds to be the Messiah (1-4). He sets forth His proclamations and works as only Messiah could do (5-10). He pin points His rejection by the national leaders (11-12), and sets forth His private teaching and ministry among His disciples (13-20). This is followed by final rejection by the nation (21-23), and prophetic teaching concerning the future advent and role of Messiah (24-25). The rejection eventuates in His passion and death (26-27), and the author concludes with a clear demonstration that Jesus is the Christ. His resurrection is clear evidence of this fact (28).
Thiessen clearly states how the author achieves this purpose when he writes:
How does he set out to achieve this purpose? By submitting proof that Jesus in His person is the foretold divine human Messiah; that His words and works are those predicted of the Messiah; that the nation through its leaders slew Him; that His death was yet a ransom for many; that He has rejected the nation for the time being; that the "kingdom" will assume a new form during the time of the nation's rejection; that He will build His Church during this time; that His followers are commissioned to carry the Gospel to all nations, and that Christ will return to reward His followers and set up His kingdom. Are not all these ideas important to His purpose?
The theme of the book of Matthew is Christ as the Messiah and King. The book of Matthew presents Christ as Israel's King. It discusses His past offer and rejection of the kingdom by Israel, as well as gives important background for the present period of God's theocratic kingdom. The book may be divided into five basic movements: there is the preparation of the King (1:1-4:25); the presentation of the King (5:1-10:42); the rejection of the King (11:1-23:39); the later prophecies of the King (24:1-25:46), and the crucifixion and resurrection of the King (26:1-28:20).
Matthew first of all sets forth the King's preparation (1:1-4:25). He traces His genealogy through Solomon to show His legal right to David's throne (1:1-17). He then narrates the supernatural birth of Christ and His purpose to save men from their sins (1:18-25).
Wise men, seeing a star in the east, follow it and come to worship Jesus (2:1-12). Following their departure, an angel appears to Joseph and admonishes him to flee to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. He goes (2:13-15) and afterward Herod commits his mass murders of the infants in Bethlehem (2:16-18). After Herod's death, Joseph returns from Egypt to Nazareth (2:19-23) where Jesus will spend His boyhood.
Some years later, John the baptist comes on the scene to introduce the King (3:1-10). He prepares a Jewish remnant for the coming of Christ, and announces His future work and ministry (3:11-12). While John had baptized with water, Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Shortly thereafter Jesus Himself is baptized by John (3:13-17). In this act He identifies Himself with the remnant as her Messiah and scapegoat, and in addition His life is accredited by the Father when He says: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased".
This appraisal by the Father continues to be true of Christ as He beautifully handles the temptations of Satan (4:1-11). He does this by referring constantly to Scripture for His answer, and by trusting completely upon His Father. Following this, Jesus begins His ministry in Capernaum (4:12-17) and calls His first disciples (4:18-22). His ministry continues in Galilee with many miracles being performed by Him (4:23-24). The people respond and great numbers follow Christ (4:25). Matthew writes:
And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond the Jordan (Mt. 4:25).
After the preparation of the King is given, the King then presents Himself and the kingdom to the people (5:1-10:42). Christ had been preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Many who were following Him were no doubt wondering what type of righteousness was required of those desiring to enter the kingdom. Jesus therefore gives the sermon on the mount to answer this question (5:1-7:29).
He begins by giving the characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom (5:1-12) and their function as citizens in creating a thirst in others for the kingdom (5:13) and in reflecting the Father's nature (5:14-16). He then sets down the high expectations of the standards of the kingdom in contrast to those standards of the Mosaic law (5:17-48). The kingdom standards are actually a fulfillment of the Mosaic (5:17-20), moving from the external to the internal expectations. Murder (5:21-26), adultery (5:27-30), divorce (5:31-32), oaths (5:33-37). retaliation (5:38-42), and love (5:43-48) are all used to illustrate this point.
The expected outward conduct of the kingdom citizens is further discussed in the areas of both the spiritual (6:1-18) and temporal life (6:19-7:12).
Concerning the spiritual life, almsgiving (6:1-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18) are all discussed. Relative to the temporal life, a proper attitude toward money (6:19-24), worrying (6:25-34), and judging others (7:1-12) is set forth.
The sermon concludes by giving the correct entrance into the kingdom (7:13-29). The only means of entrance is a narrow gate, while the broad gate leads to destruction (7:13-14). Christ warns against false teachers as a means of obstruction (7:15-20), and against the folly of a false profession (7:21-23). A parable concerning a foolish and a wise builder conclude the sermon (7:24-27). The wise builder builds his life on Christ and His words, while the foolish man builds his on the sands of human tradition. The first stands the judgment to come because of his solid foundation, while the other does not. The sermon leaves the people astonished at His doctrine as well as His authority (7:28-29).
Having made such a proclamation, the King now demonstrates His authority (8:1-9:38). He shows His power over sickness (8:1-17), men (8:18-22), nature (8:23-27), demons (8:28-34), sins (9:1-9), tradition (9:10-17), disease (9:18-35), blindness (9:27-31), and over Satan (9:32-35). Because of His authority over these, Jesus is clearly demonstrated to be the Messiah. Each of these areas over which Christ exercised authority gives one a glimpse of the nature of Christ's kingdom. It will be a kingdom minus sickness, demons, and spiritual blindness.
After demonstrating His divine authority and Messiahship, Jesus sends forth His twelve disciples to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (10:1-42). Their calling (10:1-4), commissioning (10:5-15), coming conflict (10:16-23), and conditions of discipleship (10:24-42) are all given. They are called upon to fear (10:24-31), confess (10:32-36), love (10:37), and to follow Jesus Christ (10:38), and even to lay down their own lives for Him (10:39). Concerning this absolute discipleship required, the writer quotes Jesus as saying:
He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Mt. 10:37-39).
The author concludes this section by giving the promise of rewards for those who truly become disciples (10:40-42).
The next major movement in the book treats the rejection of the King (11:1-23:39). This large section of the book may be divided into four sub-sections: the commencement of rejection (11:1-12:50), the consequences of rejection (13:1-52), the continuation of rejection (13:53-20:34), and the culmination of rejection (21:1-23:39).
The commencement of the rejection of Christ actually begins with the rejection of the messenger of Christ, John the baptist (11:1-19). John wants to know if Jesus is really Messiah (11:1-3), and the Lord answers him by appealing to His works (11:4-6). Christ then goes on to speak of the rejection of John which was continuing up to that time (11:7-15). Christ shows the instability and indecision of that generation and rebukes the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (11:16-24) for the rejection of His mighty works. The Lord concludes His rebuke with an invitation of personal discipleship to the responsive (11:25-30).
The controversy against Jesus increases with four series of conflicts (12:1-45). The first two conflicts arise over the tradition of the Sabbath law as Christ is twice accused of breaking it (12:1-21). The worst conflict comes when Christ casts out a demon from within a man. Instead of seeing His authority, the Pharisees accuse Christ of being in league with Satan (12:22-24). Jesus refutes their charge, speaks of the unpardonable sin on their behalf, and denounces that generation in Israel (12:25-37).
Continuing in their unbelief, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign rejecting all the previous signs He had done (12:38). Jesus warns them that the only remaining sign will be that of the resurrection (12:39-41), and concludes His words by setting forth the destiny of that generation because of its rejection of Him (12:42-45). It is not sufficient to be physically related to Christ, but one must be spiritually related to Him by obedience (12:4-6-50).
In chapter thirteen, the author seeks to give the consequences of Israel's rejection (13:1-52). What has happened to cause such a rejection and what is going to happen to the kingdom now that it has been rejected by that generation in Israel? Jesus answers the first part of the question in the parable of the sower (13:1-23). Christ has sown the seed but the fault has been in the bad soil that it has fallen upon. From here, the remaining parables deal with the future of the kingdom from that time on. The period of the kingdom from the time of rejection through the tribulation period is thus dealt with.
At the end of this projected period there will be a separation between the true believers and the false ones. The parable of the tares discusses this (13:24-30). This is followed by the parables of the mustard seed (13:31-32) and the leaven (13:33). Prom a small beginning the kingdom will grow to cover the world (mustard seed). It will not be some stagnant thing, but there will be great activity and dynamic movement in the growing process (leaven).
Jesus again in the parable of the dragnet reminds His listeners of the future judgment to weed out the believers from the unbelievers (13:47-51). He concludes these parables with the parable of the householder (13:52) in which He teaches His hearers that the kingdom will now partake of things old (already known) and new (newly revealed).
The rejection of Christ continues (13:53-20:34). He is rejected in His own home, Nazareth, and because of the unbelief of the people there He could only perform very few works (13:53-58). Following His rejection in Nazareth, various classes of people reject Him. He is rejected by Herod (14:1-36), by the scribes and Pharisees (15:1-39), and by the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-12).
The rejection by Herod is seen in Herod's rejection of John the baptist (14:1-12). In the mind of Matthew, the ministry of these two is so interlocked that to reject one is to reject the other. The author follows this rejection by three miracles of Christ which clearly set forth His authority and power (14:13-36).
The scribes and Pharisees question Christ over a traditional matter (15:1-2), and Jesus answers them by showing them their sin of traditionalism (15:3-9) and the source of man's defilement (15:10-20). The writer follows up this rejection with three more miracles to demonstrate His person and power. The Pharisees and Sadducees also show their unbelief by asking Christ for a sign from heaven (16:1). Christ rebukes them (16:2-4) and warns His disciples against the doctrine (leaven) of the Pharisees (16:6-12).
In the midst of this rejection and in view of final rejection, Jesus instructs His own (16:13-20:34). He reveals various truths to them (16:13-17:13) and teaches them concerning a number of areas (17:14-20:34). His own person as Messiah is revealed to Peter (16:13-16) along with the building of the future Church (16:17-20). The death, resurrection, (16:21-23) and His glory (16:24-17:13) are also revealed. The disciples even get a glimpse of the future glory of Christ in which He is transformed before their very eyes.
After revealing these things to His disciples, Jesus teaches them concerning various important areas. He teaches them concerning faith (17:14-21), His death and resurrection (17:22-23), earthly responsibilities (17:24-27), humility (18:1-4), offences (18:6-14), future Church discipline (18:15-20), forgiveness (18:21-35), divorce (19:1-12), little children (19:13-15). wealth (19:16-26), service and rewards (19:27-20:16), personal ambition (20:17-28), and concerning His own authority and power (20:29-34).
The rejection of the King culminates with the King's entry into Jerusalem and the events which follow it (21:1-23:39). The King enters into Jerusalem preceded by a people praising Him as the Son of David (21:1-11). Following His entry, He drives the traders out of the temple a second time stirring up the wrath of the leaders (21:12-17). This event is followed by Christ's cursing of the fig tree which becomes symbolic of His own rejection of the nation (21:18-22).
The writer then commences to show the final conflict of the King with various classes of people in Israel (21:23-22:46). They approach Him with various questions. First, the priests and elders challenge His authority (21:23). Jesus replies to them with a counter question (21:24-26) and with three parables (21:28-22:14) which clearly set forth their unbelief. Secondly, the Herodians question Jesus concerning one's relation with government (21:15-17) of which Jesus answers by showing the proper relationship to both Caesar and God (21:18-22). The third group of people to come to Jesus are the Sadducees (22:23-33) who try to make the resurrection appear ridiculous and absurd. Christ answers them by showing their ignorance concerning the entire subject. The final group to question Christ are the Pharisees who approach Him through a lawyer's question (22:34-36). The lawyer asks Christ concerning the greatest commandment in the law and the Lord answers him by telling him to love God and to love his neighbor as himself. Jesus then follows up the question of the Pharisees by asking a question about His Messiahship which they cannot answer (22:41-46).
Having been rejected, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and withdraws from dealing with that generation (23:1-39). Jesus warns the multitude of the Pharisees (23:1-12) and then pronounces eight woes against them for their obstructiveness (23:13), greediness (23:14), proselytizing (23:15), casuistry (23:16-22), scrupulosity (23:23-24), superficiality (23:25-26), hypocrisy (23:27-28), and for their inconsistency (23:29-35). Following this, Jesus laments over Jerusalem (23:37), announces her desolation, and withdraws from her (23:38-39). He says:
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord (23:8-39).
Departing from the temple (24:1), Jesus announces its coming destruction (24:2).
Arriving on the Mount of Olives, the disciples ask Him when these things shall come about and also concerning the sign of His coming and the end of the age (24:3). With these two questions, the later prophetic ministry of Christ begins (24:4-25:46).
Concentrating on the second question, the writer of Matthew narrates the answer of Jesus to this question. He answers with a prophetic outline of the future events. The tribulation period is first discussed (24:4-26) in which considerable time is spent with the second half of this period. This is followed by a forecasting of the second advent of Christ (24:27-31) in which the accompanying signs are given along with the regathering of the elect after the arrival of Christ. To emphasize the supreme importance of watchfulness for this event, the parables of the fig tree (24:32-41), the householder (24:42-44), and the hired servant (24:45-51) are told.
In chapter twenty-five, Jesus tells three parables which deal with the Judgment of the Jews and Gentiles after the second advent of Christ. The parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13) is given in order to emphasize the necessity of preparation in order to enter the coming kingdom. Only those properly prepared can go in. This preparation is to be demonstrated by what one does with what the Lord gives to him. Thus, the parable of the talents (25:14-30) sets this down. Finally, the last parable of the sheep and the goats is given to show who will be taken into the kingdom (25:31-46).
Beginning with chapter twenty-six, the writer moves quickly into the last part of his book to deal with the crucifixion and resurrection of the King (26:1-28:20). He begins by discussing the events that immediately precede the crucifixion (26:1-27:26), then discusses the events of the crucifixion (27:15-21), and concludes by briefly sketching some of the events that are connected with the resurrection of Christ (28:1-20).
In dealing with the events preceding the crucifixion, Matthew goes quickly from one event to another. He discusses the announcement by Christ of His own death (26:1-2), the assembling together of His conspirators (26:3-5), the anointing of Jesus by Mary (26:6-13), the antipathy of Judas (26:14-16), and the Passover (26:17-30). The disciples arrange for the Passover and Jesus sits down to eat with them (26:20). As they are eating Jesus indicates His betrayer (26:21-25) and institutes the Lord's supper (26:26-29).
After singing a hymn and announcing the future denial of Peter (26:30-35), Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46). Great agony of heart takes place there but Jesus remains completely submissive to the Father's will. This is clearly expressed in three prayers which He utters to the Father while His followers slumber.
Following the agony comes the arrest and trial (26:47-27:26). Judas kisses Christ to identify Him (26:47-50a) and the soldiers seize Him (26:50b). Peter reacts violently (26:51) and Jesus rebukes him and submits Himself to His enemies (26:52-56). The trials of Christ follow. Matthew recounts first of all His trial before Caiaphas (26:57-75) along with the three denials of Peter (26:69-75). This is followed by His condemnation before the Sanhedrin (27:1-2) and before Pilate (27:3-26). Instead of condemning the criminal Barabbas, the crowd yells for Barabbas' release and for Christ's crucifixion. Pilate then washes his hands in an effort to escape the guilt involved and delivers Christ to be crucified.
Jesus is dressed for His crucifixion and mocked by the soldiers as He is led from the common hall to Golgotha (27:27-31). Compelling Simon the Cyrene to carry His cross, they lead Him to Calvary where He is crucified (27:33-50). Following His death, the veil of the temple is rent and a number of bodies are resurrected from the graves. When the evening arrives, Joseph of Arimathaea, gets permission to bury Christ in His tomb (27:57-61) and the tomb is sealed on the following day in order to prevent anyone from stealing the body.
Chapter twenty-eight concludes the book by setting forth the proof that Christ was indeed the King by His resurrection (28:1-20). As the two women come to the tomb they are met by an angel who announces the resurrection of Christ (28:1-8). Jesus Himself afterwards appears to the women and they run to tell the other brethren (27:9-10). Unbelief seeks to explain the resurrection by saying that the disciples stole the body (27:11-15), and the book is concluded by the commission of Jesus to His disciples (28:16-20).
Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age (28:19-20).