1. Matthew

Reggie M. Kidd


Of the four canonical Gospels, Matthew’s is the only one to use the term church (ἐκκλησία, 16:18; 18:17). For this and other reasons, Matthew’s account has always commended itself as being especially useful to the “church” that Jesus founds in this Gospel. One reason is that as a master artisan—or in his own terms, a steward of old and new (13:52)—Matthew structures his Gospel in a way that ties the Old and New Testaments together as Israel’s story and the continuation of Israel’s story in the newly emergent church. To that end, Matthew provides richly suggestive patterns for teaching (see below, for his five teaching blocks: the Sermon on the Mount [chaps. 5–7], the mission to Israel [chap. 10], parables of the kingdom [chap. 13], life in the church [chap. 18], and preparation for judgment [chaps. 23–25]).

Another reason that Matthew’s Gospel has proved so serviceable for the church’s teaching and preaching is its finely balanced sense of Jesus’s mission—its sense that God has come among us, first to forgive and heal, and then to remake and refashion. Immanuel has come to take our sin to the cross and then to work in us so that, at the core of our being, we reflect the character of our heavenly Father in what we do. Accordingly, beginning as early as Irenaeus in the second century, Christians have associated Matthew’s Gospel with the figure of the “man” in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. 3.11.8. This profound intuition takes its point of departure from the fact that Matthew begins with Jesus’s human genealogy. Matthew’s first words in Greek—literally, “A book of genesis”—indicate that he would have us understand that the human race’s new genesis takes place now in Jesus. And in the end, there is nothing that makes human beings more radiantly alive than reflecting the character of the God whose image they bear.

Background Issues


The “Gospel according to Matthew” never circulated without that title, and has long been believed to have been written by the apostle Matthew. According to Eusebius (fourth century), Papias (second century) received from John the elder (first century) the understanding that Mark wrote his Gospel as “Peter’s interpreter” (ἑρμενευτὴς Πέτρου) and that Mark did so “not in ordered form”; then Matthew “gathered together the logia [a term which can refer both to words and to deeds] in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew dialect” (Ἑβραḯδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο). 3.39.14–17 (my trans.). Early church writers and modern scholars thought that by “Hebrew dialect” Papias meant the Hebrew or Aramaic language. But Matthew’s Greek is some of the smoothest in the New Testament; more likely, Papias meant that Matthew’s “ordered arrangement” was according to Hebrew sense of style. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012], 2). See G. Scott Gleaves, Did Jesus Speak Greek? The Emerging Evidence of Greek Dominance in First-Century Palestine (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015), for a persuasive argument that Matthew’s Gospel is likely an originally Greek composition, and not a translation from the Aramaic. Thus, for instance, his arrangement (see below) of the deeds and words of Jesus into five blocks that recall the structure of the Torah.

Additionally, Origen (third century) understood Matthew to be “once a tax collector, but later an apostle of Jesus Christ; he published it for those who came to faith from Judaism.” 6.25.3–6 (my trans.). It is difficult to know by what authority Origen identifies Matthew as the tax collector—whether he has an external authority, or whether he infers it by observing (as many have since) that Matthew’s Gospel alone calls him “the tax collector” when listing him as one of the twelve apostles (Matt. 10:3). Regardless, early church tradition assigned Matthew the symbol of three purses.

C. F. D. Moule’s suggestion that Matthew 13:52 is autobiographical is attractive: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained [μαθητεύεσθαι here is cognate both with the word “disciple” (μαθητής) and with Matthew’s name (Μαθθαῖος)] for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” It is impossible to prove, despite E. J. Goodspeed’s proposal, that Matthew is pointing to the sort of note taking or secretarial skills that his craft would have required, now brought into the service of Jesus. Nonetheless, it is just as plausible as (and I suggest more so than) modern theories that bypass historical Matthew—for example, “Matthew” as a written project by a collaborative group (similar to the writings of the Essene community) (Uppsala: Gleerup, 1954). or a work produced by “a second-generation (Hellenized) Jew.”, trans. Robert R. Barr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 6. Moreover, if the intention in these theoretical instances was to appropriate the name of one of the Twelve as the author to lend legitimacy to the teaching, one might have expected the use of the name of a more illustrious apostle., 4.


Because of this Gospel’s familiarity with the Jewish world of its day, the scholarly consensus is that Matthew is written to a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian community, one that is grappling with Israel’s mission to the nations through Jesus the Messiah. This could be one of any number of churches, from Alexandria, to Jerusalem, to Antioch, Sidon, Tyre, or beyond. Matthew’s Gospel itself does not yield many clues, except perhaps that when Matthew notes the spread of Jesus’s fame early in his ministry, the Gospel writer notes his fame extending beyond Mark’s Galilee (Mark 1:39) or even Luke’s Judea (Luke 4:44) to include, of all places, Syria (Matt. 4:23–24). It was there, according to the book of Acts (see esp. Acts 11:19–30; 13–14), that the early church first learned how to bridge the gulf between its Jewish roots and the Gentile mission, and where “the church” was gaining an independent identity as being made up of “Christians.” It was there that Matthew’s Gospel is first cited, and heavily so, by a postbiblical church leader, to wit, Ignatius (second century), Bishop of Syrian Antioch (e.g., using Matt. 3:15, “to fulfill all righteousness,” when describing Jesus’s baptism). 1.1.


Most modern scholars are quite certain that Matthew was written after AD 70, that is, after the Jewish war that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. Matthew 22:7 presumably forecasts Jerusalem’s destruction after the fact: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” And there is the fact that of all four Gospels, Matthew alone uses the word church to refer to Jesus’s followers. That fact in combination with the indication of the destruction of Jerusalem is thought to be decisive in a post–AD 70 dating of Matthew. Only then, so it is assumed, does “the church” come into self-consciousness for Jewish Christians as an entity distinct from synagogue and temple.

To the contrary, contends J. A. T. Robinson, Matthew’s (and the other Gospels’ as well) references to the destruction of Jerusalem are restrained enough to make us wonder if they are not read better as coming before the events. Matthew 22:7, says Robinson, could presuppose, but does not require, a post–AD 70 dating, especially when compared with references, say, in the Sibylline Oracles that clearly are after AD 70.(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), esp. 19–26. And the prophecies in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse (chap. 24) are decidedly forward looking; especially telling is the inclusion of an “immediately” between the destruction (24:29) and “the end [consummation] of the age” (24:3) to follow. And, as Robinson contends, from “references to conditions in Jerusalem ‘to this day’ (27:8; cf. 28:15), one would have expected him of all people to draw attention to the present devastation of the site.”(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 23. See also the very fine defense of the authenticity of Jesus’s prophecies against the temple in Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 250–53.

These considerations, along with other indications that temple practice continues in Matthew’s day (e.g., leaving your gift at the altar, paying the temple tax, swearing by the gift on the altar—Matt. 5:23–24; 17:24–27; 23:16–22), suggest that Irenaeus got it right: Matthew wrote “at the time when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel and founding the church in Rome.” 3.1.1 (my trans.).

It is indeed true that one of the most distinctive things about Matthew’s Gospel is that his is the only one to use the word church. For that reason, many scholars wrongly assume that this Gospel has read back into Jesus’s ministry a teaching that could not possibly have come from him but must have been attributed to him after his death and (supposed) resurrection. sayings (16:18; 18:17) in K. L. Schmidt, “ἐκκλησία,” TDNT, 3:518–26. To the contrary, if the New Testament’s unanimous sense of Jesus’s mission is correct (death and resurrection, followed by ascension and the proclamation of the gospel), it is altogether reasonable to see him anticipating a communal embodiment of his work in the wake of his death, resurrection, and ascension. Moreover, Jesus’s preparing of his followers for the rise of the “church” reckons most satisfactorily with the profound Jewishness of his sense of the corporate nature of God’s self-expression in human history. God images his life into the world through the dyad of male and female, through the family of Abraham, through the “peculiar possession” of the children of Israel, through the nation that comes together under David and Solomon, and through the “remnant” through whom he works even in exile. That Matthew has Jesus talking about the “church” is no argument for a late date.


Regardless of the precise location of the audience and date of composition, the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel seems to be at least threefold:

  1. to demonstrate that the Hebrew Scriptures have all along been pointing to Jesus as Messiah and inaugurator of God’s kingdom “now and not yet”;
  2. to show that Jesus has brought forgiveness and personal renewal, enabling a true understanding and keeping of the Torah’s intent; and
  3. to explain how Jesus, who is “with you to the end of the age,” is forming a community—that is, the “church”—of Jewish and Gentile followers to model the presence of God’s kingdom in the present age and to take God’s mission to the nations.

It is in this instruction, showing Jewish and non-Jewish believers how to live together, through lives transformed from the inside out, that the Gospel of Matthew provides deep, rich preaching material for the pastor who desires to help a congregation develop an authentic and loving witness to a skeptical world.


To most scholars, that the Gospel of Matthew relies heavily on Mark is beyond debate: at least 90 percent of Mark shows up here, but in Matthew the stories are compressed and cleaner. Consistently, Matthew displays a clearer, more concise and correct use of Greek than does Mark. Events are usually recounted in Mark’s sequence—but not always. Where Matthew departs from Mark in chronology, Luke tends to agree with Mark. In fact, it is generally agreed by conservative and liberal scholars alike that Mark and Luke are more governed by chronology, while Matthew is more interested in thematic development. Regardless, it is easier for most who look into the matter to assume that if there is a literary relationship, it is more likely that Matthew is using Mark as part of his framework than that Mark works off of Matthew. This is especially so since otherwise Mark “drops” 50 percent of the material in Matthew overall and yet expands, without literary elegance, Matthew’s tightly crafted stories and sayings. Worth a mention is that, in modern scholarship, there has always been a minority report arguing that if there is a literary relationship, Matthew came first, and Mark adapted his material. However, we note, with Leon Morris, “It is not easy to understand why Mark in abbreviating Matthew should so consistently come up with narratives that are longer as well as more lifelike.”, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 16.

Scholars have offered various scenarios to account for the differences between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Many speculate as to the existence of a separate additional writing, the “Q” document (“Q” is short for the German Quelle, or “source”), as the underlying source for teaching material shared by Matthew and Luke (e.g., Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain). Along with a hypothesized “M” document to account for material unique to Matthew (e.g., the sheep and the goats) and a hypothesized “L” document to account for material unique to Luke (e.g., the good Samaritan), Mark and “Q” form the elements of the “four document” theory by which majority scholarship proposes to account for the three Synoptic Gospels. I must take issue with how easily modern scholarship insists that the relationships among the Gospels have to be accounted for by appeal to mere documents (whether actual, like Mark’s, or hypothesized, like “M” and “L” and “Q”). There is every reason to think that each of the four Gospels is directly (for Matthew, see 13:52; for Mark, see 14:51–52; and for John, see 19:35; 21:24–25) or indirectly (for Luke, see 1:1–4) a product of eyewitness accounts—and, moreover, eyewitnesses who participated in a complex relational network of shared experiences and varying perspectives.

Some of the differences between the Gospels concern sequence (the order of the temptations of Christ) or timing (did Jesus cleanse the temple at the beginning of his ministry, at the end, or both?). For this particular overview of Matthew, what matters is to recognize that Matthew has, for his own reasons, arranged his material thematically. As John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy point out, “The evangelists felt free to rearrange the order of events to suit the points they were making.” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 148. And, just to clarify, it is only under the most questionable of assumptions that thematic arrangement and historicity are deemed to be incompatible.

Structure and Outline

Matthew is “the architect among the Evangelists,” says Herman Ridderbos., World Christian Books (New York: Association Press, 1958), 19. Ridderbos follows a widely accepted and, to my mind, eminently satisfying schema, notwithstanding the objections of Werner Georg Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, rev. ed., trans. Howard Clark Kee (Nashville: Abingdon, 1973), 106. With consummate artistry, Matthew alternates the words and deeds of Jesus. In fact, he frames the whole of his portrait of Christ around five series of narratives, each culminating in one of five respective great discourses. He ends each narrative-plus-discourse section with the identical formula, nicely preserved in the ASV: “And it came to pass when Jesus finished . . .” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

  1. Genealogy, Birth, and Infancy Narratives (1:1–2:23)
  2. Series 1: From Coronation to Keynote (3:1–7:29)
    1. Narrative (3:1–4:25)
    2. Discourse: Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:27)
    3. Bridge: “When Jesus had finished these words” (7:28–29)
  3. Series 2: Call to Discipleship and Mission (8:1–11:1)
    1. Narrative (8:1–10:4)
    2. Discourse: Mission of the Disciples (10:5–42)
    3. Bridge: “When Jesus had finished commanding” (11:1)
  4. Series 3: The Wisdom of the Kingdom of Heaven (11:2–13:53)
    1. Narrative (11:2–12:50)
    2. Discourse: Parables of the Kingdom (13:1–52)
    3. Bridge: “When Jesus had finished these parables” (13:53)
  5. Series 4: The Shape of the Church (13:54–19:2)
    1. Narrative (13:54–17:27)
    2. Discourse: Living in the Kingdom/Church (18:1–35)
    3. Bridge: “When Jesus had finished these words” (19:1–2)
  6. Series 5: Preparation for Judgment (19:3–26:1)
    1. Narrative (19:3–22:46)
    2. Discourse: Woes and the Peril and Judgment to Come (23:1–25:46)
    3. Bridge: “When Jesus had finished all these words” (26:1)
  7. Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Commissioning (26:2–28:20)

The birth and death-resurrection narratives, along with the five series between them, form a chiasm.

a' Genealogy, birth, and infancy narratives (1:1–2:23)

b Series 1: From coronation to keynote (3:1–7:29)

c Series 2: Call to discipleship and mission (8:1–11:1)

d Series 3: The wisdom of the kingdom of heaven (11:2–13:53)

c' Series 4: The shape of the church (13:54–19:2)

b' Series 5: Preparation for judgment (19:3–26:1)

a' Crucifixion, resurrection, and commissioning (26:2–28:20)

The first portion of Matthew (chaps. 1–7: lineage, birth, and infancy narratives, plus series 1) consists of a movement from the genealogy of Jesus through his birth and rescue from Herod, followed by his baptism by John the Baptist and the beginnings of his public ministry (chaps. 1–4). The climax of the opening section is the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5–7), the keynote to Jesus’s teaching ministry.

Matthew begins the second portion (8:1–11:1, series 2) by clustering in chapters 8–9 several power (and healing) miracle stories that are otherwise scattered throughout Mark. Here is featured the call of Matthew the tax collector (Matt. 9:9–13, which is thought by many to be Matthew’s authorial signature). The twelve disciples are named in a single paragraph before Jesus commissions them all for the mission to Israel (chap. 10), the climax of the second section.

In the third section (11:2–13:53, series 3), Matthew provides narrative illustrations of the peculiar nature and timing of the kingdom of heaven—from John the Baptist’s question about Jesus’s identity (11:2–19), to the disciples’ plucking of grain on the Sabbath (12:1–8), to Jesus’s conflict with Beelzebul (12:22–32). Then he draws together parables—with a focus on the parable of the sower (13:1–9, 36–43)—in which Jesus teaches that the kingdom is “already and not yet,” and also hidden and revealed.

The fourth section (13:54–19:2, series 4) marks Jesus’s preparation for the cross and for the creation of the church. Appropriately, the narrative portion begins with the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (13:54–58) and the death of John the Baptist at the hand of Herod the tetrarch (14:1–12). The section takes in the full sweep of Jesus’s intention:

  1. to provide heavenly food for Israel (14:13–21), the feeding of the five thousand in Israel;
  2. to reshape God’s people by making faith the boundary marker between “clean” and “unclean” (15:1–28); and
  3. to provide bread for the nations as well as for Israel (15:32–39), the feeding of the four thousand, following Jesus’s ministry in the Decapolis and before his return to Israel.

Peter’s confession at Philippi (deep in Gentile Lebanon) becomes the occasion for Jesus to explain the ironic way in which he will save his people and build his church. The section culminates with what Frederick Dale Bruner aptly calls “The Sermon on the Congregation.”, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), Kindle ed., ad loc. Here is Jesus’s teaching on the shape of the church, the community his cross will create, marked as it will be by humility, mutual care, and forgiveness (Matthew 18).

The fifth section (19:3–28:20, series 5 and the Passion and Resurrection Narratives) begins with Jesus moving closer to Jerusalem and into deeper and deeper conflict with “the chief priests and the Pharisees” (e.g., 21:45). The narrative of his Triumphal Entry (21:1–17) as well as the accounts of his actions (like the cursing of the fig tree, 21:18–22) and teachings around the temple precincts (like the parable of the wicked tenants [21:33–45] and of the wedding banquet [22:1–14]) make it clear that the prophecy must come true:

The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone. (21:42)

The section climaxes with a long discourse that mirrors in many ways the Sermon on the Mount: the blessings of the kingdom (5:1–12) give way to the “woes” of the counter-kingdom (23:1–36). The city on a hill that makes God’s light visible (5:14–16) gives way to a city doomed for having extinguished God’s light (chap. 24). The choice to build on rock or sand (7:24–27) will prove to have been made by those who have unknowingly served or not served the King by caring for “the least of these my brothers” (25:31–46). There follow Jesus’s trial, death, resurrection, and mission to the nations. Particular Matthean features include Judas’s hanging himself, the rising of “many . . . of the saints who had fallen asleep” at Jesus’s death (27:52), the conspiracy to cover up Jesus’s resurrection, and the giving of the Great Commission.

Message and Theology

Theological Themes

Immanuel, “God with Us”

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’s “genesis,” we meet the line of Abraham, in whom, God promised, all the families of the earth would find themselves blessed. God directs his re-creative purposes for the human race through this family—and then through the kingdom that God establishes through one of Abraham’s progeny, David. Abraham’s and David’s stories were not told in a vacuum, nor were they intended to serve ethnic and national pride. They were told for “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3; cf. Ps. 22:27, one of the most Davidic psalms). It is in this human line—even through, precisely through, the torturous path of exile (Matt. 1:11–12)—that Jesus, human himself and humanity’s singular hope, appears.

After Matthew anchors Jesus’s life in the stuff of our humanity, Matthew turns to Jesus’s divinity. The Christ’s name is Jesus, which means “Yah saves.” And while the name Jesus served (and still does) as a normal human name, Matthew insists that for this child it means more. First, Jesus’s origin (his “genesis”) is not merely human, but divine as well: “she [Mary] was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18). Second, the reason he bears the name “Yah saves” is that his mission is to “save his people from their sins” (1:21), a task only God himself can perform. Third, his name is also “Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (1:23). Nor is the title “God with us” to be taken merely metaphorically, for Matthew’s Jesus maintains

  1. that when his followers gather, “there am I among them” (18:20);
  2. that when his followers baptize, they do so in his name as well as the Father’s and the Holy Spirit’s; and
  3. that wherever they may go to make disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20).

Some things are hard to put on one side of the divine-human ledger. Though Matthew is profoundly interested in Jesus’s authority (7:29; 8:9; 9:6; 10:1; 21:23; 28:18), he also embraces the complementary truth: Jesus’s true humanity, pointedly expressed in the “ignorance” passages: (1) the Father decides who will be on the right and on the left of the Son of Man (20:23); (2) Jesus does not know the timing of the world’s end (24:36); and (3) he dies with the question “why” on his lips (27:46).

Then there is Jesus’s sonship: To the extent that he is the focus of the statement “Out of Egypt I called my son” (2:15), Jesus is the personification of Israel, humanity in right relation to divinity. To the extent that he lives the wilderness-obedience that counters Israel’s wilderness rebellion, he shows what it is for “man” (ὁ ἄνθρωπος) to live by more than mere bread. And, of course, the genealogy goes to some lengths to show human descent. Then again, the final puzzle Jesus poses to his interlocutors hinges upon the (scripturally derived!) conundrum of the Messiah being both David’s Son and David’s Lord (22:41–46)—that is to say, Jesus understands himself to be God’s divine Son.

In his view of Christ as God-man, Matthew joins the other New Testament voices that stand out as christological theologians:

  1. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1); and note John’s seven “I am” statements;
  2. Hebrews: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3); and
  3. Paul: “Though he was in the form of God . . .” (Phil. 2:6).

It is not difficult to understand why the church’s consensus came to be that Jesus is fully divine and fully human—or as Christian artist Shai Linne expresses it, “Jesus both God and man, two hundred percent.”

What marks Matthew’s christology as special is the way he organically unfolds Jesus Christ’s humanity and divinity for a Jewish Christian readership. He does so in terms of Israel’s story. That is to say, Jesus is the new Torah; “greater than the temple” (12:6); “greater than Jonah” (12:41); “greater than Solomon” (12:42); the one in whom God’s kingdom has come and is coming; Israel’s one teacher; and, finally, “God with us,” who is fully known, ironically, in “the least of these” (25:45).

Jesus as the New Torah

Matthew renders the life and ministry of Jesus in five discrete sections of material, recalling the five books of Moses, the Torah or Pentateuch. Thematically, Matthew’s Gospel follows the arc of Torah. No less than the book of Genesis, Matthew’s account is one of “beginnings.” Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’s birth and early ministry echoes Exodus’s story of deliverance (see below). Leviticus is dominated by the theme of “holiness,” both by way of sanctifying sacrifices (e.g., Lev. 16:30) and by way of instruction (e.g., Lev. 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”). Just so, in Matthew’s account Jesus offers his own “blood of the covenant . . . for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28) and teaches his followers to be “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). If the book of Numbers is the story of God’s people becoming a community on the journey to the Promised Land, Matthew undertakes instructions on how to be the “church” while “going and making disciples.” And just as the book of Deuteronomy places a life and death choice before God’s people at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, so Jesus pronounces beatitudes (Matthew 5) and woes (Matthew 23), (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 386–87. and says, in effect, “Build wisely” (Matt. 7:24); in other words, “Choose life” (Deut. 30:19).

Indeed, Matthew implies that Jesus corrects wrong ideas about what the Torah was supposed to do and be. Jews contemporary to Jesus thought of the Torah as “the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Thus, as Simon the Just maintained, “Upon three things the world rests: upon the Torah, upon the temple service, and upon the doing of acts of kindness.”

Extraordinarily—and imperiously if he is not indeed divine—Jesus claims that what people sought in Torah they will instead find in him. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). Thus, with the nine beatitudes, Jesus stands as covenant Lord, pronouncing promissory blessings as though standing on Deuteronomy’s Mount Gerizim. With the seven woes, Jesus pronounces warning woes as though standing on Deuteronomy’s Mount Ebal.

What the Torah was, Jesus is. Yet there are two big differences: First, to worship the Torah is idolatry at worst, or bibliolatry at best; to worship Jesus is not idolatrous, for he is “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Second, Jesus can “save his people from their sins” (1:21); the Torah cannot. The Torah can provide what Paul will call a provisional “pass[ing] over” (Rom. 3:25) of sins through promissory “blood of the covenant” (Ex. 24:8); now Jesus provides “my blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:28). The God-breathed book Torah can anticipate forgiveness; the God-man Jesus can provide forgiveness.

Matthew wants readers to know that the Torah is being fulfilled in Jesus. Holy Scripture was always about something and Someone beyond itself. Again and again, Matthew quotes scriptural formulas to let his readers know that Jesus is updating Israel’s story.

  1. Matthew 1:23. Jesus’s birth fulfills the promise that God would be Immanuel, “God with us” (cf. Isa. 7:14).
  2. Matthew 2:15. Jesus is the obedient and faithful Son Israel was supposed to have been (Hos. 11:1). Thus, his life, especially the early events, are a telling of Israel’s exodus story: miraculous birth, rescue from the plot of an evil king, sojourn to and calling out from Egypt, passing through baptismal waters and reception of the Holy Spirit, temptation for forty days (instead of forty years) in the wilderness, obedience when Israel has not obeyed (thus the quotes from Deuteronomy when Jesus confronts the Devil), and the beginning of the conquest of God’s enemies (exorcisms, healings, confrontation with maleficent and confused spiritual authorities).
  3. Matthew 8:16–17. Jesus’s healings fulfill the suffering servant prophecy (Isa. 53:5).
  4. Matthew 12:6. Jesus is greater than the temple, the place where God lived (even if, for the time being, Jesus accepts the provisional arrangement—17:24–27).
  5. Matthew 12:41. Jesus is greater than Jonah (the one who was “dead” three days and nights and who went on a reluctant mission to pagans).
  6. Matthew 12:42. Jesus is greater than Solomon (the first son of David’s line to inherit the throne).
  7. Matthew 12:15–21. Jesus’s silence fulfills the prophecy concerning the servant who will not break a bruised reed (Isa. 42:1–4).
  8. Matthew 13:10–17. Jesus’s parables fulfill Isaiah’s commission to confound as well as instruct (Isa. 6:9–10 LXX).
  9. Matthew 21:10–17. Jesus cleanses the temple as part of the restoration of the Psalm 8 vision of the restoration of humankind’s role to bear God’s glory and lead God’s creation in praise (Ps. 8:3 LXX).

By quoting Jesus as claiming to be greater than the temple (Matt. 12:6), greater than Jonah (12:41), and greater than Solomon (12:42), Matthew forces the question, is this not the Priest, Prophet, and King toward whom everything in Israel’s history has been oriented?

“Greater Than the Temple”

Under Moses’s administration, God established his presence among his people. He did so by rescuing them not just from their enemies, the Egyptians, but also from the angel of death that they, no less than the Egyptians, deserved. God established his presence by “cutting a covenant” with them, whereby he became their God, and they his people. The Ten Commandments formed the germ of a covenant document binding the Lord and his covenant people together. The Torah—the five books of Moses—served as the amplification and explication of that covenant relationship.

God established his presence among his people by providing sacrifices of atonement and fellowship, by giving oracles that revealed his character and described what it meant to bear his likeness, and by constituting them as his “peculiar people”—that is, as a showcase for what a redeemed community was to look like. The symbolic place of covenant life under Moses was the tabernacle; under Solomon, the tabernacle yielded to the temple. Matthew describes the yielding of both Torah and temple to Immanuel.

The reason that Jesus is “greater than the temple” (Matt. 12:6) is that he transforms two things: first, the sacrificial system, and second, the place of meeting.

Alone among the Gospels, Matthew cites Isaiah 53:4, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matt. 8:17). Also alone among the Gospels, at the institution of the Last Supper, Matthew’s Jesus uses Moses’s language of the “blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:28; cf. Ex. 24:8), with two startling additions: (1) the pronoun “my” to qualify the blood; and (2) the explanatory “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The verb “poured out” is also a uniquely Matthean appeal to Isaiah 53—in this case, an echo of Isaiah’s anticipation of the hope that the suffering servant will have “poured out his self to death” (Isa. 53:12). Almost as if to provide a bookend to the explanation that Jesus’s name indicates “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), Matthew says that upon Jesus’s death, “behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (27:51). The death of the Sin-Bearer marks the end of the separation between a holy God and his people. The temporary halt to sacrifices that Jesus forced when he cleansed the temple turns out to be a promise of their permanent end by means of his atoning sacrifice. As he says, “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28).

With the fulfillment of the temple’s housing of sacrifice comes the fulfillment of the temple’s role as place of meeting. What the sacrifices once provided in merely anticipatory fashion—mediation for sinners—Jesus now provides finally and fully. What the temple once was—a place of meeting for God’s people—Jesus now is in himself as he gathers his own into his church.

When Jesus cleanses the temple, he objects that the building has been hijacked from its original intent: to be a “house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13). That is to say, the temple is the place for God and humans to meet together, the place of concourse between the Redeemer Lord and his redeemed people. During the consecration of Solomon’s temple, the shekinah presence of God was so intense it was unbearable (2 Chronicles 6). Now the shekinah presence is Jesus himself: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). The temple, in turn, was the centerpiece of a city in which God intended to showcase his character, his holiness, and his love for the human race:

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised

in the city of our God!

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,

is the joy of all the earth,

Mount Zion, in the far north,

the city of the great King. (Ps. 48:1–2)

Now, that city is Christ’s followers: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). Immanuel, “God with us,” once lived among us in flesh and blood. Now in the great period between his earthly ministry and the restoration of all things, Immanuel lives among us in the church.

“Greater Than Jonah”

In Jesus Christ, Israel’s prophetic mission to the nations comes to life—literally—following the Son of Man’s three days and nights “in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).

Of the four canonical Gospel writers, it is Luke who is known for his attention to the Gentile mission. Luke frames the larger with the promise of John the Baptist’s birth in the Jewish temple and by ending with Paul’s ministering from a Roman prison. Within that larger framework itself, Luke brackets his Gospel, at one end, with Isaianic allusions to the Gentile mission in Simeon’s canticle (“a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” Luke 2:32; see Isa. 42:6) and the prologue to John the Baptist’s ministry (“and all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” Luke 3:6; see Isa. 40:5) and, at the other end, with the resurrected Jesus sending the disciples to Jerusalem to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that in his name they could proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins “to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Luke alone names Roman officials other than Pilate (e.g., Luke 2:1–2; 3:1), and Luke’s Jesus provokes his fellow Galileans by reminding them of the Lord’s interest in Gentiles during the ministries of the two great prophets Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:25–27).