Who was Matthew?
Early church tradition attributes this Gospel to Matthew, the tax collector chosen by Jesus to be an apostle (10:3). He was also known as Levi (compare 9:9-13 with Luke 5:27-31). None of the four Gospels actually names its author. It was the message, not who was writing that was considered important.
What this book means for us today
Matthew’s Gospel is a call to take Jesus seriously and to follow him. It is not enough to mouth the name of Jesus; we must be his disciples, just as the people of his day had to. Just knowing about him is not enough. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father in heaven” (7:21).
“Discipleship involves following Jesus. This notion of following Jesus suggests that the disciples are to be ‘with’ Jesus (e.g. 9:15; 12:20; 26:38-40) as those who accompany him (e.g. 9:19), align themselves with him over against his opponents (e.g. 9:10-17; 12:1-8) and therefore experience persecution (e.g. 5:10-12; 10:24-25), learn from him (e.g. 5:1 10:24; 13:26), model their lives after his example (e.g. 20:25-28), and come after him by assuming for themselves the journey of self-denial and cross-bearing (10:38-39; 16:24-28; compare 16:24-28)” (“The Major Characters of Matthew’s Story: Their Function and Significance,” David Bauer, Interpretation, October 1992, p. 362).
Jesus calls upon us to forsake everything and follow him. But he also promises that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
Matthew wrote a marvelous proclamation of hope in the Messiah. As you read, listen to his clear message: Jesus is the Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Jesus Christ has gained the victory over evil and death. Your death. Re-dedicate yourself to him. Make him the Lord of your life, even as Matthew the tax collector did nearly two thousand years ago.
Road map of Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew has been divided into 28 chapters, and the chapters are divided into verses.
These chapters and verses are a later addition. They have the advantage of making it easy to locate specific verses, passages and quotations. But they have the disadvantage of interrupting the continuity and theme of the book. Most of the time we “access it” like a telephone directory rather than read it like a story.
Matthew wrote his gospel as a carefully organized continuous narrative. It has three major sections, each of which has sub-sections. You may find it helpful to follow this outline to help you navigate as you read through the story for yourself.
1. The preparation for Jesus’ ministry (1:1- 4:11)
a. The genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17).
b. The announcement to Joseph of the birth of Jesus (1:18- 25).
c. The visit of the Magi to worship Jesus (2:1-12).
d. The flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus into Egypt (2:11-23).
e. The ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-12);
f. The baptism of Jesus (3:13-17).
g. The testing of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness (4:1-11).
2. The ministry of Jesus (4:12-25:46)
This section is organized into five blocks of narrative interspersed with five long discourses:
- In the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29), Jesus discusses the law, worship and good deeds.
- In the commission to the disciples (9:35-10:42), Jesus expands the scope of his ministry.
- The third discourse (13:1-52) contains seven parables on the kingdom of heaven.
- The fourth discourse provides instructions concerning the community of faith (18:1-35).
- In the final discourse, Jesus pronounces seven woes on the Pharisees, laments over Jerusalem and preaches about the end times (23:1-25:46).
The five blocks of narrative (4:12-25; 8:1-9:34; 11:1-12:50; 13:53-17:27; and 19:1-22:46) discuss Jesus’ miracles, his superiority over John the Baptist, his disputes with the religious leaders, and further teachings on the kingdom of heaven.
3. The crucifixion and resurrection (26:17-30)
a. First, Jesus predicts his betrayal (26:1-5), is anointed at Bethany (26:6-16) and eats the Last Supper with his disciples (26:17-30).
b. Then Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot (26:6-16) is mocked before the high priest (26: 57-68) and is denied three times by Simon Peter (26:69-75).
c. Finally, Jesus is tried by Pilate and scourged (27:1-31), is subjected to an agonizing death on the cross (27:32-57) and is buried in a new tomb, which is then sealed and guarded (27:57-66).
d. But the story does not end there. The tomb is found empty because Jesus has risen (28:1-15), and the risen Christ commissions the disciples to preach the good news in all the world (28:16-20)!
Matthew and the Second Coming
Matthew emphasizes the future aspect of Jesus’ work more than the other Gospel writers do. Matthew alone uses the word parousia, which has become the technical term for Jesus’ second coming (Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39). Moreover,
“Only Matthew has a series of parables which turn on judgment and which can be interpreted in terms of the second coming. Only he has the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the shut door (25:1-13); the parable of the sheep and the goats and the final judgment (25:31-46); the parable of the talents and the casting out of the unsatisfactory servant (25:14-30)” (William Barclay, Introduction to the First Three Gospels, pp. 170-171).
Author: Tim Finlay and Jim Herst