THE PERSON WHO WROTE THE GOSPEL
Matthew, the writer of the Gospel that bears his name, was a tax gatherer, a Jew who was treated with contempt by his fellow countrymen because of his occupation. He was called by the Lord Jesus to follow Him as he sat at the tax office (Mt 9.9). He was clearly a man marked by humility. In this Gospel he merely states that "a man, named Matthew" heard the call and followed the Lord. He leaves it to Luke to tell us that "he left all" to follow Him (Lk 5.28). Likewise Matthew states that the feast which followed was "in the house" whereas Mark adds that it was "in his (Matthew's) house" (Mk 2.15), and Luke adds further that it was "a great feast" at which was present "a great company" (Lk 5.29).
But it is also clear that Matthew was a man who engaged in scrutiny of all that he saw around. He was not as prominent as Peter, James or John. In the four lists of the disciples he twice occupies the seventh position and twice the eighth. It is also only in the list which he wrote himself that he is referred to pointedly as "Matthew the publican" (Mt 10.3). As a tax collector he would be very adept at submitting written reports, accounting for the revenues gathered. As he went about with the Lord Jesus he observed carefully all that he saw, and may have committed to writing accounts of what was taking place.
He was also a man given to accuracy. As he observed the life of the Lord his precise knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures enabled him to see the link between the words of the prophets and the events of which he was an accurate observer.
THE PERSON PRESENTED IN THE GOSPEL
Immediately, without delay, the main person in the Gospel is introduced with the words "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ". The first book of the Bible is a book of ten "generations"; the first book in the New Testament is concerned only with one. The Lord Jesus Christ is introduced as Sovereign, Son of God and Saviour. All the hopes of godly men and women before He came now come to fruition in Him, and all the hopes of the godly since He came rest on Him alone. He is unique! He claimed Kingship, He challenged men and women to follow Him, He confounded the religious men of the day, He confronted sin and, on one glorious, unique, never-to-be-forgotten first day of the week, He showed decisively that He had conquered death. As an employee of the government of the day Matthew was interested in rule, regality and responsibility. He shows all three to be in Christ. The Jesus Christ of 1.1 has the right to exercise rule, He displays regality, and He delegates responsibility, although He alone in His Kingdom is the source of authority. All other authority is delegated.
The opening of the book is "the fulness of the time" for the Son of God to come. How right were the circumstances. It was the time of world centralisation under the Romans, there was a world cultural oneness, there was world trade and intercourse, world peace reigned, world degeneration was seen and world religions mingled together.¹ Into such a world "God sent forth his Son … to redeem" (Gal 4.4,5).
THE PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL
Matthew was a man skilled in administration and, as we have already noted, had a knowledge of how government worked. It was given to him to write the Gospel which presents the Kingdom of Heaven. This Gospel is the bridge between the Old and the New Testaments. The opening words are written for this purpose, introducing the One who is son of David and son of Abraham.
Matthew presents the King. We are left in no doubt that the long-promised King has come and that He is Jesus Christ. He then presents His teaching. What teaching did He bring with Him and how did it fit into what had been taught before? That there is no inconsistency is seen throughout the book. Next Matthew presents His rejection. It would seem almost inconceivable that Israel should reject their King, but this is faithfully recorded. Last, he presents His death and resurrection. The Kingdom, having been rejected by Israel, now assumes the mystery character in which it is found today.
THE PLAN OF THE GOSPEL
His rights to the throne substantiated (1.1-4.25)
When any would claim to be King of Israel there were certain tests to which that claim could be subjected. Matthew is not afraid to submit the claim of the Lord Jesus to these tests in order to substantiate it.
First, is He a descendent of Abraham and of King David, of the royal line? Chapter 1 shows that He is. Second, was the place of, and were the circumstances surrounding, His birth in accord with prophecies which had been made concerning that great event? The closing verses of chs.1 and 2 answer that question. Third, did the forerunner of whom the prophets spoke herald His introduction to public service? Chapter 3 shows that John Baptist was the forerunner. Fourth, despite these tests having been passed, it must be asked if He had proved Himself competent to exercise rule. In ch.4 He shows Himself to be competent.
The revelation of His Kingdom (5.1-16.20)
Having substantiated His claim, He commences His work. The Manifesto of the Kingdom presents the teaching of the King regarding the citizens of the Kingdom. Note that it commences with the word "Blessed". To bring blessing to mankind is the purpose of His rule. After setting out His manifesto He proceeds to The Manifestation of the Kingdom. Miracles are performed, and the commission to preach is given to the Twelve. This message, and the One claiming to be King, is rejected by the nation of Israel. He had come to His vineyard and found only sour grapes so, in ch.13, He turns to the field which is the world. The Kingdom is now presented in mystery. It will not be seen outwardly, but will be in the hearts of those who follow Him. Thus we have The Mysteries of the Kingdom laid out in the seven parables of ch.13 which outline the future of the Kingdom in mystery. The rejection of Christ by Israel, rather than meaning the end of His Kingdom, is but the beginning of another phase. After the presentation of the seven parables the Kingdom in mystery is presented in picture form, and then predictions for the future are revealed.
The rejection of the King (16.21-28.20)
Chapter 16 is a turning point of the book. Peter has made his great confession and the King has declared that He will go to Jerusalem and be put to death. Now we have The Kingdom and its Privilege. The pathway of discipleship is laid before those who are following the Man who will be put to death. The pillars of discipleship are set out
• Let him deny himself Private determination
• Take up his cross Public declaration
• And follow me Personal devotion.
This vital section (16.24-28) shows us the response which He expects from His disciples (v.24), the reason why He makes such demands (v.25), and the reward which He promises to those who follow (vv.26-28). To save your life by refusing to deny yourself is to lose your life, and to lose it by denying yourself is to save your life. Once again the Lord has shown that discipleship is not based on a merely emotional response but on good sound reasoning which is for the profit of those who follow. The beginning of ch.17 brings the prize of discipleship as the three disciples see the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, but this is immediately followed by the problems of discipleship as powerless disciples wrestle with the problem of being unable to fulfil their ministry. What lesson do you think this teaches us about powerless testimony today?
The Kingdom and its Principles can be summarised under four headings: Be Careful, Be Compassionate, Be Constant and Be Content. Dealings with each other and with the world are covered, and instruction given so that our conduct will be pleasing to Him.
But what of the future of this Kingdom which holds sway in the hearts of men and women, and which has no openly seen manifestation of its rule or glory?
The Kingdom and its Prospects are now revealed, culminating in the great prophetic utterances of the King when He speaks of the day when the Kingdom will be clearly displayed and His power will be manifest to all. Before that coming day of glory is seen, however, there must be reference to the cost which has to be paid to bring this about.
The Kingdom and its Price are brought before the reader. The final events leading up to the Cross are recorded and the triumph of resurrection confirms the victory of the King.
¹ E Sauer. The Dawn of World Redemption, Ch 12.