Matthew’s Good News—The Messiah Has Come!
WHO was this Matthew, the writer of the Gospel bearing his name? He was a humble, honest, well-educated Jew whom Jesus chose to be one of his twelve apostles.
Was he a humble man? Yes, for Matthew himself candidly reveals that he had been one of the tax collectors, so despised by the Jews of his time. Unlike many of those tax collectors, Matthew must have been honest. If he had been otherwise, would Jesus have called him to be his follower while he was still sitting at his tax office? And he must have had a good education, for scholars say that the Greek of his Gospel is among the best found in the Greek Scriptures. He evidently used fine discernment in what he recorded. His Gospel is quoted more often in the Watch Tower publications than any of the other three Gospels.
Where did Matthew write his Gospel? In view of his objective, it was written most likely in Palestine. And what was his purpose in writing it? To prove that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah. This is borne out by his making some hundred references to the Hebrew Scriptures. In particular does he make a point of showing how Jesus fulfilled those Scriptures, from his quoting of Isaiah 7:14 regarding Jesus’ being born of a virgin down to his quoting of Zechariah 11:13 in connection with Jesus’ being betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.—Matt. 1:23; 27:9.
In what language did Matthew write his Gospel? The external evidence is that he wrote it first in Hebrew. This was the natural thing for him to do, since it was evidently his purpose to help his fellow countrymen to identify Jesus as the Messiah. Also, it apparently was his purpose to have his Gospel serve as a connecting link with the Hebrew Scriptures.
Some persons object to the view that Matthew originally wrote in Hebrew, claiming that the Greek of Matthew’s Gospel reads too smoothly to be a translation. Well, the answer to this objection could well be that Matthew himself made the translation when he saw there was a real need for it, doing this under the direction of God’s holy spirit.
According to the earliest traditional testimony available, Matthew wrote his Gospel around 41 C.E. There is nothing in his Gospel to contradict this testimony. Apparently Matthew felt it urgent to get down all the facts supporting the truth that Jesus was the Messiah; he could appreciate what a great help this would be in carrying out Jesus’ commission to make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them. So we find that Matthew wrote his Gospel some fifteen or more years before Luke and Mark wrote theirs. The date 41 C.E. is found in manuscripts as early as the tenth century C.E.
True, not a few scholars object to such an early date for Matthew’s Gospel because Matthew and Mark have so much in common, and they theorize that Mark’s Gospel, being the shorter, came first. But Matthew’s Gospel is by no means a mere enlargement of Mark’s. As has well been observed, the similarity between the two could well be accounted for in that Peter had a copy of Matthew’s Gospel and used it in his preaching. Mark, in incorporating parts of what Peter said, would thus be writing down much that Matthew wrote.
How much of Matthew’s Gospel is unique? About 42 percent of its contents. Matthew mentions the Kingdom far more often than do the others, 50 times. The expression “the kingdom of the heavens,” used often instead of “the kingdom of God,” is unique with him. Further, he gives us ten parables that the others do not and he is more explicit as to figures. It is typical that he alone tells us that it was for thirty pieces of silver that Jesus was betrayed. His concern with accurate figures may well have been due to his having been a tax collector.
THEME OF MATTHEW DEVELOPS
Matthew’s theme being that Jesus is the Messiah, his account at once comes to that point. The Messiah had to be a descendant of Abraham and David, as well as the Son of God, in view of God’s promises to those faithful servants of his. (Gen. 22:15-18; 2 Sam. 7:8-16) These points Matthew establishes in his first two chapters 1-2. The circumstances associated with Jesus’ birth, such as Joseph’s wondering what to do and later the visit of the astrologers from the eastern parts, are unique with this Gospel. Certain modern critics question that Matthew himself wrote these first two chapters, but why? Is it because they do not want to believe in Jesus’ virgin birth? These two chapters appear in old manuscripts; moreover, they are often referred to by the early “Church fathers.” Besides, nothing in these chapters contradicts what appears elsewhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures. On the contrary, they show why Jesus was without sin.—John 8:46; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22.
Continuing with chapters 3 and 4, we find further witness to Jesus’ Messiahship. John the Baptist gives his testimony and then a voice from heaven acknowledges Jesus as God’s Son. Next follow the temptations in the wilderness and Jesus’ calling certain disciples to follow him as “fishers of men.” These first four chapters might be said to be Matthew’s introduction.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
What does Matthew next give? Without doubt the most powerful, telling and distinctive example of all of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Rightly it has been termed the most famous sermon ever preached. It is just as if Matthew could not wait to record it. He presents it right after his introductory material, although Luke’s Gospel indicates that Jesus gave it well along in his ministry. In Matthew’s account, it covers chapters 5 through 7.
What a masterpiece it is! Starting with its nine felicities, or happinesses, it warmly commends those who are conscious of their spiritual need, the mild-tempered, the merciful, the peaceable, and so forth. In it we find the Lord’s Model Prayer, the admonition to keep seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, the Golden Rule and so much more.
After telling more about Jesus’ miracles and preaching, Matthew, in chapter 10, gives us Jesus’ extensive preaching instructions to his twelve apostles. It contains such gems as: “You received free, give free,” “Prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves,” and, “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”—Matt. 10:8, 16, 28.
Next we learn of Jesus’ praising John the Baptist and his reproaching, because of their unbelief, the Galilean cities where he preached. Chapter 11 concludes with those beautiful and comforting words: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and become my disciples, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”—Matt. 11:28-30.
In chapter 12 we read such pointed truths as, “Every . . . house divided against itself will not stand,” “He that does not gather with me scatters,” and, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”—Matt. 12:25, 30, 34.
Then comes chapter 13, notable for its parables illustrating “the kingdom of the heavens.” Here Matthew gives seven of Jesus’ parables: the sower and the different soils, the wheat and the weeds, the mustard grain, the leaven, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of high value, and the dragnet. He includes explanations of two of them. The next two chapters Mt 14, 15 tell more of Jesus’ miracles and preaching. Then, in chapter 16, we have Peter’s confession that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, further proof of which Matthew gives in the next chapter in his account of Jesus’ transfiguration.
Chapter 18 also has a distinctive stamp, Matthew here describing the obligations that Christians have toward one another. After warning at length against stumbling others and stating God’s concern that not even one of Christ’s little ones should perish, Jesus tells us how to deal with those who sin against us. He tells Peter to forgive, not just up to seven, but up to seventy-seven times, and by means of an extended parable warns against Christians not forgiving one another.
FINAL DAYS OF JESUS’ MINISTRY
From chapter 19 Matthew follows a chronological order and here we sense an increasing tension between Jesus and his religious opposers. They try to trip him up on the matter of divorce, after which he gives the parable of the denarius. Then Jesus drives home to his disciples the lesson of humility, remarking that he himself came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom.—Matt. 20:28.
Matthew next tells us of Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem, which, together with his cleansing of the temple, enrages his opposers no end. It is little wonder that they challenge him, saying: “By what authority do you do these things?” (21:23) But he silences them by asking them by what authority John the Baptist baptized. Jesus follows this with two parables aimed at these opposers, the second labeling them as murderers, and they do not miss the points made.
After hearing the further parable of the marriage feast, Jesus’ religious opposers come at him with trick questions: about the paying of taxes, about the resurrection and about which is the greatest commandment. Each time Jesus bests them. No more dare they ask Jesus a question, but he turns the tables on them by asking them a question about David’s son and Lord, which, again, they are unable to answer. Jesus scathingly denounces them to the crowds and his disciples, repeating six times the condemnation: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”—Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29.
Then there is a breathing spell, we might say, as Jesus gives to the disciples his great prophecy on ‘the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things,’ covering chapters 24 and 25. Herein we find the prophetic command: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” Jesus climaxes this prophecy with the “kingdom” parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats.
In chapters 26 and 27 we read of Jesus’ being anointed with costly perfumed oil, of his instituting the memorial of his death, of his arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin, and of Peter’s denying his Master. Jesus is tried before Pontius Pilate, who vainly endeavors to wash his hands of guilt, but then turns Jesus over to be impaled on a stake, and to be buried in a stone tomb.
RESURRECTION AND PARTING COMMISSION
Matthew’s final chapter 28 tells of Jesus’ resurrection and gives his parting commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them, . . . teaching them.” Matthew then concludes with those comforting words of Jesus: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”
Truly Matthew’s Good News shows that Jesus is the promised Messiah. His account is accurate, comprehensive and beneficial. Jesus, in concluding his Sermon on the Mount, likened those who heard him, and who obeyed his words, to a wise man who built his house on a rock-mass, which house was able to weather a severe storm. Let us be like that wise man in living by the principles that Jesus enunciated and in obeying his commands to preach and to teach, so faithfully preserved for us in Matthew’s account.