Matthew Proclaims: ‘The Messiah Has Come!’
WHAT were the most important events ever to take place in the history of humankind? Without a shadow of doubt, they were the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In keeping with the divine principle that ‘at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter must be established,’ Jehovah God saw to it that four accounts of the life of Jesus Christ were recorded to establish the truthfulness of these events. (Deut. 17:6; 2 Cor. 13:1) The four persons He used were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Well has it been observed of these four writers that each one has his own particular theme, his own objective, reflects his own personality and keeps in mind his immediate readers.
Of Matthew, the first of these writers, we know little. However, we can conclude that he was a modest man, for only from his account do we learn that he had been a despised tax collector. (Matt. 9:9) And no wonder tax collectors were despised! For one thing, they represented the Roman yoke where it hurt very much, in the pocketbook! More than that, they were notorious in abusing their prerogatives, becoming extortioners. The words of the tax collector Zacchaeus indicate this. After Jesus had come to his home, Zacchaeus had a change of heart, saying: “Whatever I extorted from anyone by false accusation I am restoring fourfold.” (Luke 19:8) But it seems that there can be little question about Matthew’s having been an honest revenue agent; otherwise Jesus would not have invited him right from his job to be His follower.
As far back as the time of Adam’s disobedience in Eden, Jehovah God had, in cryptic phrase, foretold the coming of the Messiah, referring to him as the woman’s “seed.” And as early as the time of King David this one was referred to as God’s “anointed.” The prophet Daniel in particular foretold the Messiah’s coming. (Gen. 3:15; 22:17, 18; Ps. 2:2; Dan. 9:24-27) That the long-looked-for Messiah had at last come was indeed such thrilling news that Matthew lost no time in proclaiming it by means of his Gospel. From the best evidence available, it appears that he may well have written his account as early as 41 C.E.
It is quite clear that Matthew intended his Gospel account to be a bridge between the events recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures and those relating to the life of the Messiah. According to the testimony of early church historians, Matthew first wrote it in Hebrew and later made a Greek copy of his Gospel. Supporting this position is the fact that all his quotations from the earlier Scriptures are not from the Greek Septuagint Version, as is often the case with the other Gospel writers, but from the Hebrew text. And in keeping with his theme that Jesus Christ was indeed the foretold Messiah, Matthew, more than others, shows how Jesus’ life and actions fulfilled Bible prophecy. (Compare Matthew 8:16, 17 with Mark 1:34 and Luke 4:40.) Matthew also, more than the other Gospel writers, stressed the theme of the “kingdom of the heavens,” for which reason his has been termed the “Kingdom Gospel.”—Matt. 4:17; 5:3; 11:12; 22:2.
Matthew’s previous occupation as a tax collector shows through in his writing. For one thing, he keenly appreciated the great undeserved kindness accorded him as a tax collector to become an apostle of the Messiah. So we find him uniquely recording Jesus’ stressing of the fact that mercy and not just sacrifice are required. Interestingly, only Matthew gives us those comforting words of Jesus that begin with the invitation, “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.”—Matt. 9:9-13; 11:28-30; 12:7; 18:21-35.
Matthew’s having been a tax collector also shines through in his attention to figures. He alone tells us that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. (Matt. 26:15) Moreover, where others mentioned but one or put things in the singular, Matthew becomes more specific and mentions two or puts things in the plural. (Compare Matthew 4:3; 8:28; 20:29, 30 with Mark 5:2; 10:46, 47; Luke 4:3; 8:27; 18:35-38.) In fact, it seems that Matthew had a fondness for numbers. Thus in chapter six we find him listing seven petitions in the Model Prayer (compared to Luke’s five), seven parables in chapter 13, and seven woes spoken by Jesus against the Jewish clergy of his day in chapter 23. And Matthew breaks Jesus’ genealogy down into three sets of 14.—Matt. 1:1-17.
The distinctive features of Matthew’s Gospel also become apparent when we note how his account complements that of Luke. This is but to be expected when we consider how different the thinking of a tax collector is from that of a physician. Nor may we leave out the holy spirit’s role in this matter. Then, too, Matthew was writing to persuade faithful Jews that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah, whereas Luke presents Jesus as the Savior of all mankind. Thus Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back only to Abraham through David, whereas Luke traces it back to ‘Adam the son of God.’ (Matt. 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38) Evidently Matthew traces Jesus’ legal lineage through His foster father Joseph, whereas Luke traces it back through the natural lineage of His mother Mary. Matthew records that an angel appeared to Joseph, Jesus’ foster father. Luke tells of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Similarly, Matthew tells of the astrologers coming to visit the child Jesus, ‘the king of the Jews,’ bringing costly gifts, whereas Luke tells of humble shepherds being invited to see the newborn Savior.
MATTHEW’S PRESENTATION OF THE MESSIAH
In recording Jesus’ life, Matthew missed no opportunity to prove that Jesus was indeed the foretold Messiah. How did he do this? By referring to the Hebrew Scriptures some 100 times in support of his theme. For example, in giving the details of Jesus’ birth he underscores that Jesus’ being born of the virgin Jewess Mary was in fulfillment of prophecy. (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21-23) In recording the flight of Joseph and his family to escape the murderous edict of King Herod, Matthew notes that this was so that the scripture could be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:14, 15) The grief caused by Herod’s ordering the killing of all baby boys two years of age and under in Bethlehem and its districts, as Matthew shows, was likewise foretold.—Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:16-18.
In chapters three and four Matthew introduces the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptizer, tells of his baptizing Jesus and of God himself acknowledging that Jesus is His Son. Then follows the threefold temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and Jesus’ starting out on his ministry to preach “the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near,” while also performing many miracles of healing. Jesus’ preaching is shown to be another fulfillment of prophecy.—Isa. 9:1, 2; Matt. 4:13-17.
Matthew, aside from his last 10 chapters, makes little effort to present matters chronologically. Since Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is such outstanding teaching, Matthew presents it right after telling of the start of Jesus’ ministry, although Jesus actually delivered it about a year later. There is no question about its being the greatest sermon ever preached, and Matthew gives us the most complete report of it. It starts out with nine ‘happinesses’ truly comforting to all lovers of truth and righteousness. In passing, let it be noted that these are “felicities,” not “beatitudes,” for which reason such modern translations as The Jerusalem Bible and Today’s English Version use “happy” instead of “blessed,” even as does the New World Translation.
Concerning the Sermon on the Mount, it is reported that Mahatma Gandhi said to a onetime viceroy of India, Lord Irwin: “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.” That Sermon also contains the Golden Rule. In keeping with Matthew’s theme, he tells that Jesus had come not to destroy the law of Moses but to fulfill it and that the Golden Rule actually was what the Law and the prophets were all about.—Matt. 5:17; 7:12.
It seems that Matthew was especially impressed by Jesus’ teaching. As compared with the other Gospels, not only is his account of the Sermon on the Mount more extensive, but so are his report of Jesus’ sending forth His 12 apostles (chapter 10), his account of the seven Kingdom parables (chapter 13) and his record of Jesus’ counsel on the need to show mercy, to be willing to forgive “seventy-seven times.”—Chap. 18.
In chapters 8, 9, 11, 12 and 14-17, Matthew reports chiefly on Jesus’ many miracles such as his feeding 5,000 on one occasion and another time “four thousand men, besides women and young children.” These chapters also contain Jesus’ denunciations of the willfully wicked, hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, who had committed the unforgivable sin. Moreover, in these chapters we find Peter’s confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and a description of the transfiguration, in which Jehovah God again testified to Jesus Christ as being indeed His Son.—Matt. 16:16; 17:1-9.
THE CLOSING DAYS OF JESUS’ MINISTRY
Coming now to the closing events of Jesus’ ministry, we find that Matthew has written things down in the order in which they happened. Most of what Matthew previously recorded took place in Galilee, but now he touches on Jesus’ later Perean ministry. Religious opposers challenge Jesus on the subject of divorce, hoping to embarrass him. But, instead, they are foiled because of Jesus’ wisdom and superior knowledge of the Scriptures: The only ground for divorce is “fornication.” A self-satisfied rich young ruler comes to Jesus asking what he must do to get everlasting life, but he goes away with a greatly decreased estimation of his own goodness, for his wealth was more important to him than everlasting life. The spirit of rivalry divides the apostles, causing Jesus to remind them that he came, ‘not to be served, but to minister and to give his life a ransom in exchange for many.’—Matt. 19:1–20:34.
With Jesus’ last week on earth as a man, the location changes to Bethany and Jerusalem, and we read of his triumphal entry into that city. Jesus follows this event by going to the temple and cleansing it by driving out all the religious racketeers. Next, he tells a parable about the cultivators who murdered the heir of the vineyard, and lets his foes know that he realizes what is in their minds.—Matt. 21:1-46.
Although repeatedly defeated in their previous discussions with Jesus, his religious opposers again try to embarrass him by asking him tricky questions about paying the unpopular Roman tax, about the resurrection and about which is the greatest commandment. His wise and Scriptural answers silence them. Then, Jesus counseled his disciples on the need to be humble. He also handed his hypocritical religious opposers stinging rebukes, pronouncing seven woes. Because of their opposition their house was to be abandoned.—Matt. 22:1–23:39.
Comments by certain of his apostles on the grandeur of Herod’s temple furnish Jesus the opportunity to utter his great prophecy about the end of the Jewish system of things, and about his return, his parousia, which words have had striking fulfillment especially since 1914. Next he utters three parables that have found fulfillment in our day, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, of the talents and of the sheep and the goats.—Matt. 24:1–25:46.
Matthew then gives us the only eyewitness account we have of Jesus’ instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal in commemoration of his death. Continuing, Matthew relates Jesus’ Gethsemane experience, his arrest, Peter’s denial, Christ’s trial, Pilate’s vacillation and the washing of his hands, and then Jesus’ impalement between two criminals as King of the Jews on the hill known as Calvary.—Matt. 26:1-75.
At Jesus’ arrest his apostles all fled, and their spirits were certainly dejected at this turn of events. But not for long. On the third day they learn of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Later, they meet Jesus in Galilee, where, doubtless shortly before his ascension into heaven, he gives them the parting commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them . . . And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
Without question, Matthew proves his theme that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. This Matthew does by pointing to the many prophecies Jesus fulfilled, to the miracles Jesus performed and to the truths Jesus taught. Matthew undoubtedly had a keen and appreciative mind, quickened by God’s holy spirit. Because God’s spirit directed him and brought to his mind the things Jehovah God wanted to be recorded, he was able to pen a comprehensive and powerful record of Jesus’ life.
How thankful we can be to Jehovah God that He inspired such a humble, honest and unselfish servant of his and follower of his Son to record such a faith-strengthening account of Jesus’ earthly ministry! May we become truly familiar with this account so that we can both live by the principles Jesus set out and tell others at every opportunity the “good news” that the long-promised Messiah has come at God’s appointed time in fulfillment of many prophecies recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.—Matt. 24:14.
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The Master’s Kindly Invitation
“Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, 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.