God had worked astonishingly and wonderfully for His people through His Son Jesus of Nazareth. The time had come to preserve the chronicles of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Matthew, the repentant tax collector, took up his pen to explain to his people about their King and Messiah.
The Gospel according to Matthew is the first book in modern editions of the New Testament. The work itself is anonymous; early Christians bore witness that it was written by Matthew (or Levi), the disciple Jesus called from the tax collection booth (Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27; cf. Papias’ quote in Eusebius’ History of the Church 3.39.14-17, Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1). The events described in Matthew take place ca. 5 BCE to 30/33 CE. Some in scholarly circles still suggest that the Gospel of Matthew was written toward the end of the first century, yet even many scholars have come to the recognition that Matthew is most likely written before 70 CE. Papias claimed that Matthew wrote his Gospel originally in Aramaic; such is entirely possible, but the character of Matthew’s Greek suggests that the edition of the text which has come down to us was composed in Greek.
Matthew, along with Mark and Luke, are called the “synoptic” (“seeing all together”) gospels since they share many sayings, stories, and general narrative structure. Over time different suggestions have been made as to who wrote when and who influenced whom; the current idea in vogue suggests that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke are dependent on him. Some think Matthew and Luke also use a hypothetical shared original text, “Q” (from German Quelle, source); others think Luke is dependent on Matthew. It is not at all our intention to delve into the “synoptic problem”; nevertheless, for comparison’s sake, we should note that 45% of Matthew is shared with both Mark and Luke, 25% with Luke in addition to Mark, 10% with Mark but not Luke, and 20% is unique to Matthew.
Matthew’s narrative flow can be analyzed according to different patterns. We will content ourselves by looking at the text in terms of four major blocks: preparation (Matthew 1:1-4:11). ministry primarily in Galilee (Matthew 4:12-20:16), the week in Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-25:46), and Jesus’ death and resurrection (Matthew 26:1-28:20). It is also worth paying attention to Matthew’s organization of the material in blocks of discourse and actions.
Matthew begins with the preparation for Jesus and His work: Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham, the announcement of His birth, Herod and the Magi, the flight to Egypt, the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the temptation in the desert (Matthew 1:1-4:11).
Matthew begins his narrative of Jesus’ ministry with an overview of the proclamation of the Gospel and ministry (Matthew 4:12-25); Jesus’ ethical and moral standards for the Kingdom are then set forth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29). Jesus’ ministry continues apace: healing lepers and centurion’s servants, healing fevers, casting out demons, controlling the weather, healing through the forgiveness of sins, calling Matthew, eating with sinners, healing an unclean woman and raising a dead daughter, commissioning and preparing the disciples for ministry, sending word to John, explaining who John represents, proclaiming woe on those who do not believe and blessing those who do, resisting and overcoming Pharisaic challenges, teaching in parables, mourning for John’s death, feeding the five thousand, walking on the water, establishing what is truly clean and unclean, having compassion on Gentiles and the multitudes, feeding the four thousand, and warning the disciples about the Pharisees (Matthew 8:1-16:12). At Caesarea Philippi the disciples confess Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and Jesus begins to prepare them for what will soon take place, appearing to three of them in the Transfiguration, casting out difficult demons, paying taxes, establishing who is truly the greatest in the Kingdom, seeking the lost, handling a brother in sin, emphasizing forgiveness, setting forth God’s purposes for marriage, exposing the difficulties of the rich young ruler, and teaching about the Kingdom in parables and lessons (Matthew 16:13:20:28).
Jesus then goes up to Jerusalem: He enters in triumph, cleanses the Temple, “updates” Isaiah’s song of the vineyard to reflect what God is about to do to Jerusalem, sets forth parables, overcomes the challenges of the Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and lawyers, denounces their hypocrisy, and explains in apocalyptic imagery and parables what will happen to Jerusalem and preparing for the final day (Matthew 20:29-25:46).
Matthew reaches the climax of the Gospel with Jesus’ death and resurrection: anointing Jesus for burial, the last supper, inauguration of the Lord’s Supper, agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal, trial before the Jews, Peter’s denials, accusation before Pilate, condemnation by the crowd, scourging, humiliation, crucifixion, death, burial, the guard of soldiers, the open tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, His ascension, and the commissioning of the Apostles (Matthew 26:1-28:20).
Matthew’s Gospel has a Jewish audience in mind, pointing out the things which Jesus did to fulfill what had been written in the Old Testament. Jesus is set forth as the King of Israel, the faithful Rabbi and Teacher, and prophetic witness of what would happen to Jerusalem. Jesus would be vindicated as the Son of God; Matthew’s Gospel recorded it. We do well to learn about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from the Gospel according to Matthew, and go out and make disciples!
Ethan R. Longhenry