The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew, also known as Levi the tax collector. He probably wrote it around 48-50 A.D. The key word is “kingdom,” and it is used 28 times. Written primarily to Jewish readers, the book reveals Jesus as the Messiah, the King of the Jews, from the line of David.
A key characteristic of Matthew’s Gospel is his emphasis on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the life of Christ. His repetition on this point is further evidence of Matthew’s desire to convince his Jewish audience that Jesus was the Messiah promised by Scripture. It’s true that Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection ultimately set aside the requirements of the Law, yet Matthew zooms in on Jesus’ life and teachings as a fulfillment of that Law.
Like Moses, Jesus is a great teacher, but his message is new. Matthew records several of Jesus’ longer teachings or distopics. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and His speech on the Mount of Olives (Matt 24-25) are well known, but there are three other long speeches of Jesus. Watch for those because they are important.
Curiously, Jesus refers to his followers as “little ones,” probably to emphasize that humility and dependence should characterize Jesus’ disciples.
Matthew also uses a number of titles for Jesus, including Son of David, Son of God, Immanuel, and Lord, which can mean simply “Master” but may also refer to God.
As we read in Romans, Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus came first to the Jews but the gospel is for all peoples. The Great Commission makes this very clear (Matthew 28:18-20). Throughout Jesus’ ministry, there is a growing conflict between the Jewish teachers and Jerusalem’s religious leaders who do not demonstrate the righteousness that God required. This conflict peaks with Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.
Matthew 1-4 deals with the miraculous conception of Jesus, His extraordinary birth, and some events surrounding His early life, including His very important genealogy. Matthew 5-25 details the earthly ministry of Jesus; these chapters are vital to understanding Jesus as the perfect man who lived on earth and fulfilled every requirement of the Old Testament Law. The last three chapters of Matthew depict the death and resurrection of Jesus. They present the good news of how Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself.
The four Gospels are the authoritative testimony of the apostles to the life of Jesus. They were written, according to John, in order that we might believe in Him and be saved (John 20:21). They were also written so we might know what Jesus was like and how He lived, because we are to be imitators of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1). The Gospels are a kind of specialized biography written to explain the most important periods of Jesus’ life. You’ll notice very little is said of Jesus’ childhood or life prior to His public ministry that began around age 30. The Gospels are mostly a “biography” of Jesus’ final three years. They don’t answer every question we have about Jesus, but they do tell us all we need to know!
Each Gospel presents a portrait of Jesus that complements the other three. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to include or omit features of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching to give us a fuller picture of the Savior. Matthew, Mark, and Luke gradually show us who Jesus is as the Son of God, the Messiah sent from God to be the Savior of the world.
John’s Gospel starts differently by describing Jesus as the eternal Word and then showing us through various signs and “I AM” statements that Jesus is the innocent God-Man who dies in the place of sinners and then rises again to appear to His disciples.
All four Gospels assume and teach that Jesus has come to fulfill the Old Testament promises and that Jesus is the promised Messiah sent from God come to earth, the One who will also come again at a future date at the end of history.
In interpreting and applying the four Gospels:
Let Jesus be the Hero. Remember that the main point of the four Gospels is to create and strengthen faith in Jesus. Interpret everything in that light.
Keep it in context. Always interpret everything in context. What comes before and after a given passage is important. So is the overall flow of the book. It’s also important to remember that Jesus comes to fulfill God’s promises to Israel. This is the historical context in which we must read the Gospels: God sends Jesus to fulfill God’s promises to Israel by rescuing ruined and rebellious people and to create something new: a worldwide, multi-ethnic people of God, His church.
Parables usually have a punch line. Parables were Jesus’ most frequent form of teaching. They are stories that work a little bit like jokes or stories with a moral. Usually, a parable’s punch line comes at the end. Some of Jesus’ hearers get the parable; some don’t. Jesus was a master teacher, and it seems He chose parables for that reason.
Parables, by and large, aren’t allegories, and we should never read anything into the parables of Jesus that is not evident in the text. In many cases, Jesus Himself interprets the parables, and when He does, His interpretation is what the parable means—no more and no less. On occasion, He turns the parable into an allegory, with a point of meaning assigned to each element in the story; when He does, that’s what the parable means. Usually, however, we should look for the point or points that Jesus is making in the context of the larger story of the Gospel.
We should not impose anything on the parable that’s not found in the context, and we should not press the details of the story that fall outside the main point or points being made.
In the Gospels, most people around Jesus got it all wrong. There are occasional exceptions—like Mary in the story of Mary and Martha—but these exceptions are rare. Don’t assume we’re meant to follow the examples of those around Jesus, unless they match a clear point of teaching.
He is risen! Read everything in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The end of the story casts its light back on everything that comes before.
Two questions to ask: When you read the Gospels, you probably won’t go wrong if you focus on asking these two questions:
- What does this passage teach me about Jesus?
- What does this passage teach me about becoming and being a disciple of Jesus? (And what kind of people Jesus saves!)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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