Matthew: What’s that book all about?
(A brief introduction to the book of Matthew)
If you want to “see Jesus,” that is get to know Him for Who He is, reading His story in the Gospels is
a great place to begin. Each of the Jesus stories (the Gospels) is simply that, the story of Jesus.
The book of Matthew is the first of four of these brief accounts of His life. “Jesus Christ” is the very
first name in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1) and the very last (Revelation 22:21). The whole of
the New Testament, interested in Jesus, you’ve come to the right place.
In this brief introduction we're taking the “macro view” (the big picture) of Matthew's book. As with
any of the Bible's books, this view will help you as you develop a more “micro view” of the specific
contents of this Gospel. We won't get technical on you here. You don’t have to know any theological
terms or Greek words to follow our train of thought or to understand the book of Matthew. We simply
want to look at Matthew's Gospel as a whole to better understand its parts. We’ll look at the man,
Matthew (The Person), his main purpose in writing (The Point), some of the specifics of his writing
(The Particulars), and the uniqueness of what he wrote (The Peculiarities).
…we're taking the “macro view”
(the big picture) of Matthew's book
Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9 - a “publican” in King James English). To his countrymen
he was a sellout Jew. The Romans appointed people like Matthew from among the Jews to collect
Jewish taxes. These characters were used and abused by the Romans, and at the same time hated
among their own Jewish countrymen. It’s ironic that God chose a man such as this to depict Jesus
as the Jewish Messiah, the Fulfiller of the Jewish Scriptures. It seems to me that in order to sellout
so thoroughly, Matthew would’ve either given up his messianic hope or calloused himself against
thinking about it. Yet his Gospel is the most Jewish of the four and most Messianic in its approach. It
might be that the Holy Spirit picked a Jew who, after forsaking his hope for the Messiah and then
finding that Savior, would be most passionate to tell his fellow Jews about the identity of this
wonderful One. God seems to often choose the least likely (can you relate?) to better show His
capability. He seems quite nicely able to shine through the cloudiest lens. What a change Jesus
As you read through his book, it will help you to be aware that Matthew was assigned by the Spirit
to present Jesus primarily as the King of the Jews and of the whole world. That was his point.
Basically everything in his narrative revolves around Jesus as the fulfillment of all of the Old
Testament predictions of Messiah. It’s a book written by a Jew to Jews about a Jew. This explains
why he has repeated emphasis on the term “the Kingdom of Heaven," showing over and over Jesus
to be the King of that Kingdom.
The problem though was that the Jews of Jesus' day were looking for a different kind of King and
different kind of Kingdom than what Jesus provided (at least in His first coming to earth). He didn't
really fit the job description of Messiah they had in their minds. They expected their King to come
and deliver them from Rome's domination. Jesus didn't seem to have that mission, and so was
widely rejected among the Jewish community of His day (as well as ours).
It’s a book written by a
Jew to Jews about a Jew.
Matthew's assignment was to rethink their picture of Messiah, shatter their “Savior Stereotypes,”
and show them that Jesus was indeed the King Who was promised. His main point was to show that
God’s Kingdom comes in increments, the current stage of which was a spiritual Kingdom on earth
among those who believe. He didn't come (the first time) to change politics, but rather to change
hearts. The enemies He came to defeat were sin and Satan, not so much the Caesars and their
system of government. Matthew is clear though that in His Second Coming, Jesus will indeed
change systems and take over the planet as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Matthew makes his
point that the Kingdom of God comes in stages commensurate with Messiah's two advents (His first
and second visits to earth).
These two stages of the Kingdom could be thought of as foretaste and fulfillment, the former being a
spiritual Kingdom established presently in the hearts of people, and the latter a political Kingdom to
be established on the earth when Jesus returns. What the people of Jesus’ day didn’t grasp very
well was that the Kingdom is a present reality (Matthew 12:28) and a future blessing (Matthew 25:
34). The Kingdom is a realm into which we may enter today (Matthew 21:31) and yet it’s a realm into
which we will enter another day (Matthew 8:11).
Of the four biographers of Jesus, Matthew was the one most interested to show Jesus as the
Fulfiller of Jewish prophecy, uses the word, “fulfilled” 15 times in his Gospel. Look up these
passages for examples of such: Matthew 1:22; 2:23; 4:14; 8:17…
He also includes more Old Testament quotations and allusions (more than 130) than the other three
writers put together. His book is much more Jewish than any of the others in its orientation. Since
the most Messianic title for Jesus is, “Son of David,” Matthew records Him being called this no less
than ten times in his writing (this Davidic reference is only mentioned six times in all the other
Gospels combined). Look these up for example: Matthew 1:1, 20; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30…
These two stages of the
Kingdom could be thought
of as foretaste and fulfillment…
Intent on proving to the Jewish community of his day that Jesus is the “King” they’d been waiting for,
over and over Matthew refers to “the Kingdom of heaven” (God’s heavenly ruling influence on
earth). Notice these as examples: Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21; 8:11; 11:11, 12; 13:24,
31, 33, 44, 45, 47; 16:19…
Matthew was especially emphatic about the teaching ministry of Jesus. Someone calculated that a
full 60% of this book’s more than 1000 verses contain Jesus’ spoken words. If you have a Bible in
which Jesus’ words are recorded in red ink, you’ll find a lot of red in the book of Matthew!
His Jesus story is dominated by five great discourses of the Lord. Thumb through chapters 5
through 7 (the Sermon on the Mount), chapter 10 (His commissioning of the 12), chapter 13 (the
Mystery of the Kingdom), chapter 18 (The Greatest in the Kingdom teaching), and chapters 23-25
(the Olivet Discourse). And then read these teachings carefully and apply to your life what Jesus is
saying to us in them.
Each of the Jesus stories has it peculiarities. Each includes and omits items from the life and
ministry of Jesus which fits their particular assignment. Following are some things which only
Matthew includes or emphasizes in light of his Holy Spirit guided assignment.
· Matthew included a unique genealogy (chapter 1) and the only record of Joseph’s part in the
nativity story (chapter 2). He’s singular in telling the story of “Herod the Great” and contrasting him
to Jesus (the Truly Great!).
· Matthew’s account of what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) is the most
complete compilation of these sayings of Jesus regarding the character qualities of the King’s
· Matthew is the only one who included the tax money-in-the-fish’s-mouth story (Matthew 17:24-
27). My guess it has something to do with his former employment!
If you have a Bible in which Jesus’
words are recorded in red ink,
you’ll find a lot of red
in the book of Matthew!
· Matthew’s Gospel has the only extensive and comprehensive rebuke to the Pharisees and
Scribes by Jesus (Matthew 23). It must have been clear to him that few of these so-called religious
leaders had any real hunger for Messiah’s coming.
· Matthew alone includes the parables of the Ten Virgins, the Talents, and the Sheep and
Goats (Matthew 25). His is the most extensive account of what we call, “The Olivet Discourse” (the
teaching He gave on the Mt. of Olives just prior to His death).
· Matthew includes no less than ten references to Jesus being worshiped in his book (2:2, 8,
11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17). Each of the other Gospels, mentions His being
worshiped only once. Remember that Matthew wants to be clear that He’s the One they’ve been
waiting to receive as Messiah so they can worship Him!
As you read and re-read Matthew’s Jesus story, don’t hesitate to wonder! Don’t try to
figure Him all out. But with all your heart, search Him out! Don’t expect to get your arms
completely around Him. But at the same time, don’t fail to give all you’ve got to trying!
Read and wonder.