A. The Author
There are three pieces of evidence to consider if we are to arrive at any conclusion about the authorship of the first gospel: (1) the title, (2) external evidence, and (3) internal evidence. As will soon become apparent, not all of these categories bear equal weight.
1. THE TITLE
The titles of NT books were not part of the autograph, but were added later on the basis of tradition. Still, the tradition in this case is universal: every MS which contains Matthew has some sort of ascription to Matthew. Some scholars suggest that this title was added as early as 125 CE. The fact that every inscription to this gospel affirms that Matthew was the author coupled with the fact that nowhere does the author identify himself makes the tradition quite strong, but still short of proof.
2. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE
The earliest statement that Matthew wrote something is by Papias: “Instead [of writing in Greek], Matthew arranged the oracles in the Hebrew dialect, and each man interpreted them as he was able.”We have already discussed some of the possibilities of what Papias referred to in this statement. It may be helpful, in this place, to outline the general views: (1) “the oracles” (τὰ λογία) = the Gospel of Matthew; (2) “the oracles” = a sayings source (like Q); (3) Papias is not speaking about the Hebrew dialect, but he uses διαλέκτος to mean “literary fashion”; thus, Matthew arranged his Gospel along Jewish-Christian lines; (4) Papias was wrong.
Although it is quite impossible to decide conclusively what Papias meant since we are wholly dependent on Eusebius for any excerpts from this early second century writer, some general considerations are in order: (1) Papias probably was not referring to the Gospel, since we have no trace of it in Hebrew or Aramaic until the medieval ages (all of which are clearly translations of the Greek, at least as far as most scholars are concerned). This view, therefore, is shipwrecked on early textual evidence. Further, Matthew does not show strong evidence of being translation Greek. (2) Some have suggested therefore (as an expedient to salvage the first view) that Papias was referring to Matthew’s literary method, rather than linguistics, but such is by no means a natural interpretation of διαλέκτος. (3) Although Papias could have been wrong—and he was a man of meager intelligence (according to Eusebius)!—he is sufficiently early and well-connected with apostolic Christianity that he ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. (4) The best option, in our view, is that Papias was referring to a sayings source which Matthew wrote. If so, then Matthew in all probability incorporated this source into his gospel, after rearranging it. As we suggested in our section on the Synoptic Problem, this sayings source may well have constituted a portion of Q. In any event, the great probability is that Papias is referring to the apostle Matthew as an author of material on the life of Jesus. Whether this is proto-Matthew, Q, or Matthew, Matthean authorship of the first gospel is either directly or indirectly supported by the statement.
After Papias, Irenaeus wrote: “Now Matthew published also a book of the Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the Church.” It is obvious that Irenaeus got the gist of this information from Papias (since he was acquainted with his work), though he does add two interesting points: (1) the audience of Matthew’s work was the Jews (or Jewish Christians); (2) the time when this work was written was during Peter and Paul’s tenure in Rome. In light of Irenaeus’ dependence on Papias (as well as his interpretation of his statement), this part of the tradition does not receive an independent testimony. But Irenaeus adds the interesting point that the time when Matthew wrote this was when Peter and Paul were in Rome. This may be no more than a guess, for other information in the statement seems false. On the other hand, since Peter and Paul were not in Rome together until the early 60s, this may well help us to fix a date for Matthew’s Gospel, provided that this tradition has other corroborative evidence.
Still later, Origen assumed that Matthew penned his Gospel originally in Hebrew. However, Origen adds nothing to what Papias has said, and may well have assumed that Papias was speaking about the Gospel rather than a sayings source. After Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Augustine and others echoed the opinion of Matthean authorship.
The early external testimony is universal on two points: (1) Matthew wrote something related to the life of Jesus Christ; and (2) Matthew wrote in a Semitic tongue. Little, if any, independent testimony exists however for the supposition that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew/Aramaic. Nevertheless, the attachment of the name of Matthew to the first gospel may well indicate that it ultimately goes back to him, even if completed by a later compiler.
Added to this explicit testimony are the quotations of Matthew’s Gospel in the early patristic writers. It is quoted as early as 110 CE (by Ignatius), with a steady stream of patristic citations afterward. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel was quoted (and copied) far more often than either Mark or Luke. From earliest times, then, it was treated as canonical and authoritative on the life of Jesus Christ, regardless of authorship.
One final comment about external evidence should be added. Although there is always the possibility of a vested interest on the part of patristic writers to seek apostolic authorship for the anonymous books of the NT, this does not explain why Matthew and no other apostle was ever suggested for the first gospel. Indeed, not only was Matthew by no means the most prominent of the apostles, but he also would not seem to be as qualified as some others to write to Jewish Christians, in light of his former occupation. Would not Andrew or Philip or Bartholomew have been more likely candidates if an apostolic author were merely a figment of the early church? None of them had the stigma of having been in league with the Romans, and all figured more prominently in the gospel narratives. What is especially impressive is that Matthew and Matthew alone was suggested as the author of the first gospel.
3. INTERNAL EVIDENCE
The following are seven pieces of internal evidence which suggest, first, that the author was a Jew, and second, that he was Matthew.
A. FAMILIARITY WITH THE NATION
The author was familiar with geography (2:23), Jewish customs (cf. 1:18-19), Jewish history (he calls Herod Antipas “tetrarch” instead of “king”). He displays a concern for the OT law (5:17-20) and puts an emphasis on the evangelistic mission to the Jewish nation as well (ch. 10). The evidence is quite strong for authorship by a Jew.
B. HINTS OF SEMITISMS IN HIS LANGUAGE
There are relatively few Semitic traces in Matthew, though one might note the heavy use of τότε (89 times), as compared with Mark (6) and Luke (15), perhaps harking back to the Hebrew אז. Beyond this, there is the occasional asyndeton (a mark of Aramaic influence), use of the indefinite plural (1:23; 7:16), etc. Although Matthew’s Greek is less Semitic than Mark’s, it does betray traces of Semitisms at times—even where none exists in the Markan parallel. If Matthew did write this gospel, one might not expect many Semitisms since Matthew was a tax-collector and would therefore have to be conversant in Greek as well as Hebrew/Aramaic. But the fact of some Semitisms suggests either that the writer was a Jew or that his sources were Semitic. Yet, some of these are so much a part of the fabric of his gospel (e.g., τότε) that it is more reasonable to suppose that the author was himself a Jew.
C. HIS USE OF SCRIPTURE
Gundry has ably pointed out how the author used the OT, especially in his formula quotations. Although there are many OT citations which correspond to the LXX rendering, his own introductory formulae (which are not found in either Mark or Luke) all seem to be free translations of the Hebrew. If so, then the author most probably is a Jew. Further, he shows great familiarity with contemporary Jewish exegesis in how he uses the scriptures.
D. ATTACK ON PHARISEES
Matthew’s Gospel attacks the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders more than Mark or Luke do (cf. 3:7 16:6, 11, 12; ch. 23). Perhaps the reason for this was, in part, due to how hard these religious leaders were on the tax-collectors (they associated them with sinners and Gentiles). Not much can be made of this however.
E. FREQUENT USE OF NUMBERS
The author’s frequent use of numbers would be natural for a tax-collector. He divides things into three parts: the genealogy, the trilogies of miracles in chapters 8-9; five parts: five great sermons of Jesus, all with the same closing formula (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1); six corrections on the misuse of the Law (in chapter 5); seven woes, parables (ch. 13); etc. Again, not much can be made of this argument, else one would have to say that a tax-collector wrote the Apocalypse! But at least it is consistent with who Matthew was.
F. HIS MENTION OF MONEY
A more weighty argument is the author’s frequent reference to money—more frequent than the other gospel writers in fact. He uses unique monetary terms (drachma in 17:24; stater in 17:25; talent in 18:24, 25); he alone of the synoptists speaks of gold and silver; Matthew contains the only two parables on talents (chs. 18, 25); and he uses tax-collector-type terminology (“debts” in 6:12 where the Lukan parallel has “sins”); “bankers” (25:27), etc. Especially when one compares the synoptic parallels, Matthew’s use of monetary terms seems significant. The most reasonable hypothesis for this is that the author was quite familiar with money.
G. THE CALLING OF LEVI
Both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28 speak of the calling of “Levi” while Matthew 9:9 calls him “Matthew.” But all the lists of the apostles refer to him as Matthew (Matt 10, Mark 3, Luke 6, Acts 1). Yet, what is remarkable is that only in the first gospel is Matthew called “the tax-collector” in the list of apostles. It may well be that the author is showing humility in this reference. In the least, however, Matthew’s Gospel is the only one which identifies the tax-collector whom Jesus called with Matthew the apostle. The most logical reason that the writer felt such liberty with his Markan source was because he knew of the identification personally.
Thus he could either be Matthew himself or an associate who later compiled the work. Against the compiler theory is Matt 9:9, which records the calling of Matthew: “it is significant that it is more self-deprecating than Luke’s account, which says that Matthew ‘left everything’ and followed Jesus” while Matthew simply says that he got up and followed Jesus. If the first gospel were not by Matthew, one would be at a loss to explain why the author seemed to deprecate Matthew in such subtle ways. A later compiler who knew and respected Matthew (probably a disciple of his), or worse, a “school of St. Matthew,” simply does not fit the bill.
In sum, each piece of evidence is hardly weighty on its own. But taken together, there is a cumulative impression made on the reader that a bilingual Palestinian Jew, well acquainted with money, wrote this gospel. External testimony has already suggested Matthew as the author; the internal evidence does nothing to shake this impression. There is, therefore, little reason to doubt Matthean authorship.
4. OBJECTIONS TO MATTHEAN AUTHORSHIP
There are three primary objections to Matthean authorship, listed in descending order of value: (1) the improbable use of Mark by an apostle; (2) the high quality of the Greek of the gospel; and (3) the nonbiographical structure of the book.
(1) Assuming Markan priority, would an apostle use a gospel written by a non-apostle, or even any written source? This is not as weighty an argument as it appears, for “if Matthew thought Mark’s account reliable and generally suited to his purposes (and he may have known that Peter stood behind it), there can be no objection to the view that an apostle depended on a nonapostolic document.”
This is analogous to the Revised Version translators (1881) using the King James Version. They intentionally supported the tradition of the KJV, and in fact wanted to emulate its translation wherever possible. However, they deviated from it in three distinct ways: (a) they wanted the new work to be based on more ancient MSS; (b) they had a better grasp of the Greek than did the KJV translators and sought to make a more accurate translation even where the textual basis was identical; (c) they wanted to remove archaisms which were no longer clearly understood. The motivation behind the RV was “to make a good thing better.” What is most significant for our purposes is the fact that even though the RV translators knew Greek much better than did the KJV translators and had earlier MSS to work with, they still wanted to keep in line with the KJV tradition as much as possible. The analogy with Matthew and Mark is obvious: even though Matthew was an eyewitness, he wanted to use Mark’s Gospel as much as possible, both to affirm its reliability and as a ready framework for the sermons of Jesus; but he also wanted to correct its grammar in places, and supplement it with pertinent information in other places.
(2) Kümmel adds three other arguments: “the systematic and therefore nonbiographical form of the structure of Mt, the late-apostolic theological position, and the Greek language of Mt make this proposal completely impossible.” Of these, only the first and third are really weighty, for the lateness of the theology is so intertwined with the supposedly late dates of other NT books and assumptions of uniformly linear development that it carries little conviction. Of the other two considerations, one will be dealt with here and the other will take up our last point.
The high quality of the Greek is hardly an argument against Matthean authorship, for Matthew would have to have known both Aramaic and Greek in order to collect taxes from the Jews and work for the Romans. Further, there is a growing consensus that Galilee of the first century was thoroughly bilingual—so much so that Greek was probably the native tongue of most Jews.
(3) “The systematic and nonbiographical” structure of Matthew does not preclude Matthean authorship. Such is a non sequitur because “(1) a topically ordered account can yield biographical facts as easily as a strictly chronological account, and (2) Kümmel wrongly supposes that apostolicity is for some reason incapable of choosing anything other than a chronological framework.”
5. CONCLUSION ON AUTHORSHIP
Although there are some difficulties with Matthean authorship, none of them presents major obstacles, in spite of some scholars calling Matthean authorship “impossible.” On the positive side, the universal external evidence which seems to lack motivation for the choice of Matthew (as opposed to any other apostle), coupled with the subtle internal evidence, makes the traditional view still the most plausible one.
A number of factors and presuppositions affect the date of this book. Among the most important are: (1) authorship; (2) the solution to the synoptic problem; (3) the date of Acts; (4) whether the Olivet Discourse was truly prophetic or a vaticinium ex eventu; (5) the theological development, especially related to ecclesiology; and (6) the significance of the Jewish nature of the work, especially its anti-Sadducean approach. Though most scholars date the book c. 80-90, our conclusion is that it should be dated substantially earlier.
(1) On the assumption of apostolic authorship, one cannot date this book too late. However, since we know next to nothing about how long Matthew lived, or even how he died, the most that can be made of this point is that it was certainly written in the first century CE (a fact already confirmed by its use in Ignatius, Didache, Hermas, etc.).
(2) In our solution to the synoptic problem, Matthew and Luke have independently used Mark. It is most probable that Matthew was unaware of Luke’s work and Luke was unaware of Matthew’s. If so, then both were probably written at around the same time. If Luke is dated c. 61-62 CE (see the section in Luke), then Matthew in all probability should be dated similarly.
Curiously, one of the arguments against Markan priority is that the patristic testimony is universal for apostolic authorship of the first gospel, and hence, scholars often contend that an apostle would not use a nonapostolic gospel. This argument has seemed so powerful that, on the other side, some Markan prioritists employ it to say that Matthew, indeed, did not write the gospel which bears his name! We have already dealt with this particular issue. However, what has not fully been addressed is the patristic testimony. If we take at face value the patristic testimony regarding Matthew and Mark (especially from Papias and Irenaeus), then three conclusions must be drawn: (1) Matthew wrote Matthew; (2) Mark wrote his gospel during the lifetime of Peter and based on Peter’s messages; (3) Matthew wrote his gospel when both Peter and Paul were in Rome (so Irenaeus). Is all of this impossible of harmonization? On the assumption of Matthean priority it is, for Mark would have gotten his gospel from Matthew and Luke, not from Peter! But on the assumption of Markan priority, everything fits: (1) Mark wrote down Peter’s messages (probably sometime in the 50s, certainly sometime during Peter’s lifetime); (2) Matthew used Mark’s Gospel as a framework to write his own work; (3) Matthew wrote his Gospel in the early 60s (the only time when both Peter and Paul were in Rome together).
(3) The date of Acts looms larger for the date of Luke and Mark than it does for Matthew. But suffice it to say here that if Acts is to be dated no later than 62 CE (a view we will defend in out introduction to that book), then Luke and Mark must precede that date (assuming Markan priority). And since Matthew is apparently unaware of Luke’s literary efforts, it is reasonable to conclude that his work was published at about the same time as Luke (for the later we date Matthew, the less likely it is that he was unaware of Luke’s gospel).
(4) Was the Olivet Discourse a vaticinium ex eventu (a prophecy after the fact)? It is safe to say that the assumption that it was is the single most important reason for overturning an early date (pre-70) for Matthew. However, two considerations argue against this supposition.
(a) Most importantly, only if one categorically denies the possibility of genuine prophecy on the lips of Jesus would the date of Matthew have to be later than 70 CE. But if Jesus spoke predictive prophecy, then there would be no necessity in placing the synoptic gospels so late.
(b) Robinson has pointed out that the specifics of the Olivet Discourse do not altogether match what we know of the Jewish War. He states, for example, that “‘the abomination of desolation’ cannot itself refer to the destruction of the sanctuary in August 70 or to its desecration by Titus’ soldiers in sacrificing to their standards. [Furthermore,] By that time it was far too late for anyone in Judaea to take to the hills, which had been in enemy hands since the end of 67.” He adds that “if Matthew intended the reader to ‘understand’ in the prediction events lying by then in the past he has certainly given him no help.” And, most significantly, that “it is significant therefore that in 24.29, ‘the distress of those days’ (i.e., on the assumption of ex eventu prophecy, the Judaean war) is to be followed ‘immediately’ (εὐθέως) by the coming of the Son of Man . . . This makes it extraordinarily difficult to believe that Matthew could deliberately be writing during the interval between the Jewish war and theparousia.” Finally, Robinson concludes, “I fail to see any motive for preserving, let alone inventing, prophecies long after the dust had settled in Judaea, unless it be to present Jesus as prognosticator of uncanny accuracy (in which case the evangelists have defeated the exercise by including palpably unfulfilled predictions).”
In other words, since this prophecy is not altogether accurate, it most certainly cannot be a prophecyex eventu. I find Robinson’s argument quite compelling at this point, with one quibble: the prophecy was completely accurate, but it has not yet been completely fulfilled. Just as the separation in time between the Lord’s first and second comings was unforeseen by the OT prophets, so also the separation in time between the destruction of Jerusalem and Jesus’ return were unforeseen by Jesus himself (cf. Matt 24:36). Robinson’s argument is a tour de force for a pre-66 date of the synoptic gospels, and, inadvertently, for an “earnest” fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse (in which the ultimate fulfillment still lay ahead).
(5) The theological, especially ecclesiological, development found in Matthew, is often used for a late date of this gospel. In particular, the mention of “church” (found only in Matthew of the four gospels) seems to reflect a later development, when issues of church order were of concern. But such a view is not at all necessary: there is no tight ecclesiastical organization seen in 16:17-20 or 18:17-18, “but only of broad principles appropriate to the earliest stages of Christianity.” Hence, this really cannot be used to argue for a date c. 80-90. Moreover, there is much against such a late date: “the period of composition commonly assigned to both Matthew and Luke (80-90) was, as far as we know, marked by no crisis for the church that would reawaken the relevance of apocalyptic.”
(6) Finally, there is the anti-Sadducean sentiment which permeates this gospel. “Significantly Matthew records more warnings against the Sadducees than all other NT writers combined, and after A.D. 70 the Sadducees no longer existed as a center of authority.” Indeed, such anti-Sadducean sentiment is very difficult to explain if the temple had been destroyed and the Sadducees were effectively wiped out! Only a date before 70 would give this motif any rationale.
In conclusion, the following points can be made: (1) Matthew depends on Mark and therefore probably should not be dated earlier than the 50s CE. (2) Luke neither knew of Matthew’s work, nor Matthew of Luke’s. If Luke is dated c. 62, then Matthew was probably written within two or three years of Luke (60-65). Thus, regardless of when Mark was written, the independence of Matthew and Luke argues for a date of close proximity to the other. (3) Matthew was written before the start of the Jewish War because his appeal to the reader to flee from Jerusalem is too late in 67 CE since the Romans had shut off that possibility at that time. The best guess as to date would therefore be the early 60s (i.e. 60-65). And for what it is worth, this is confirmed by Irenaeus’ statement that Matthew composed his work when both Peter and Paul were in Rome (c. 60-64).
C. Place of Composition and Destination
Almost certainly Matthew’s Gospel was produced in Palestine or Syria, and the majority of NT scholars agree with this view. As well, its destination was presumably (virtually) the same as its place of origin. The reasons for a Palestinian/Syrian origin/ destination are as follows.
1. The earliest quotations of Matthew are by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch of Syria, implying that it was well known in that region from earliest times.
2. Papias’ statement that Matthew wrote in a Semitic tongue would seem to demand this, unless Papias is referring to something other than the gospel itself.
3. In spite of the gospel being in Greek, this does not deny a Palestinian-Syrian origin or destination, for Palestine was quite bilingual in the first century. Still, if we see in Papias’ statement a sayings source which Matthew had compiled some time before he wrote the gospel, there must be a reason why one was in Aramaic and the other in Greek. The most logical explanation is that the first was for a narrower audience (Palestinian?) and the other for a wider one (Syrian?).
4. The Jewish flavor of the gospel—in particular the fact that the author takes for granted his audience’s comprehension of Jewish customs and places—argues strongly for a Palestinian/Syrian destination. This also, of course, argues that the audience is racially Jewish in make-up.
5. The key issues and tensions in the gospel suggest that Judaism is in tension with Christianity—and in fact that the Christians are probably in the minority. “A community in which the sabbath is still strictly kept or at least was kept for a long time, where the question of the law plays such an important role, and in which the Pharisees constitute the main discussion partners . . . must be living in an area in which Judaism is dominant. That suggests at once Palestine or neighboring Syria. Egypt or even Babylon are not serious contenders, on the grounds that the existence of a largish Christian group alongside a Pharisaic scribal group is doubtful there.”
In sum, the above considerations suggest that Palestine may well have been the origin of the Aramaic sayings source by Matthew, but Syria would have been the destination of the completed gospel. Beyond this, little can be said.
D. Occasion and Purpose
Before looking at Matthew’s specific occasion for writing his gospel, it might be beneficial to survey why the gospels were written at all. Several reasons come to mind: (1) the delay of Christ’s coming prompted the writing of the gospels, for otherwise how would second-generation Christians recognize the signs of his return? Thus, the Olivet Discourse would naturally figure prominently in a gospel, regardless of when it was penned. (2) The apostles and other eye-witnesses were aging. There was thus a need for the preservation of the material into a codified or catechetical form. (3) There was the need for a wide distribution of the material, since not every church had its own apostle. (4) There was a natural interest in the life of the historical Jesus on the part of new believers. (5) The new believers needed edification. When Peter says that they should “follow in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21) this would naturally presuppose that some knowledge of the life of the Lord should be known. (6) Christians who were suffering persecution needed to know the anchor of their souls better that they might be strong in stormy times. (7) There seem to have been apologetic purposes as well: to distinguish Christianity from Judaism, to correct misconceptions about Christ during the early and rapid influx of heresies, to evangelize and strengthen converts, etc.
Regarding the specific occasion for Matthew’s Gospel, two possibilities exist. First, Matthew’s congregation(s) already had the sayings of Jesus which Matthew had produced in Aramaic years earlier. His secondary audience had them, too, for they were translated into Greek relatively soon after their production. Once Mark’s Gospel was published, however, there was a felt need among Matthew’s congregations to have a framework for the dominical sayings. His audience wanted more than quotations; they wanted the life of Jesus of Nazareth, too. Since Mark’s Gospel was at hand, it supplied a ready framework for the dominical material. Matthew, then, reshaped the dominical material into various topics and used Mark as the narrative framework. In other words, Matthew’s Gospel may well have been produced because Mark’s Gospel was the catalyst. It served, then, an edifying function for believers.
Second, Matthew’s Gospel was, in all probability, produced because his Jewish-Christian audience was undergoing persecution by their Jewish neighbors. This is evident from the themes and motifs in this gospel: emphasis on blessing for the persecuted and hostility toward those who bring the gospel; condemnation of the religious leaders of the day for their blindness and hypocrisy; and, quite diplomatically, an apologetic for keeping the Law: keeping the Law better than the religious leaders did was the criterion for entrance into the kingdom (5:17-20). As we will see, this occasion melts into the purpose of the gospel quite naturally.
The purposes of this gospel are certainly manifold. Nevertheless, there do seem to be three main objectives. First, this gospel was written to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. This can be seen especially in the genealogy (which would have meaning for a Jewish audience that required proof of Jesus’ lineage), the miracles of Jesus (which would affirm Jesus’ authority not only as a spokesman for God, but as one who was ushering in a new age), and the OT quotations (which, with their unique introductory formula, are designed to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of Israel).
Second, the book was written to give an answer to the question, “If Jesus is the Messiah, why did he fail to establish his kingdom?” The answer, in a nutshell, is that Jesus did not fail; the nation did. Yet, the kingdom has been inaugurated for those who fully embrace him as Messiah, and it will beconsummated at the end of the age. Hence, in answering this question there is both an apologetic purpose and an evangelistic one: the Jewish Christians needed to have a defense before their Jewish non-believing neighbors and they also needed to understand the rationale for bringing the good news to Gentiles, viz., while the nation was in a state of rejecting God’s Messiah, a new program had been instituted in which Gentiles were accepted into the fold. It is also possible to detect in this gospel perhaps a sense that not all of Matthew’s audience had truly embraced Jesus as the Messiah. If so, then the apologetic purpose was directed toward them as well as to their neighbors. In other words, Matthew was writing to professing believers who were Jewish, though many of them had nagging doubts about the person of Christ and his program.
Third, the gospel was written to confirm the legitimacy of the Gentile mission. The culmination of the Gospel is the Great Commission in which the Gentile missionary endeavor is given its full support, in light of the failure of the nation to embrace Jesus as Messiah. Some have even argued, on the basis of the Great Commission, that the author was a Gentile! This, of course, is unnecessary and reductionistic, but it does illustrate the significance of the Great Commission as the crescendo of this Gospel.
In sum, Matthew first proves that Jesus was the Messiah. Second, he shows that Jesus did not fail to establish the kingdom (the failure was the nation’s—and the kingdom was inaugurated, though not consummated in the coming of the Messiah). Finally, he wishes to show that because the nation failed to respond, the gospel was now open to Gentiles. But even in this final point Matthew walks a tightrope between giving his audience a rationale for the Gentile mission and making sure that they do not offend their Jewish neighbors by abandoning the Law. In this respect, 5:17-20 and 28:16-20 stand out as the theological cornerstones of this book, and they stand in some tension.
All four gospels emphasize a different facet of Jesus Christ, though Matthew’s emphasis is easily the clearest to perceive. He presents Jesus as Messiah, Son of David, King of the Jews.
Matthew begins his gospel by demonstrating the qualifications of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah (1:1–4:11). He starts with a genealogy which is essential to establishing Jesus’ earthly right to the throne (1:1-17). The opening verse declares that “Jesus Christ [is] the son of David, the son of Abraham”—the reverse of the chronological order which he will employ in the genealogy proper. This is a pattern Matthew will develop throughout his gospel: Jesus came first as the son of David, as fulfiller of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:12-16), then as the son of Abraham, as fulfiller of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3). That is to say, Jesus first ministered to the Jews and then, when rejected by them, he opened up the gospel to Gentiles as well.
The genealogy is broken down into three groups: from Abraham to David (1:2-6), from David to the Babylonian captivity (1:6-11), and from the Babylonian captivity to the birth of Jesus (1:11-16) (cf. 1:17). “In David the family rose to royal power . . . At the captivity it lost it again. In Christ it regained it.” Not only this, but during each of these three periods a major covenant is given: Abrahamic, Davidic, and New. Thus Matthew skillfully weaves together both proof of Jesus’ royal lineage and anticipation of fulfillment of the Messianic role.
A second proof of Jesus’ right to the throne focuses on his heavenly origin (1:18-25). Although he was legally in Joseph’s line, Joseph was not his true father, for he was conceived of a virgin. This miraculous birth was in fulfillment of prophecy (1:22-23; cf. Isa 7:14).
In chapter 2 Matthew paints a cameo of the early childhood of Jesus, culminating each of four sections with a quotation/allusion of the OT as part of a fulfillment formula. Each OT passage has major interpretive difficulties attached to it—that is, in terms of Matthew’s use. Yet, once it is seen that this entire chapter is intended as a fourfold foreshadowing of later aspects of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew’s use of the OT becomes clear: his tendency is to pick passages which are not fully prophetic, but which are typico-prophetic—just as this very chapter is typico-prophetic. In 2:1-12 the magi from the east come to Jerusalem (2:15) in search of him who has been born king of the Jews (2:2; a subtle snub on Herod the Great). The scribes rehearsed the prophecy of Micah 5:2, with a significant alteration: the addition of “by no means.” With the birth of the king, Bethlehem was no longer least of the rules of Judah. The magi’s worship of Jesus foreshadowed Gentile response and a universal gospel. In 2:13-15 Jesus escapes to Egypt because of the hostility of Herod. This, too, was a fulfillment of a typico-prophetic passage (Hosea 11:1) in which the one who deserves the name “God’s Son” has duplicated the trek which the nation, as God’s son, took many years before. This withdrawal foreshadowed Jesus’ later withdrawals—especially since they, too, were initiated by another Herod (Antipas) in his killing of an innocent one (John the Baptist). In 2:16-18 the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem fulfilled the typico-prophecy of Jer 31:15 and foreshadowed the death of Christ. Finally, in 2:19-23 Jesus returns to Palestine and settles down in Nazareth, only to be scorned by his fellow-countrymen. That he would be called a Nazarene is both a fulfillment and foreshadowing: he would be despised (a play on words with Nazarene) because of his lowly beginnings. Thus as well-qualified as Jesus was, both in earthly and in heavenly terms, to be the king of the Jews, his early childhood set the stage for later Jewish rejection and Gentile reception.
Chapter 3 opens the second portion of this first major section: the preparation of the king. Even before he began his public ministry, he was acknowledged (by forerunner, Father, and foe) to be the heir to the throne, the elect one of God, the Son of God. Jesus is prepared for his ministry as Messiah by the preaching of John, his forerunner (3:1-12), by Jesus’ baptism in which he identified with the righteous remnant (3:15) and in which the heavenly voice acknowledged Jesus as Son of God (3:17), and by a demonstration of his mettle by withstanding the temptation of the devil (4:1-11) in the wilderness.
It is to be observed that there is a thread running through the early chapters of Matthew which subtly confirms that Jesus has the right to the throne. In the life of this one we see a duplication of the early life of the nation—with one difference: where the nation failed, Jesus succeeded. Thus, (1) both had a miraculous beginning, (2) both were brought down to Egypt, (3) both were brought out of Egypt and had to pass through the waters, (4) both were tested in the wilderness for a period of forty years/days, etc. Indeed, in the next section (4:12–7:29), the major emphasis is on the Sermon on the Mount—and Matthew intentionally links this to the giving of the Law by Moses. The response is the same in each case: the nation failed to believe and obey.
The second major section lays out the principles of the king (4:12–7:29). This section is developed in two distinct parts (a typical pattern of Matthew’s): narrative and discourse. The narrative section (4:12-25) tells of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, in light of his adequate preparation (1:1–4:11). The beginning of Jesus’ ministry was the imprisonment of John by Herod (4:12) which prompted Jesus to continue the same message of John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). At the same time, he changed his domicile from Nazareth to Capernaum (4:13-16) in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa 9:1-2). After declaring that his message was the same as John’s, he called his first disciples, at least one of whom (Andrew) had been a disciple of John’s (cf. John 1:35-42). Matthew summarizes Jesus’ ministry with the statement that he healed the sick and preached the kingdom (4:23-25)—a twin theme he will develop in chiastic order in chapters 5 through 9.
Matthew links the summary statement with the second portion of this section by an emphasis on the crowds: he healed and preached to crowds (4:25—“large crowds”) and “when he saw the crowds” in 5:1. An emphasis seen in all the gospels is on Jesus’ being moved by sheer numbers of needy people. The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) is a declaration of the principles of the king. As this sermon is the single largest piece of Jesus’ teaching contained in scripture, it has naturally received much attention. Generally speaking, the hermeneutical approaches to the Sermon on the Mount fall into five categories: (1) soteriological, (2) sociological, (3) penitential, (4) ecclesiastical, and (5) eschatological. A critique of each is necessary before we discuss the sermon directly.
(1) The soteriological view states that salvation is offered in this sermon: simply obey the principles and one will get saved. But this view hardly comports with the analogia fidei—even Matthew’s Gospel shows the necessity of Christ’s substitutionary death (20:28), an element wholly missing in the Sermon on the Mount.
(2) The sociological view is virtually the same as the soteriological one, except that the focus is on the salvation of society (corporate salvation) rather than of individuals. Although society would certainly be better off if it heeded the commands of this sermon (as it would for heeding all of scripture!), “this view fails for the simple reason that it has no relevance to the context.” Not only this, but it suffers the same criticism that the soteriological view suffers.
(3) The penitential approach looks at the sermon “as a body of law which makes one conscious of his sin and thereby drives him to God.” There is much merit to this view, especially in that it picks up the motif of repentance already seen in the kernel of Jesus’ preaching (4:17). But it fails at two decisive points: (a) it is backwards looking only, viewing the sermon as the culmination of the Law, with no connection to the kingdom (cf. 4:17!); and (b) it does not take into account the fact that Jesus—at least initially—is addressing his disciples, not the multitudes (cf. 5:2, 13, 14; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 18, 26; 7:11; but against this, cf. 7:13-23, 26, 28-29).
(4) The most popular approach—the ecclesiastical view—sees the sermon as directly for the church today. This view is held by scholars of all theological stripes. Essentially, the Sermon on the Mount gives rules for life in the present dispensation. Again, there is much to commend in this view, especially the fact that the evangelist included it in his gospel—written (for the most part) to the church. But there are problems with the ecclesiastical approach as well: (a) it ignores the kerygmatic summary of 4:17 (which is in the section that introduces the Sermon on the Mount) with its emphasis on the nearness of the kingdom; (b) it assumes too much overlap between the Church and Israel (that is, it assumes that identical principles equal identical peoples); (c) in the only gospel to mention “church”—thus the one gospel that makes an explicit distinction between Israel and the Church—the ecclesiastical view blurs this distinction without warrant and when, in fact, all the contextual clues show Jesus still ministering under the old covenant.
(5) The eschatological approach sees the sermon as essentially related to the kingdom of God and is a view usually associated with dispensational premillennialism. It takes two forms: (a) the rule of life which will obtain during the millennial kingdom; (b) an interim ethic which true disciples should abide by in anticipation of the coming kingdom. Although there are strengths in the eschatological approach (especially in that it takes seriously the historical context and the progress of revelation, emulating a religionsgeschichtliche approach), it also has several weaknesses.
(a) The weakness of the first view is that millennial conditions seem to be wholly lacking in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. 5:10-11, 23, 32, 44; 6:2, 16; 7:15)—in fact, more than once it is assumed that the hearers are not in the kingdom (5:20; 6:10, 33; 7:21).
(b) The interim ethic view also has it weaknesses (though it is by far the most satisfactory view in the light of the context and analogia fidei, etc.). [a] It is unclear whether this “interim” is still taking place in the present age, or only lasted until the birth of the Church. If the former, then the sermon seems to contradict Paul’s view that “Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4; cf. Matt 5:17-20). Further, it suffers all the criticisms that can be leveled against the ecclesiastical view. If the latter, why would Matthew include so much didactic material if it were no longer directly relevant to his audience? [b] This view—as the others—does not take into account the different Sitze im Leben: Is Jesus’ purpose the same as Matthew’s? Although this view handles best what Jesus’ purpose was, it virtually ignores Matthew’s use of the sermon. Since—according to this view—both were addressing different audiences, how can one audience be ignored in the reconstruction of meaning? It is distinctly possible that Jesus was giving requirements for entrance into the (millennial?) kingdom (it is quite difficult to read the central message, 5:17-20, in any other way), while Matthew employs the sermon as both condemnation on the nation for not heeding Jesus’ instructions and for pointing to the need of salvation by grace as the only way to enter the present form of the kingdom. [c] Concordant with the above, the interim view typically denies the possibility of the kingdom’s inauguration in the death of Christ, arguing instead that the kingdom is wholly future. Although beyond the scope of this paper, the “already—not yet” view has strong credentials which at least need to be addressed by “interim ethicists.” [d] Finally, this view tacitly denies the validity of both form and redaction criticism when it comes to the composition of the Sermon on the Mount, while accepting many results of both disciplines when applied to other areas of gospel exegesis. Specifically, the interim view does not wrestle with whether the Sermon on the Mount was a single sermon or a patchwork of dominical sayings which Matthew himself wove into a single tapestry (it simply assumes the former).
In light of these weaknesses, it is our approach that the Sermon on the Mount is multivalenced: (1) It is an exposition of the intent of the OT Law, delivered in the best style of the OT prophets; (2) it gives entrance requirements (in Jesus’ original intent) for the (millennial?) kingdom which the nation rejected, thus postponing the earthly kingdom; (3) it sets up a perfect standard as entrance requirements into the present form of the kingdom (i.e., salvation) (in Matthew’s use) which points the audience to their need of Christ’s substitutionary death. Thus its ethic is for today in a secondary way (the legal requirements need adjustments), and the offer of the kingdom (now, the “already” aspect) is still good and can still be acted upon.
Matthew begins his recasting of the Sermon on the Mount with a comment as to whom Jesus intended to address, namely, the disciples (5:1-2). Toward the end of the sermon it will become obvious that the crowds were also included in the audience at some point (cf. 7:28-29). The Lord’s discourse proper involves three main sections: the subjects of the kingdom (5:3-16), the truth about the kingdom (5:17–7:12), and the way to enter the kingdom (7:13-27).
Every kingdom eventually has subjects and Jesus begins his sermon by painting a picture of the kind of people who would populate the kingdom (5:3-16). Before he lists any responsibilities for them, however, he first motivates his audience to see the wealth of character (as opposed to the wealth of material possessions), heading the list with those who are “poor in spirit” (5:3). Essentially those who live for God are blessed (5:3-12). They also have a responsibility to let their “salt” and “light” have their impact on society (5:13-16).
After this brief exposition about the members of the kingdom, the Lord now gives several truths about the nature of the kingdom itself (5:17–7:12). These again focus on character development, with a strong emphasis on internal righteousness in an externally ugly world. This is the major section of the sermon and it is no accident that Jesus begins by linking his views with those of the OT prophets—that is, by giving an exposition of the intent of the OT law (5:17-48). Arguably the core of the entire Sermon on the Mount is at the front-end of this exposition, for Jesus affirms that the principles of the OT law are inviolable (5:17-20). Then, in six masterful strokes he declares “you have heard . . but I say”—not so much as a denial of the validity of the law as an explanation of what the law was really trying to get at (5:21-48) regarding hatred (5:21-26), lust (5:27-30), fidelity in marriage (5:31-32), simple honesty vs. presumptuous and unnecessary oaths (5:33-37), the lex talionis vs. giving up one’s rights (5:38-42), and love for one’s enemies (5:43-48).
Chapter six opens with a lesson on real righteousness, the kind that is not done for show (6:1-18), for only a righteousness exercised toward God has an eternal reward. This naturally leads to an examination of the intentions and attitudes of the heart (6:19–7:11) in which a truly righteous man invests in heaven (6:19-24) without worrying about his provisions on earth (6:25-34). Further, he must not have a critical spirit, especially toward believers (7:1-5), but at the same time he must exercise discernment toward outsiders (7:6). How must one obtain such balance? Where is he to find such wisdom, as well as know that his physical needs will be met? He must turn—and often—to the Lord (7:7-11). The intent of the OT law is then summarized in the “golden rule”: “in everything do to others what you would have them do to you.” Thus 7:12 forms a tidy inclusio with 5:17-20.
The final portion of Jesus’ discourse sets up a dichotomy and gives the audience a choice (7:13-27). If they would choose to enter the kingdom, they must choose the narrow gate (7:13-14), they must be like trees that bear good fruit (7:15-23), and they must build their house on the rock (7:24-27). The imagery all points in one direction: the kingdom will be populated by those who live for an audience of One.
The sermon—as well as the second section of the Gospel (“when Jesus finished these words”)—then concludes with a note about the crowds responding to Jesus in a way which they never did to the scribes (7:28-29).
The third major section (8:1–11:1) opens with several miracles of Jesus (8:1–9:34). In light of both Jesus’ authoritative teaching as well as of his offer of the kingdom, something needed to back up his words. The miracles do just that. But these miracles do not function merely to vindicate Jesus’ authority as king; both the message and the power are also delegated to the disciples as they receive their commission as the king’s ambassadors (9:35–11:1).
The miracles themselves include three groups of three with two statements about discipleship wedged in between. The first group of miracles (leprosy, paralysis, and fever are cured) emphasize compassion (8:1-17), perhaps to show that the king takes care of his subjects. Then a statement concerning the cost of discipleship is uttered (8:18-22).
The second group of miracles emphasize Jesus’ authority (8:23–9:8) in the realm of nature (calming the storm, 8:23-27), in the realm of the supernatural (the healing of the two Gadarene demoniacs, 8:28-34), and even in the realm of the spiritual (healing of a paralytic along with the forgiveness of his sins, 9:1-8). The extent of the king’s authority is seen to be immense and his kingdom to be more than physical. Then, the nature of true discipleship receives a brief discourse: it is not the well who are called, but the sick—such as Matthew the tax-collector (9:9-13); further, Jesus’ disciples must be radically committed to the new work he is doing (9:14-17).
The last group of miracles speaks of Jesus’ own radical commitment and courage (9:18-34)—necessary prerequisites to be king. He gives life to the daughter of a synagogue ruler whose own people were scorning him for his trust in Jesus (9:18-26), sight to the blind (9:27-31), and speech to a demon-possessed mute (9:32-34)—an act which caused the Pharisees to accuse him of being empowered by Satan himself (9:34).
The cycle begins again when Jesus sees the crowds: his compassion on the multitudes led him first to heal a leper (8:1-4), and now to heal all kinds of sicknesses (9:35-38). And just as his healing of a leper was a demonstration of his authority over sickness, now he delegates his authority to his disciples as a result of the expansion of his compassion (9:36-38). The twelve disciples (10:2-4) are granted the authority both to heal the sick and to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, but only to Israel (10:5-8). They are further to depend on those who respond to the gospel for their support (10:9-15), and to continue preaching in spite of persecution (10:16-31), with the hope of heaven and the priority of commitment to Christ always motivating them (10:32-39).
What is significant about this first commission to the disciples is that many of the principles taught in the Sermon on the Mount are now expected to be followed by the disciples. For example, they should not be concerned about their physical needs (10:8b-10; cf. 6:25-34); they are worth more to God than many sparrows (10:29; cf. 6:26); etc. In the least, this ought to indicate that part of the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount must relate to the disciples’ commission to proclaim the coming of the kingdom to the nation Israel.
The commission is then concluded with the refrain, “after Jesus had finished instructing . . . ” (11:1).
With Jesus’ authority fully demonstrated by his own miracles as well as by his ability to delegate such power to his ambassadors, the stage is set for the opposition to the king (11:2–13:53). Over the next two chapters it grows until it hits a climax in 12:22-37, where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being empowered by Beelzebul. At this juncture Jesus began to speak in parables to hide the truth from unbelievers and reveal it to believers (13:1-53).
The first signs of opposition to the king come mildly: first, John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, doubts whether Jesus was the Messiah (11:2-6). This was quite natural since he was imprisoned by another “king” at the time! Not only did Jesus commend John for his role in proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom (11:7-15), he also pointed out the hypocrisy of the multitudes who could not make up their mind about John or Jesus (11:16-19). This led to an outright condemnation of the towns where Jesus had performed many of his miracles, yet the citizens still did not repent (11:20-24). At the end of this first round of opposition, Jesus extends an invitation to the weary to turn to him and find rest for their souls (11:25-30).
The second signs of opposition were much more frontal (12:1-45): not just doubt, nor even unbelief, but open attack by the religious leaders on Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath (12:1-21) and his source of supernatural power (12:22-37). Immediately after Jesus’ strong rebuke for thinking that he was empowered by the devil (12:25-37, especially 31-32), the Pharisees ironically ask for more proof of what his spiritual source was (12:38). But enough miracles had been done—the sign of Jonah was all that was needed now (12:39-45).
Perhaps as an ironic twist Matthew then records that Jesus’ mother and brothers wished to speak with him (12:46-47): Were they, like John, doubting him too? At this stage Jesus makes another invitation to the crowd: whoever obeys God is related to God’s Son (12:48-50).
With this invitation in the background, Matthew points out that “that same day” (13:1) Jesus elaborated on his invitation to enter the kingdom. Although the multitudes were always with him, he must now focus his attention on the believing remnant. Hence, he speaks in parables which are designed to shut out the unrepentant and cause understanding for the true believers (13:10-17). The first group in his discourse deals with the responsibility of his hearers (13:3-23): as seed that is sown, they are to grow and be productive (13:3-9; 13:18-23), though not all who hear will really listen and heed (13:10-17).
Then, six parables about the nature of the kingdom are given in rapid succession (13:24-50). Twin themes are intertwined in these seven parables: (1) the kingdom will grow from humble beginnings, in spite of opposition (wheat and weeds in 13:24-30, 36-43; mustard seed in 13:31-32; leaven in 13:33; dragnet in 13:46-50); and (2) the kingdom has inestimable value and should be entered at all costs (hidden treasure in 13:44; pearl in 13:45). This first group of parables seems to indicate that the kingdom, in some sense, was not going to make a dynamic, cataclysmic entrance; instead, it would grow from very small roots. Wherever the king was, there his kingdom was, too. It began in the hearts of his disciples (cf. the parable of the sower) and would grow until the end of the age (13:39). Consequently, all who hear the message should take all necessary steps to enter the kingdom now, for nothing could compare to its worth.
The section on parables is concluded with a charge to those who not only heard, but also understood: reveal the good news to others (13:51-52). Then Matthew’s customary editorial comment “when Jesus had finished these parables” (13:53) concludes the fourth main section of the book.
After such heavy opposition—seen even in the dullness of response when Jesus taught them about the kingdom (cf. 13:10-17)—Jesus began to withdraw from the crowds and from danger (13:54–16:20). He went, symbolically and in reality, farther and farther away from Jerusalem. The catalyst for Jesus’ withdrawals was twofold: (1) widespread unbelief in his own hometown of Nazareth (13:54-58)—so much so that he did not perform many miracles there; and (2) the beheading of John by Herod (14:1-12).
Five successive withdrawals are recorded by Matthew: (1) to a “deserted place” in which he still performed miracles (feeding the five thousand [14:13-21], walking on the water [14:22-33], and healing the sick at Gennesaret [14:34-36]), and could not get away from the Pharisees (15:1-20); (2) to Phoenicia in which he healed a Gentile woman’s daughter (15:21-28)—giving further evidence that the kingdom was opening up to Gentiles; (3) to the Sea of Galilee where he again fed the multitudes (15:29-38); (4) to Magadan where he instructed his disciples about the “fluff” in the Pharisees’ teaching (15:39; 16:5-12); and finally, (5) to Caesarea Philippi, where he made it known to his disciples that he was the Christ (16:13-20).
It is possible to detect in these withdrawals both a testing of his followers (as he moved farther and farther away from Jerusalem, who would believe that he was king of the Jews?), and a refinement in their impression as to what constituted the kingdom and its Messiah. That Peter acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ in Caesarea Philippi—when all evidence suggested otherwise—marked the beginning of his understanding of what Jesus’ kingdom was all about. Further, it is possible to see in these withdrawals a last-ditch effort by Jesus to salvage the nation for the kingdom. Once it became quite clear to him that the nation would not repent, he altered his tactics in three ways: (1) a harsh condemnation of the nation for its impenitence (cf. especially ch. 23); (2) a narrowing focus on honing his disciples for their ministry (cf. chs. 18-20); and (3) a widening of the invitation to now include Gentiles into the kingdom.
Now that his disciples showed some inkling of understanding just who Jesus really was, it was time to reveal to them the full story: the Messiah must suffer and die in Jerusalem, and then rise again (16:21-28). Only when they had grasped that his kingdom was of a different sort than the crowds had wanted could Jesus take the risk of revealing this to the disciples. Even then, their response was rejection (16:22-23). Nevertheless, the march back to Jerusalem must begin. What would be interpreted by the multitudes as a military king’s march to power was in reality a proleptic funeral dirge.
To encourage his disciples in the face of his return to Jerusalem, he took three aside and revealed his future glory (17:1-13) via transfiguration. Then the instructions began (17:14–18:35). It is unclear as to why Jesus, according to Matthew, decided at this juncture to spend so much time instructing his disciples. Perhaps it was because they needed his sense of compassion for the lost, or because they needed to see the expanding commission to include Gentiles, or perhaps they simply needed more training. Probably it is all these reasons and more—namely, that he would not physically be with his disciples forever (although Matthew does not make nearly as strong a point of this as do either Luke or John).
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructed his disciples concerning faith (17:14-21), tribute and the proper role of those in authority (17:24-27), humility and childlikeness (18:1-4), salvation (18:5-14), discipline in the new assembly (18:15-20), and forgiveness (using a parable about an unmerciful servant, 18:21-35).
“When Jesus had finished saying these things he left Galilee” (19:1).
The last section which culminates with a major discourse deals with Jesus’ presentation of himself to Jerusalem, then the consequent rejection (19:3–26:1). But this section begins where the last one left off: with Jesus instructing his disciples—only this time, they are in Judea (19:3–20:34). Arguably, the focus of the teaching is now even more strongly related to the kingdom than before. And once again, there are reminiscences of the Sermon on the Mount in the instruction given. The instruction deals with: (1) fidelity to one’s spouse and the option of total dedication to God’s kingdom without marital entanglements (19:3-12); (2) childlike faith as a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom (19:13-15); (3) finding one’s security and reward in Christ, rather than in one’s physical possessions (19:16–20:16); (4) a well-placed third mention of his death and resurrection (20:17-19), followed up by (5) a discussion—prompted by James’ and John’s request, and exemplified by Jesus’ own actions of healing two blind men—of what it really means to be great in the kingdom (20:20-34).
This last miracle—the healing of two blind men (20:29-34)—is an appropriate hinge leading into the formal presentation of the king to the nation (21:1-17). For only with the eyes of faith could these blind men see that Jesus was the “Son of David” (20:30, 31), yet the nation was truly blind for not perceiving this upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.
Jesus presented himself formally with his so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem (21:1-11). But rather than coming as a military king (though he seems to have been hailed as such), Jesus was offering himself as the ultimate paschal lamb—on the very day in which the lambs were selected for the Passover celebration (Nisan 10). Appropriately enough, he went right for the temple (21:12-17). There he proved his own unblemished state by cleansing the temple (21:12-13) and by healing the sick (21:14). It is evident that although the religious leaders did not accept him (21:15), many of the populace did (21:16-17): Jesus’ remark about the children accepting and praising him as a fulfillment of Psalm 8:2became a final object-lesson to his disciples about the necessity of childlike faith (cf. 18:1-4; 19:13-15).
Even though Jesus was the perfect, unblemished lamb he was rejected by the nation (21:18–22:46). The nation simply failed to accept him as king, Messiah, and Son of Man—as he defined the terms. This segment begins with a foreshadowing of the nation’s rejection by God in that a fig tree was cursed and withered up because it did not bear fruit (21:18-22; cf. 7:19 and John 15:1-8). Then, there is foreshadowing of conflict with the religious leaders when Jesus’ authority is once again questioned (21:23-27).
These two foreshadowings frame the narrative for three parables (21:28–22:14) and four confrontations (22:15-46). In the parables of the two sons (21:28-32), the wicked tenants (21:33-46), and the wedding banquet (22:1-14), Jesus aims three carefully chosen volleys at the vital organs of the religious leaders. All three show God’s simultaneous rejection of the nation and welcoming of “sinners” and Gentiles into the kingdom.
The final confrontation in which the nation’s rejection of its king is sealed comes in four rounds (22:15-46). First, the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to unmask Jesus as an impostor to the throne in the question of paying taxes to a foreign king, Caesar (22:15-22). Then, the Sadducees attempt to discredit all possibility of a spiritual kingdom with their question about Levirate marriage in the resurrected state (22:23-33). The final question of the day came from a scribe who wished to reveal Jesus’ lack of rabbinic training: What sort of commandment is great in the Law, he asked (22:34-40). Jesus’ responses to these confrontational questions, in effect, turned each question on its head and made the questioners look foolish. Then, he turned the tables by asking them a question: Whose son in the Christ? (22:41-46). His own response, that Christ the son is David’s Lord and would reign forever (quoting from Psalm 110), caused all questioning to stop (22:46). It was futile for the religious leaders to win a war of words; they must try another way.
After the rejection of the king by the nation, now the king unveiled his rejection of the nation because of its impenitence (23:1-39). First, he instructed his own about how to relate to the Pharisees (23:1-12), then he uttered seven woes upon the Pharisees (23:13-36), culminating in an outright condemnation of them (23:33) for their rejection of past and future spokesmen for God (23:34-36). This very severe discourse was not prompted by malice, however, but by pity over the unrepentant leadership, typified in “Jerusalem” (23:37-39). Even to the end, Jesus had compassion on the lost, but to those who did not recognize their own lost state the words had to be severe.
The ultimate proof that the nation had been rejected by God would, of course, be the demise of its religious infrastructure. Thus Jesus led his disciples out of the temple—in symbolic rejection of it (24:1-2)—and brought them to the Mount of Olives (24:3). There he revealed not only signs of the end of the Jewish cult (24:2, 15), but also of the consummation of the kingdom as seen in the king’s return in glory (24:26-45). Speaking as a human prophet—rather than as the omniscient God (24:36)—Jesus not only did not know when his own return would be. He also did not know that the (initial) destruction of Jerusalem would take place at least two thousand years before his return. One thing is for sure: Jesus saw the fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, in some sense, taking place within a few years (24:34).
The Olivet Discourse then concludes with three analogies—all of which are designed to strengthen the disciples’ resolve for perseverance and preparedness (25:1-46). The parable of the ten virgins addresses preparedness (25:1-13), the parable of the talents addresses faithfulness and perseverance (25:14-30), and the analogy of the sheep and goats addresses judgment and reward at the end of the age (25:31-46).
The Olivet Discourse concludes with the now familiar refrain, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things” (26:1). Thus ends the final major discourse of the king.
With the future judgment of the nation on his mind, Jesus now returns to the reason for that future judgment, the nation’s rejection of its king (26:2). He predicts his death for the fourth time, but this time does not mention the resurrection (most likely to emphasize the reasons for God’s rejection of the nation rather than the hope of the disciples). Chapters 26 and 27 are occupied with the crucifixion of the king; chapter 28, with his resurrection.
Jesus’ enemies were busy with preparing for his death (26:3-5, 14-16) just as he was, too (26:6-13). His final preparation for death came in two strokes: (1) celebration of the sacrificial lamb of the Passover with his disciples—at which time he proclaimed the inauguration (but not consummation) of the kingdom (26:17-30; cf. 26:28-29), (2) followed by his time alone with the Father in the garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46).
The rejection by his nation reaches its height with the betrayal by Judas at his arrest (26:47-56) and even the triple denial by Peter (26:68-75; cf. 26:31-35)—the very one to whom Jesus’ Messiahship had first been revealed at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is then tried before the religious leadership of the nation (26:57-67), and before the political power of Rome (27:11-26). In an ironic twist of history, the Jewish Sanhedrin finds him guilty and Pilate, who represents Roman might, is powerless to prevent his execution.
The king is crucified between two thieves (27:32-44). Thus he left the world as he came into it—in humility and degradation. The nature of his kingdom is seen in his death, for the sign posted on his cross stated in three languages that “This is Jesus, King of the Jews” (27:37). Entrance into the kingdom had to be through the cross. At his death the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom (27:51), symbolizing the end of the Jewish cult and free access to God through a new mediator. There were further signs that his death was not merely the death of a righteous man, but the death of God’s own Son (27:51b-53). The irony of these signs is that a lone Gentile, a centurion, interpreted them correctly and believed (27:54).
Jesus was then hurriedly buried in a rich man’s tomb (27:57-61) and guarded by dispatched sentries (27:62-66). Matthew is at pains to show that Jesus was truly dead and that he could not escape from the grave (27:59).
On the day after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week, the two Marys visited the tomb (28:1). But the stone had been rolled away (28:2). An angel spoke to the women and told them to go to Galilee where the resurrected Christ would be (28:5-7). On the way to the disciples they meet Jesus (28:8-10).
Meanwhile, the guards were bribed to give a false report about Jesus’ disciples stealing the body (28:11-15). “And this story has been widely circulated among he Jews to this very day” (28:15). Clearly, Matthew is employing his best apologetic skills in defense of the resurrection, for it is final proof that Jesus was the king of the Jews.
The Gospel concludes with the eleven disciples going to Galilee to receive their final commission from Jesus (28:16-20). This commission is contrasted with the one in chapter 10, for there they were sent only to Israel; here, they are sent to “all nations.” The expansion of the gospel’s net to include Gentiles is thus seen against the backdrop of the nation’s rejection of its king. The motifs of national rejection and Gentile reception of the king—foreshadowed in chapter 2—now reach their culmination. And with this culmination, Matthew has skillfully answered the question about Jesus’ “failure” to establish the kingdom: he did not fail; the nation did. And all who now embrace him as king enter into relation with the king (and hence, the kingdom is beginning to grow—cf. ch. 13). The Immanuel, “God with us” (1:22), is truly with his disciples until the end of the age (28:20b).
I. The Incarnation and Preparation of the King (1:1–4:11)
A. The Incarnation of the King (1:1–2:23)
1. The Genealogy of the King (1:1-17)
2. The Birth of the King (1:18-25)
a. The Betrothal to the Virgin (1:18-19)
b. The Angelic Visit to Joseph (1:20-21)
c. The Fulfillment of Prophecy (1:22-23)
d. The Birth of Jesus (1:24-25)
3. The Childhood of the King: Foreshadowing Events to Come (2:1-23)
a. The Worship of the Magi: Foreshadowing of Gentile Worship (2:1-12)
1) Magi Coming to Jerusalem (2:1-5)
2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:6)
3) Magi Worshipping the King (2:7-12)
b. The Escape to Egypt: Foreshadowing of Jesus’ Withdrawals (2:13-15)
1) The Escape to Egypt (2:13-14)
2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:15)
c. The Slaughter of the Innocent Ones: Foreshadowing of Death of Christ (2:16-18)
1) Herod’s Slaughter of the Babes (2:16)
2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:17-18)
d. The Return to Nazareth: Foreshadowing of Jewish Rejection of Jesus (2:19-23)
1) The Return to Nazareth (2:19-22)
2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:23)
B. The Preparation of the King (3:1–4:11)
1. The Preparation for the Kingdom by John the Baptist’s Preaching (3:1-12)
2. The Inauguration of Ministry by John’s Baptism of Jesus (3:13-17)
3. The Demonstration of Worthiness by the Devil’s Temptation of Jesus (4:1-11)
II. The Declaration of the Principles of the King (4:12–7:29)
A. The King’s Ministry Begun (4:12-25)
1. The Occasion: John’s Imprisonment (4:12-16)
2. The Message: The Nearness of the Kingdom (4:17)
3. The Calling of the First Disciples (4:18-22)
4. Summary of the King’s Ministry (4:23-25)
a. Proclamation (4:23a)
b. Proof (4:23b-25)
B. The King’s Message Declared (5:1–7:29)
1. The Setting (5:1-2)
2. The Subjects of the Kingdom (5:3-16)
a. Blessings by God (5:3-12)
b. Responsibilities before Men (5:13-16)
3. The Truth about the Kingdom (5:17–7:12)
a. Exposition of the Intent of the Law (5:17-48)
1) The Law’s Principles Affirmed (5:17-20)
2) The Law’s Intentions Explained (5:21-48)
a) Regarding Hatred and Murder (5:21-26)
b) Regarding Lust and Adultery (5:27-30)
c) Regarding Commitment and Divorce (5:31-32)
d) Regarding Honesty and Oaths (5:33-37)
e) Regarding Rights and Retaliation (5:38-42)
f) Regarding Love and Hatred (5:43-48)
b. Exhortation toward Internal Righteousness (6:1-18)
1) Summary: External Vs. Internal Righteousness (6:1)
2) Specifics: The Rewards of External and Internal Righteousness (6:2-18)
a) The Rewards for Almsgiving (6:2-4)
b) The Rewards for Praying (6:5-15)
c) The Rewards for Fasting (6:16-18)
c. Examination of the Intentions of the Heart (6:19–7:11)
1) Regarding Investments (6:19-24)
2) Regarding Worry (6:25-34)
3) Regarding a Critical Spirit toward Believers (7:1-5)
4) Regarding Discernment toward Unbelievers (7:6)
5) Regarding Petitions toward God (7:7-11)
d. Summary on the Intent of the Law (7:12)
4. The Way to Enter the Kingdom (7:13-27)
a. The Two Gates (7:13-14)
b. The Two Trees (7:15-23)
c. The Two Houses (7:24-27)
5. Conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount: Response of the Multitudes (7:28-29)
III. The Commission of the Messengers of the King (8:1–11:1)
A. The Power of the King Demonstrated (8:1–9:34)
1. Compassionate Miracles (8:1-17)
a. Leprosy (8:1-4)
b. Paralysis (8:5-13)
c. Fever and Demons (8:14-17)
2. The Cost of Discipleship (8:18-22)
3. Authoritative Miracles (8:23–9:8)
a. In the Realm of Nature (8:23-27)
b. In the Realm of the Supernatural (8:28-34)
c. In the Realm of the Spiritual (9:1-8)
4. The Nature of Discipleship (9:9-17)
a. The Calling of Matthew (9:9-13)
b. The Question about Fasting (9:14-17)
5. Courageous Miracles (9:18-34)
a. Life (9:18-26)
b. Sight (9:27-31)
c. Speech (9:32-34)
B. The Proclamation of the King Delegated (9:35–11:1)
1. The Compassion of Jesus (9:35-38)
2. The Commission of the Twelve (10:1-42)
a. The Delegation of Authority (10:1-4)
1) The Nature of the Authority (10:1)
2) The Names of the Apostles (10:2-4)
b. The Directions to the Apostles (10:5-42)
1) The Sphere and Nature of their Work (10:5-8)
2) The Provisions for their Work (10:9-15)
3) Their Perseverance in the Work (10:16-31)
a) In Spite of Persecution (10:16-23)
b) In Light of the Rejection of their Master (10:24-25)
c) In Response to God’s Sovereignty (10:26-31)
d) In the Hope of Heavenly Acknowledgment (10:32-33)
e) In Recognition of the Claims Jesus Makes on them (10:34-39)
4) The Reward for Hospitality (10:40-42)
3. Conclusion of Commission, Continuation of Ministry (11:1)
IV. The Opposition to the King (11:2–13:53)
A. The Antagonism of the Jews (11:2–12:50)
1. Commendation of John in spite of his Doubts (11:2-19)
a. The Doubts by John (11:2-6)
b. The Commendation by Jesus (11:7-15)
c. The Capriciousness of the Multitudes (11:16-19)
2. Condemnation of the Cities because of their Unbelief (11:20-24)
3. Invitation to the Weary to Find Rest (11:25-30)
4. Confrontation with the Pharisees in Light of their Mounting Hostility (12:1-45)
a. Concerning Jesus’ Authority over the Sabbath (12:1-21)
1) Plucking Grain (12:1-8)
2) Doing Good (12:9-14)
3) Foreshadowing: Prediction of Gentile Reception (12:15-21)
b. Concerning Jesus’ Power over the Supernatural (12:22-37)
c. Concerning Jesus’ Proof of Spiritual Source (12:38-45)
5. Invitation to the Willing to Become God’s Children (12:46-50)
B. The Parables of Jesus (13:1-53)
1. The Setting (13:1-2)
2. The Responsibility of those who Hear (13:3-23)
a. The Parable of the Sower (13:3-9)
b. The Purpose of the Parables (13:10-17)
c. The Parable of the Sower Explained (13:18-23)
3. The Parables of the Kingdom (13:24-50)
a. The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (13:24-30)
b. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
c. The Parable of the Leaven (13:33)
d. Fulfillment of Prophecy (13:34-35)
e. The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds Explained (13:36-43)
f. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44)
g. The Parable of the Pearl (13:45)
h. The Parable of the Net (13:46-50)
4. The Responsibility of those who Understand the Parable of the Householder (13:51-52)
5. Conclusion to the Parables, Continuation of Ministry (13:53)
V. The Reaction of the King (13:54–19:2)
A. The Withdrawals from the Antagonists because of Rejection (13:54–16:20)
1. The Catalyst (13:54–14:12)
a. Unbelief in Hometown of Nazareth (13:54-58)
b. Beheading of John by Herod (14:1-12)
2. The Withdrawals (14:13–16:20)
a. To a Deserted Place (14:13–15:20)
1) Miracles Performed (14:13-36)
a) Feeding of the Five Thousand (14:13-21)
b) Walking on the Water (14:22-33)
c) Healings at Gennesaret (14:34-36)
2) Pharisees Confronted: Clean Vs. Unclean (15:1-20)
a) Confrontation with the Pharisees (15:1-9)
b) Declaration to the Crowd (15:10-11)
c) Instruction of the Disciples (15:12-20)
b. To the Region of Phoenicia: The Healing of the Canaanite Woman’s Daughter (15:21-28)
c. To the Sea of Galilee: The Feeding of the Four Thousand (15:29-38)
d. To Magadan (15:39–16:12)
1) The Withdrawal to Magadan (15:39)
2) The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ Demand for a Sign (16:1-4)
3) The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ Teaching Warned Against (16:5-12)
e. To Caesarea Philippi: The Revelation of Jesus’ Person (16:13-20)
B. The Return to Judea in spite of Rejection (16:21–19:2)
1. The Catalyst: The Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (16:21-28)
2. The Comfort: The Transfiguration (17:1-13)
3. The Instruction of the Disciples in Galilee (17:14–18:35)
a. Concerning Faith (17:14-21)
1) The Healing of a Demon-Possessed Boy (17:14-18)
2) The Challenge to the Disciples (17:19-21)
b. Concerning His Death and Resurrection: Second Mention (17:22-23)
c. Concerning Tribute (17:24-27)
d. Concerning Humility (18:1-4)
e. Concerning Salvation (18:5-14)
1) Warning against Stumbling Blocks (18:5-9)
2) Searching for Lost Sheep (18:10-14)
f. Concerning Discipline (18:15-20)
g. Concerning Forgiveness (18:21-35)
4. Conclusion of Instruction, Continuation of Journey (19:1-2)
VI. The Presentation and Rejection of the King (19:3–26:1)
A. The Instruction of the Disciples in Judea (19:3–20:34)
1. Concerning Divorce, Marriage, and the Kingdom (19:3-12)
a. Confrontation about Divorce (19:3-9)
b. Celibacy and the Kingdom (19:10-12)
2. Concerning Childlikeness and the Kingdom (19:13-15)
3. Concerning Wealth and the Kingdom (19:16–20:16)
a. The Rich Young Man: Security in Riches (19:16-26)
b. The Disciples: Security in Christ (19:27-30)
c. The Parable of the Vineyard: Rewards in the Kingdom (20:1-16)
4. Concerning His Death and Resurrection: Third Mention (20:17-19)
5. Concerning Servant-Leadership and the Kingdom (20:20-34)
a. John’s and James’ Request (20:20-23)
b. Jesus’ Response (20:24-28)
c. Jesus’ Example: Healing of Two Blind Men (20:29-34)
B. The Presentation of the King (21:1-17)
1. The Preparation for the King’s Coming (21:1-7)
2. The Entrance into Jerusalem (21:8-11)
3. The Entrance into the Temple (21:12-17)
C. The Rejection of the King by the Nation (21:18–22:46)
1. The Withering Fig Tree: Foreshadowing of the Judgment of the Nation (21:18-22)
2. Jesus’ Authority Questioned: Foreshadowing of Conflict (21:23-27)
3. Three Parables: Stimulus for Confrontation (21:28–22:14)
a. The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32)
b. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-46)
c. The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14)
4. Four Confrontations: Evidence of Rejection (22:15-46)
a. By the Pharisees and Herodians: Paying Taxes to Caesar (22:15-22)
b. By the Sadducees: Marriage at the Resurrection (22:23-33)
c. By the Pharisees: The Great Commandment (22:34-40)
d. Against the Pharisees: Whose Son is the Christ? (22:41-46)
D. The Rejection of the Nation by the King (23:1-39)
1. Instructions to the Crowd and Disciples concerning the Pharisees (23:1-12)
2. Warnings to the Pharisees concerning Themselves: The Seven Woes (23:13-36)
a. First Woe: Shut out of the Kingdom (23:13-14)
b. Second Woe: Swearing (23:15-22)
c. Third Woe: Straining out a Gnat (23:23-24)
d. Fourth Woe: Cleaning the Cup (23:25-26)
e. Fifth Woe: Whitewashed Tombs (23:27-28)
f. Sixth Woe: Murdering the Prophets (23:29-32)
g. Seventh Woe: Pronouncement of Judgment (23:33-36)
3. Lamentation over Jerusalem (23:37-39)
E. The Predictions of the King concerning the Judgment of the Nation and the Consummation of the Kingdom (24:1–26:1)
1. The Setting in the Temple (24:1-2)
2. The Discourse on the Mount of Olives (24:3–25:46)
a. Signs of the End of the Age (24:3-35)
b. The Day and Hour Unknown (24:36-51)
c. The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-13)
d. The Parable of the Talents (25:14-30)
e. The Sheep and the Goats (25:31-46)
3. The Conclusion of the Olivet Discourse (26:1)
VII. The Crucifixion and Resurrection of the King (26:2–28:20)
A. The Crucifixion of the King (26:2–27:66)
1. The Prediction of His Death: Fourth Mention (26:2)
2. The Plot to Kill Jesus (26:3-5)
3. The Preparation for His Death (26:6-46)
a. The Anointing at Bethany (26:6-13)
b. Judas’ Agreement to Betrayal (26:14-16)
c. The Last Passover (26:17-30)
d. The Prediction of Peter’s Denials (26:31-35)
e. Gethsemane (26:36-46)
4. The Arrest of Jesus (26:47-56)
5. The Trials of Jesus (26:57–27:26)
a. The Trial Before the Sanhedrin (26:57-67)
b. Two Disciples’ Responses (26:68–27:10)
1) Peter Denies Jesus (26:68-75)
2) Judas Hangs Himself (27:1-10)
c. The Trial Before Pilate (27:11-26)
6. The Crucifixion of Jesus (27:27-56)
a. The Mocking of the Soldiers (27:27-31)
b. The Actual Crucifixion of Jesus (27:32-44)
c. The Death of Jesus (27:45-56)
7. The Burial of Jesus (27:57-66)
a. Joseph’s Tomb (27:57-61)
b. Pilate’s Guard (27:62-66)
B. The Resurrection of the King (28:1-20)
1. The Empty Tomb (28:1-10)
2. The Guards’ Report (28:11-15)
3. The Great Commission (28:16-20)