Matthew 101

Have you ever heard two different people share a story about the same incident, or describe a movie? Often, the stories will vary a bit. Why does this happen? Why is it two people can experience the same event but recall it in different ways? Because we’re all different!

Each person experiences something slightly differently. One person may recall intricate details of the surroundings, another may hone in on a specific interaction that took place, while another may have been more focused on how people felt and responded.

One of the most amazing things about the Gospels is that while they all share the same story of Jesus and tell many of the same stories, sermons, encounters, and moments of His life, they’re each unique in their approach and focus.

Mark was written to a Roman audience, is shorter than the other Gospels, focuses on Jesus’ miracles more than the rest, and seeks to highlight Jesus’ servanthood.

Luke was written to a Greek audience, emphasizes Jesus as the Son of Man, and highlights the parables of Jesus more than the rest.

John was written for a broad audience, emphasizes Jesus’ divinity, takes a philosophical and theological approach, and focuses on Jesus’ discourses regarding Himself.

Then, there’s Matthew. . .

In this piece, we’ll unpack the who, what, where, when, and why as well as examine some of the key themes contained within the first book of the New Testament. So, let’s dive right in!

A Brief Overview

The account of Jesus’ life we now call the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew (also referred to as Levi) in the early days of the church, likely between A.D. 55 and 65.

Who Was Matthew?

In Matthew 9:9 (NIV), we read, “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”

Matthew (also called Levi) was one of Jesus’ disciples and a former tax collector. Now, even today, tax collectors usually aren’t at the top of our Christmas card list. But in Jesus’ day, tax collectors were among the most reviled groups of people because they were considered traitors. They worked for the enemy, Rome, and took money from their own people—usually taking more than they needed to. Often, these taxes were unfair and unregulated and many tax collectors benefited from the oppression of their people. Matthew was among this hated group of individuals, so imagine everyone’s shock when Jesus invited Matthew to follow Him!

Style

Interestingly enough, the writing style present in this account of Jesus’ life is exactly what would be expected of a man who was once a tax collector. He possessed a skill that makes his writing all the more exciting for Christians. You see, tax collectors were expected to be able to write in a form of shorthand, which essentially meant that Matthew could record a person’s words as they spoke, word for word. This ability means that the words of Matthew are not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, but for all intents and purposes represent an actual transcript of some of Jesus’ sermons. For example, the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in chapters 5-7, is almost certainly a perfect recording of Jesus’ revolutionary message.

Unlike Mark who records events in chronological order, Matthew arranges his Gospel through five discourses. These discussions are called the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the Mission Discourse (10), the Parabolic Discourse (13), the Discourse on the Church (18), and the Discourse on End Times (24).

Who Was the Original Audience?

The Gospel of Matthew was written during a time period when a majority of Christians were Jewish converts. This letter was written for a Jewish audience, making clear that Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and the Son of God, as well as the promised Messiah the prophets foretold.

Matthew Breakdown

  • Matthew 1-2: God with Us (1-2)
  • Matthew 3-4: Kingdom Preparation (3-4)
  • Matthew 5-7: The Way of the Kingdom (5-7)
  • Matthew 8-15: The King Goes Public (8-15)
  • Matthew 16-20: The King Rejected (16-20)
  • Matthew 21-28: The King’s Cross (21-28)

Matthew Themes

Jesus (the Christ): Matthew is all about making clear that Jesus is the promised Christ, which means, “the Anointed One of God; the Messiah; the Savior.” The placement of Matthew’s Gospel at the beginning of the New Testament is perfect because, as Stuart K. Weber wrote, “Matthew serves as the hinge upon which the Testaments pivot . . . Matthew explains in ‘mini-Bible’ form God’s entire plan of the ages from Genesis to Revelation. To misunderstand the Messiah as presented by Matthew is to misunderstand much of the plan of God as it unfolds in the New Testament.” This function is also clearly seen through the fact that the Gospel begins with the genealogy that shows Jesus’ direct lineage with Abraham and David.

Matthew consistently looks back into the Old Testament and refers to Hebrew prophecies about sixty times. He not only continues the story of salvation revealed in the Old Testament, but he makes clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the story. Notice also throughout how often Jesus is referred to as the Son of David in connection to miracles He would perform.

The Fulfillment of Prophecy: In addition to emphasizing Jesus as the Messiah and Son of David and Abraham, Matthew develops this incredible fulfillment formula, where he notes something that happened or that Jesus did and then provides quotations from the Old Testament to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of each prophecy. The formula, which Matthew uses ten times, is easy to spot as it’s always attached to a statement like, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet.”

In total, Matthew harkens back to the Old Testament about sixty times and makes about 20 specific references to prophecy in relationship to Jesus. He also seems to paint an even bigger picture of Jesus as the greater David (the King of an everlasting kingdom), the greater Moses (the Deliverer who would fulfill the Passover and save His people from bondage to sin), and the greater Abraham (the Seed through whom all nations would be blessed, whose followers would outnumber the stars).

Kingdom Living: Through Jesus’ discourses throughout, we’re provided with a model for living as followers of Jesus. We see it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), in the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40), the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:15), in Jesus’ directive to keep watch, stand guard, and be ready for His coming (Matthew 24), and in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

What to Look For?

  • Every time Matthew says a prophecy “was fulfilled” . . .
    • look at the Old Testament passage and prophecy that Jesus is fulfilling,
    • consider what this tells us about Jesus’ character and His work, and
    • reflect on the overall importance of Jesus having fulfilled the promises and prophecies God gave hundreds or thousands of years before.
  • Matthew arranges his Gospel around five discourses or sermons of Jesus. These are the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the Mission Discourse (10), the Parabolic Discourse (13), the Discourse on the Church (18), and the Discourse on End Times (24). As you encounter each of these, write down what it tells you about the kingdom of God, what it means to live as a follower of Jesus, and how it equips you to live on mission and share the gospel with others.
  • The Gospel of Matthew contains 23 parables, 11 of which are only found in Matthew. Every time you encounter a parable, put your critical thinking cap on and think about what and why Jesus is saying. Ask yourself, “How does this change the way I live and see the world?”

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.