When reading the Gospel accounts, it is important to remember several things. First, all scripture is God-breathed. Second, as Dr. R. Wayne Stacy illustrates, each Gospel account is best described more as a portrait of Jesus and His ministry rather than simply a photograph. A portrait displays the author’s perspective and allows the reader to view the narrative through their individual and distinctive lens. Lastly, it is best to read the Gospels vertically, rather than horizontally, essentially viewing each account as a solo rather than a quartet. These principles and methods provide a clearer and more concise understanding of the original author’s perception and intended audience. While some scholars argue the Gospel of Matthew is nothing more than a creative reinterpretation of Mark, once the above principles are applied, it is evident much can be learned from Matthew’s account.
Matthew’s Portrait of Jesus and His Ministry
While dating the Gospel of Matthew and proving its authorship have not been without their challenges, there are several things, which are made evident: First, this book seems to be positioned immediately following the Old Testament due to its unique linking of the Old Testament with the New Testament. Secondly, throughout the Gospel account, Jesus is often portrayed as the Teacher and in that day, teacher was also synonymous with leader. Lastly, in addition to the title of Teacher, Jesus was also compared to a new Moses and the church as a new Israel. Thomas Lea explains how, “The Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as Messiah and the church as God’s new people who have been temporarily replaced the covenant nation of Israel.” Much like John the Baptist was the one who prepared the way for the Messiah, Matthew’s role would be introducing Jesus of Nazareth as the prophesied Messiah to the ethnic Jews. Matthew, in 3:3 speaks of John the Baptist’s role and as R. T. France illustrates, “John himself is presented only as the one who prepares the way and announces the Messiah’s coming. As such he both fulfills prophecy and also himself in his role as the last and greatest of the prophets, utters a more immediate prediction of Jesus’ Messianic role.”
The Gospel of Matthew is also very special because it is the only Gospel account, which refers to the church. In addition, as France points out, “The prominent repetition of the title “Messiah” [or] “Christ” in 1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4, together with… “Son of David,” 1:1, 20; “King of the Jews,” 2:2, make it clear that Matthew is aiming to present an account not just of a historical figure Jesus of Nazareth, but of the long-awaited deliverer of God’s people Israel.” This conclusion would especially make sense if the original intended audience were Jewish. This assumption is only strengthened by Matthew’s tracing of Jesus’ genealogy all the way back through David to Abraham and his quotes from the Pentateuch establishing Jesus as being greater than Moses.
Matthew begins his account detailing the early life of Jesus and His preparation for ministry, but following these details, the Gospel can then be split up into five books/sermons/discourses: the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, kingdom of heaven and parables, life in the kingdom and encouragement to live a life of humility and forgiveness, and the Olivet discourse or judgment and last things. Lea adds this organizational structure and the specific inclusions, “Reflects the tidy mind-set of one who could have been a tax collector, [and that Matthew] is the only Gospel account that contains the story of Jesus’ payment of the temple tax, and [how] Matthew viewed himself, [being a tax collector,] unworthy of the place of apostle given to him by Christ.”
Throughout Matthew’s account, it is abundantly clear everything that happened to Jesus happened so the prophecy of scripture would be fulfilled and everything He did served a specific purpose. Ultimately, Matthew portrayed Jesus as the teacher and as Lea illustrates, “The Sermon on the Mount taught the meaning of true righteousness, in the Great Commission Jesus gave the disciples specific instructions, Jesus used the parables to explain the kingdom, and Jesus’ challenge to remain humble was a model to how one must act in the kingdom.” As Lea also concludes, “Matthew wrote with a special purpose of reaching the Jewish people, he was concerned the readers [would] understand the person and work of Jesus in order to make an intelligent decision about Him, and lastly Matthew shows a profound interest is preserving the teachings of Jesus.” These are but a few of the reasons why the Gospel of Matthew made it into the canon of scripture and they demonstrate Matthew believed in his heart Jesus was the Old Testament’s fulfillment of the law and prophecy and that He was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, but he also understood what needed to happen to Jesus for the prophesy to be fulfilled and for the remission of sins. It is from this realization that his writing is rooted because Matthew wanted his audience to truly understand the sacrifice of Jesus, so that they would grow in Christ, obey His word, and ultimately fulfill the Great Commission.
France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Lea, Thomas D. and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.
Stacy, Dr. R. Wayne. “Overview of the Four Gospels.” https://learn.liberty.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-10753616-dt-content-rid-84883986_1/courses/NBST515_B06_201620/Presentations/NBST515%20iSpring%20Presentations/NBST515%20Module%206%20Overview%20of%20Four%20Gospels%20%28LMS%29/res/index.html (accessed 2-22-16).