The Gospel of Matthew

“All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy king.” —Matthew 21:4,5

EACH OF THE four Gospel writers described Jesus from quite different perspectives. Mark saw Jesus as the perfect servant of God, one who acted quickly and had little to say. Luke presented Jesus as a perfect man with love toward all, especially the despised classes of humanity. John described Jesus as the Son of God—God’s personal representative on earth.

Matthew’s Gospel is still different from the others. The placement of Matthew as the first Book of the New Testament is appropriate. He is the logical “bridge” between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Even though he wrote for a Jewish audience, he did not tell the Jews what they wanted to hear. He presented Jesus as the king of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah. And it is Matthew’s Gospel that provides the narrative illustrating the kingly nature of the “Branch.”

The Branch

The word ‘branch’ or ‘sprout’ is used in the Scriptures to show vitality, prosperity, or descendents. Consider these words from the Prophet Isaiah: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.”—Isa. 11:1,2

David was a descendant of Jesse, and was revered by the Jews. But as time passed, David’s royal house dried up. It became like the stump of a nearly dead tree. Isaiah prophesied that out of the “root” would come a Branch, and this “Branch” would be glorious. Among other things, the “Branch” would “slay the wicked” (vs. 4), which to the Jews meant Israel’s enemies.

It is interesting to trace the use of the title ‘Branch’ in the Scriptures. There are four prophecies that characterize this Branch from four different viewpoints. Each seems to be descriptive of one particular Gospel. Jeremiah’s characterization of the Branch is descriptive of Matthew: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”—Jer. 23:5

The context of this prophecy shows that the word Branch is a title of someone to come, and this ‘someone’ is a king. When Matthew wrote his Gospel, his objective was to show that the lawful heir to David’s throne had arrived, the one who should be accepted as king.

The Branch as spoken of in Zechariah describes Mark’s Gospel: “Behold, I will bring forth my servant, the BRANCH.” (Zech. 3:8) In Mark’s presentation Jesus is shown to be the perfect servant of God.

“Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.” (Zech. 6:12) Luke’s Gospel showed Jesus as the perfect man. Luke described the perfect humanity of our Master and emphasized his love for all mankind, especially the despised elements of Jewish society.

“In that day shall the Branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious.” (Isa. 4:2) “O Zion, … O Jerusalem, … lift up thy voice with strength; … say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9) This describes John’s Gospel, where Jesus is shown as God’s personal representative on earth. It is not, “Behold the man!” in John’s Gospel. It is, “Behold your God!”

The Gospels

The first four Books of the New Testament are all called Gospels. The Greek word evangelion, translated ‘gospel’, means ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’. But the English word gospel started out as God’s spel. (Spel is Old English for ‘word’ or ‘discourse’.) Thus the first four Books of the New Testament represent ‘God’s Word’ for us, as communicated by his only begotten Son. That is why they are so important to Christians everywhere.

Jesus as King

Matthew wanted to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, the long-promised king of Israel. How could he make a convincing case? He did it in the same way anyone would who is trying to convince others that a Biblical point of view is correct—he would quote from the Scriptures.

Matthew quoted 54 scriptures from the Old Testament—more than twice the number of any other Gospel writer. There are 22 quotations which are found in his Gospel, and only in his Gospel. Here are a few:

“All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet [Isaiah], saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.”—Matt. 1:22,23

“Thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem … out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people Israel.”—Matt. 2:5,6

“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”—Matt. 2:15

“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.”—Matt. 8:17

“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet saying, I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things which have been kept secret.”—Matt. 13:35

“All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass.”—Matt. 21:4,5

“Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver.”—Matt. 27:9

“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.”—Matt. 27:35

Notice the constant repetition of the phrase, “that it might be fulfilled.” Matthew was establishing the evidence that Jesus Christ was the one predicted in the Scriptures.

Matthew quoted one Old Testament text that presents a problem: “He [Jesus] came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:23) But there is no Old Testament prophecy that says this directly. However, because Nazareth means ‘branch town’, perhaps Matthew is drawing attention to the Branch, as mentioned in Isaiah 11:1.

On six occasions Matthew quoted Jesus as he reminded his audience that they surely must have read a particular text in their sacred Scriptures. He did this more than the other three Gospel writers combined, probably because his audience was predisposed to believe what was written in their Bible. Here is one example: “He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that he [God] which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4) Clearly Jesus believed our first parents were created. Those who believe that human beings came into existence through a process of evolution do not agree with our Lord.

Jesus Christ

Matthew opened his Gospel with these words: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1) The word Messiah in the New Testament is simply a transliteration into Greek of the Hebrew word Messiah. A transliteration conveys the sounds of the foreign word, not its meaning. The word perestroika is an example of a Russian word originally written in the Cyrillic alphabet that has been transliterated into English letters to convey the original sound of the word.

In Hebrew, the word Messiah means ‘anointed’. In a transliterated form, the word Messiah is found only twice, and only in the Gospel of John. The word Christ is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. There would be less confusion for English readers if the word always appeared as Messiah. Jesus is the equivalent Greek word to the Hebrew Joshua, and means ‘the salvation of Jehovah’. Thus Matthew introduced his subject as: Jesus, the Messiah.

The word anointed is particularly appropriate. In Old Testament times kings and priests were anointed with oil when they were set apart for their office. The oil used for the High Priest was so special that no one could make it, or use it inappropriately for any other than the priesthood, under penalty of death. (Exod. 30:32,33) To anoint means to ‘consecrate’.

Matthew mentioned the “son of David,” even before he spoke of Abraham, because he wanted his readers to see Jesus as the heir of David—the prophetic Branch. Jesus was the one who prophetically fulfilled what God had said to David through the Prophet Nathan: “Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, [and] I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. … And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.”—II Sam. 7:12,16

Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham to Joseph—his mother’s husband. Why was Joseph important genealogically? It was a question of legality. Because Joseph was Mary’s husband, Jesus was legally considered his son. Jesus was thus a son of David in the eyes of Jewish law.

In his genealogy of Jesus, Matthew added the words “the king” (vs. 6), when he mentioned David. These words are of particular note, because with them he intended to show Jesus as the king, the rightful descendant of David’s royal house. He used the expression, ‘son of David’ as a title for Jesus in his very first verse, and eight other times in his Gospel. We quote one concerning the time when Jesus was presented to the people as king: “The multitudes that went before and that followed cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”—Matt. 21:9

The words shouted by the people had been taken from Psalm 118:25,26. The word hosanna is a Hebrew one, and has been transliterated into Greek. Even though many commentators consider it a cry of praise, the word, in fact, is a cry for help. The original psalm reads: “Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—Ps. 118:25,26

Hosanna is a pleading cry for help. It may be considered a one-word prayer. And the petition is that the “son of David,” and the “Most High” win come and save. We may thus properly read the Matthew text this way: “Save, please, O son of David. Blessed in the name of the Lord is he who comes. Save, please, O Most High.”

The Sermon on the Mount

There are five great discourses by Jesus in the Book of Matthew. The longest, continuing from Chapter 5 through Chapter 7, is familiarly called, the Sermon on the Mount. Although a portion of it is contained in Luke, nearly seventy percent of the record is unique to Matthew. This beautiful sermon begins with the Beatitudes, which are thought by some to be the entire Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “Blessed are …,” nine times. The Greek word means, ‘supremely blessed, by extension, fortunate,’ (Strong’s Concordance).

People consider the beatitudes to be overly passive or mild, because they commend those who are ‘poor in spirit’, who ‘mourn’, who are ‘meek’, ‘merciful’, ‘peacemakers’. But would we prefer to keep company with those of an opposite temper?—those who are proud; or the light-hearted bent only on pleasure; greedy aggressors; or those who persecute others? The beatitudes are not at all ‘weak’. They are far superior to, and stronger than, most principles taught of men. We could never point to a stronger man than Christ, who fulfilled all of them in his life. We are expected to do the same since we are attempting to walk in his footsteps.

The next 30 verses in Matthew, Chapter 5, are not found in any other Gospel. In them Jesus spoke about the moral life of the Christian community, and specifically emphasized to his readers that the righteousness of Christians must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Because he wrote for a Jewish audience, Matthew included these words of Jesus: “Think not that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfill.”—Matt. 5:17

The Jews were taught to believe that the Law was their basis for a unique relationship with God. Even though they must have been impressed with the miracles of Jesus, they were concerned about what Jesus’ power would ultimately mean relative to their Law. Jesus told them that he was there to give the Law a new meaning, one that God had always intended it to have. But the majority simply could not accept this statement.

Their strong commitment to their Law caused them to stumble. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the Law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.” (Rom. 9:31,32) Thus we see how something good can be at odds with something better. The Law was good, but it was not good enough to provide justification, to make men right with God. Jesus brought the ‘something better’, but most could not accept it.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about various subjects. Included were: What will happen to those who are angry at their brethren? What to do about offenses caused by a ‘right eye’ or a ‘right hand’. He expanded various Old Testament laws to apply to Christians; he taught the ‘Lord’s Prayer’; he talked about laying up treasure in heaven; He gave us the ‘Golden Rule’. He spoke about the ‘narrow way’, and how we must do God’s commandments, not just hear them. At the close of the Sermon on the Mount we read: “It came to pass, when Jesus ended these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”—Matt. 7:28,29

Adam Clarke, a noted 19th century Bible scholar, wrote: “So ends a sermon, the most strict, pure, holy, profound, and sublime as ever delivered to man; yet so amazingly simple is the whole that almost a child may understand it.”

The Gentiles

We would not expect Matthew to speak about the Gentiles, since he was writing to Jewish readers. But still he did not tell the Jews what they wanted to hear. Like the other Gospel writers, Matthew did indeed show that “the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind,” as the poet wrote. His Gospel contains strong warnings against blind trust that having descended from Abraham means automatic acceptance with God. “I say unto you that many [not only Jews] shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matt. 8:11

Some might interpret this to mean only those of the Jewish community will “sit down.” But there is no misunderstanding his words at the very end of his Gospel: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”—Matt. 28:19

Concluding Thoughts

The Gospel of Matthew has been one of the best loved Books of the New Testament from the very beginning of the Christian experience. Some have called it the “first among equals,” when comparing it to the other three Gospels. It contains a large number of memorable verses. In this Gospel record Jesus is portrayed as a king, the long-awaited Messiah. Matthew proved his thesis by constantly quoting from the Old Testament, many more times than the other Gospel writers.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount he gave his followers a new law, one that transcended the letter of the Old Law, and one which embodied the spirit of the Gospel Age. He taught that anyone could enter into a relationship with the Heavenly Father through faith in Jesus. This was more than most Jews could do.

There is, perhaps, no greater contrast between human philosophies and the teachings of Christ than these words: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”—Matt. 11:28-30

Those who have accepted this gracious invitation will say in their hearts, “Amen!”

Click here to go to Part 2
Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |