At the time of the writing of Matthew (c. 80 - 90 A.D.) the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity was complete. This is obvious in light of Matthew's decidedly defensive perspective of Judaism. Throughout the text, he distances Christ from Judaism by referring to "their synagogues" (4:23; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54), and "their cities" (11:1). According to Matthew, God's wrath has been poured out upon the generation of Jews that rejected Christ. It is "this generation" (11:16; 12:41-42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34) that is responsible for God's judgment--a generation described as childish (11:16), unrepentant (12:41-42), evil (12:45), adulterous (16:4), unbelieving (17:17), perverted (17:17), and murderous (23:36). It is upon this generation that God's wrath is revealed in its fullness--particularly through the destruction of the Temple (24:34).
In light of this conflict, Matthew counters the charges pertaining to Jesus' credentials as the Messiah. The opening genealogy, the constant reference to Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and the repetitive use of the messianic phrase, "Son of David" (which occurs 9 times in Matthew, while only used 6 times in all the other Gospels combined), all highlight Matthew's defense of Jesus as the true Davidic King, the promised Messiah, the seed of Abraham, and the Savior of the world--both Jew and Gentile. According to Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of God's saving purposes. His life conforms to a divine blueprint. Those who do not recognize this simply misread the Scriptures.
Matthew's Gospel is methodical, systematic and well organized with careful precision. The text of Matthew contains key structural markers that help the reader determine the author's intentions. The shape of Matthew's story is clearly recognizable in light of these markers.
One key structural marker ("from that time Jesus began�" 4:17; 16:21) highlights the threefold division of the book of Matthew. Matthew uses this phrase as a way of drawing attention to key turning points in his narrative that introduce a new stage in the life of Jesus. In light of these markers the book can be divided in this way:
- The Presentation of the Person of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God (1:1 - 4:16)
- The Presentation of Jesus in Terms of His Public Proclamation (4:17 - 16:20)
- The Presentation of Jesus in Terms of His Passion and Resurrection (16:21 - 28:20)
The other key structural marker ("when Jesus had finished saying these things�" 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1) draws attention to the five extended discourses in Matthew. These five discourses are connected to the narrative through the use of the fivefold refrain concluding each discourse. The final refrain (26:1) adds the word "all" to the formula ("when Jesus had finished saying all these things�"), drawing attention to the fact that this formula wraps up all five of the discourses. The five discourses then are the referent for Jesus' climactic statement in Matthew 28:18-20, "teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you."
Matthew's five great discourses draw attention to another prominent theme of Matthew--that of Jesus as the new lawgiver after the pattern of Moses, the authoritative teacher of the New Covenant. Jesus' most prominent activity in Matthew's Gospel is teaching. Throughout the book great emphasis is placed on Jesus' authoritative words (7:24, 28-29). Jesus claims to know God's original intent in the giving of Torah and brings that intention to light in his teaching (5 - 7). Jesus uniquely and exclusively knows the Father's will (11:25-30). Jesus' life is the model of a life lived in submission to Torah and thus he reveals the will of God as the Torah does (11:28-30). Moreover, Jesus' words share the same eternality as the Torah, therefore, they will never pass away (5:18; 24:35). The book concludes by demonstrating that Jesus is the Lord with "all authority" (28:18) who teaches his commands to his church (28:19-20). Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment and embodiment of Torah, the new lawgiver that Moses spoke of (cf. Deut. 18:15-19). Therefore to reject Jesus is to reject Moses.
From the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew leaves us in no doubt concerning the identity of Jesus. He is the Messiah, the Son of David, the son of Abraham. The latter two titles link Jesus to God's two great promises to Israel. "Son of David" recalls God's promise to raise up David's seed and establish his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). "Son of Abraham" recalls God's promise that Abraham's seed would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 22:18). Both of these things--Messianic kingship and Gentile blessing--climax in the final pronouncement in Matthew's Gospel: "All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth [kingship]. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [Gentile blessing]�" (Matt. 28:18-19).
Matthew's narrative begins with a genealogy (1:1-17). The structure of the genealogy highlights the emphasis on kingship. Through the genealogy, Matthew tells the story of Israel--her origin, her kings, her exiles, and her fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah. The unusual mention of four women of Gentile stock in the genealogy foreshadows God's universal offer of salvation (28:19), for even the genealogy of Messiah transcends national limits. Furthermore, "each of these women had a well-known story of marriage that contained varying elements of sexual scandal--unions, however 'irregular,' which continued the lineage of the Messiah." This prepares us for the unusual birth that follows.
Matthew's account of Jesus' birth (1:18-25) answers an important question concerning a problem in the genealogy: How can Jesus legitimately be designated the Son of David when Joseph son of David is not his father and Mary, his mother, is not said to be from the line of David? The narrative details why Joseph completed the marriage and made Jesus his legal son, thus grafting Jesus into the Davidic line through Joseph's juridical recognition of him as his own son. "The object then is not to spotlight the virginal conception so much as to narrate how Jesus is the Son of David in spite of the virginal conception."
What then is the significance of the virgin birth? The virgin birth is a sign to the House of David that the anointed one has arrived (cf. Isa. 7:14). The messianic age has begun through the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ (cf. Isa. 61:1). Jesus' conception proves to be an eschatological event of a new creation, a new beginning. After long years of exile and oppression, God is once again at work, through Jesus, to save his people.
Chapter 1 demonstrates how the virgin born Jesus can authentically be the Son of David. Chapter 2 demonstrates how Jesus can be the Messiah even though his ministry is associated almost entirely with Galilee. All four of the Old Testament references in Chapter 2 refer to locations (2:6, 15, 18, 23), proving the locations of Jesus travels were not haphazard but directed by God. The negative response of Herod and "all Jerusalem" to the news of the Messiah's birth (2:3) foreshadows the conflict and rejection to come. The positive response by Gentile Magi foreshadows the universal offer of salvation (28:18-20) and the positive response of the Gentiles to the Messiah.
The final section of the initial presentation of Jesus focuses on Jesus' identity as God's obedient Son, fulfilling all righteousness. John the Baptist is revealed as the prophesied herald of the Messiah (3:1-12). He calls the people of Israel to prepare for God's visitation through repentance. John's harsh words to the Pharisees and Sadducees (3:7-12) foreshadow future conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. Furthermore, John's words, which undermine ethnic heritage as a basis for participation in the coming rule of Messiah, foreshadow once more the universal offer of salvation that will climax this book (28:18-20).
In the story of Jesus' baptism, Jesus makes the long trek from Nazareth to the Jordan river north of the Dead Sea to associate himself in a public and unmistakable way with John's ministry and baptism. Through baptism, Jesus identifies with the renewed people of God and begins publicly to "fulfill all righteousness", bringing to completion God's plan (cf. 21:32). At the baptism, God identifies Jesus as his "beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (3:17; cf. Isa. 42:1). From a reader's perspective, our certainty concerning Jesus' identity is further reinforced by this direct word from the highest authority possible. In this episode we are introduced for the first time to the phrase, "Son of God." God's pronouncement of Jesus' sonship will now be tested in the wilderness.
The testing in the wilderness (4:1-11) is the climax of Matthew's first section. This story is not an example story, but a vindication of Christ's obedience. Jesus proves to be the obedient Son of God (in contrast to Israel in the wilderness). In light of Jesus' resistance to the devil's temptations we, the readers, can now with certainty rest assured that Jesus will carry out God's will from this point on. Jesus' true sonship is vindicated; Jesus is the Son of God, reflecting and pleasing the Father in every way.
Matthew's introductory presentation of Jesus (1:1 - 4:11) portrays him as the new Moses and the new Israel. Like baby Moses, the infant Jesus was the subject of a wicked king's attempt to murder him, and like the situation in Egypt, many young children were brutally murdered as a result. In both cases, divine intervention saved the infants' lives. Both Moses and Jesus spent their early years in Egypt. Both had to flee from their homeland and both returned when the wicked tyrants were dead.
Matthew wants us to think of Jesus, not just as the Son of David, and so as the Davidic Messiah, but as the new Moses, who will save his people, much like Moses saved his people from slavery in Egypt. Moses was the most significant figure in the whole history of Israel. He was associated with all the key redemptive events in Israel's history: the Exodus from Egypt, the Passover, the giving of the law, and the formation of Israel as a nation. Moses himself spoke of a prophet like himself that God would someday send (Deut. 18:15-19). Matthew's emphasis on Jesus as teacher portrays Jesus as the new lawgiver that Moses predicted. Like Moses, Jesus will give his law from a mountaintop. Unlike Moses, who went up the mount and came down to tell the people God's law, Jesus will speak from the mountain and will give his law. Like Moses, Jesus will deliver his people from bondage--not bondage to Egypt, but bondage from sin (cf. 1:21). Like Moses, Jesus will inaugurate a Passover, not in regard to the blood of animals, but in regard to his own blood and sacrifice. Like Moses, Jesus will inaugurate a covenant, but not a covenant that is prepatory and incomplete, but a covenant that is final and reveals the fullness of God's redemptive purposes. And finally, like Moses, Jesus will form a new nation--not a nation centered in ethnic identity, but a nation composed of Jew and Gentile through his death and resurrection.
After the testing, Jesus is ready for the beginning of his public ministry (4:12-16). Once again, Jesus' geographical location in Galilee is proved to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew emphasizes this in order to counter charges concerning Jesus' ministry in Galilee. In Matthew, Jesus will spend most of his time in this area, not heading toward Jerusalem until it is time for his passion. Jerusalem is thus associated with the rejection of Jesus leading to his death.
At this point in Matthew's narrative, we encounter Matthew's structural marker ("From that time Jesus began�") drawing attention to a new phase in Jesus' life--his public ministry (4:17).
The first act of Jesus' public ministry involves his calling of disciples (4:18-22). A short summary follows, mentioning the three aspects of his public ministry (teaching, preaching, and healing). His ministry is amazing in its demonstration of power and in the extent of public interest in Jesus' message and mission. This early popularity will fade over the course of the narrative as conflict arises and escalates.
This summary is followed by Matthew's first extended discourse. The Sermon on the Mount is an example of Jesus' preaching the gospel of the kingdom (4:23). In this message, Jesus speaks of a new righteousness--a righteousness that exceeds the highest standard of his day (5:20). This "righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees" is the new ethic for the disciples of Christ. The sermon emphasizes hearing and doing (5:19; 7:24-27), good works (5:16), righteousness (5:20; 6:1, 33), and bearing fruit (7:15-23). This ethically high road is the narrow road Jesus refers to near the end of his sermon (7:13-14).
The sermon, which is directed to Jesus' disciples could be outlined as follows:
The Greater Righteousness:
- On those who practice the greater righteousness (5:3-16)
- Greater righteousness toward one's neighbor (5:17-45)
- Greater righteousness before God (6:1-18)
- Greater righteousness in other areas of life (6:19-7:12)
- Injunctions on practicing the greater righteousness (7:13-27)
According to Jesus, his teaching is not novel. It is, in essence, the original and ultimate intention of God's Torah. It is the sum and substance of "the law and the prophets" (note the inclusio, 5:17 and 7:12). "It is the canon for discerning what is God's will in the law and the prophets and for correctly interpreting them. The love for the neighbor that knows no bounds is the principle that governs Jesus' interpretation of the law."
Those hearing Christ's message are confronted with a decision. They can either choose to live according to the accepted standards of righteousness of their day, or they can choose to obey Christ's words and Christ's interpretation of the law. Obedience to the "greater righteousness" leads to life; disobedience leads to destruction. The crowd recognizes Jesus' authority in this message and is amazed at his teaching (7:28-29). But the proper response is not amazement, but obedience. This ends Jesus' first extended discourse (7:28-29).
Chapters 8 and 9 collect a series of healings and miracles. The first three healing narratives climax in 8:16-17. The healing of the leper (8:1-4), the Centurion's servant (8:5-13), and Peter's mother-in-law (8:14-15) are followed by a short summary and fulfillment passage (8:16-17). It is possible that the healings refer to Temple worship within Jerusalem. Lepers were not allowed in Temple worship at all. Gentiles were allowed a bit further, into the Court of the Gentiles. Women were allowed a bit further still. It is also important to note Jesus' statement in light of the Centurion's faith. According to Jesus, the Centurion's faith was greater than all that he had encountered in Israel. In light of this, Jesus announces Gentile inclusion in the messianic kingdom. He also states that many in Israel will have no part in God's kingdom. The fulfillment passage closing these three accounts highlights the fact that Jesus is the messianic healer of Israel prophesied by Isaiah.
The next section includes Jesus' call to discipleship (8:18-22), Jesus calming the storm (8:23-27), the exorcism of the demon-possessed men (8:28-23), and the healing of the paralytic (9:1-8). Jesus' call to discipleship offended Jewish sensitivities, and yet it can be proven that he was merely requiring what God demanded of his prophets (Eze. 24:15-24; Jer. 16:5-7). In light of this, Jesus is seen to be calling his disciples to a prophetic ministry equal to or greater than the ministry of the greatest prophets of old. In the next three stories Jesus reveals his power over nature, demons, and paralysis. This is followed by Matthew's positive response to Jesus' call to discipleship (9:9). Matthew's response provides the backdrop to Jesus' participation in a dinner with tax-gatherers and sinners (9:10-17). It is at this point that opposition to Jesus' ministry begins. Jesus accuses the opposition of misunderstanding Scripture (9:12-13). He teaches that something new is beginning (9:15, cf. 9:33). Is it possible that part of the newness of Jesus' ministry involves a fundamental reordering of "clean" and "unclean" categories? In the Old Testament uncleanness was contagious, contaminating all it touched. Under the ministry of Jesus, cleanness becomes contagious. Throughout these two chapters, Jesus touches leper (8:3), heals Gentiles (8:13), ventures into land infested by pigs and demons (8:28-34), touches a dead girl (9:25), and is touched by a menstruant (9:20).
Three more miracles conclude this section: the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the raising from the dead of the official's daughter (9:18-26), the healing of the blind men (9:27-31), and the exorcism of the dumb, demon-possessed man (9:32-34). This is followed by a summary of Jesus' ministry.
The climactic miracle of this section (9:32-34) provokes two reactions. The crowds realize that something completely new is occurring in the ministry of Jesus (9:33). The Pharisees accuse Jesus of being in league with demonic powers (9:34). Thus, the wonder of the crowds and the rising conflict and opposition of the religious leaders is made apparent in this climactic healing.
The review that follows (9:35-38) not only summarizes Jesus' ministry once again but also laments the lack of sound religious leaders. Israel is leaderless, like "sheep without a shepherd", a Biblical figure of speech describing the desperate situation of a nation without proper leadership (Num. 27:16-17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron. 18:16; Jer. 50:6; Eze. 34:1-16; Zech. 11:15). It is this lack of spiritual leadership and the resultant wandering of the people that Jesus addresses in the next extended discourse on missions.
After commissioning his disciples for their mission (10:1-4), Jesus gives instruction for their mission (10:5-15) and then describes the perils of the mission ahead (10:16-42). This mission is specifically directed toward "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:6), referring back to Israel's condition as distressed and downcast sheep (9:36). In light of this discourse, Matthew's readers would understand that God had not abandoned Israel for the Gentiles. Although some Israelites will respond, a division will occur within Israel in light of Jesus' ministry. Persecution is certain, but not to be feared. Many of the elements of persecution stated in this chapter have a wider scope than the original mission to Israel, and thus extend the significance and value of this instruction to the early church and her missionary activity. Commitment to Jesus will bring division (10:34-36) and demand utmost allegiance (10:37-39). Jesus' missionaries come in his stead (10:40-42). This discourse is summarized and closed in 11:1.
Throughout the next major section (11:2 - 16:20), opposition continues to arise. The dominant theme in chapter 11 concerns how Jesus' deeds vindicate him (11:1, 19, 20, 25). The deeds of the kingdom are recognizable. Throughout the chapter his ministry activities are recounted and considered in light of their significance. All the items listed in 11:5 have been accomplished by Jesus in previous chapters. The "good news to the poor" recalls the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus addresses the importance of John the Baptist (11:7-15) and the unresponsiveness of the people of Israel (11:15-19). This is followed by a rebuke to those who inhabit the places he has ministered in (11:20-24), leading to a prayer inviting the weary to rest under the yoke Jesus gives (11:25-30).
Two Sabbath controversies follow (12:1-14) that increase conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, followed by a fulfillment passage in the center of the book completely capturing the person and work of Jesus (12:15-21). Conflict continues to escalate with the Pharisees charge accusing Jesus of being in league with demonic powers (12:22-45).
After a fundamental redefinition of family (12:46-50), Jesus begins his third extended discourse. Matthew 13 develops Jesus' teaching on the kingdom of God in the form of parables. Through the parables, Jesus sheds light on the nature of the kingdom and the privilege it is to be given knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom. This extended discourse concludes with the formula in 13:53.
Conflict continues to escalate as those in Jesus' hometown reject him (13:53-58). Three accounts of opposition followed by Jesus' withdrawal and subsequent ministry follows. First, Herod opposes John (14:1-12), leading to Jesus' withdrawal (14:13ff.), and subsequent ministry feeding the 5000 (14:31-21) and walking on the water (14:22-33). Next, opposition arises in regard to oral tradition (15:1-20), leading to Jesus' withdrawal (15:21ff.) and subsequent ministry to the Gentile woman, and the feeding of the 4000. Again, the incident with the Gentile woman proves that the Gentiles were not included in God's purposes because Israel was rejected capriciously. The final and climactic conflict of this section regards the Pharisees and Sadducees demands for a sign (16:1-4), leading to Jesus' withdrawal (16:5ff.).
Matthew's second major division climaxes in Peter's confession. It is in light of this confession that Matthew introduces the second crucial turning point (and thus the third major section) in Jesus ministry (16:21). From this point on, Jesus sets his sights toward Jerusalem, warning his followers of his passion to come. "The one who has demonstrated power over disease, demons, and storms becomes powerless as he takes on the role of the suffering servant who gives his life." Peter's rash statement (16:22) in light of Jesus' Passion pronouncement gives Jesus the opportunity to further clarify the role of the disciple (16:23-26).
The Transfiguration account follows and is an important statement by God in light of Jesus' teaching concerning his Passion (16:21). God's voice, which legitimized Jesus ministry at the beginning (3:17), now legitimizes Jesus' ministry in light of this new phase. It is likely that the appearance of Moses and Elijah has great eschatological significance--Moses in regard to the prophet he spoke of (Deut. 18:15-19) and Elijah as the forerunner of the great day (Mal. 4:4-6). The transfiguration is followed by a failure of the disciples (17:14-20). Matthew once expands upon the "little faith" motif (6:30, 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). This is followed by another reminder of Jesus' coming Passion (17:22-23).�
The temple tax story (17:24-27) immediately preceding the community discourse of Chapter 18 introduces us to the idea of going out of one's way in order to not offend others. This principle is to be a guiding principle in the church because of the great damage that can be done apart from it. In the reconciled community of the faithful, every member is to assume responsibility for every other member and all are accountable to the whole church. There is a great emphasis in this section on doing all in one's power to not offend a brother. Furthermore, if sin arises to disrupt harmony, forgiveness is to be quick and apparent. This extended discourse is concluded in 19:1.
Jesus enters Judea and immediately encounters opposition from the Pharisees (19:1-12). As he continues toward Jerusalem, Jesus tells his disciples that he intends to give his life as a ransom for many (20:28). This is the final springboard for entering Jerusalem.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy with multitudes heralding his arrival (21:1-11). Jesus' first act in the Temple is prophetic--he cleanses the Temple (21:12-17). This is followed by Jesus' cursing of the fig tree. This is an enacted parable expressing God's judgment upon Israel. A fig tree that produces leaves and therefore promises fruit but offers nothing to eat is a picture of the empty worship of the temple (cf. Micah 7:1; Jer. 8:13). Withering is a visible pointer to coming judgment (predicted in 23:38; 24:2). These two actions�cleansing the temple and healing (21:14)�declare His superiority over the temple and raise the question of the source of His authority. Jesus' response to his opponents question concerning his source of authority (21:23-27) is followed by three pointed parables (21:28 - 22:14).
All three parables must be read together as Jesus� response to the hostility of the Jewish authorities. �Each of the parables speaks of one group of people losing their privileged position and being replaced by those whom they would have despised.... The theme which runs through them is� the question of who are the true people of God, and [each parable] suggests that a fundamental change is taking place.�
The obvious implications of the three parables lead to three attempts to trap Jesus (22:15-46). Three controversial issues are brought forward in order to do this: Roman taxation (22:15-22), resurrection (22:23-33), and the greatest commandment (22:34-40). Jesus answers these traps with one of his own directed to his opponents concerning the identity of the Messiah (22:41-45). His opponents are bested. Reduced to embarrassing silence, Jesus stands over against the leaders as the authorized interpreter of God's law.
Jesus' woes against the religious leaders of Israel follow their intended traps (23). Jesus' woes resemble denunciations of God's prophets against injustice and greed. They end with a lament over Jerusalem.
This section ends with an extended eschatological discourse (24-25). The "wicked generation" will be judged, ultimately through the destruction of the Temple. Until God's judgment is finished and God's glorious salvation is fully accomplished in Christ's second coming, Jesus' disciples are to actively wait by being faithful and sensible (24:45-51), remaining prepared (25:1-13), faithfully discharging the duties God has given them (25:14-30), and serving one another (25:31-46).
Matthew then concludes this extended discourse in 26:1. The inclusion of the word "all" into the formula draws attention to all five of the previous extended discourses.
The narrative comes to a close with Christ's passion and resurrection (26:1 - 28:20). The religious leaders wicked scheme to kill Jesus (26:3-4) combined with Judas' willingness to betray his master (26:14-16) in light of Jesus' "apparent" death-wish demonstrated by his "burial" words during the woman's perfume anointing (26:6-13), lead to the capture of Jesus.
With the stage set for impending tragedy, Jesus and his disciples' celebrate the Passover together (26:14-19). During the meal, Jesus redefines the celebration in light of his upcoming passion (26:26-29). He states that he will pour out his blood "for forgiveness of sins" (26:28). This takes us all the way back to the original pronouncement that Jesus would save his people from their sins (1:21). After prayer in Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus, Jesus makes it clear to his opponents that he is willingly giving up his life in order that the Scriptures may be fulfilled. (26:53-56).
Jesus is then condemned to death (26:57-27:26) and subsequently dies on the cross (27:27-56). His body is then buried (27:57-61) and placed under the watchful eye of guards (27:62-66).
On the first day of the week the resurrected Jesus announces his appearance to his "brothers" in Galilee (28:1-10). Sandwiched between this announcement and its fulfillment, Matthew counters the argument (still around in his day) that the disciples faked Jesus' resurrection (28:11-15).
Matthew climaxes his Gospel with the resurrected Jesus' commission to his disciples. Jesus declares that he is God's king with all authority and power (28:18). He commissions his brothers to make disciples, not just of Israelites, but of Gentiles as well (28:19). He commands his disciples to teach others to obey all his commands, referring to the extended discourses of Matthew (28:20). He closes by promising to be with his church always (allusions to Deut. 31:23 and Isaiah 41:10). This promise takes us back to the original statement concerning Jesus--"Emmanuel, God with us".
 Attributed to Tupper in old notes. This is my only clue as to the origin of this quote.
 "Whom" is feminine in Greek (1:16).
� David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel, (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1993), 21.
 Ibid., 87.
 Ibid., 177.
 R. T. France, Matthew: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Series, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 306.
© Richard J. Vincent, April 20, 2001