Today we begin the Gospel of Matthew. Why read this Gospel now? Well, having finished reading the history of Israel through the life of David, and we understand the covenant God made with Him, and we have read so many of David’s Psalms that express hope in the coming King Who would sit on the throne of David forever, so it is a good time to read about the fulfillment of that hope. And that is the focus on this Gospel account.
So a few basics: this Gospel was written by Levi the tax collector (see Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27) whom Jesus renamed Matthew. I believe that this is the only Gospel account written by an Apostle of Jesus.1 Matthew wrote his Gospel for Jews. There are many who believe there was even a Hebrew version of the Gospel written by Matthew himself. Matthew arranges his book largely topically, because he has a specific theological purpose: to prove the Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Matthew applies quite a bit of Old Testament prophecies and types to Christ.
Matthew wastes no time establishing the purpose of his book. Jesus is the promised Son of David, and the promised offspring of Abraham (1:1). Matthew then traces the lineage of Jesus from Abraham through to his earthly father Joseph. But Matthew is making a theological point by doing what he does here. If you compare 1:2-6 with Luke 3:31-34, you will see that Luke counts fifteen generations between Abraham and David. Matthew lists 27 generations between David and Jesus (1:6-16), Luke lists 43 generations (Luke 3:23-31). Why the discrepancy? First, Luke traces Mary’s genealogy, not Joseph’s. Second, Luke is writing as a first rate historian, Matthew is writing as a first rate theologian.
Matthew is grouping these generations to show a broad history of redemption divided into three major epochs, all with different purposes. The first epoch begins with God’s sovereign choice of Abraham whom He called out of the whole world. That epoch ends when God sovereignly uses history to raise David up to his throne (remember Psalm 78 that we considered yesterday!). Having chosen and established David and making the promise of the Son of David Who would reign forever, God turned Israel over to their own devices after David, and that epoch ended in God’s rejection of Judah in the Babylonian captivity. The final epoch was the return and God’s preservation of Israel until the fulfillment of all of it – Abraham, David, Israel, the return to the land – in Christ. In other words, Christ was always God’s purpose, and He sovereignly used history and the people He chose to fulfill that purpose.
Matthew then records the birth of Jesus. Whereas Luke tells the story from Mary’s point of view, Matthew tells it from Joseph’s. He does this for the same reason he records Joseph’s lineage, even though he was not the biological father of Jesus. He is establishing the birthright of Jesus, which passes through the father. He is legally the offspring of David on His father’s side. Note that Matthew speaks here of the Holy Spirit (twice) as the agent of Jesus’ conception. He does this to show that Mary was a virgin, that Jesus is born of God, and therefore that Jesus’ birth fulfills Isaiah 7:14.2
Chapter 2 records the visit of the “wise men” (Greek: magi ). These men were likely pagan priests that interpreted astrological events as being revelation from their gods. Even though our Nativity sets on Christmas place the wise men at the manger with all the animals at Jesus’s birth, we don’t know for sure that this is the very night of his birth. We do know that this visit had to have happened within 40 days of Jesus’s birth (see Lev 12 and Luke 2:22), because the family returned to Nazareth after that time (see Luke 2:39). There is also no number of wise men given, and tradition holds to three only because three gifts are listed (2:11). It would have been very uncommon :for only three men to travel such a distance (likely from the area of Babylon).
The magi interpret the astrological sign to mean that the King of the Jews has been born. The sign appears to be a supernatural event, as the star moves and then comes to rest over the place where Jesus was (v. 9). It is also likely that the magi were given revelation from God in a dream about the star and Jesus, because they heed the dream-warning in verse 12. Matthew overtly states that Jesus’s birth fulfills the prophecy of Micah 5:23, but his reference to the star also claims fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17.
Matthew then records Joseph’s dream-warning and the family fleeing to Egypt until the death of Herod. Matthew tells us this fulfills the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. This is significant, because in context, the son God called out of Egypt was Israel at the Exodus, who responded with disobedience. Matthew is showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment not just of this verbal prophecy, but the fulfillment of Israel. And whereas their calling resulted in disobedience and rejection, Christ is the fulfillment because His calling results in obedience and acceptance.
Within two years of the wise men coming (v. 16), Herod realizes he’s been duped. His original plan was to find the child and kill him – he wasn’t about to give up his throne! But now he has to kill every possible usurper of his power (Herod actually killed a bunch of his own family to preserve his throne before this. It was kinda his thing), so he kills all the males in the area of Bethlehem. This was the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15.4
The chapter ends with the family moving back to Nazareth, which Matthew says fulfills the prophesy “he would be called a Nazarene” (v. 23). But there is no such prophecy in the Old Testament. In fact, Nazareth did not exist in Old Testament times. What is interesting is that Matthew here says this was spoken by the prophets (plural). Perhaps he is pointing to a more general fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies speaking of the lowly estate of the Servant of the Lord, since those from Nazareth were not held in respect, but were rather objects of ridicule (see John 1:46).
Chapter 3 details the ministry of John the Baptist and the public revealing of Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew declares John the Baptist to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3.5 He describes him as Elijah (v. 4 – see 2 Kings 1:8), which would have brought to the minds of the Jews the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6, and which means that Matthew was calling Jesus the Messiah. John is preaching the same things Matthew has been communicating thus far. In 3:9, John is pointing out that their physical lineage in no way makes them children of Abraham. Verse 10 is a threat of rejection by God. John is invoking the language of Malachi 4 by calling Jesus “He who comes after me,” and he doubles down on this by referencing the baptism by fire, (v. 11) a likely reference to Malachi 3:2, and the burning of the chaff (v. 12), a very likely reference to Malachi 4:1. Note how John’s illustrations of the stones (Luke 19:40), the tree and it’s fruit (Matt 7:17-19, 12:33), and the wheat being gathered into the barn (Matt 13:24-30) are later borrowed by Christ.
In verse 13, Jesus appears in public to start His ministry, and He begins by getting baptized. John is right in verse 14, Jesus needs no baptism. John craves the baptism Jesus came to bring (see v. 11). But Jesus tells him that He must be baptized :to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). What does He mean? There is a lot going on here. First, like our baptism, Christ’s baptism symbolizes death and resurrection. He is pointing to His completed work. And in order to complete that work, Jesus will literally fulfill all righteousness. The Holy Spirit descending on Him is the Spirit indwelling the human Jesus, just like He indwells us, to empower Him to obey, just like He empowers us. The voice from heaven of the Father not only completes the Trinity – they are all present in Christ and His ministry – but the Father is saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 2:7 (a Psalm about judgment) and Isaiah 42 (a prophecy of Spirit-empowered salvation).
But there’s another reason Jesus is baptized: He is identifying Himself with sinners. He is identifying Himself with us. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance (v. 11). Christ had no need to repent. But we do. He is “fulfilling all righteousness” so that when God imputes His righteousness to us, that righteousness includes (and necessitates!) our repentance from sin. In a sense, Christ repented for us, even though it is our sin being repented of.
Chapter 4 records the temptations of Jesus. Matthew is showing us Christ’s fulfillment of all righteousness. Jesus, the second Adam (see Rom 5:12-21) is facing the same temptation Adam did. In 4:3, Satan tried to get Jesus to eat (Adam ate!). In verse 6, Satan tried to test Jesus’s trust of the Father (Adam didn’t trust Him!). In verse 9, Satan tried to get Jesus to worship him rather than God (Adam made Satan his god!). But whereas Adam (and we in Adam!) failed, Christ (and we in Christ!) obeyed and was righteous. And Christ, unlike Adam, relies on God’s Word to keep Him from sin. He relies on Deuteronomy 8:3 to resist eating (v. 4). He relies on Deuteronomy 6:16 to preserve His trust the Father (v. 7). He relies on Deuteronomy 6:13 to continue to worship God alone (v. 10). Christ succeeded for us!
Immediately after succeeding where Adam failed, Christ begins His public ministry. He moves to Capernaum (v. 13), fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2. Of importance is that the prophecy speaks of the nations, or the Gentiles. Even though Christ focused His ministry on Israel, that He came for Jew and Gentile alike is being established here. The first public words of Christ preach the same message as John the Baptist (v. 17 – see 3:2).
Matthew then records the calling of Simon and Andrew (vv. 18-20) and John and James (vv. 20-22). Whereas Luke records some of Jesus ministry before He calls His first disciples, Matthew starts with the basic message of Jesus’s preaching (v. 17), then establishes the community mission (fishing for men – v. 19) of the spread of the Gospel by telling of the calling of the inner circle of these four disciples. Then Matthew records Jesus actions. He teaches (v. 23). This is always primary to Matthew. The miracles accompany the teaching to prove the authority of the teaching. So as the healings draw attention to Him (v. 24-25 – note that “the Decapolis” is Gentile territory), Jesus uses it to teach. That is where we will pick up tomorrow with the Sermon on the Mount.
1 When we get to the fourth Gospel, we will see the Biblical evidence that leads me to believe that it was not written by the Apostle John.
2 The promise that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” was originally promised as a sign of victory for the King of Judah (i.e., the son of David – see Isa 7:13) against Israel. It was typological of the greater Son of David being victorious and God’s rejection of national Israel in the New Testament.
3 In context, the prophecy of the ruler to be born in Bethlehem extends from Micah 5:2 – Micah 5:15. However, our 5:2 is 5:1 in the Hebrew text – they place our 5:1 in the previous chapter as 4:14. Matthew’s readers would have seen a claim by Matthew that Christ fulfills all of Micah 5 (to us 5:2-15). Why is this important? Go read that passage, and it helps make sense of what Matthew is doing theologically. Like his splitting of the genealogy into three even sets to show God’s choice of Christ and rejection of Israel, Micah 5:2-15 speaks of the King being born, His people being those who live to the ends of the earth, and Israel being intermingled with the nations with only a remnant being saved. Matthew is showing how Christ’s coming fulfills the purpose of national Israel and opens His kingdom to the whole world.
4 This prophecy was about God’s people going into captivity. In the next verse, God promises to save a remnant. This is typological of the “remnant” saved by Christ out of the world.
5 In context, this is a Messianic prophecy where the voice that cries out speaks comfort and peace, but also speaks of the finitude of man over against the eternality of God’s promises (see Isa 40:1-8).