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Bible Commentaries

Wesley's Explanatory NotesWesley's Notes

Book Overview - Matthew

by Arend Remmers

1. Author and Time of Writing

The heading of the first book of the New Testament is in most manuscripts "Gospel according to Matthew". There is only one good news of the great work that God had accomplished by His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, but in His wisdom it needed four different men to make this news of salvation known to the world in written form.

As in most books of the Bible, the name of the author is not mentioned in Matthew's gospel. But right from the beginning the Christian tradition confirms that the apostle Matthew is the author of this gospel. But this tradition also says that Matthew's gospel was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Papias (ca 65 - 150 AD) writes: "Matthew has written these words (Greek logia) in the Hebrew language, but everybody translated them as best they could." The interpretation of this is not easy, and there have been various explanations. The view of the more recent scholars is that the gospel was neither written by Matthew nor in Hebrew or Aramaic. They believe that the writer was no apostle, that he wrote the gospel in Greek and based it on two sources: the gospel of Mark and a so-called "Logia Source Q", which only exists in theory. The reason for the assumption that the apostle Matthew could not have been the author of this gospel is that an eye witness could not have written like this, and that it is unthinkable that an apostle would have based his writings on the work of a non-apostle like Mark. But both arguments miss out that the Holy Scriptures have been written by men, who were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Who led them in their writings with regard to contents as well as form (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, 2 Peter 1:21). On the other hand it is possible that at the beginning there was a collection of the words of Jesus in Aramaic, but this remains a theory if not confirmed by text findings. The text of Matthew's gospel is now generally viewed as Greek original, and not as a translation.

The name of the author, Matthew, is listed in all lists of apostles at the seventh or eighth place (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, Acts 1:13). All three synoptic gospels - so called because of their similarity - tell us about his calling (Matthew 9:9 ff, Mark 2:13 ff, Luke 5:27 ff). While on this occasion Luke calls him "Levi, the tax-gatherer" and Mark "Levi, the son of Alphaeus", he is called "Matthew" only in our gospel. Another noteworthy fact is that Matthew is only called "Matthew the tax-gatherer" in the list in Matthew 10:3. The name Matthew can be traced back to various Hebrew names: Matthija, Matthitja, Mattanja or Matthai, which all have the same meaning - "gift of the Lord".

The gospel does not contain any details about its exact time of writing, therefore the opinions in regard to that vary considerably. While some researchers believe the gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD), others think that there are no facts supporting this, and they date it as 60-70AD. The church father Irenaeus (ca 140-202AD) hints on the gospel of Matthew having been written around 61-66AD.

2. Subject and purpose of writing

The gospel according to Matthew is the most detailed and, in its format, clearest of all four gospels. This however is not the only reason for it to be rightly listed in the first place, but also because it forms a link between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The gospel of Matthew contains some sixty quotes from the Old Testament. But some of these are only a few words (for example Matthew 5:21; Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:43; Matthew 24:15)

A total of thirty quotes from the Old Testament are actually mentioned as such (for example Matthew 2:5-6; Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10).

Things that happened in the life of the Lord Jesus are on fourteen occasions explicitly described as fulfilments of prophecies of the Old Testament (Matthew 1:22-23; Matthew 2:5-6; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17-18; Matthew 2:23; Matthew 4:14-16; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 11:10; Matthew 12:17-21; Matthew 13:35; Matthew 21:4-5; Matthew 21:42; Matthew 26:31; Matthew 27:9-10).

The aim of the Holy Spirit in this gospel is made clear already in the first verse: Jesus Christ is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, and therefore the Messiah, the rightful, promised King of Israel, the fulfiller of all prophecies of the Old Testament. Altogether eight times the Lord Jesus is called the "Son of David" (Matthew 1:1; Matthew 9:27; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:31; Matthew 20:31; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15).

In close connection with this is a further important mark of the gospel of Matthew: the frequent mention of the messianic kingdom, which is mentioned fifty times. Whereas it is in other places mostly called the "kingdom of God", Matthew calls it thirty two times "kingdom of the heavens"; only five times the expression "kingdom of God" is used.

The gospel of Matthew is arranged according to a divine plan. In the first half the Lord Jesus is introduced as the king of Israel and presented to His earthly people. This part ends in chapter 12 with His rejection: the rulers of Israel reject their king.

In the second half, from chapter 13 , the service of the rejected King is described, which is now not only restricted to Israel, but takes in also the heathen nations. It is in this part that the assembly (or church) of God, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, is first mentioned by name in the Bible (Matthew 16:18; cf 1 Corinthians 12:13).

The service of Christ ends with His sufferings and death, but also with His resurrection and the sending out of the apostles. Matthew does not mention the ascension of the Lord to heaven. The structure of the gospel is underlined by the five great sermons of Christ, which always end with the same sentence: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, ."

- In the so-called sermon on the mount (Matthew 5; Matthew 6; Matthew 7:1-28) the Lord proclaims the principles of the kingdom of heaven.

- When sending out the twelve disciples to the people of Israel, the Lord instructs them as to their service as His ambassadors (Matthew 10; Matthew 11:1).

- In the parables of the kingdom of heaven He explains that this kingdom would develop in the new, mysterious way because of His rejection (Matthew 13:1-53).

- In His fourth sermon (Matthew 18; Matthew 19:1) the Lord Jesus presents the various principles for the personal and collective behaviour of believers.

- In His last great sermon about the times of the end the Lord explains to the disciples the fate of Israel (Matthew 24:1-44), Christendom (Matthew 24:45-51; Matthew 25:1-30) and the nations (Matthew 25:31-46) in the times until His appearing in glory.

3. Peculiarities

a) The kingdom of the heavens

The kingdom of God describes the rule of God over the world by the man appointed by Him for this purpose, Christ Jesus. The Jews were awaiting this kingdom as liberation from the yoke of the Romans. Therefore Matthew's gospel uses the name "kingdom of the heavens" thirty two times, in order to emphasise that the origin of the ruling power of this kingdom is in heaven and not on the earth. The kingdom of the heavens describes in principle the same as the kingdom of God, but it emphasises the heavenly character of this kingdom.

The kingdom of the heavens is also always viewed in Matthew's gospel as something future, i.e. beginning after the Lord's ascension to heaven, whereas the kingdom of God, also in Matthew, is seen as being present already now (Matthew 12:28). Many parables which are used by Mark and Luke to explain the kingdom of God bear the "heading" kingdom of the heavens in Matthew.

Matthew mentions in total ten parables of the kingdom of the heavens:

the weeds and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43)

the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32)

the leaven (Matthew 13:33)

the treasure in the field (Matthew 13:44)

the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

the fishing net (Matthew 13:47-50)

the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35)

the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

the marriage supper of the king (Matthew 22:1-14)

the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

b) The assembly (Greek: ecclesia)

Matthew's gospel is the only gospel in which the assembly (church) of the New Testament is mentioned (Matthew 16:18). Only after the Messiah had been rejected by His earthly people, He announced the founding and building of His assembly, the foundation of which is He Himself.

The assembly began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and consists of all believers of the present dispensation of grace. She will be taken to the Fathers house in heaven by the Lord Himself, before the judgments of the end times, in order to be there with Him in glory for eternity.

In Matthew 18:15-20 the Lord then speaks of the local assembly, i.e. of those who gather in any place as assembly. In all questions of order and discipline the Lord confers the highest authority on earth to the local assembly, because He Himself is in the midst of those gathered to His name.

The assembly was not yet revealed in the Old Testament. She belongs to the mystery of God which is only revealed in the New Testament (Ephesians 3:1-12), after the Son of God had completed the work of redemption and the Holy Spirit had come down to live in the believers.

4. Contents (overview)

I. Matthew 1; Matthew 2; Matthew 3; Matthew 4:1-11 : The introduction of the King

Chapter 1 Genealogy and birth of Christ

Chapter 2 Worship of the magi and hatred of Herod

Chapter 3 The baptism of Christ in Jordan

Chapter 4:1-11 The temptation of Christ

II. Matthew 4:12-25; Matthew 5; Matthew 6; Matthew 7; Matthew 8; Matthew 9; Matthew 10; Matthew 11; Matthew 12, first main part: The service of the King in Galilee

Chapter 4:12-25 The first deeds of Christ, calling of the disciples

Chapter 5 The Sermon on the Mount: the beatitudes and the relationship to the law

Chapter 6 " the seeking of the kingdom of God

Chapter 7 " the narrow path

Chapter 8 Jesus' power over sickness and Satan

Chapter 9 The calling of Matthew and further acts of power

Chapter 10 The sending forth of the twelve apostles

Chapter 11 The rejection of Christ by the people

Chapter 12 The rejection of Christ by the rulers of the people

III. Matthew 13; Matthew 14; Matthew 15; Matthew 16; Matthew 17; Matthew 18; Matthew 19; Matthew 20, second main part: The service of the rejected King

Chapter 13 The parables of the kingdom of the heavens

Chapter 14 The death of John the Baptist; feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walks on the sea

Chapter 15 The Pharisees, the Canaanitish woman, feeding of the four thousand

Chapter 16 First announcement of the assembly and the sufferings of Christ

Chapter 17 Transfiguration and second announcement of the sufferings of Christ

Chapter 18 Correct behaviour in the kingdom and in the assembly

Chapter 19 About divorce; the rich young ruler

Chapter 20 Parable of the vineyard; third announcement of the sufferings of Christ; the sons of Zebedee

IV. Matthew 21; Matthew 22; Matthew 23; Matthew 24; Matthew 25, third main part: The service of the King in Jerusalem

Chapter 21 Entry into Jerusalem; parable of the husbandmen

Chapter 22 Parable of the marriage supper; the Pharisees and Sadducees

Chapter 23 Seven woes over the scribes and Pharisees

Chapter 24 Sermon on the end times: Israel and its remnant

Chapter 25 " Christendom and the nations

V. Matthew 26; Matthew 27; Matthew 28 : The completion of the service of the King

Chapter 26 The Passover and the arrest of Jesus

Chapter 27 Condemnation, crucifixion and burial of Jesus

Chapter 28 Resurrection of Jesus and commission to His disciples

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