As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading. The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding. It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book. I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read. I hope it’s helpful. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!
Matthew is one of the four Gospels (from a word meaning “good news”) or records of the life of Jesus. Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are called “Synoptic” Gospels, because they tell primarily the same stories about Jesus in a similar order. (“Synoptic” is from a Greek term that means “seeing everything together.”) The Early Church believed this book was written by Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles. Matthew’s given name was Levi. He was a tax collector. Both Mark and Luke refer to him as Levi, but in this Gospel, he is called Matthew (which means “gift of God”). Perhaps Jesus gave him this new name, which would explain why he chooses to call himself Matthew instead of Levi.
This Gospel begins with a genealogy, to show that Jesus is descended from Abraham and David, as the Israelite Messiah. It tells the story of His birth from the point of view of Joseph, includes the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), and ends with the Great Commission (28:18-20).
Themes to look for in Matthew:
Jesus the Messiah: Matthew points out many ways in which Jesus fulfills the OT promises. For example: 1:22-23, 12:17-21, 27:9-10. See also 5:17.
Israel and the new people of God: Matthew is often seen as the most “Jewish” of the four Gospels, because of the many OT quotes and other features. But it also shows how most of His own people would reject Jesus (see especially Ch. 23, with its “seven woes” against Israel’s leaders). This had to be a painful truth for Matthew to record. However, he also shows how Jesus knew He was Savior of all humanity, not just Israel. From the foreign magi who come to His manger at the beginning, to the words “make disciples of all nations” in the final story, Matthew wants us to see Jesus came to save anyone.
Jesus the King: He is called by the magi “the King of the Jews” (2:2). At the beginning of His ministry, He is offered the chance to rule the world by Satan (4:8-9), but refuses. Several times, He talks about the Kingdom of the Son of Man (His favorite term for Himself). In 22:41-45, He tells the Pharisees He is greater than simply a Son of David. In 27:42, while He is on the cross, He is mocked by the High Priests as “the King of Israel” while a sign written by the Romans calls Him the “King of the Jews.” Ironically, it is at this exact moment He is fulfilling His destiny as our King. The Gospel ends with Him saying, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.