Jesus claimed that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him (Mt 28:18). If that’s true, and I believe it is, then we benefit by learning all we can about Jesus. Matthew wrote this gospel to tell us who Jesus is and what that means for us.
The Gospel of Matthew is one of 4 books that record the life of Jesus. The author is Matthew, the tax collector, who was one of the 12. Today most scholars think Mark wrote his gospel first. However, the early church fathers believed that Matthew’s gospel was the first one written.
- See: Who was Matthew?
- Matthew is the same person as Levi, a tax collector (Mark 2:14 ; Luke 5:27), and the son of Alphaeus.
- As a tax collector, he was an employee of Herod Antipas.
- Jews despised other Jews who became tax collectors. As a rule, only the most desperate Jews accepted the job.
- Matthew’s job required him to know the value of all kinds of goods as well as the value of local and foreign monetary systems.
- Matthew’s job required him to know Greek, the language of commerce, as well as the local Aramaic language.
- In Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15, Matthew is coupled with Thomas, which has given rise to the conjecture that Matthew was the twin brother of Thomas.
- Others speculate that Matthew and James the Less are brothers or half-brothers because James’ father is also named Alphaeus (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).
- Others think if Matthew had a brother among the 12, it would have been clearly mentioned.
- According to tradition, Matthew remained in Jerusalem about 15 years after the resurrection of Jesus. After that, Matthew traveled to Persia and Ethiopia.
- Some traditions claim, Matthew was one of the few apostles who did not suffer martyrdom. However, other traditions claim he was martyred in Ethiopia.
Jesus & Galilee
- Jerusalem was the capital of ancient Israel, the center of Jewish worship and located in the region of Judea.
- Jesus grow up in Nazareth which is in Galilee. Map: Israel in NT Times.
- The fact that Jesus did not live in or near Jerusalem but in Galilee is an important part of his story.
- The Judean Jews looked down on Galileans the way New Yorkers might look down someone from Mississippi. To them, he comes from a culturally inferior place and speaks with a funny accent.
- As John portrays the story, Jesus makes several of visits to Jerusalem (probably for each of the 3 major feasts) where he stirs up trouble. Then he leaves, only to return and cause more trouble.
- Matthew, Mark & Luke do not mention these side trips to Jerusalem. They use a two-part structure, focusing first on the work Jesus did in Galilee, followed by his journey to Jerusalem.
- Matthew, Mark & Luke have the same dramatic turning point in the story: Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. His disciple Peter answers: “You are the Christ.” After this, Jesus begins teaching them that he must go to Jerusalem, be executed and rise again.
- Mathew (as all authors do) organizes the story to highlight certain themes and connections.
Within that 2-part structure, Matthew records a 5 major teaching of Jesus. These are sometimes called the 5 discourses.
- Discourse 1 – Chapter 5-7: Sermon on the Mount
- Discourse 2 – Chapter 10: Commissioning of the 12
- Discourse 3 – Chapter 13: Parables of the Kingdom
- Discourse 4 – Chapter 18: Talking of the Church
- Discourse 5 – Chapter 23-25 – The Olivet Discourse
- Chapters 1-4 – Prologue
- Chapters 5-16:12 – Jesus’ ministry in Galilee including 3 discourses (Sermon on the Mount; sending the disciples; Kingdom parables).
- Chapters 16:13-17 – Turning Point; Jesus prepares to go to Jerusalem
- Chapters 18-28 – Journey to Jerusalem, culminating in the passion week includes 2 discourses (on the church and Olivet discourse).
- See: Understanding gospels.
- Gospels are more than biographies. They are historical theology. In addition to telling who Jesus was, they explain why he is important.
- We approach gospels like we approach narratives: learning about the historical context; thinking in terms of scenes; considering the geography, etc. See: Understanding narratives.
- In addition, we have to pay attention to the literary forms that Jesus uses when he speaks: didactic teaching, parables, metaphor, hyperbole, rhetorical question, etc.
- The gospels are about Jesus, not about us. The first question we want to ask is: what does this teach me about Jesus?
- The last question we want to ask after we’ve thoroughly understood what the author is teaching about Jesus is: What does this mean to me?