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Matthew: What is a Gospel?
Matthew Lesson #002
September 8, 2013
The word "gospel" is from the Greek word euaggelion, which means good news. The gospel proclaims the good news of the arrival of the savior, promises in the Old Testament, through the presentation of Jesus of Nazareth in terms of His life, His teaching, and His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. That sums up the idea here. This is what a gospel does. The Gospels are not simply presentations of the good news related to salvation or how to gain eternal life, they are also written to challenge those who have received eternal life by receiving Jesus as their savior to live a life that is consistent with that. That is an emphasis, especially in Matthew, on this term "disciple".
The Gospels were written primarily to present a case, like a legal argument before a judge in a courtroom. They are designed to present an argument for who Jesus of Nazareth is and what He did. As such the Gospels are not biographies per se but they are biographical. They are not history per se but they are historically accurate. They are not theological per se but they do contain much theology. They are not oriented simply to the unsaved but they include many challenges for the individual believer. So we can say that they include biographical, historical, theological and instructional material.
Each of these Gospels was written for a distinct purpose. Matthew was written to present Jesus as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. The Gospel of Mark was written to present Jesus as the servant of Yahweh, the servant of the Lord. Luke was written to present Jesus as the Son of Man. We will see this is a comparison between the genealogy that Matthew presents in chapter one and the genealogy Luke presents in chapter three. Matthew traces the origin of Jesus back to Abraham and David. Luke presents Jesus' descent all the way back to Adam, relating Him to the entire human race; He is the Son of Man. John presents Jesus as the Son of God.
Each writer of the Gospels—in terms of this fact that they are presenting a case, and argument or thesis about Jesus—is then going to bring together and choose and select specific events and teaching from the life of Christ that fits his purpose. It is his argument; it is going to provide evidence that substantiates his basic thesis or basic point. This is a principle of selectivity, and this helps us in a very simple way to understand what has confounded many scholars. We live in an era today where Gospel scholarship over the last 100-150 years has really developed a mass amount of minefields for the Gospel student. All kinds of different things can be found taught about the Gospels from the most extreme liberal position which rejects any kind of divine inspiration, authorship of Scripture, up to what we believe is the conservative biblical view of Scripture, which is that God inspired or breathed out the Scriptures for us. So not only are these individual human writers writing from their own background, their own experience and personalities, but they are being guided, directed and superintended by God the Holy Spirit to write that which will be without error.
We read some of the modern contemporary studies on the Gospels and some of the shows that show up on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, etc. that are designed to "seek out the truth about Jesus" and basically what they do is reject whatever the Scripture says and they miss some of these very points.
We are reminded by the author of the Gospel of John that if everything that Jesus said and did were written down, all of the books of the world could not contain them. That is an overstatement (the Scripture uses hyperbole as a figure of speech) but it impresses us with the fact that there were many, many things, almost without number, that Jesus taught that were not recorded for us. These are all therefore going to be representative events and teachings of Jesus.
Each Gospel writer selects subject matter that suit his purpose or emphasis in his Gospel We clearly see this in the teaching of the Gospels themselves. For example, John 20:30, 31 NASB "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." John is saying he has selected "these signs". There were many others but he has selected these to fit the purpose of my Gospel.
We also learn from a study of these events that they are written in different order. Only Luke is written in a strict chronological order. The other synoptic writers (Matthew and Mark) are more selective. At times they are chronological and at other times they rearrange the material to fit a logical order or presentation.
We must recognize that all of the material is divinely inspired, which means that it was breathed out by God. And so God the Holy Spirit was overseeing the process and how this material was organized and arranged. Just because it is arranged in a thematic way doesn't mean that it is violating some sort of chronology. This is how they wrote often in the ancient world. Key scriptures for this are 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; John 14:26—it was not left to their fallible human memory to record these events so that they would record them in a correct manner. Therefore they are not making mistakes. What might appear to us to be differences or contradictions are with further study demonstrated not to be contradictions or significant differences.
To whom did Matthew compose this Gospel? He is writing to Jewish Christians in Judea, much as the later author of the epistles to the Hebrews. He is writing at an earlier stage to encourage these Jewish believers in Judea that Jesus is indeed who He proclaimed Himself to be, that yes indeed, He is the Messiah and He fulfills these many prophesies from the Old Testament. They were beginning to face rejection and opposition, and ultimately they are going to face persecution and, above all, the ultimate destruction of the temple during the time of the temple revolt from AD 66-70.
The Jewish character of Matthew
Matthew is perhaps the most Jewish-oriented Gospel of the four—not that the other four aren't because there is definitely a Jewish flavor to the Gospels of John and Mark, but not as much as Matthew.
Matthew's style is very Jewish. If you are familiar with Hebrew and with the sentence structure and how the writing is done in Old Testament narrative then with Matthew it sounds very familiar. The style is very Jewish. It is obvious that it was written by someone who had Hebrew as their first language and he demonstrates through the way he writes the use of various different Hebrew styles in terms of parallelism and elaboration. His general thought and style is distinctively Semitic. Thinking about the way we read Old Testament stories—like Genesis or Joshua or Judges or 1 Samuel—we constantly see verses that begin with "And he said, And he did, And they went, And they thought," always beginning with this preposition "and." And then we read, "And then this happened, And then this happened …" Sometimes in English that isn't translated because in English style that is considered to be too repetitious. But that is how they wrote in the story-telling style of Hebrew narrative. In Greek the word "then" which we find in Matthew some ninety times is the Greek word tote. In the Gospel of Mark it is only used six times, fourteen times in Luke, and ten times in John. It reflects a very Jewish mentality when telling a story, so the style of writing is very Jewish.
The vocabulary that Matthew uses is very Jewish. He uses terms like "the kingdom of heaven." For some time there was a debate as to whether the phrase "kingdom of heaven" and the phrase "kingdom of God" were two different kingdoms. The reality is the phrase "kingdom of heaven" is distinctly a Matthew term; we don't find it in the other Gospels. Matthew uses it 32 times and he uses the phrase "kingdom of God" only five times. The reason he uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" is because in the Jewish mindset you didn't mention or use the name of God; it was a sacred name.
He also calls Jesus the "son of David." Nine times in Matthew Jesus is referred to as the son of David. By comparison He is only referred to as the son of David three times in Mark, three times in Luke, and never in the Gospel of John. That term "son of David" has particular significance to a Jewish audience. The term "Son of Man" is used many times in Matthew and it is a term that looks back to the prophecy in Daniel 7:13 which says that in the future the Son of Man would come before the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom, and then He would come to the earth to establish His kingdom. So Matthew who is particularly focused on the offer, the rejection and the postponement of the kingdom uses this phrase Son of Man many times because it is a term associated with that messianic kingdom.
Matthew also refers to Jerusalem as the holy city (4:5; 27:53). This is also indicative of the fact that he wrote the Gospel long before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. If Jerusalem had already been destroyed by the Romans he would not be speaking in such high, elevated terms of Jerusalem, because after AD 70 it was a smoking ruin and the temple had been destroyed. He speaks of Jerusalem as the holy city, as the city of the Great King, and refers to Israel as the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then he refers to Jewish subject matter. He deals with the kingdom, with Jerusalem, the temple, David, the Messiah, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and multiple references to Moses. All of this sets it apart as being distinctively Jewish.
Then there is the matter of Old Testament quotations. One writer states that there are a total of 129 references to the Old Testament in the Gospel of Matthew. Fifty-three of these are direct quotations and seventy-six are simply allusions to Old Testament stories, Old Testament events. It is clearly a distinctive Gospel in terms of its Old Testament allusions. At least 23 times Matthew indicates that something that is happening in Jesus' life is the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy. He may not use fulfilment terminology. He may not say this is a fulfilment of this; he may just quote the Old Testament passage. As part of that he specifically uses the phrase, "That the Scriptures might be fulfilled" or "This is a fulfilment of …" He uses that specific fulfilment terminology nine times. Mark, Luke and John don't use the phrase even once. So that, again, makes Matthew distinctive in showing that Jesus is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
Then we have the genealogy in Matthew chapter one. It distinctively emphasizes Jesus' Jewish roots, tracing Him back to Abraham, as a son of Abraham and the son of David. This emphasizes His Jewish and Davidic credentials and that He is the fulfilment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.
There is also an emphasis on Peter. Peter was distinctively the apostle to the Jews, and so Matthew says more about Peter than the other Gospels do.
He mentions but does not explain Jewish customs or titles. In other words, he assumes that his readers are familiar with the local history and customs, and so he doesn't explain these individuals or their titles like Luke does. For example, Matthew 2:1 NASB "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem," it doesn't explain who Herod is.  "But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod," he doesn't explain who Archelaus was. In contrast, in Luke 2:1, 2 he gives a little more information about the people mentioned. Caesar Augustus is known. Quirinius was governor of Syria. In Luke 3:1 NASB "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene." He gives more information. But Matthew is assuming his readers know who these people are.
From the earliest decade of the second century there was belief in the early church that Matthew was written to a Jewish audience. Irenaeus writes that Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews and "the Gospel of St. Matthew was written for the Jews." Origen, writing in the third century, writes, "St. Matthew wrote to the Hebrews." Usebius in the fourth century writes, "Matthew delivered his Gospel to his countrymen." Many others all quote from and reference Matthew. This indicates that Matthew was written very early. This is significant because among liberal Protestants there are those who want to come along and, no, what happened was there was this period of telling these stories as oral tradition, and then it is several decades or centuries before somebody comes along and compiles these stories and writes them. They say they are really mostly legend, they don't really fit historical or archaeological evidence, and so they reject all of this. But the reality is that these Gospels now are compressed back to very early times. For example, there is one papyri fragment of a chapter of the Gospel of John that dates back to about 115 AD.
There is an organization which started about 15-20 years ago which began to go through many of the eastern European and North African countries with high definition cameras, going into ancient monasteries seeking any kind of ancient manuscript they could, and taking pictures. These cameras has such technical perfection that they could zero in on a manuscript and take a picture of what was originally written on the papyrus, vellum or whatever the material was, even if it had been written over. As a result they have discovered a first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark. These kinds of things push our understanding of the Gospel origins back into the first century, as we have always believed.
It is clear that the Gospel was written by Matthew, even though he doesn't take credit for it. One of the indications is that in the Gospels they talk about the calling of Matthew when Jesus calls His disciples, and then when He calls Matthew the tax collector in Matthew He says, "Take me to your house for dinner." Matthew just refers to this as going to the house. But when this is compared with Luke and Mark it gets described by Luke as a great feast, and the other Gospel writers describe it as a huge banquet. So apparently Matthew was fairly well off. This is why tax collectors were hated, they skimmed a lot of money of what they took in for Rome.
Another indication that this was written by someone who was financially astute is that there is more information in Matthew and more mention of money-type terms. He uses terms related to debt, accounting, account reckoning, money changing, and terms such as gold, silver and brass (not used in the other Gospels). Her refers to a talent, which represented a huge sum of money, that was not one that was familiar to most people.
The book was written for three main purposes. First of all to convince his Jewish audience that Jesus was indeed the prophesied Messiah and thus the rightful heir to the Davidic throne. He starts off in the very first verse identifying this as the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. The Greek is iesous xristos, which is a translation of the Hebrew Yeshua ha Meshiach. Meshiach is the term for the Messiah. In English this would be Jesus the Messiah. Christ is a title indicating that He is the anointed one, the promised and prophesied savior in the Old Testament.
Second he is writing to show why the kingdom had been postponed. Jesus came to offer the kingdom. John the Baptist offered the kingdom, Jesus offered the kingdom, the disciples offered the kingdom but the kingdom was rejected and so it is postponed. The biggest objection you might get from the Jewish audience is: so Jesus is the Messiah, where is the kingdom? That is the historical response from a Jewish audience. So Matthew was written to show why the kingdom was postponed, what is going on with the Gentiles, and what the present plan of God is today for the church. He writes also to explain God's interim program that the sons of the kingdom (believers) will experience, as well as the coming of the church and the church age. Matthew is the only Gospel writer that mentions ekklseia, the church.
The basic theme of the book is to show that Jesus was the messianic Davidic King and that the kingdom had been offered, rejected and postponed. So he organises his material that way. The first four chapters are written in chronological order. There are chapters 5-7 which record the Sermon on the Mount, and the next chapters up to about 13 are written in a thematic, not chronological, order. Then the rest of the Gospel is written in a chronological order.
He specifically writes to emphasize royal, kingly heritage of Jesus. He refers to Him consistently as the son of David the king. When he references Joseph in chapter one Joseph is called Joseph the son of David. When the Magi appeared they were looking for the King of the Jews. Then towards the end, in Matthew 21:5, he quotes from Zechariah 9:9 NASB "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, 'BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN." He also quotes from Isaiah 62:11 NASB " … Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.'"
In conclusion, the Gospel of Matthew was written to teach or instruct. It has a very didactic or instructional purpose. This is indicated by the way Matthew groups his material. He groups it into groups of three, five, six or seven. This was done in the ancient world for instructional purposes, to make it easy to communicate certain things, and also for memorization purposes. In addition to that Matthew also groups his material on the basis of logic. For example in the genealogy he breaks it down into groups of fourteen generations. Christ's miracles, the ones that are for the benefit of the nation to demonstrate that He is the Messiah, are all grouped together in just a couple of chapters in order to emphasize that whereas they were actually spread out over a period of time and not necessarily in that order. Also, when it comes to the material involving Israel's rejection of the kingdom and Christ's training principles for the disciples, those are clustered together for teaching purposes.
There is an emphasis on the teaching of Jesus. Of the 1071 verses in Matthew sixty per cent of them contain Christ's teaching. There are five major discourses that are conveyed in Matthew. There is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the missionary discourse as He sends out His disciples in chapter ten. There are the kingdom parables in chapter thirteen. There is the humility discourse in chapter eighteen and the Olivet discourse in chapters 24 and 25. So if we want to see the greatest amount of details from Christ's teaching we go to the Gospel of Matthew.
He also uses prophecy and history to teach about the Messiah. He goes to the Old Testament constantly, instructing His audience on who Jesus is. It is also seen in his use of grammar. He uses an aorist tense verb in the Greek and we don't have something comparable to that in the English. It just sort of moves the story along and keeps it active. He is constantly and graphically portraying history as a teaching tool for His audience.
And last, His use of the verb "disciple." There is a lot of talk today about discipleship. The Greek noun for disciple is mathetes. It means a learner, a student. It is used many times in the Gospels but interestingly enough the verb to disciple is only used three times in Matthew—Matthew 13:52; 27:57; 28:19. In Luke, Mark, and John, it is used not at all and in Acts one time. It is not found anywhere else, and yet today there are ministries built on discipleship when this is a word that is rarely used. This is not to knock the idea; it is just to say that there are many other ways in which this concept is emphasized in Scripture. The command and message in Matthew is clearly that we are to become disciples. There is much that is taught in Matthew related to becoming a disciple. That is not the same as becoming a Christian, a believer. It is being a believer who recognizes that to really understand and experience all that God has for us we must make it a priority to become a student of the Word of God, a student of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not just learn it but apply it, make it change our thinking, make it change the way in which we live.
This was the command to the disciples and this to all (especially pastors) Christians that we are to make disciples, students, learners of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and then 28:20 NASB "teaching them to observe [implement and apply] all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." That is the message: we are to be disciples. The action plan in Matthew: Are you going to be a disciple? In light of all this; in light of the fact that Jesus fulfilled all these promises; in light of everything Jesus taught, are you going to be someone who just has a casual acquaintance with the Word of God, are you going to be someone who enjoys the study for its academic stimulation, or are you going to be someone who going to take the Word of God and devote your life to it, making it your passion so that is changes the way you think and live so that you are living and preparing your life for your future role to rule and reign with Jesus Christ when He comes in His kingdom.