By James Gray
Matthew is the first Gospel in the New Testament and in the hearts of many of God’s people. However, it is not clearly understood. To correctly “rightly divide,” there are four vital observations to be made about this Gospel.
MATTHEW IS AN EYE-WITNESS AUTHOR
Unlike Mark and Luke, who depended upon secondary sources and other eye-witnesses, Matthew was an actual eye witness and hearer of the life and words of Jesus. This accounts for Matthew’s detail. The witness of early church history tells us that Matthew composed Aramaic notes on the teachings of Christ. It was known as the “logia” which means “sayings.” Although no surviving copy exists, it is certainly reasonable to accept, and it may have been expanded into his Gospel. It may have been that Matthew took detailed notes of the discourses; after all, he was a tax collector accustomed to taking and keeping detailed records.
THE EMPHASIS IS ON THE TEACHING OF CHRIST
No other Gospel record contains the amount of the teaching of Christ’s earthly ministry than Matthew. There are five major discourses recorded:
The Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7)
The Commission of the Twelve (Chapter 10)
The Parables of the Kingdom (Chapter 13)
The Discourse with the Disciples (Chapter 18)
The Olivet Discourse (Chapters 24-25)
With the emphasis on the discourses, there can be little doubt that Matthew’s purpose is to present Jesus as the Great Teacher. He presents the pure teaching of Christ as no other Gospel writer. The subject of this teaching is the King and His Kingdom. He presents the Messiah and wrote to explain the Messianic Kingdom program to his readers.
THE CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL IS JEWISH
Matthew is written for Jews, by a Jew, on subjects clear to the heart of Jews. This is confirmed by the following facts:
- The Style of the writing is Jewish. A..T. Robertson notes that Matthew “has the instinct for Hebrew parallelism and the Hebrew elaboration, and his thoughts and general style are Hebrew” (p. 119, A GRAMMAR OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT).
- The Vocabulary is strongly Jewish. Nowhere is this seen more than in the term “Kingdom of Heaven.” The term is Jewish in origin and content. Only Matthew uses the term, and refers to the earthly Kingdom to be set up in the end times (Dan. 2:44).
- The Subject Matter is Jewish. There is a strong emphasis on the Law (5:17-48, 7:12, 12:5, and 23:23. Stanley Toussaint notes that:
Such subjects as the Law, ceremonial defilement, the Sabbath, the Kingdom, Jerusalem, the Temple, David, the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, and Moses are all discussed from the Jewish viewpoint (p. 16, BEHOLD THE KING).
- The Strong Usage of the Old Testament’s fulfilled prophecy. Matthew’s emphasis on the fulfillment of prophecy in our Lord’s life is stronger than any other Gospel. There are 40 references to fulfilled prophecy in this Gospel. The emphasis is on Peter, the Jewish Apostle (cf., Gal. 2:7-8).
- Jewish customs are without explanation. Matthew wrote to Jews who needed no explanation. In contrast, Mark who wrote to a Gentile audience, explains the customs (see Matthew 15:2 and Mark 7:3-4 for the difference). There can be no question that Matthew is a Jewish Gospel.
THE NATURE OF THIS GOSPEL IS DISPENSATIONAL
The late, great Bible expositor, Arno Gaebelein correctly observed that:
Because it is a Jewish Gospel, it is dispensational throughout. It is safe to say that a person, no matter how learned or devoted, who does not hold the clearly dispensational truths concerning the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God will fail to understand Matthew (p. 5, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW).
It must be remembered that dispensationally we are standing on Old Testament ground in Matthew. C.F. Baker reminds us of this when he writes:
Matthew is the first book in our New Testament Canon. Actually, it is a part of the Old Testament evident that the New Testament could not have come into being unil after the death of Christ, and this event is not recorded until Chapter 27. Christ Himself made it plain that His blood was to inaugurate the New Testament (26:28,. (p. 170, A DISPENSATIONAL SYNOPSIS: MATTHEW, Truth, January 1963.)
Because we are on Old Testament ground, the emphasis is on:
- Christ as Messiah-King. The Old Testament taught a coming king for Israel. Matthew shows that Christ is that Messiah-King. He shows that Christ is legally the King by genealogy (Ch. 1). The Magi came to worship this newborn King (Ch. 2). John proclaims that the King’s Kingdom “is at hand.” The Sermon on the Mount gives us the constitution of the Kingdom by the King (Ch. 5). Christ and His disciples preached the “Gospel of the Kingdom.” They demonstrated the power of the Kingdom in signs and wonders (Ch. 8). They were sent ONLY to Israel (Mt. 10:5-8).
- The Earthly Kingdom of God. The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is found 32 times exclusively. The Kingdom of Heaven is not the Church, the Body of Christ but, rather, when God sets up His Kingdom on earth with Jesus Christ as King of Kings (Dan. 2:44; Rev. 19:11-21). The teaching emphasis is not on Church truth, but Kingdom truth. The sermon on the Mount gives us the constitution of the Kingdom. We are given the mysteries of the earthly Kingdom (Ch. 13). The Olivet Discourse gives us the prophetic truth concerning the Tribulation and the end of the Age when the Kingdom comes (Ch. 24-25). The Church is still a “mystery” in these discourses. It is not revealed until Paul (Eph. 3:1-12).
- The Church is NOT the Kingdom of Heaven. The plan for the Church is different. It involves a Spiritual organism and a heavenly citizenship. Christ is not the King of the Body, but the Head (Eph. 1:22-23). In the Kingdom of Heaven, Israel is “blessed” (Zech. 8:22-23), but today they are blinded (Rom. 11:25). In that day, Israel will be a supreme nation (Isa. 2:2). But today there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God for this Church Age (Col. 3:11).
Thus, the principle of rightly dividing the truth (2 Tim. 2:15) must be observed in the study of this Gospel. To bring forward to the New Testament and Church ground is to remove it from its Old Testament and Kingdom ground. That, my friend, is “wrongly dividing” the Word!
These four observations must be kept in mind as we study the teachings and content of this great Gospel. That does not mean we cannot learn spiritual truths from this Gospel. All Scripture is “profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16). It does mean that we cannot, nor should not, duplicate it today. We are not Jews, nor do we belong to the house of Israel. God’s program has changed since the events of Matthew’s Gospel.