Introduction to Matthew - ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ

The dawn of an extraordinary kingdom

The amazing words and deeds of Jesus the Messiah shatter cultural traditions

How to read Matthew

The gospel of Matthew focuses on Jesus as the Messiah King who comes to establish his kingdom. The story begins by recounting Jesus’ family line and the circumstances around his birth. You might be surprised to discover that the opening genealogy contains within it a significant prophetic insight! Jesus’ genealogy has been edited by Matthew in such a way as to announce the beginning of God’s Jubilee (see Lev 25:8-55; 27:16-25). Matthew does this by highlighting the three major eras of Jewish history and ordering Jesus’ earthly ancestors into three groups of fourteen each: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the exile to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon to the Christ, fourteen generations.” (Mat 1:17). To the Jewish mind 3 times 14 (or 6 times 7) was an analogy for what had to happen before the seventh seven could begin—the time of God’s Jubilee redemption! The Jewish readers of Matthew’s day—who loved mathematical symbology and genealogies—would have seen the spiritual metaphor right away and understood the “good news” that Jesus was ushering in the anticipated Messianic Jubilee!

Starting with the third chapter, this gospel consists of five main sections. Each recounts Jesus’ acts and then records one of his major teachings. The SourceView format helps you easily see this interchange between the deeds and the words of Jesus as you thumb through multicolored pages and then observe long sections of solid red text. Each section closes the same way (Mat 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). These five sections echo the five books of Moses, for Jesus comes to establish a new covenant that fulfills and exceeds the old.

Watch for evidence of Matthew’s background as a Jewish mathematician. He was a former tax collector—a man who lived with numbers and employed systematic, orderly thinking. Notice his frequent use of the Old Testament references to address his Jewish audience. He shows how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah who would come to establish a new kingdom—one far different from what anyone had anticipated. The last three chapters tell the moving story of how this kingdom is established through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The book culminates with Christ’s stirring final command to his followers—both then and now!—to establish Jesus’ new kingdom among all the nations (Mat 28:19).

Who wrote this book?

Matthew, who is also named Levi, tells how he first met Jesus in his typical, decisive, matter-of-fact way (Mat 9:9-13; Mar 2:14-17; Luk 5:27-31). As a Jewish tax collector he seems to have been quite well to do, being able to throw a large dinner party for Jesus. He would have been seen by his peers as a despised Roman collaborator. There must have been some tense team dynamics when he and Simon the Zealot (the anti-Roman party which fought for Jewish liberation, even using terror tactics) began talking, as they came from opposite extremes of the political spectrum.

When was it written?

Matthew would have been written in the middle of the first century, probably only a few decades after the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, but before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

To whom was it written and why?

Primarily to Jewish readers, to offer irrefutable proof that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had come to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth. He offers a persuasive account of the Good News of Jesus, citing Old Testament evidence that supported the claims believers had been making about Jesus.

SourceView Insights

Matthew is the first of four gospel accounts in which nine of the twelve disciples have speaking parts (see the introduction to John). Interestingly, the three who do not are: the author of this gospel (Matthew-Levi), his brother James (both are called the “son of Alphaeus”—see Mar 2:14 and 3:18), and his political polar-opposite (Simon the Zealot). Among the four gospels, Matthew is the one with the least amount of blue text. Though few, these speakers bring important insights into the story. For example, we read the words of two different sets of blind men whose stories are not found in the other gospels. The first set of blind men is healed by Jesus at the outset of his ministry as he “went about all the cities and the villages” of Galilee (Mat 9:35). The second set of blind men is healed by Jesus as he and the disciples “came near to Jerusalem” in the concluding days of his ministry (Mat 21:1). These two stories are told as intentional book ends to Jesus’ ministry. These dramatic miracles starkly accentuate the words in Jesus’ final teaching block: he repeatedly rebukes the religious leaders for their blindness (Mat 23:16, 17, 19, 24, 26). As we read, may our eyes be opened to see as Jesus would have us see.

There is more red text in this gospel than in any of the others. Clearly, the focus is on Jesus’ teaching. Take a look at the SourceView percentages of each gospel:

Black Red Green Blue
Matthew 32.1 57.5 2.1 8.3
Mark 52.9 35.5 2.7 8.9
Luke 38.2 49.0 1.4 11.4
John 38.9 44.1 2.5 14.5

As can be seen from the chart, Matthew’s gospel includes an enormous amount of red text: over 13,500 words! Nearly three-fifths of the red words are found in five major teaching blocks given by Jesus. They are:


  • 5:3-7:27 —Explaining the new values of the kingdom

  • 10:5-42 —Commissioning his disciples to extend the kingdom

  • 13:3-9; 13:11-23; 13:24-30; 13:31-32; 13:33; 13:37-51; 13:52 —Telling and explaining seven parables of the kingdom

  • 18:3-20; 18:22-35 —Dealing with sin and forgiveness in the kingdom

  • 23:2-39; 24:2; 24:4-15; 24:16-46 —Foretelling Jerusalem’s fall and the coming kingdom

As you read these words of Jesus, ask yourself: what new truths do they reveal, what changes do they require, what promises are made, what expectations are set forth, what hope do they impart?

Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece
(28th Edition.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012)

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