Matthew: A Gospel from the Jews to All Nations
The Jewish character of The Gospel According to Matthew is readily apparent. The first verse of Matthew's Gospel identifies Jesus as "the son of David, the son of Abraham." The rest of Matthew 1 is a genealogy that traces the line of Christ through the Old Testament and beyond. Matthew often records how the events in Jesus' life fulfill OT Scripture (see, for example, Matt 2:15, 17). In Matthew 10:5-7 Jesus sends the Twelve to spread the good news of the kingdom of Heaven, and He tells them NOT to go to the Gentiles or Samaritans, but only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In Matthew 15:24 Jesus tells a Canaanite woman whose daughter was tortured by a demon, "I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
On the other hand, this most Jewish of Gospel accounts is also keenly concerned about the inclusion of Gentiles into the kingdom of Heaven. Even the mention of Abraham in Matt 1:1 and the fact that Matthew's genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham provide a hint of Gentile inclusion, as the LORD had declared that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). Within Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, four Gentile women (or women with Gentile connections) are mentioned, and each one of these women is connected with a major movement of God's redemptive activity involving the nation of Israel:
- Tamar is connected to Judah and the establishment of tribal Israel.
- Rahab is connected with the story of Joshua and the establishment of Israel in the Promised Land.
- Ruth is connected with the period of the judges.
- Bathsheba (Matthew refers to her as "the wife of Uriah the Hittite," emphasizing her Gentile connection) is connected with the Davidic kingship.
Part of Matthew's rationale for including these women is to show that Gentiles were involved in every stage of God's redemptive purpose, which was centered on the nation of Israel, but never entirely exclusive to the Jewish people. [I'm indebted to Mitch Chase for insight into the women in Matthew's genealogy.]
Furthermore, Matthew 2 records the account of the Magi visiting Jesus as a child. These Gentiles go through a great ordeal to worship Jesus. The Jewish leaders in this account acknowledge that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, in accordance with Scripture, and they are anxious that the Messiah may have been born. Yet they do not bother to go the short distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in order to honor Him.
Jesus begins His public ministry in an area that includes the "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matt 4:15). Matthew also emphasizes instances in which Jesus' miraculous healing ministry [a ministry confirming His proclamation of "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23)] impacted Gentiles: instances such as the healing of the centurion's servant [in which Jesus declared concerning the Roman centurion: "I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel" (Matt 8:10)] and the healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter. After Jesus had told the Canaanite woman that He "was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"- a statement which would have certainly been met with approval from the Jewish leadership- He then, nevertheless, heals the Canaanite woman's daughter while publicly commending the woman's faith in Him.
As with the other Gospel accounts, Matthew's Gospel narrative reaches its climax with the crucifixion. As He is beaten then suffers and dies on the Cross for the sins of His people, Jesus is called "the king of the Jews" (Matt 27:29, 37). The Gentiles who use this title for Jesus during His suffering do so in mockery, but Matthew would have the reader understand (based on previous references to Jesus being the Son of David) that those mocking Jesus are unwittingly telling the truth about Him. As He is dying, Jesus cries out- "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"- using the words of a Davidic Psalm (Matt 27:46; Psa 22:1). When Jesus dies, a Roman centurion sincerely confesses that He "was the Son of God" (Matt 27:54). The Jewish religious leadership, who should have welcomed Him as the Messiah, reject Jesus. In contrast, the Gentiles- both irreverently and reverently- use Messianic titles of Jesus.
Matthew's Gospel account ends with a contrast between the Jewish religious leadership- who denied Jesus as the Messiah even after His resurrection, and spread lies about Jesus' disciples (Matt 28:11-15)- and Jesus' own disciples, who "worshiped Him though some doubted" (Matt 28:17). The resurrected Jesus tells His disciples- those who trusted in Him as the Messiah, "the son of David, the son of Abraham"- to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matt 28:19), and He promises to be with them [and now us] "alway, end unto the end of the world" (Matt 28:20).
Labels: Bible study