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On The Gospel of Matthew, by Zenon Sommers

God's Revelation of Himself In Jesus to the Apostle Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew was an extraordinary type of revelation that all other religions lack... 

During Zenon's 4 years he was an honors student with multiple majors and accolades. In his freshman year he became the treasurer for Ratio Christi under student president John Shaheen, and in his senior year he concurrently became the president for the newer club, Faith & Reason, with John as his vice president. This and three related articles are posted in honor of Zenon's faithful service to both clubs, and because they are good. *See Zenon's disclaimer after article. All Scripture citations refer to the book of Matthew unless otherwise specified.

...The part of the Apostle Matthew’s gospel that most strongly supports his portrayal of Jesus as a king is at the very beginning. It starts with a Jewish Toledot, or genealogy, like those found in the Torah, establishing Jesus’s place in the line of Jewish kings (1:1-17). History and genealogy are integral to every aspect of Jewish culture and religion. The entire basis of the Jewish faith is that the Jews are God’s chosen people. Because one’s place in Jewish society was determined by their connection to the line of God’s people, each Jew took great pride in their ability to trace their ancestry back to Abraham, the father of God’s chosen people, the Jews. Not only does Matthew’s genealogy place Jesus among the children of Abraham, but it confirms his place in the house of David, the dynasty of Jewish kings that began a millennium before Jesus’s time. Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as a descendant of David sets the stage for his being the Messiah.

After the genealogy, birth narrative, baptism, and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus begins his ministry. Matthew characterizes the essence of his message as telling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). There is a central focus on the kingdom of God throughout Jesus’s ministry. He issues an imperative to “seek first the kingdom of God” (6:33) and paints a picture of the kingdom as a paradise where all the righteous eat together, an intimate act in Jewish culture (8:11). Jesus goes so far as to send others out to proclaim the kingdom themselves (10:7). When Jesus gives moral teachings, he uses the idea of God’s kingdom as an incentive to do good and the withholding of God’s kingdom as a deterrent from doing evil. In the time leading up to his trial, the frequency of his teaching on the kingdom increases, with the last three chapters before his arrest dedicated almost entirely to parables on the kingdom of God (23-25).

In Matthew's gospel Jesus preaches of the messianic kingdom, and his identity as King of the Jews is emphasized by the author. The first mention of the term occurs in the birth narrative, in which travelers come from the east seeking the newly-born King of the Jews, whose coming was announced by a star (2:2). Herod, the governor of Galilee, then sought to kill the child, slaying every infant and toddler in the area of Bethlehem (2:16). Such drastic action taken by a Roman governor implies that his fear of this child was immense, a notion that seems absurd to a critical reader. This fear, however odd it may seem, supports Matthew’s overall picture of Jesus as a king.

This identity of Messiah, the King of the Jews whose coming is foretold in the Hebrew Scripture, recurs as a theme throughout the gospel. Matthew identifies one exchange with Peter as a pivotal moment in Jesus’s ministry. During this conversation, Jesus questions his disciples about the Messiah and about himself. Peter connects the two, stating “You are the Messiah,” and Jesus responds with blessings, praise, and a promise of spiritual power to Peter for being the first and only to realize Jesus was the Messiah (16:13-19). In an attempt to forestall the Jewish authorities from finding charges to bring against him, Jesus impresses on the disciples a need for secrecy about his identity (16:20). Matthew uses this interaction as a turning point, framing the rest of the gospel as preparation for and the enacting of the passion narrative (16:21). This claim Jesus makes is an integral part of the gospel, legitimizing his later arrest and crucifixion and confirming that Jesus himself claimed the identity the author has been emphasizing since the beginning of the gospel.

Throughout the gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees seek ways to discredit Jesus by forcing him into a contradiction. Their steadfast opposition of Jesus comes as a result of his teachings, which run contradictory to many of those taught by the Pharisees. To challenge even one of the laws created by the Pharisees was blasphemy. Jesus challenged many. To make matters worse, Jesus promoted his ‘deviant’ teachings publicly, in synagogues (9:35). These were places where Jews far from the temple in Jerusalem would read from the Tanakh, teach, and worship. The promotion of his teachings and challenging of the laws of the Pharisees in these holy places only worsened his crimes in the eyes of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the Messiah lends authority to his teachings. When he teaches of the kingdom of God, a concept in the Jewish religion representing the eventual, total reign of God over the earth, he teaches with the authority of the king of that kingdom. That same God-given authority is what allows him to teach over the Pharisees and even condemn some of  their man-made teachings. The Pharisees cared not whether Jesus was the prophesied Messiah; they thought such a thing preposterous, as any Messiah would be praising them for their devout protection of the law, not branding them hypocrites.

The outrage against Jesus and his teachings rose through the hierarchy of Jewish leadership, at last reaching the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish ruling council made up of scribes and elders, as well as the high priest. They paid one of Jesus’s disciples to identify him and then brought Jesus to trial. Jesus’s following was massive. At times he drew crowds of many thousand people simply to hear him speak (14:21, 15:38). To keep this trial from the public, the Sanhedrin held it in the high priest’s home at night. They brought many witnesses in an attempt to find some official charge to bring against him. For a while, Jesus had been careful to avoid incriminating words, such as his claim that he was the Messiah. Intent on finding a pretext to execute the blasphemer, however, the high priest finally asks Jesus outright if he is the Messiah. Jesus’s response, which the high priest viewed as an affirmation, was enough to convict him 26:65-66). His admission that he is the Messiah predicted in the prophet Daniel (7:13-14) was the justification the council sought to kill him.

Having found a charge they thought would be sufficient to mandate execution, the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. The placard on the cross read “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37). To demonstrate that Jesus was the true Messiah, Matthew writes that Pilate’s wife received a dream. From the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, dreams are a means by which God communicates to humans. To say that Pilate’s wife had a dream is to claim that God himself sent her a message. She explicitly says that the dream told her Jesus was innocent (27:19). Pilate washes his hands of the matter, handing Jesus over to be crucified (27:24).

Jesus died on a Roman cross that day. Matthew paints a dramatic picture in which the entire world shakes and reacts to the death of the Messiah. But being God’s anointed, Jesus did not remain dead. He arose. Matthew writes that the earth shook once more and an angel opened the tomb to reveal that Jesus was there no longer. Matthew gives one final display of kingly authority, with Jesus commanding his disciples to go and continue to spread his teachings. This dramatic imagery closes the gospel with a grandeur befitting a king.

Matthew’s unique portrait of Jesus was as a leader of the Jews appointed by God to bring the kingdom of God to earth. He taught the Jews how to live in harmony with this kingdom, but these teachings often contradicted those of the Pharisees. In the end, it was his claim that he was the divine Messiah that led to his death. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus killed for blasphemy because he claimed to be equal with God. (12:8; 26:64, 65). However, they knew this would not compel the Romans to execute him, so they charged him with seeking to overthrow the Roman empire’s rule over Judea. Because Jesus was entirely non-rebellious and not guilty of evil (27:23), even this charge did not compel the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to put him to death. Ultimately it was the Jewish authorities’ insistence and—even more—the crowd’s riotous clamor (27:22b, 23b, 24a) that sealed Jesus’s fate and fulfilled the plan of God. (26:28 and 54) So actually there were two trials for Jesus: The Jewish trial was decided on the charge of blasphemy, but the Roman trial was decided merely on political pressure.

 

*Zenon wrote the original version of this piece in November 2018 as a class assignment. It has since been revised to include more detail in some areas in order to make it appropriate for a public forum such as this one. However, please note that some sentiments may still remain that do not accurately reflect the author’s current position. Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved
  • 26 September 2022
  • Author: Guest Blogger
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