Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Gospel of Matthew - Jesus the Promised Messiah

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Of all the different elements of the Jewish religion—the rituals, sacrifices, laws, prayers, synagogues, and scriptures—the supreme glory which unified and overshadowed all else was their expectation of the coming Messiah. He was to be the Lawgiver who was greater than Moses, the Prophet who was greater than Elijah, and the King who was greater than David, the epitome and fulfillment of all the Scriptures from beginning to end. St. Matthew wrote his gospel with the special design of announcing this most startling good news: the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people had arrived. This Gospel therefore rightly takes up the first position in the New Testament canon, as being a fitting link between the Old and New Testaments.

St. Matthew was by trade a publican or tax-collector,1 probably at a booth on a major road of commerce that passed through Galilee. Such an employment must have refined his knowledge of the Greek language and made him conversant with the public affairs and important personages of his time. This would naturally entitle him to our confidence, as being an acute and intelligent observer of the events passing before him. And if people in ancient times were as disposed to evade tax-paying as much as today, St. Matthew must have been familiar with all kinds of fraud and deception, and would have had a habitually scrutinizing and suspecting mind. This shows our Lord's wisdom in choosing him as an eye-witness, and lends great weight to his testimony as an evangelist.2

St. Matthew in a way shatters our personal conceptions of what should make up a disciple of Christ. His occupation excited the scorn of most of his fellow countrymen, for since tax-collectors filled the treasuries of their hated Roman conquerors, they were seen as traitors of the Jewish nation. The Holy Bible itself frequently associates publicans with sinners.3 His career put him in possession of some wealth and a spacious house, for immediately after the Lord's call he gave a farewell banquet to "a great multitude" of his old associates, at which Jesus presided.4 It was a farewell to his old career and also to the pleasures and riches of the world; and it was that night in which he heard the memorable words addressed directly to him: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."5

The entire Gospel is St. Matthew's labor of love for the Hebrew nation, to announce and to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The refrain is "that it might be fulfilled" which St. Matthew repeatedly uses to point to the completion of the Old Testament prophecies in the life of Christ; and some scholars have counted over 100 OT allusions in Matthew. To win his Jewish hearers St. Matthew speaks with the greatest respect of Jerusalem6 and the Temple.7 He alone reports the words of Christ that He came not to destroy but to fulfill the law and prophets,8 and that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.9 St. Matthew presupposes a knowledge of Jewish customs which are explained in other Gospels.10

In accordance with this plan, St. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, showing him to be the son of both David the great king and Abraham the great patriarch of Israel.11 St. Matthew alone mentions the flight and refuge in Egypt, which would instantly recall to a Jewish hearer's mind Israel's sojourn in that land.12 After the Messianic inauguration, Jesus opens His public ministry with the Sermon on the Mount, a summation of the spiritual law of the new kingdom, which at once complements and transcends the Mosaic law given on Mount Sinai.13 A peculiar expression used in this Gospel is "kingdom of heaven"—used no less than 32 times, while the other evangelists and St. Paul speak of the "kingdom of God"—which the Baptist proclaims in striking tones,14 and which the Lord describes using numerous and varied parables.15

Although St. Matthew writes for the Hebrew mind, he is far from having a narrow or contracted spirit. He takes pains to emphasize that the Lord's preaching does not signify merely a new "movement" or "practice" for Jews, but the establishment of a new kingdom which is at once the redemption of Israel and the regeneration of the entire world. At the cradle of the infant Jesus he introduces the adoring Magi from the East, who were the forerunners of Gentile multitudes who would one day believe.16 A heathen centurion exhibits a faith that astounds Jesus and which could not be found even among the whole nation of Israel.17 The Gospel significantly closes with the Lord's command to go and make disciples of all the Gentile nations.18

The Gospel's mode of arrangement is topical rather than chronological. Many of the events reported in Matthew are found in an alternate order in Mark or Luke; this is because instead of giving a linear order of the Lord's teachings, St. Matthew groups them together according to theme. The church father Papias calls this Gospel a collection of the "Oracles of the Lord", and we find five thematic groupings of these oracles or divine utterances: (1) the sermon on the mount, chpts. 5-7 (2) the instruction to the disciples of their missionary work, chpt. 10 (3) the parables of the kingdom of heaven, chpt. 13 (4) the "woes" to the Pharisees, chpt. 23 (5) and lastly the discourse on the end times, chpts. 24,25. Between these major sections St. Matthew intersperses shorter episodes of our Lord's sayings and miracles.19 The story of Jesus' birth and preparation (chpts. 1-4), as well as His trial, crucifixion and Resurrection (chpts. 26-28) stand outside this framework: they introduce and conclude the great drama of the Life of Christ.

1 9:9
2 Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists
3 5:30
4 Mt 9:9, Mk 2:13, Lk 5:29
5 Mt 9:13
6 Mt 5:35 compared to Lk 2:41
7 Mt 21:12 compared to Lk 19:45
8 Mt 5:17
9 15:24
10 Compare Mt 15:2 with Mk 7:3,4
11 1:1
12 2:13-15, Much the same as "Out of Egypt I called My Son" has always provoked feelings of pride in the Copt's breast
13 Chpts. 5-7
14 3:2
15 Ch 13
16 Ch 2
17 8:5-13
18 28:18-20
19 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol I: 618.

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