The Four Gospels – 3. The Gospel of Matthew


The object of Matthew’s Gospel is to present the Messiah to men against the sky of the past, and the background of promise, prophecy, type and symbol. This accounts for the fact that it is saturated with references and allusions to the Old Testament. It breaks the long silence of four hundred years which followed the ministry of Malachi and forms a very fitting link between the O.T. and the N.T. At least 65 references from 19 different books of the O.T. are introduced throughout its 28 chapters. It contains more quotations from the O.T. than the other three Gospels put together, clearly establishing Christ as the One for whom the O.T. yearned. In Romans 15. 8-9 we have a pithy summary of the scope of this Gospel where we read, ‘Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy’.

The contents broadly summarised are as follows:

  1. The Person of the King, 1. 1 to 4. 11.
  2. The Purpose of the King, 4. 12 to 16. 12.
  3. The Passion of the King, 16. 13 to 28. 30.

Here we have Christ as the great Teacher since three-fifths of its verses record the sayings of the Master. There are five lengthy and outstanding discourses: 1. the principles of the kingdom, 5. 1 to 7. 29; 2. the charge to the apostles, 10. 5 to 11. 1; 3. the parables of the kingdom, 13. 1-53; 4. the church, 18. 1 to 19. 1; 5. judgments and prophecies, 23. 1 to 26. I.

A Key to the Book

The opening verse forms the key to the book, ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’. A very similar expression to this which opens the N.T. is found at the commencement of the O.T. There we read, ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’, Gen. 5.1. In the book of Genesis we have eleven different ‘generations’ commencing with ‘the generations of the heavens and of the earth’, 2. 4, and closing with the ‘generations of Jacob’, 37. 2 (search them out for yourselves). Twice again we have this expression in the O.T., once in Numbers 3 and once in Ruth 4. Hence there are thirteen references in all in the O.T., which is the number of apostasy and rebellion (cf. Gen. 14. 4). As already observed, it occurs once again in the Word of God on the opening page of the N.T., making fourteen references in all. The fourteenth occurrence is in the ‘book of the generation of Jesus Christ’. Now fourteen is the product of two and seven. Two signifies among other meanings that of contrast or difference. Seven is the number of perfection or completeness. These numbers combine to suggest the complete difference made by the coming of Jesus Christ. Notice too the threefold division of the birthroll into fourteen generations, 1. 17.

A Brief Survey

The first chapter in the N.T. opens with a long list of names. Christ is here presented as the ‘son of David’, the One fully entitled to sit upon His throne. How then can His title be established? By proving that according to the flesh He came from the royal tribe of Judah and carefully tracing His royal lineage. Then in chapter two the visit of the wise men from the East to honour and worship the Christ child is recorded. The question is asked, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’. How sad to read that Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him at the words of these strangers. In this chapter, in fact, we have a prophetic outline of the whole course of Matthew’s Gospel. Firstly, there is the affirmation that Christ was born King of the Jews. Yet He is found, not in Jerusalem the holy city, but outside of it. Israel was ignorant of, indifferent to and even troubled by the presence of David’s Son in their midst. Strangers from a distant land are found seeking Him out and worshipping Him whilst Herod is filled with hatred and seeks to destroy Him. Here then briefly foreshadowed is Christ’s rejection by the Jews and acclamation by the Gentiles.

In chapter three, the forerunner of Christ preaches in the wilderness and through his ministry prepares the way of the Lord. The wilderness which formed the scene of his work symbolises the barrenness and desolation of Israel’s spiritual condition. In chapter four the temptation of Christ by the devil is presented. Here subsequent to His baptism and prior to His entry upon public ministry, Christ’s moral qualification to the throne is established. After the descent of the Spirit of God like a dove, the devil comes to tempt, the nature of his temptation being threefold:

  1. To self-satisfaction, 4. 3, ‘command that these stones be made bread’.
  2. To self-destruction, 4. 6, ‘cast thyself down’.
  3. To self-glorification, 4. 9, ‘All these things will I give thee, if…’.

The private and preparatory part of the life of the Lord is concluded with His absolute triumph over the devil. The various credentials of Christ presented in these opening chapters prove beyond doubt His right and title to the throne.

The Lord’s Public Ministry

In chapters 5-7 we have what is commonly called ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. It sets forth the manifesto of the King, the governing laws of His kingdom. Meanwhile until that kingdom is established we should study these wonderful words and learn from them obedience to His rule and the regulation of our conduct both toward God and men.

Having spoken in wisdom in chapters 5-7, Christ now works in power in chapters 8-9. Here there are ten samples of the King’s authority and power over the great foes of mankind: sin, sickness, Satan, sorrow, storms, disease and death. Having thus been trained at Christ’s feet, the disciples were then charged and sent forth by the Master, chapter 10.

In chapters 11-12 the signs of rising opposition are manifested and the King is officially rejected. The first council of men that determined His death is recorded. Against this background we find the Lord teaching by parables. Chapter 13 records eight parables which take up the subject of the kingdom in mystery. These are divided into two groups, the first four are unfolded by the seaside to the crowd whilst the last four were spoken in the house, in private to His own.

In chapters 14-16 the rejection of Christ is even more patent. Herod, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees are all seen in opposition to the Lord and then commences the clear and open teaching of Christ concerning His death and resurrection. Nevertheless, a vision of His power and coming is vouchsafed to three of the disciples on the mount of transfiguration, ch. 17. Note in chapters 16-17 the revelations of the Christ, the Church, the Cross and the Coming.

Matthew is fond of mountain scenes: The Mount of Temptation, 4. 8; The Mount of the Sermon, 5. 1; The Mount of Prayer, 14. 23; The Mount of Transfiguration, 17. 1; The Mount of Prophecy, 24. 3; The Mount of Anticipation, 26. 30; The Mount of Commission, 28. 16.

Matthew is the only Gospel in which the word ‘church’ occurs. In 16. 18 the Lord refers to the age-long aspect of it and His sovereign determination to ‘build my church’. Relationships in the local church dominate the discourse in chapter 18, however. Here we read ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, 18. 20.

Closing Scenes

Jesus departing from Galilee, chap. 19, eventually arrived at Jerusalem. Zion’s king, meek and lowly, entered the city of the great king, riding not upon a war charger, or on an Arabian steed like Solomon, but on a colt, the foal of an ass, 21. 5. Even this humble creature was borrowed. How soon this gleam of sunlight gave place to darkness. The cries of ‘Hosanna’ soon faded away and the crowd shouted ‘crucify him’. Oh, the fickleness of human nature! They would crown Him one day; yet they crucified Him within the same week.

Christ is now in the very lions’ den and in conflict with all the authorities. When all questioners had been silenced He uttered the warnings and woes of chapter 23. This is followed by His departing from the temple and city and teaching the disciples concerning future events on earth, Christ’s coming glory and those preliminaries to the setting up of the earthly millennial kingdom in what is referred to as ‘The Olivet Discourse’, chaps. 24-25.

In chapter 26 we have prophesying, plotting, anointing, bargaining, the last Passover, the holy of holies of our Lord’s earthly life, i.e., Gethsemane, and His betrayal. Of the twelve disciples, it is only Judas that ever kissed the Lord. Note he ‘kissed him much’, R.V. marg. Disciples forsake Him, enemies take Him, the creatures of His hand spit in the Creator’s face and even Peter denies Him. Little wonder that the chapter ends with weeping.

In the opening section of chapter 27 we see how the King was persecuted and then how He was executed. Whilst men made His sepulchre sure and set a watch for fear that His disciples might steal the body, God raised Him from the dead by His mighty power, chap. 28. The One who came to earth, Emmanuel, God with us, 1. 23, is, in resurrection, still with us ‘even unto the consummation of the age’, 28. 20 R.V. marg. All power has been given to Him in heaven and earth. With the eye of faith we behold the king.

To be followed by ‘The Gospel of Mark’.


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