By Joseph Benson
Each Gospel was written with a view to creating a definite result and written to a particular people and they differ accordingly. In this book, therefore, each Gospel is discussed with the hope of so outlining its purpose and consequent peculiarities as to stimulate a thorough study of the questions raised.
Date. Written about 60 A. D., but after Mark.
The Author. The Author always speaks of himself as "the publican," which may indicate his sense of humility, felt in having been exalted from so low an estate to that of an apostle. He was the son of Alpheus (Mar. 2:14; Lu. 5:27), and was called Levi until Jesus called him and gave him the name Matthew, which means "Gift of God." We know nothing of his work except his call and farewell feast (9:9-10), and that he was with the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Thus silent and observant and qualified by former occupation, he could well undertake the writing of this book. It might be possible that he was chosen by the others for this great task. We know nothing of his death.
Characteristics and Purpose.
1. It is not a Chronological but a Systematic and Topical Gospel. There is order in the arrangement of materials so that a definite result may be produced. Materials are treated in groups, as the miracles in chapters eight and nine and the parables of chapter thirteen. There is order and purpose also in the arrangement of these groups of miracles and parables. The first miracle is the cure of leprosy, and is a type of sin; while the last one is the withering of the fig tree, which is a symbol of judgment. The first parable is that of the seed of the kingdom, which is a symbol of the beginning or planting of the kingdom; the last is that of the talents and prophesies the final adjudication at the last day. This same orderly arrangement is also observed in the two great sections of the book. The first great section 4:17-16:20, especially sets forth the person and nature of Jesus, while the second section, 16:20 end, narrates his great work for others as seen in his death and resurrection.
2. It Is a Didactic or Teaching Gospel. While giving the account of a number of miracles, the book is marked by several discourses of considerable length, as The sermon on the Mount, chapters 3-7, the denunciation of the Pharisees, chapter 23, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, chapters 24-25, the address to the apostles, chapter 10; and the doctrines of the kingdom, 17:24-20:16. These portions and the parables noted above will indicate how large a portion of the book is taken up in discourses. The student can make lists of other and shorter sections of teaching.
3. It Is a Gospel of Gloom and Despondency. There are no songs of joy like those of Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, Anna and the Angels, recorded in Luke. Nor do we see him popular and wise at the age of twelve. Instead, we have his mother almost repudiated and left in disgrace by Joseph and only saved by divine intervention. Jerusalem is in trouble, the male children are killed and mothers are weeping for them. The child Jesus is saved only by the flight into Egypt, his whole life after the return from Egypt is covered in oblivion and he is a despised Nazarite. The cross is one of desolation with no penitent thief nor sympathy from any one, with his enemies reviling, smiting their breasts and passing by. Nor is there much optimism or expectation of success. The disciples are to be rejected and persecuted even as their Lord; many are to be called and but few are chosen; only a few are to find the narrow way; many are to claim entrance into the Kingdom because they have prophesied in His name and be denied. Even Matthew himself is a despised and rejected publican.
4. It Is a Kingly Gospel. The genealogy shows the royal descent of Jesus. The Magi came seeking him that was "born king of the Jews," and John the Baptist preaches that the "Kingdom of heaven is at hand." Here we have the parables of the kingdom, beginning with "the Kingdom of heaven," etc. In Luke a certain man made a great supper and had two sons, while in Matthew it was a certain king. In the other evangelists we always have the term gospel while, with one exception, Matthew always puts it "the gospel of the Kingdom". The "keys of the kingdom" are given to Peter. All the nations shall gather before him as he sits on the throne and "the king say" unto them, and the "king shall answer," etc. (Matt. 25:34, 40).
5. It Is an Official and an Organic Gospel. This is suggested in that Matthew represents Satan as head of a kingdom; also, in that those connected with Jesus' birth are official persons and most of the acts are official in their nature. Pilate, the judge, washed his hands of the blood of Jesus, the Roman guard pronounces him the Christ, and the guards say he could not be kept in the tomb, Jesus denounces the officials and calls his own disciples by official names. It is Peter, not Simon, and Matthew, the apostolic name, and not Levi as in Luke. Jesus indicates his official capacity in his rejection of the Jews, telling them that the kingdom is taken away from them (21:43). He makes ready for the establishing of his own kingdom and tells them who is to wield the keys of the kingdom which is not to be bound by time or national relations as was the former kingdom. In Matthew alone do we find full instructions as to the membership, discipline and ordinances of the church. Here alone are we given in the gospels the command to baptize to administer the communion and the beautiful formula for baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and here we have his official command to "Go" backed by all the authority of heaven and earth.
In the further pursuit of this official work, we find Jesus giving especial recognition to the Gentile believers-giving them full place in his kingdom. The genealogy through grace and faith includes Gentiles; the second chapter shows how the Gentile Magi do him honor; the Roman centurion displays a faith superior to any Israelite; the great faith of the Canaanite woman led him to heal her daughter, and the Gentile wife of Pilate because of her dreams sends a warning that he have "nothing to do" with him. All this tended to show the official and organic way in which Jesus worked.
6. It Is a Gospel of Jewish Antagonism and Rejection. On the one hand the Jews antagonize and reject Jesus. On the other the Jews, especially the scribes and Pharisees, are exposed and rejected by Jesus. The Pharisees plotted against Jesus and resented his violation of their regulations and customs concerning the Sabbath and their ceremonies about eating and washing and his associations with publicans and sinners. Their opposition culminated in their putting him to death. On the other hand Jesus also rejects the Jews. John calls them a generation of vipers and Jesus designated them with such terms as hypocrites, blind guides and whited sepulchers, the climax being reached in chapter 23. It is here that in their wickedness they are unable to discern between the work of God and of Beelzebub. They are told of the application of Isaiah's prophecy, that they have ears and hear not and that on account of their unworthiness, the kingdom is taken from them. The blasting of the fig tree with which the miracles of Matthew ends shows what is to be the fate of the Jewish nation.
7. It Is a Jewish Gospel. This is seen in his use of Jewish symbols, terms and numbers without explanation. He never explained the meaning of a Jewish word, such as Corban, nor of a custom, such as to say that the Jews eat not except they wash. The other evangelists do. He calls Jerusalem by the Jewish terms, "City of the great king," and "Holy City," and Christ the "Son of David" and the "Son of Abraham." He speaks of the Jewish temple as the temple of God, the dwelling place of God and the holy place. The genealogy is traced to Abraham by three great Jewish events of history. All this would be calculated to win the Jews, but, much more, the sixty-five quotations from the Old Testament and the oft repeated attempt to show that deeds and sayings recorded were that the "Scripture (or saying) might be fulfilled." And, while not seeing as much in the numbers as Plummer and others, one can hardly believe that all numbers, so characteristic of Jews, are accidental here. The genealogy has three fourteens being multiples of seven. There are fourteen parables, seven in one place and seven in another. There are seven woes in chapter 23. There are twenty miracles separated into two tens. The number seven usually, if not always, divides into four and three, the human and the divine. Of the seven parables in chapter 13, four touch the human or natural while three refer to the divine or spiritual side of his kingdom. There are seven petitions in the Lord's prayer, the first three relating to God and the last four to man. A like division is perhaps true in the beatitudes.
Subject. The Kingdom of God or of Heaven.
I. The Beginning of the Kingdom, 1:1-4:16.
II. The Proclamation of the Kingdom, 4:17-16:20.
III. The Passion of the Kingdom, 6:21-27 end.
IV. The Triumph of the Kingdom, Ch. 28.
For Study and Discussion. (1) Some events of Christ's childhood, (a) The story of the Magi. (b) The massacre of the infants, (c) The flight to Egypt, (d) The return to Nazareth. (2) Two miracles, (a) Cure of the blind man, 9:27-31. (b) Fish with money in its mouth, 17:24-27. (3) Ten Parables, (a) The Tares, 13:24-30. (b) The draw net, 13:47-50. (c) The unmerciful servant. 18:23-25. (d) The laborers in the vineyard, 20:1-16. (e) The two sons, 21:28-32. (f) The marriage of the king's son, 22:1-14. (g) The hidden treasure. 24:44. (h) The pearl, 24:45-46. (i) The ten virgins. 25:1-13. (j) The talents, 25:14-30. (4) Ten passages in Christ's discourses: (a) Parts of the Sermon on the Mount, chs. 5-7. (b) Revelation to babes, 11:25-27. (c) Invitations to the weary, 11:28-30. (d) About idle words, 12:36-37. (e) Prophecy to Peter, 16:17-19. (f) Humility and forgiveness, 18:14-35. (g) Rejection of the Jews, 21:43. (h) The great denunciation, ch. 23. (i) The judgment scene, 23:31-46. (j) The great commission and promise, 28:16- 20. (5) Some terms by which Jesus is designated in Matthew should be studied. Let the student make a list of the different places where each of the following terms are used and from a study of the passages compared with any others form opinions as to the significance of the term, (a) Son of Abraham, (b) Son of David, (c) Son of man, (d) Son of God, (e) Christ, the Christ, (f) Jesus, (g) Lord, (h) Kingdom of heaven or Kingdom of God. (6) Make a list of all the places where the expression "That the saying (or scripture) might be fulfilled" and tabulate all the things fulfilled. (7) Show how many times and where the phrase "The Kingdom of Heaven" (or of God) occurs and from a study of these passages tabulate in list the nature, characteristics and purpose of the Kingdom. (8) Make a list of all the places mentioned and become familiar with the history and geography of each and memorize the leading events connected with each.