It is clear from the book (see Unique Characteristics) that the first readers were most likely Jews, who were also the original hearers of the gospel message by our Lord. The Gospel assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures and Jewish tradition. However, it was not limited to Jewish readers. For example, at the end of the book, it records that the Lord Jesus commanded the disciples to preach to all nations (28:19). The Gospel might also have been intended for members of the church so that they might have a thorough understanding of the life, teaching, and ministry of their Savior through the eyes of first-hand witnesses.
Most likely in the 60s A.D.
The author does not state specifically the purpose for which the Gospel is written. From its themes, we may derive some possible purposes:
1. To show that Jesus was the Messiah, born according to the promise as the descendant of Abraham and David. Through His ￼￼￼￼life, ministry, death and resurrection, He inaugurated the kingdom of God.
2. To carefully preserve the teachings of Jesus and present them in an organized fashion.
- Mention of the genealogy, starting with Abraham, father of the chosen race, through David, the King from whom the Messiah would come.
- Frequent usage of the expression, “kingdom of heaven.”
- Numerous reference to O.T. prophecies and how they were being fulfilled in Jesus.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (1:1).
Go through the entire book briefly to get a general overview and record descriptive headings in Chart B.
In Matthew we see two places where the author indicates key points in the ministry using the words “from that time.” These two indications mark out three stages in the life of Jesus:
- Preparation (1:1-4:16): The book begins with the royal birth of Jesus and the resistance from Herod, who represented earthly authority. John the Baptist came to preach repentance in preparation for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ baptism was an announcement of Jesus’ ministry, and His temptation prepared Him to overcome all the challenges and forces of Satan.
- Preaching and Healing (4:17-16:20): The majority of Jesus’ ministry, which centered in the region of Galilee, was catered to the general needs of the people. It started with the announcement of the kingdom of heaven and the call to repentance. Through His discourses, Jesus showed the people what the kingdom of heaven is and imparted His authority to the disciples so that they might advance the kingdom. Through works of signs and miracles, Jesus also demonstrated the power and authority of God’s kingdom.
3. Final fulfillment of ministry and the Commission (16:21-28:20): The second stage had ended with Jesus’ question to His disciples about His identity. Now, in the last stage, He began to reveal to His disciples about His sufferings, death, and resurrection. Matthew specifically records 3 predictions about Jesus’ suffering. Jesus shifted the weight of His work from healing and casting out of demons to teachings and warnings. Opposition, particularly from the religious groups, grew to a point where they plotted to kill Jesus. After all that was predicted about His suffering and death had come to pass, Jesus was buried but was resurrected to life. Having received all authority, He commissioned the disciples to go into the world to continue the ministry and promised them His continual presence.
Kingdom of Heaven
The good news of the kingdom of heaven rings throughout the gospel. Jesus began His ministry, just as John the Baptist did his, by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2; 4:17). The coming of God’s kingdom was powerful, for “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (11:12). Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven to earth with His authoritative teachings and countless works of healing and casting out of demons (12:22-28). Finally, through His sacrifice and resurrection, He opened the gates into the heavenly kingdom so that people of all nations may become God’s children.
The message of the kingdom of heaven progressively unfolds in Jesus’ five major discourses. In the teachings on the Mount (chapters 5-7), He laid out the spiritual laws of the kingdom and taught that only those who obey the will of the Father in heaven may enter this kingdom. In the second discourse (chapter 10), He empowered the disciples with the gift of healing and driving out evil spirits and commanded them to preach the good news of the kingdom. In the third discourse (chapter 13), He taught through parables how God would establish His kingdom through history. The fourth discourse (chapter 18) dealt with relationships among citizens of God’s kingdom; it is those who are child-like, caring, and forgiving who may enter the kingdom of God. In the final discourse (chapters 24, 25), Jesus turned His listeners’ attention to the judgment and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the last days. The watchful, the diligent, and the loving will enter the kingdom of heaven whereas the slumbering, the indolent, and the selfish will be cast out.
While the kingdom of heaven “forcefully advanced,” the humble and obedient were able to lay hold of it. On the other hand, the self- righteous opposed the ministry of Jesus and chose to remain outside the kingdom. The kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to those who bear fruit (21:43). Still others could not enter because their love of money prevented them from loving God and others (19:16-24). When Jesus comes on the last day, the final wedding banquet will take place (8:11-12; 22:1-14; 25:1-13). The truly righteous will be welcomed and rewarded, while the unworthy will be rejected.
Many of the Lord Jesus’ teachings expound the truth of righteousness. Righteousness is the conformity to God’s divine qualities expressed through His will and requirements. We are taught to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness (6:33). We will be blessed if we hunger and thirst for righteousness (5:6). We will take hold of the kingdom of heaven if we are persecuted because of righteousness (5:10). The righteous will enter eternal life and shine like the sun in God’s kingdom (13:43; 25:46), but the wicked will be cast outside into the darkness.
The righteousness that God requires, however, is far different from the legalistic righteousness found in superficial observance of laws and regulations. True righteousness begins with humble repentance. Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (9:13). Jesus’ message was full of harsh rebuke and warning to the proud and the self-righteous because God considers such attitude as wickedness. In the teachings on the Mount, the Lord redefined righteousness as obedience that comes from the heart. Such righteousness, which surpasses that of the Pharisees and Teachers of the law, is a requirement for entrance into God’s kingdom (5:20). Therefore, Jesus taught us to look to the Heavenly Father rather than the outward religiosity of men: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5:48). Not only so, the Lord Himself lived out His own teachings through His life-long obedience to the Father’s will so that He might “fulfill all righteousness” (3:15).
Son of God
Not only was Jesus the Son of Abraham and the Son of David, He was all the more the Son of God. After Jesus’ baptism, the heavenly Father anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and announced to all that He was the beloved Son (3:16,17). Although Satan hoped to mislead Jesus by posing the challenge, “if you are the Son of God…” Jesus knew that being the Son of God was not an earthly authority. His divine mission was not to display His power for its own sake but to save God’s people from sin (1:21). Nevertheless, from the divine authority of the Lord, people recognized that He was the Son of God and worshiped Him (14:33). Even the demons had to acknowledge Him as the Son of God and submit to His power (8:29).
Peter’s inspired confession of the Lord Jesus that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, was a crux in the development of the gospel (16:16). The confession was immediately followed by Christ’s prediction of His impending sufferings, death, and resurrection. So the Lord demonstrated Himself as the Son of God through His obedience unto death and work of atonement. Even while Jesus was on the cross, the unbelievers mocked Him saying that He ought to save Himself if He were the Son of God (27:40,43). But the fulfillment of God’s salvation through His death, resulting in the resurrection of the saints and the tearing of the curtain in the temple, ultimately proved that He was indeed the Son of God (27:54). As the Son of God, Jesus accomplished everything for which God sent Him to do. Everyone who believes in Jesus, the Son of God, may be saved from sin and inherit everlasting life.
As the Son of God sent to the world to establish God’s kingdom, the Lord Jesus carried out His mission with great divine authority. He taught with authority, bringing life-transforming power through His words (7:29). He healed the paralytic, demonstrating His authority to forgive sins (9:6). He also gave the disciples authority to drive out evil spirits and heal diseases (10:1). Seeing His powerful speech and actions, even the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem wanted to know where His authority came from (21:23). When commissioning the disciples after His resurrection, the Lord based His charge on His divine authority, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (28:18). When he comes in His kingdom, He will come with power and great glory (24:30; 26:64), and He will receive honor and praise as the King of kings.
On one level, the Gospel according to Matthew provides a detailed account of Jesus’ life and preserves His teachings in an organized structure. On another level, the gospel proclaims to the Jews and to the world at large that the Savior and King has come, just as God had revealed to the prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus, the Son of God, came to preach the good news of God’s kingdom and laid down His life in order to save God’s people from sin. The author calls everyone to repentance and acceptance of Christ so that they may enter the kingdom of heaven. The gospel is good news not only to the Jews of the apostolic era but also to people of all races in all generations. In order to be saved from sin and inherit eternal life, we must also forcefully lay hold of God’s kingdom by transforming our lives in accordance with God’s will and receiving the righteousness that God desires through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Map & Chart
Chart A: Life of Christ
Map A: PALESTINE IN THE TIME OF CHRIST [ref]