Jesus teaching the crowds through parables

What is in Matthew?
Matthew is the fortieth book in the Bible, the first book in the New Testament, and the first of the four Gospels that tells of Jesus’s life. Angels announced that Mary was to have a son, Jesus. Mary was not yet wed to her betrothed, Joseph, and in fact, Mary was a virgin. Jesus came into the world in fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies and with the promise that He would save his people. In 30-some years, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, gathered 12 disciples, and began His three-year ministry. During this time, He taught in a way that amazed and confounded many who questioned and listened to Him. He performed many miracles, including walking on water, feeding thousands of people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, and even healing the terminally ill and raising the dead. Equally radically, Jesus taught that rejecting Him was the same as rejecting God. He also began to prophesy His own death, which included crucifixion and a betrayal by one of his own, but then that He would be resurrected in three days.

This proved true, for the Jewish leaders in that day presided over a Jewish faith that had become intensely legalistic, with countless specific rules to follow. When Jesus started exposing God’s true intent behind His commands, advocating breaking some of the excess rules which had no real root in scripture, the Pharisees and Sadducees became quite angry at him, but could not find any real charge on which to bring Him before the courts. Judas, one of Jesus’s disciples, accepted money from them in exchange for helping the Jewish leaders capture Jesus in the dead of night. Jesus was arrested, and was brought forth before the Jewish elders, who condemned him for blasphemy. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion, and died. In an attempt to dispel rumors surrounding Jesus’s Godhood and especially His resurrection, the Romans were extra-careful in guarding the tomb. Despite this, on the third day after Jesus’s death, the heavy stone in front of the tomb was removed, and Jesus’s body had vanished. Jesus appeared again to hundreds of people, including His disciples. The book of Matthew ends with Jesus commanding his disciples to go out and teach everything they had witnessed and been taught – that Jesus, the Son of God lived, and that the salvation of mankind was to be found in Him!

Who wrote it?
While the gospel is technically anonymous, extrabiblical sources all attribute this gospel to Matthew, who was a tax collector before he became one of Jesus’s 12 disciples. There are no competing claims from early sources, but some modern-day scholars are skeptical, owing in part that the gospel of Matthew relied on the gospel of Mark in its composition, which a direct witness shouldn’t have had to do. This is by no means proof of another author. It could have been just as likely that Matthew wanted to make sure his account matched Mark’s (and Matthew supplied his own details in addition). Without hard proof, there is no reason to override the unanimous declaration of the early church.

When was it written?
Irenaeus, writing in about 175 A.D., claims that Matthew wrote his gospel while the apostle Peter and Paul were still alive. This would mean it was composed earlier than 65 A.D.

When does it take place?
The gospels cover the lifetime of Jesus, from about 5 or 6 B.C. to around 30 A.D., but the vast majority of the book focus on Jesus’s ministry during his last three years.

Why was it written?
The value of the gospel of Matthew should be quite self-explanatory. It provides one of the accounts of Jesus’s life, and thus forms the backbone of Christianity where Jesus Christ was sent by God to atone for the sins of man. A record of Jesus’s teachings and life is indispensable to Christians in much the same way the Jewish law and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was indispensable to Jews.

Who is in Matthew?
The gospel of Matthew focus primarily on Jesus and His interactions with other people, including His 12 disciples, the people he taught and performed miracles for, his mother Mary and father Joseph, the Roman authorities at whose hands He died, and many more. Jesus spoke to an incredible amount of people during his ministry, so a comprehensive list would likely be impossible.

All the gospels cover Jesus’s life, so how is Matthew different from the other three gospels?
While all the gospels cover Jesus’s life, they differ in the events and teachings that they choose to emphasize. Matthew, in particular, emphasizes Jesus as one who presides over God’s kingdom. In fact, Jesus is referred to as a king more than in any other gospel. Matthew’s focus was on Jesus as one with divine power to rule. The gospel of Matthew also contains a larger amount of teachings (discourses).

How does Matthew apply to me today?
Maybe an easier question would be how it DOESN’T apply! The word ‘gospel’ means good news, and the coming of Jesus is certainly good news for all of us! God sent Jesus to help clarify His teachings, and to die to atone for our sins. Besides that, there are a bunch of specific teachings in the gospels that Christians can directly benefit from.


Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
For the gospels in particular, I recommend taking the time to actually read them through. The Gospels are some of the least difficult books to read in the Bible, and there is no possible way I can adequately describe everything that happens in them in one reasonably-sized article (or perhaps even four!).


Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0