ACCORDING to tradition, Matthew wrote for the Jews in order to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was and is their Messiah. The contents of the book prove positively this position. Matthew was led by the Spirit of God to select that material from the life of Christ which would prove his thesis. This record is, therefore, topical, whereas Mark and Luke are chronological. In working out the chronological account of our Lord's ministry, one must fit Matthew into the schedule presented by Mark and Luke.
Matthew and Luke present the genealogies of Christ. They differ very greatly. When all the facts of both records are studied carefully, one comes to this conclusion: The one presented by Matthew is His regal genealogy. There are a number of peculiarities which are thoroughly discussed in the standard commentaries, to which I refer the reader. Luke's account is undoubtedly the true genealogy of Jesus as traced through Mary. If both are studied in the light of this hypothesis, the major portion of the difficulties involved will be solved.
Matthew and Luke are the only ones who give the birth narrative. The former quoted Isaiah 7:14 and claimed that the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. (For a full discussion of this point see the volume, Messiah: His Nature and Person.) Specialists in the Greek tell us that Luke's genealogy has a decidedly feminine touch. This, however, is not true with reference to Matthew's record.
Matthew assumes the pre-existence of Jesus and asserts that His birth was in accordance with and in fulfillment of the predictions of the Old Testament. The first and second chapters of Hebrews present a detailed account of the twofold nature of our Lord.
The Synoptic Gospels give the record of the baptism of Jesus, but Matthew presents the fullest account. By submitting to this sacred ordinance, Jesus stepped upon the threshold of his public ministry. But why the great emphasis upon it? Isaiah 42:1-4 gives us the outline of Messiah's redemptive career. In verse 1 of this prediction the prophet foresaw Messiah immediately after His baptism, for he spoke of God's having put His Spirit upon Him. This prophetic picture is essential to a thorough understanding of the gospel as set forth by Matthew. In order to see this fact more clearly, turn to Messiah's redemptive career according to Isaiah 42:1-43:7.
JOHN broke the silence of approximately four hundred years by announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. What is meant by this term? When we examine the passages in Mark and Luke which are parallel to those in Matthew having this expression, we see that they report Christ's having used the term, kingdom of God. This fact shows that the phrases, "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God," are used synonymously. From this position there can be no escape for the one who is willing to face all the facts. (For a fuller discussion on this point, see "The Four Types of Prophecy," and "Messiah's Redemptive Career According to the Lord Jesus.")
AFTER God at the baptism acknowledged Jesus as His Son in a special and unique manner, Satan came and tempted Him during a period of forty days (Mark 1:12,13). As a climax to these testings he presented our Lord with three of the most subtle. In the first he said, "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." He did not imply that he doubted Christ's sonship; on the contrary, he assumed it and urged Him to command the stones to be made bread in order that He might break His fast. The Lord's reply was that His doing as Satan suggested would be a violation of what is written in the Word. Hence He refused. Matthew gives as the second temptation Satan's taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and urging Him to leap to the valley beneath, because God, in Psalm 91, had promised Him special protection. Again, Jesus, took His stand upon what was written and refused the suggestion. The third temptation was the most subtle and attractive. In a twinkling of an eye, the Devil showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and their glory and promised that he would give all of them to Him if He would but fall down and worship him. In so doing he offered Jesus a short cut to the accomplishment of His task. Our Lord spurned the suggestion, taking His stand upon the written Word of God. He chose to go the divine way, which was long and tortuous, rather than to accept the short and easy cut.
In Matthew 5-7 we have the "Sermon on the Mount." This, in an abbreviated form, is found in the sixth chapter of Luke. Because of its position in the beginning of the Book of Matthew, some have thought that Christ spoke this message at the very beginning of His ministry. When the facts are studied in the light of the chronological order presented by Mark and Luke, one sees that it was delivered in the middle of the great Galilean ministry. This fact would place it about the middle of His entire ministry, which lasted about three and one-half years.
Many thinkers acclaim this sermon as an expression of the highest code of ethics and morals conceivable. Those who are interested only in a social gospel delight to refer to the standards of conduct presented here. One of my professors, the late Dr. A. T. Robertson, used to say in substance, "The Sermon on the Mount makes things inconvenient for anyone, if he takes it seriously." This statement is true.
In certain quarters there is a debate as to whether this message is for today or for the Kingdom Age. Good men are arrayed on both sides of the question. One is in good company regardless of which position he takes. It seems to me, however, that our Lord was laying down the general principles for which He stands at all times. He enunciated these principles at various times and applied them to situations and circumstances of His own day and intended for His followers to govern their lives by them at all times. Furthermore, it appears to me that, if the principles of this message are not for this day, I would not know where else to go to find a clearer statement of the foundational truths of morals, ethics, and of the conduct of man to man. Those set forth in the epistles to the churches are in perfect harmony with the great principles found in the Sermon on the Mount.
But some see in this portion of scripture a tinge of legalism. This position is correct--to a certain extent, but one must understand the condition. Let us remember that Jesus was speaking to the masses who had been schooled in terms of the law, and who could not think in any other categories. He was forced, therefore, to put His thoughts in terms which were familiar in order that they might comprehend what He was saying. This view of the matter accounts for all the seeming legalism in this portion of the Word.
Furthermore, it appears to me that this sermon is applicable to the children of God now, and was so intended, because Jesus in this very message instructed His disciples how they should pray, saying, "When thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee ... After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth" (Matt. 6:6-10). Those who are instructed to pray are given this code of ethics and are urged to regulate their lives thereby while they pray for that time to come--for the kingdom of God, when the will of God shall be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Though it is given to us today, since these are basic, fundamental concepts of human relationships, they will obtain in the Millennial Age, the same as now--the only difference being that they will then be carried out perfectly, whereas they are only partially realized among the disciples of Christ today.
Jesus, as always, spoke in this sermon as one having divine prerogatives. Sometimes He referred to what they had been taught; then, over against that, He would give His authoritative message. In His teaching He went behind the overt act and sought the very motives which produce conduct. By so doing He was putting Himself on an equality with God, who spoke certain things in the Old Testament to which He made reference. Often the Old Testament dealt only with externals, because of the existence of certain conditions; but the New goes deeper--to the very heart of things. Thus in the Sermon on the Mount, one sees reflected in every utterance the consciousness of His divine power and authority. From this position, there can be no escape.
MATTHEW in presenting Christ as King of the Jews gave His credentials (chapters 8 and 9). By examination of the miracles recorded here, one finds those that showed His power over disease. In His calming the storm at sea, He demonstrated the fact that He is Lord of the elements--the God of nature. He likewise exercised complete authority and power over unclean spirits. They recognized Him as the supreme Lord. Thus He, Jesus of Nazareth, who presented himself to the Jews as their King and Messiah gave the proper credentials as proof of His claims.
ON HIS third tour of Galilee which covers the latter half of the second full year of His ministry, He sent the apostles out to evangelize the cities of Israel. He gave them full instructions as to what they should do, and as to what they were to take for their journey. They were told that they would not, however, have gone over all the cities of Israel until the Son of man be come. Undoubtedly, Jesus blended this commission, which we call restricted, and its accomplishment with a description of the evangelization of the cities of Israel in the end-time--immediately preceding His return. Here we see an application of the law of double reference. The 144,000 Jewish evangelists will in the Tribulation take up the work that was dropped by the apostles and will not have completed it before the Son of man comes in His glory (Matt. 10:23). (For a fuller discussion of this point see "The Culmination of Apostasies and Revivals.")
In Matthew 13 we have the seven parables which are usually called "The Parables of the Kingdom." This series begins with the sower and ends with that of the dragnet. The sower is the Son of man who began His preaching ministry that has continued through the centuries. It will culminate with the pulling in of the dragnet at the consummation of the age. A careful study of these seven parables shows that our Lord was outlining the course of Christianity during the time of His absence. Some good students see in these parables certain periods of church history. There is food for thought on this point. One of the best treaties on Matthew 13, which I have seen, is a pamphlet by Dr. A. C. Gaebelein. In this he sets forth the thesis that the kingdom of heaven as represented in these parables is none other than what we call Christendom. On this point, I feel that he is absolutely correct. Some might, however, not agree with him on every point. Disagreement on minor details is to be expected.
John announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Jesus proclaimed the same message, sounding the same note. The Twelve also proclaimed it. In this thirteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus explained what John, He, and others had meant by the expression "kingdom of heaven."
FROM the very beginning of His ministry until within six months of the crucifixion, our Lord refrained from any direct statements affirming that He was the Messiah--except to the woman of Samaria (John 4:25,26). The country was all astir with revolutionary propaganda and men were in great excitement. Jesus, therefore, retired from the Holy Land to Caesarea Philippi. He asked the apostles who had just-returned from their evangelistic campaign of Galilee what men said about Him. They reported different views. Peter however on this occasion declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus thereupon disclosed the fact that God had revealed that truth to him.
For the first time, Jesus revealed to the apostles that He would have to go to Jerusalem and there suffer and die. Instantly, Peter rebuked Him, saying that such a thing should never be. Even the disciples after three years of intensive training did not understand that the Messiah was to suffer and die, be buried, and be raised from the dead. On several occasions during the last six months of His earthly career, our Lord spoke to them on this point.
Why did the apostles not understand that Jesus would suffer and die? The answer is easy. There are four types of prophecy as we see in the study, "Four Types of Messianic Prophecy." The Jews universally disregarded the first, third, and fourth types but accepted in toto the second, which deals exclusively with Messiah's glorious reign. Being blinded by this partial knowledge of God's Word and sharing the prejudices of the age, the apostles could not understand our Lord when He spoke of His rejection and death. Even after He was buried they did not understand it. They were amazed to find the tomb empty on the first Easter morning.
IN MATTHEW 19:1-23:39 we see Jesus with His face set like a flint facing His foe and going forward to taste of death for every man. His arrival in Jerusalem has been called His "Triumphal Entry." I do not wish to be critical, but I have never been able to accept this version of the case, although I have no quarrel with those who hold it. It was an occasion of tragedy instead of triumph.
In chapters 24 and 25 we have a record of the "Olivet Discourse," which has a parallel in Mark 13 and Luke 21. The trial and crucifixion narratives are found in chapters 26 and 27.
As regarding our Lord's earthly activities, the climax is reached in the resurrection (chapter 28). Death could not hold Him. He came forth from the tomb, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel.