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The Literary Value Of The Book Of Matthew
President and Professor of Theology & Languages
Tyndale Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX.
The Aramaic Debate
Scholars are split as to whether Matthew first wrote his Gospel in the language of Palestine at the time, called Aramaic. Some argue that the apostle wrote his history of Christ simultaneously in both Aramaic and in the common commercial language of the day, Koine Greek. To understand what the argument is about, it is important to learn more about Aramaic.
From ancient times Aramaic was part of a group of the Semitic languages, very similar to Hebrew. Originally, biblical Aramaic was labeled the Chaldee language. Two such Aramaic words are found in Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, and longer portions or sentences are found in Ezra 4 and 7. The longest section of Aramaic in the Old Testament is found in Daniel 2:4b–7:28. There are also a few Aramaic words scattered throughout the New Testament.
Aramaic comes from the word Arameans, referring to the people of Aram. Much about their beginnings is unknown. Though they never developed a major empire their language became the medium of communication throughout the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian dynasties. When Greece and Hellenism began to dominate the Middle East, the Arameans faded from view, leaving a legacy of their language but no lasting literature.
Throughout that ancient period Aramaic was the language of the merchants and traders who traveled the highways and roads of the Middle East. Attached to Assyrian and Babylonian records of goods, was Aramaic dockets and lists of trade items. The reason was that most people from many countries could understand this universal language, especially in regard to government and commercial business.
Aramaic words have been found as far away as Pakistan, and from the Ural Mountains to Arabia, Greece. Jewish literature in Aramaic includes the Targums, the Palestine Talmud and Midrash, and the Gemara of the Babylonian Talmud.
It is commonly accepted that Christ spoke Aramaic. And when it is said that Paul spoke “in the Hebrew dialect” (Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14), that this is referring to the Aramaic vernacular of Palestine in his day. As to how common Aramaic was in Palestine in New Testament times is up for debate. Opinion ranges from (1) it was not used at all, to (2) it was very much used and most people could converse quite well with it.
The Aramaic Matthew
Eusebius cites the Church father Papias as saying “Matthew arranged the oracles in (the) Hebrew language, and each translated them as he was able.”1
The question is, did Papias mean Aramaic or Hebrew? And, was he speaking of Matthew’s Gospel, some other writings of the apostle, or simply some of his chapters in the Matthew document itself? Does “as he was able” imply that some could not read the language, or does it mean they could not comprehend the spiritual meaning of the writings?
Besides this, the question is raised, does oracles (ta logia, plural, neuter) simply mean the words of Matthew’s book or does it refer to oracles, as in the “sayings” of Matthew? Many feel that Papias simply made a mistake and others followed his lead in arguing for an original Aramaic version of the Gospel. Others agree and take it that the first writing of Matthew was in Aramaic (or Hebrew) but later translated into Greek. Some focus on the fact that Papias uses the word “translated” or “interpreted” (hermeneusen). On this word Harrison writes:
The word “interpreted” is understood in terms of translation, not as [simply a public reading], but as referring to various attempts to render into Greek for permanent use. This understanding of “interpreted” brings it into line with the New Testament use of the word (as in John 1:14). Was our Greek Matthew then simply one of these attempts? If hermeneusen is construed in terms of interpretation rather than translation, which is possible linguistically, then the passage may reflect the feeling of the church in Asia Minor that the gospel story was not easily understood, being in fact a kind of mystery.2
Some say the “logia” argument is simply about the fact that Matthew wrote some shorter “sayings” about Jesus that have not survived. They are now claiming that the logia is referring to the Matthew Gospel. The argument goes on that these short sayings were sent to a group of Jews interested in Christ. Whatever, there exists today no separate writings attributed to Matthew that would reinforce this view. Even if there were the logia:
The First Gospel … was probably penned by Matthew in Greek and has survived until today. Matthew’s logia did not survive, but his Gospel did. This was because the latter, part of the biblical canon and thus God’s Word, was inspired and preserved by the Spirit of God.3
It must be pointed out that there are some that go further and try to argue that all the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic. This Aramaic theory has a lot going against it. It now generally accepted that this argument has not won in proving that four Aramaic Gospels underlie our present Greek Gospels.
Because there is some Semitic flavorings in these books does not mean that they were originally in Aramaic. All of the authors moved throughout Palestine and it is clearly documented that Aramaic had a strong and lasting influence in the region. But in all of this documentation, the leap is too great to say that this language was used first and foremost in the original writings of the four Gospels. Hendriksen comments:
There is nothing that necessitates the positing of an Aramaic written Gospel underlying Greek Matthew. Such a document has never been found. No ancient witness ever quotes from it. Whether it ever existed cannot now be established with any degree of certainty. The form in which many quotations occur in all three Synoptics indicates a common basis for all. The source could well be Matthew’s notes. Similar notes written by the same person could very well account also for some of the other … Gospel material.4
If there ever was an Aramaic Matthew, some have argued, as time passed, there was less and less of a need for such a document. The Jewish people continued to harden themselves against Christianity and began to believe false stories about Christ. Fewer Jews were coming to Christ. Some have noted that the Christian missionaries carrying an Aramaic book in witnessing, would have been powerless in their arguments in what was a well-established Hellenized or Greek world.
If Matthew had written a Hebrew Gospel or even a shorter volume with some of the quotes of Jesus, it must have disappeared completely and out of sight from the eyes of even the earliest of the church Fathers.
Any writing by the apostles would have been highly prized and acclaimed. Mark and Luke were written before 90 AD, why did the so-called Hebrew Matthew not continue? Would not the early church have held on tightly to such a work in order to compare it with the Greek version? Even if such a translation was dated much earlier, it would be valued and preserved.
The conclusion is inevitable, Matthew himself never wrote an entire Gospel in Hebrew. The ephemeral nature of what he wrote and the early complete disappearance of his writing attest this fact.5
The argument goes on and claims that the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was translated into Greek with the apostle’s consent.
Was Matthew so lordly or so lazy that he was not willing to do this work himself? Or was he not quite competent and in need of help? … The various hypotheses melt under the flame of undeniable facts. Matthew himself wrote his Gospel, and he wrote it as we have it now, in Greek.6
The Use Of The Septuagint
In Christ’s day, the Jews were using the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament for most of the quotes from the prophets and from Moses. Jesus, in Matthew, is cited generally as quoting from the Septuagint. If the original Gospel was in Hebrew or Aramaic, why would this be necessary? Why, would not the quotes have come directly from the Old Testament Hebrew? Alford well observes
This is urged as tending to establish the Greek original of St. Matthew: for if the Gospel were really written in Hebrew for the use of Jews, it is not conceivable that the citations would be given in any but the Hebrew text: and equally inconceivable that the translator would have rendered them into the language of the LXX in our Lord’s discourses, while he retained the Hebrew readings in the narrative. But the same fact would also tend to establish that our Lord spoke usually in Greek,-that Greek was the language commonly used and generally understood by the Jews of Palestine,-and consequently, that the composition of a Hebrew Gospel for the early Judaeo-Christians would be unnecessary, and in the last degree improbably.7
This observation is interesting because Alford in his initial research accepted the Hebrew Gospel theory. This view was popular among nineteenth century liberal scholars and made some inroads even in conservative ranks. But Alford confesses
I have since then studied very closely the text itself, especially with reference to its revision in those passages which find parallels in the other Gospels, and I am bound to say that my view of the Hebrew origin is much shaken …. On the whole, then, I find myself constrained to abandon the view maintained in my first edition, and to adopt that of a Greek original.8
One could continue on with conjecture about a “text behind the text” theory without arriving at absolute satisfaction on the issue. But the fact is that almost all of the evidence points to a Greek edition of Matthew only. Some have called the quote of Papias into question and believe his credibility is dubious to say the least. Without being detailed and specific, it is enough here to say that the internal evidence, as already mentioned, leads one to a Greek original.
Mark As The First Gospel
Another theory that gained ground over the years is that Matthew actually depended upon the Gospel of Mark for his source material. But instantly the question is raised, “why would Matthew need an additional source for much of his material if he was an eyewitness to much of Christ’ s ministry himself?.”
The source of such a theory is the fact that there are seemingly contradictions found between the three synoptic Gospels. But there are logical answers for these apparent differences. It must be remembered that each writer wrote to get across different aspects of Jesus’ life. Because of this there are various perspectives and emphases. Too, some of the material is not chronological and appears out of order. The reader then realizes that all the narratives in each book are not necessarily meant to be chronological in order.
Though this view of Mark being first is common among scholars, it must be remembered that this is still but a theory with many presuppositions. This view really came about after the Reformation. Up until then, the early church agreed to place Matthew as the priority Gospel. Glasscock concludes
The reasoning of the early church was logical: Matthew was an apostle; he was an eyewitness; he preserves more of Jesus’ sayings than any of the rest; Mark’s account was only an abbreviation of the gospel; and Luke was a late-appearing Gentile. Determining who said what first does not alter what was said.9
The Prophetic View
Admitting that it is only secondary evidence, the English Baptist scholar John Gill believes that there is evidence in Genesis for the Greek Matthew. He admits this is only partial evidence. In Genesis 9:27 Noah prophesies “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; …” This is a far-projected cryptic prophecy that indicates Noah’s descendents from Japheth will be blessed by the descendents of Shem. The larger body of Gentiles descend from Japheth and the Jewish people, who will bless the world, come through Shem.
Gill argues that the descendents of Japheth were the people of Javan, who were the founders of the Greek peoples, who in turn spoke Greek. The Greeks and their language would bless the Jews through the Greek New Testament! Gill writes:
Matthew generally follows the Septuagint (Greek) version in the passages cited by him out of the Old Testament; and since the Hebrew language was not generally known at that time to the common people, only to the learned; for the law and the prophets, when read in the synagogues in that language, required an interpreter; and since the Greek tongue was the language more commonly spoken, and the rest of the Evangelists wrote in Greek, and the Gospel was designed for the Gentiles as well as the Jews; it is most reasonable to conclude that this Gospel [Matthew] also was written in Greek; whereby that ancient prophecy was fulfilled, at least in part, [from Genesis 9:27]10
Though Gill’s argument may seem to stretch the issue and appear a bit far-fetched, he at least has presented an interesting theory. No one can fully dictate as to how the Lord planned the inspiration and writing of His Word. Gill has to be given some credit for trying to make connections as to why we have a Greek version of Matthew.
The Synoptic Problem
The word “synoptic” refers to the Gospels “seen together” which are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Though these books have distinctions, they see much of the life and teachings of Christ in a common way. Because there are some apparent contradictions (which can be explained when studied carefully) some have coined the term “Synoptic Problem.”
It would only make sense that, in some cases, the writers drew their information for other sources. What are the theories that have been put forth?
1. The Oral tradition view claims that stories about Jesus were passed down from several generations and then compiled at a later date. The question is raised, “why would those who were eyewitnesses to the events need such help if they were there?”
2. The Document view says that the writers were simply editors who compiled a large volume of additional writings about Christ. They then culled through the material and came up with their Gospel accounts. Often those who hold to this view believe there was a larger single source abbreviated as the “Q” document, taken from the German word for “source,” Quelle. The argument is that around 200 verses found in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, must have originated from this mysterious writing
3. The Urevangelium theory. Some argue that the synoptic Gospels came from another original writing that is now lost. The apostles simply acted as editors and pulled their own selected material from this source. No scholar has ever pointed to such a document. Also, this view does not explain the different material that each writer used. Nor does it explain the fact as to why they also had a great number of verses that quote the same narrations.
4. The Form Criticism approach. This takes the documentary theory further. It argues that there were many documents and accounts written down from which unknown later editors quoted. This view makes the Gospels but a patchwork of distortion and of myths. The events of Christ’s life are but legends built up by the superstitious early Church. The true facts about the ministry of the Lord are completely lost. This approach was given birth by pure liberalism, skepticism, and earth-bound humanism. There is absolutely no evidence for such a poorly conceived viewpoint. The driving purpose of the Urevangelium theory is to get rid of true biblical supernaturalism and also to destroy the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture!
If there is any truth at all in the Gospels, this view says, the writings must be “demythologized,” that is, purged from the myths that surround the life of Jesus. The obvious problem is “what stories must be purged in order to arrive at the truth?” This subjective process then makes the supposed superior human knowledge of modern scholarship the judge of the Bible. “… this view has purposefully overlooked the living impact His life and death made on first century believers.”11
The best and most historic evidence seems to support the fact that the book of Matthew was written originally in Koine Greek. Matthew, or someone else, may also have written an Aramaic version, but there is no substantial evidence for this. It only makes sense to believe that, for the most part, Matthew records the stories of Jesus from his own experiences. After all, he was one of the earliest apostles. Most likely being an educated government office (a tax-collector), Matthew was able to research the genealogy and early years of Jesus for himself. It is taken for granted that he could have questioned Mary the mother of Christ and others closer to those times and recorded their witness.
And, as far as can be ascertained, the book of Matthew has always been placed first among the Gospels, in terms of both precedence and chronology
The Historical Background: The Nation Of Israel
Jewish Religious Life
By the time of Christ, Jewish religious life revolved around the synagogue system and the great temple in Jerusalem. Christ seems to have been always in conflict with these two entities that had been established by tradition.
The Importance Of The Temple
Things began to change for the Jews when Solomon’s great temple was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Ki. 25:9; 2 Chron. 36:19). But at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, Cyrus the king decreed that the temple should be restored in Jerusalem (Isa. 44:28). With many difficulties and much opposition, this reconstruction was completed in 516 BC by Zerubbabel, a leader of the Jews who had come back from captivity. Because the Jews refused the help of the Samaritans, the half-Jews who were born with Assyrian blood, that people erected a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim (John 4:20).
The Role Of The Synagogue
After the Babylonian Captivity, synagogues were established to teach the people in the knowledge of God’s Law. “Synagogue” is a Greek word meaning “to come together.” Rabbis and priests officiated in synagogue worship, prayer, and praise. Elders also were appointed who assisted but who also helped govern the affairs of the community surrounding the synagogue.
Synagogues were built wherever the Jews lived except possibly in Philippi (Acts 16:13). It is said that the synagogue dominated Jewish spiritual life to a degree even in Jerusalem, where there were 400 such places of worship when the city was destroyed in 70 AD. Throughout the New Testament the synagogue is continually mentioned. The apostle Paul went to them as his standard practice to argue about the Law and proclaim the gospel of Christ.
Synagogue services consisted of Sabbath prayer, the reading of the Law and from the prophets, an interpretation of the Law from Hebrew. A concluding prayer ended the service. The synagogue also became the school for young boys. They were taught from the Torah (the Law) and from the ancient Jewish commentaries. This enclosed system of education drew the community together and created fierce loyalty to the Jewish way of life.
Jewish Parties And Leadership
From the time of Christ until 70 AD, the spiritual and political scene in Palestine was in turmoil. The Romans ruled with an iron hand and the Jewish leadership were certainly not those who were seeking first to do God’s will. To fully understand the book of Matthew is to understand the political and religious forces that shaped the nation of Israel.
The word Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word Perushim. that means “the separatists.” Following the Babylonian Captivity, this sect became one of the major powers on the religious and political front. Early on, a disagreement between the scribes and priests brought on an impasse. The scribes leaned to strict keeping of all the Old Testament and the oral laws. The priests based their theology on the Torah.
The two groups divided with the scribes becoming the Pharisees and the priests becoming the Sadducees. At first the Sadducees were more orthodox or conservative and the Pharisees kept to a broad path to find truth. The Sadducees were from the more aristocratic element and tended to be more democratic.
As time passed the Pharisees became more orthodox, holding to the belief of angels, the resurrection, the biblical miracles, and the coming of the Messiah. They bowed to the authority of the Romans, tried to keep peace politically, and moved to a position of great legalism as a means of meriting personal righteousness.
Jesus clashed with the Pharisees on the major spiritual and biblical issues. He denounced the traditions of the Pharisees, and taught righteousness that must come by faith. This inflamed the Pharisees to the point that they conspired His death.
The word Sadducee is from the Hebrew word Tsaddaqim. which some believe means “the righteous ones,” though others have doubts as to the definition. Additional scholars believe the word is a transliteration of the Greek syndikoi, meaning “judge.” It is impossible to say for certain. The Sadducees trace their lineage back to Zadok, the high priest during the time of David. They were always smaller in number than the Pharisees but they often seemed to hold great political power. The Sadducees held strongly to the Torah but denied the authority of the oral traditions. They were greater legalists than the Pharisees and stronger in their judgments against others. They would be called liberal today because they denied the afterlife and the resurrection, and they detested Christ’s claims as the Messiah. They had bitter disagreements with the Pharisees except over the person of Christ. The two sects teamed together in their opposition to His claims.
Because the Sadducees were more secular and political, they did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. As a sect and a force, they were destroyed. Had the tension between them and the Pharisees continued, some believe the nation would have been torn apart.
Harod And The Romans
When the Hasmonean priestly family took over the kingdom of Judea from the Greeks (165 BC), the Romans treated this small nation as a sovereign people and honored its rulers. The Jews could rest for awhile and tend to their internal affairs in peace. Slowly, three political and religious factions began to take form within the country.
The Sadducees were certainly not the orthodox. They would be called today theological liberals. They denied miracles, the resurrection from the dead and even heaven. But they supported temple ritual because it had a unifying effect on the people. They supported the Hasmonean party and the “religiousness” of the priestly class. Because of their control over the priests, they held the ultimate power over religion and ceremony at the temple.
The Pharisees would be considered the orthodox. They believed in the inspiration of the Scriptures and they followed the Law in a strict fashion. They opposed the wealth and arrogance of the priesthood. Some became teachers of the Scriptures, others went about doing good and helping others. Today, they would be classified as theological conservatives. They held to the belief of angels, and miracles, heaven and hell, and they longed for the coming of the Messiah. They would be the forerunners of the rabbis of Christ’s day. The problem with the Pharisees was that they could be legalistic and hypocritical, speaking the truth but living another way. Jesus criticized their hypocrisy but He never corrected their theology or their literal and historic anticipation of the coming of the Kingdom.
About 100 BC or before, an ascetic class called the Essenes came on the scene. In reality, little is known about them, but what is clear, they took the Old Testament very literally and taught that only with the coming of the Messiah could peace finally come to the world. Some must have fled the religious hypocrisy of Jerusalem and the temple ritual and quartered themselves in the desert down near the Dead Sea. In 1947 their writings called the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in jars in remote caves. Besides their own commentaries, many Hebrew textual portions of the books of the Old Testament were also found. The Essenes practiced sexual abstinence, upheld virtue, and longed for the historic, literal coming of the promised Son of David. They compiled and studied the many Scriptures that tell of His coming. They knew that He would be a Savior and that He would bring in peace and righteousness to Judea and the world. Though isolationists with some strange rules, they were in some ways the true orthodox in belief and practice among the Jewish people.
Though in time the Essenes died out, they must have influenced the godliest among the Jewish people with great spiritual enthusiasm. It is possible that when Jesus was born, many in Israel were looking for the coming of the Messiah because of the earlier influence of these people.
When civil strife set in among the Jews, it gave the Romans an excuse to invade Judea and take more control over the nation. General Pompey marched upon Jerusalem in 67 BC and, after a three month siege, he occupied the city and the temple. Judea became a Roman client-state.
The Rise of Herod the Great
Herod as a young man was one of the rising stars among the Romans. Though half Jewish and half Edomite, or Idumean, he came from wealthy, aristocratic ruling families. Very early on, he was friends with the most powerful of the Roman elite personalities. Herod will play a crucial role in the very opening books of the New Testament, called the Gospels. Some in his family will continue to rule even as shadow figures until the very end of the New Testament. Herod is vitally important for understanding the Olivet Discourse. It is the temple Herod built that is the scenic backdrop for the prophecies of Jesus that tell of the final stages of world history.
But Christ also said something tragic would happen in Jerusalem within about four decades after His death and resurrection. Despite the beautiful buildings of the temple that were the legacy of Herod, Christ predicted that this marvelous structure would be torn down stone by stone. When thinking of the Olivet Discourse, one must muse on the temple. And when thinking about this magnificent structure constructed for the Jewish people, one is reminded of Herod. But how did he actually begin his career? And how did he become the one to build one of the most splendid structures in the history of architecture up to that time? Even more puzzling, what will be his purpose in spending such great effort on such an edifice? And by the time of Jesus, why will the Jewish people, and even the disciples, be so proud of the temple that was built by a religious impostor and madman?
As already pointed out, this young aristocrat Herod was a rising star who, in God’s providence, was placed by His sovereignty at the right place, at the right time. Herod’s father Antipater had been governor of Judea. In 48 BC, when Julius Caesar had defeated Pompey, he chose Antipater’s two sons Phasael and Herod to inherit the throne of Judea. Yet before things could fall into place, Herod’s brother Phasael committed suicide. But more Roman intrigue followed and it was not until Mark Anthony, in 40 BC, persuaded the Roman Senate to confirm Herod finally as king of Judea.
Many of the Jewish people and the orthodox priests were appalled. Herod is not of the kingly house of David. And, everyone could see his ambitions were purely political with Roman interests in view. His reign was a violation of all the religious instincts of the masses. He was clever, unscrupulous and ambitious. But as he grew older, he no longer attempted to hide his cruelty. He suppressed insurrection with total severity. Yet he never indulged in religious persecution except at the birth of Christ.
The title “the Great” must be applied to him carefully. Being so evil, one could argue he does not deserve the title. Though he was a mad genius of sorts, he is still considered a master builder, a supreme architect, a superb engineer, and a student of human nature and a manipulator of people for his own purposes. Summarizing his life, Gilbert writes:
Herod ruled for 33 years, an ally and friend of the Romans but loathed and feared by his Jewish subjects. He was a cruel and evil despot who stopped at nothing to fulfill his insane desire for power and prestige. After Herod murdered three of his sons and many others, including his wife Mariamne, when he felt even remotely threatened. The Emperor Augustus commented, “It were better to be such a man’s swine than his son.” Evidence of Herod’s megalomania can be seen today in the remains of his huge building program. This included the new seaport of Caesarea, a chain of fortresses (e.g. Masada), the most magnificent palace in the Middle East, and even embellishments to the Temple in Jerusalem (the Western Wall he had constructed still stands))12
In the middle of his reign (25–13 BC) Herod was able to do what he wanted. He was wealthy and secure, devoted to Hellenizing the Jews and going about constructing great buildings. In 25 BC, in honor of Caesar Augustus, he built for the Greek games in Jerusalem a theater, an amphitheater, a hippodrome. He built the seacoast city of Caesarea. To the north, in cities with large Greek populations, he constructed temples to Augustus. His generosity reached even outside of Palestine to the island of Rhodes and even the city of Athens with pet projects.
He built an impregnable retreat palace and fortress on top of the great Dead Sea butte Masada since his fear of the Jews was so great. History records the palace was constructed because Herod feared the Jews would depose him and put on the throne one of the house of David, more specifically, the Messiah!
Herod died about one year after the birth of Jesus in misery and great suffering. He had either hardening of the arteries, cancer, or he was afflicted with some loathsome sexual disease. When some fanatics found out he was dying, they attempted to remove the golden eagle, symbol of paganism, from the gable of the great Jerusalem temple built by Herod. He had them burned alive. Nearing the end, he had all the leaders of Jerusalem assembled in the hippodrome so that upon his death, they would be killed and the nation would have to mourn them instead of rejoicing at his demise. With great suffering, and five days after he had his son Antipater put to death, Herod was gone.
The Romans knew how great was the task of ruling the Jews. They agreed to what happened next. Harod’s sons Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip divided the nation. Archelaus ruled Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Antipas took Galilee and Perea, with Philip presiding over Batania, Trachonitis, and Auranitis, areas roughly north and east of the Galilee.
Archelaus and Antipas were sons of Herod’s wife Malthace and Philip was born to Cleopatra, a woman from Jerusalem. Archelaus was as cruel as his father and after reigning just nine years, Augustus had him banished among the Germans in Vienne.
From 6 BC until around 44 AD, Judea had Roman governors called procurators. Because of continual revolt, the Romans figured no one could control the Jews except a Roman. An exception to this is a brief period when king Herod Agrippa I ruled the entire land by the request of the new Caesar Caligula. But procurators again returned to power from around 47–59 AD, during much of the ministry of the apostle Paul. The most well known, whom he encountered, were Felix and Festus. Herod Agrippa II was, however, allowed to be king of Galilee and Perea from around 49 AD and on.
Why did the Romans have such a tight grip on the Jews through Herod? Because the children of Israel lived on the small land bridge that tied much of the world of the Romans together. Palestine was the hub of the wheel, the crossroads militarily and commercially. Depending on which way one was traveling, it was the gateway into one of three continents, Africa, Europe, or the sub-continent of India and then on to the Far East. Whoever controlled Palestine, controlled the land and sea trade routes to both these near and far off places.
How awesome of God to settle His people the Jews in such a strategic spot on earth! He reminded them in the Old Testament that if they trusted Him they would be protected. But He warned, if they turned their backs on His care, they would be run over by the more powerful nations.
However, in God’s providence there was a hidden strategy afoot. As the Jews migrated out of the land when under persecution or captivity, they took with them their testimony of the true God of the universe. The Scriptures also went with them. In time, wherever they ended up, synagogues of worship and study were established. Step at a time, many Gentiles in other lands learned to trust the true God revealed in the Jewish Bible. They believed the promises of a coming king and Savior. They made pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime to the great temple in Jerusalem. Thousands of Gentile and Jewish pilgrims were there when Christ died and forty days after when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples during Pentecost. When the visitors went back home, the testimony of what they saw and heard convicted thousands that Israel’s king had died, come back from the dead, and is now in glory with the Father! The Gospel began to spread forth from the temple in Jerusalem to parts known and unknown!
In His sovereignty, God used Roman law, its promotion of peace, its government, the roads and sea routes, to facilitate the spread of the Good News of Jesus !
Born around 22 BC, he ruled after the death of his father Herod from 4 BC to 6 AD. Some say Archelaus got off to a bad start as king. Before he left Jerusalem to contest his father’s final will, with great terror he put down a temple uprising during Passover by sending in soldiers, killing some 3,000 pilgrims. And when he was in Rome, another revolt broke out at Pentecost against Caesar’s procurator Sabinus that spread throughout Judea, Galilee and Perea.
Archelaus made a lot of personal mistakes that may have fanned further unrest. For example, he divorced his wife Mariamne and married Glaphyra, daughter of King Archelaus of Cappadocia. She was the former wife of Alexander, Herod’s son and Archelaus’s half-brother. This was seen as too much by the elders and the people.
Because he was such a failure as a rule, his brothers Antipas and Philip complained to Rome to have him removed. He was banished to Gaul. His brothers continued their reign over certain territories while the area controlled by Archelaus was made an imperial province.
Philip the Tetrarch
Born the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem around 21 BC, he was made ruler over the northern territory of Palestine. His area of control included Batanea, Paneas, and Iturea with mainly Syrian and Greek citizens. This is why he is the only Herodian to have the emperor’s as well as his own face on coins.
Philip rebuilt the city of Paneas which is near the source of the Jordan river. He renamed the city Caesarea Philippi in honor of the Roman emperor and to distinguish it from the city of Caesarea located on the coast. He also rebuilt Bethsaida which is located in the area where the Jordan flows into the lake of Galilee. It is at this location where Jesus would heal the blind man (Mk. 8:22–26) and feed the 5,000 (Lu. 9:10).
It was Philip who married Herodias’s daughter Salome, whose dance brought on the killing of John the Baptist (Mt. 14:3–12; Mk. 6:17–29; Lu. 3:19–20).
Philip was not a schemer like his brothers. He ruled with tranquility and peace from around 4 BC to 34 AD. When he died the emperor Tiberius annexed his territory to Syria. When Caligula began his rule in 37 AD, Philip’s former area of control was given to Herod Agrippa I, brother of Herodias.
Born around 20 BC, Antipas was the younger brother of Archelaus. He was made tetrarch of Galilee and Perea and ruled from around 4 BC to 39 AD. These areas were where John the Baptist and Christ ministered the most.
Antipas rebuilt the city of Sepphoris around 8–10 AD, the largest town in the Galilee area and capital of his territories until he built the lake city of Tiberias. Since Sepphoris is only about 4 miles from Nazareth, some have speculated that Joseph, Mary’s husband, may have worked there as a carpenter during its reconstruction.
Herod Antipas is best known for his imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist (Mr. 14:3–12; Mk. 6:17–29). As the account is given, when traveling to Rome in 29 AD, he visited Herod Philip who lived on the Palestine coast. There he fell in love with his niece as well as his brother’s wife, Herodias. She agrees to marry him when he comes back from Rome, if he divorces his wife.
After marrying Herodias, John the Baptist publicly criticizes him for marrying his brother’s wife. Antipas immediately threw John into prison. Herodias, at the right time, arranged for a banquet that she could use in getting rid of John. When Herodias’s daughter dances before Antipas, he promises her by oath that she can have anything she wants, up to half of his kingdom. Salome asks for the John’s head. Antipas is sorry for his rash promise but grants the request. John was beheaded around 31–32 AD.
Following John’s death, Antipas hears of Christ’s ministry and thinks He is the prophet resurrected (Mt. 14:1–2; Mk. 6:14–16; Lu. 9:7–9). He wants to see Jesus but the Lord leaves his territory. In Christ’s final trip to Jerusalem just before His crucifixion, some Pharisees warned Him that Antipas desired His death (Lu. 13:31–33). Christ instructed them to tell “that fox” that He would continue His work of casting out demons and healing for a while longer. Finally, the Lord is given a hearing before Antipas during His trials in Jerusalem (Lu. 23:6–12). Pilate sent Christ to him because He was from the Galilean territory of Antipas. Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate without any comments.
The Herodian Party
These were influential people who were partisans and supporters of the Herodian dynasty. They are but mentioned three times in the New Testament. Twice they are seen as joining with the Pharisees in their criticisms of Jesus. The first incident took place in the Galilee region after Christ healed the man with the withered hand. The Herodians and Pharisees tried to destroy the Lord (Mk. 3:6). The second incident took place in Jerusalem when they tried to accuse Jesus of disregarding the obligation of paying taxes to Caesar (Mt. 22:16; Mk. 12:13). They are not referred to in Luke or John.
The Herodians and the Sadducees were on the same side against the Pharisees, the Herodians being pro-Herodian government with the Pharisees being anti-Herodian. This is seen in Mark 8:15 and Matthew 16:6, 12 where the Pharisees and Sadducees (and Herodians) are contrary in politics but still together in opposing Christ.
The Pharisees looked for a cataclysmic messianic kingdom to remove the rule of the Herods and Rome, whereas the Herodians wanted to preserve the Herodian rule. However, the Herodians and the Pharisees worked together to oppose Jesus, because he was introducing a new kingdom … that neither wanted.13
As the word implies, these men were the keepers of the Law, they were the also the interpreters of the Scriptures. Along with the priests, rulers and elders, these men held the upper hand in Jerusalem and temple life.
The scribes go back to the time of Ezra (458–445 BC) and the reestablishment of the nation back from the Babylonian Captivity. They became the scholastics who worked on, preserved, and copied government and scriptural texts. With their understanding of the Old Testament prophecies, they should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah as He began His ministry. But they, along with the other leaders, opposed Jesus because His message went against their interpretation of personal righteousness and their view of tradition.
They were the heads of families and tribes and leaders in the synagogues. When speaking of the government at the temple site in Jerusalem, the reference is probably to the Sanhedrin or the ruling seventy elders. They were also closely associated with the priestly hierarchy and were guardians of the religious tradition. They joined all of the Jerusalem leadership in their opposition to Christ.
The elders are often mentioned in the book of Matthew. The first reference is when the scribes and Pharisees come from Jerusalem as ask the Lord, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (15:2). Since the priests and elders were the “keepers of the faith,” the challenge to Jesus was that His disciples were defying even the laws of Moses!
Hundreds of priests officiated daily at the temple. Many more were employed during special, festival periods. Because there were so many priests, the temple priesthood was divided into twenty-four classes who served for one week at a time. The priests must prove their lineage through Aaron and Zadok (1 Chron. 24:3–4). Most priests would serve a total of two weeks each year.
This service arrangement during the time of Christ came about following the Babylonian Captivity and continued until the temple destruction in 70 AD. Day-to-day duties were assigned by lot. This is how Zacharias was appointed to burn incense in the temple, as described in Luke 1:9.
The priests were assigned many tasks such as burning incense before the golden altar in the morning and evening, cleaning lamps and lighting them every evening. They also placed fresh loaves of bread on the table of shewbread each Sabbath.
In the courtyard they kept the fire lit on the altar of burnt offering, cleaned the altar and blessed the congregation after the daily sacrifices. They sprinkled the blood, placed the animals on the altar and blew the trumpets with the Jubilee horns in festival periods.
As well, they watched over the public coming to the temple. They inspected ill or sick people, appraised sacrifices coming to the sanctuary area, instructed in the Law, acted as a court of appeals, and addressed troops going to war.
When the disciples of Jesus were accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath by plucking the grain, the Lord cited the story of how David entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread (Mt. 12:3–4). That bread was reserved for the priests alone. He mentions the fact also that the priests do work on the Sabbath when they change the shewbread (v. 5). Jesus concluded that the Son of Man was “Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8). The Pharisees responded by counseling together with the priests as to how they might destroy Him (v. 14).
The High Priests
They were the presidents of the Sanhedrin who had great power and authority over the political affairs of the people. Sometimes the high priests ruled through family connections. This is true of Annas mentioned in the Gospels and Acts (Lu. 3:2; John 18:13, 24; Acts 4:6). There could also be an occasion in which a high priest had stepped down from office but was still honored as “senior ex-high priest.” This was probably the case of Annas because Luke identifies him and Caiaphas as high priests in the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (Lu. 3:2).
Actually, only one man at a time would be ruling as high priest. But apparently the Romans saw Caiaphas as high priest but by popular opinion, Annas, who was his father-in-law, was still respected as such by the common people.
The word comes from the Greek word nomikos that implies a legal expert, probably in the Mosaic laws. The lawyers are referred to in Luke 7:30; 10:25; 11:45–46, 52; 14:3; Titus 3:13, and in Matthew 22:35. Mark 12:28–34 seems to be the same story found in Matthew 22. Mark calls the man asking the questions, a scribe (v. 28), which would indicate the lawyers were the temple scribes.
In Matthew, the lawyer comes to test Christ and asks “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (v. 36). Luke says the Lord answered by telling the man of the story of the good Samaritan (10:30–36) with the results that the lawyer may have been duly convicted when he realized the importance of showing mercy (v. 36). Jesus concluded with “Go and do the same” (v. 37).
Often called the Council, this body was the Jewish supreme court made up of seventy scribes, high priests, elders, and both Pharisees and Sadducees. They held jurisdiction over legal and spiritual matters for the entire nation of Israel. The Romans allowed a great amount of control and rule by the Sanhedrin though it lost its absolute power and authority. For example, the Sanhedrin could not execute a condemned man without an appeal to the Roman governor or procurator. This was the case of Jesus (John 18:31).
Under Roman rule the Council tried to keep not only their traditions but also their political authority and stability under Roman rule. They foresaw that the Gospel message could have had political implications and would destroy their rabbinic traditions.
Though they were a varied membership, they united against the messianic message of Christ. And after His death and resurrection, they continued to harass the Church all the way up to the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
The Jewish Hope Of The Messiah
By the time Christ was born, the majority of the common people were being crushed by Herod. They were disillusioned by the hypocritical leadership in Jerusalem. Temple worship and sacrifice, for the most part, was but ceremonial and perfunctory. Those Jews who were pious had a prophetic longing for the coming of the promised Messiah, the king of the Jews, who would rid them of the chains of physical and spiritual slavery and who would bring in righteousness. From a literal reading of the Old Testament prophecies, who would this Messiah be, and equally important, what would He be about?
To find the answer it is best to go back to the beginning, back to Genesis 3:15 and the promise of the seed of the woman defeating Satan who had embodied the serpent and tempted Eve. Before the promise there was the theological Fall. Adam took of the forbidden fruit from his wife, sinned, and would fall spiritually and even physically. His future children would be condemned and driven from the presence of God.
This verse is an ancient, cryptic passage that reads: “I will put enmity between thee (the serpent, actually Satan) and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The ancient Hebrew rabbis in the Targum Jerusalem saw the seed as a reference to the last days and the coming of King Messiah. All men must die but at the Messiah’s coming all the righteous would be resurrected.
As more and more books were added to the Old Testament, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the prophets sharpened their focus on the Messiah. For example, He will be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in the little village of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). He will be called in Psalm 2 the Anointed (Greek, the Christ) (v. 2) and God’s Son (v. 7). He will die a terrible death (Ps. 22) but as the Lord’s Holy One, He will not experience decay (v. 10). In His death, as described in Isaiah 53, He will be pierced and scourged (v. 5), act as a lamb substitute for sin (vv. 9–10), and as the Righteous Servant of God, He will justify many be bearing their iniquities (v. 11).
Then the ancient prophets see Him after His resurrection seated by His Father in the heavenlies and called the Lord (Adonai) (Ps. 110:1) who would someday be ruling from Zion in Jerusalem (v. 2). He will return suddenly and dramatically to earth as the Son related to mankind (Dan. 7). He will come to Jerusalem and His feet will step on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). At that moment He will wipe out the opposing Gentile powers and nations that have come against Jerusalem (12:9) and the Jews will weep because “they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him …. and they will weep bitterly over Him …. “(v. 10).
Finally, He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth and He will slay the wicked (Isa. 11:4) and His place of rest will be glorious (v. 10). There will be no end to His government or of peace and on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (v. 7).
All Jewish writings from all generations past confirm that, for the most part, the Jews looked for these events to happen literally, not simply figuratively or in an allegorical sense. To the most respected ancient and orthodox of rabbis this was not poetry but history to be actually fulfilled.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea scrolls, written commentaries and collected Old Testament books kept by the Essenes (circa., 100 BC), have recently yielded up volumes about the expectation of the Messiah. This has shocked liberal scholars. Though many books have already been written about the scrolls, there is still much study to be done in order to glean all they may yet reveal about how the Essenes viewed from the Old Testament the coming King.
Eisenman and Wise have done an admirable job in analyzing the messianic passages in the scrolls.14 They write “The very strong Messianic thrust of a lot of the written material associated with Qumran has been largely overlooked by commentators …. “15. For example in the War Scroll there is a reference to the ‘“World Ruler’ or ‘Star’ prophecy from Num. 24:17 - that ‘a Star [the Messiah] would rise out of Jacob, a Sceptre to rule’ the world …”16 This of course is alluded to by the magi when they asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (Mt. 2:2).
The hundreds of Messiah references continue in the scrolls. For example: “God is said to have ‘visited’ the earth causing … a Messianic ‘Root of Planting’ to grow …. God ‘made His Holy Spirit known to them by the hand of His Messiah’ …”.17 In the War Scroll there are “cloud” passages that point directly to the Olivet Discourse, and Daniel 7:13. The Messiah comes in the clouds with the Heavenly Host, the heavens and earth are “subsumed under the command of the Messiah ….”18 Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse, “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:30).
The scrolls go on: “The Heavens and the earth will obey His Messiah …. He will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the Meek announce glad tidings. He will lead the Holy Ones; He will shepherd them; …”19Quoting from Isaiah 11:1, about the Messiah being the root of Jesse, David’s father, and quoting from Isaiah 53:12 concerning the death of the Messiah, the authors of the scrolls write: “A staff shall rise from the root of Jesse … the Branch of David … they will put to death the Leader of the Community, the Branch of David …”.20
Though dozens and dozens of other quotes can be made to prove the Messiah connection in the Dead Sea scrolls, it is enough to quote text 4Q246 (Plate 4), called by Eisenman and Wise “The Son of God” text, “[Peoples will make war], and battles shall multiply among the nations, [until] the King of the people of God arises …. He will be called [son of the Gr[eat] [God;] … He will be called the son of God; they will call him son of the Most High …. His Kingdom will be an Eternal Kingdom, and he will be Righteous in all his Ways. He [will jud]ge the earth in Righteousness, and everyone will make peace. The sword shall cease from the earth, and every nation will bow down to him”21 . The scroll author quoting and paraphrasing Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 9:7 and Daniel 7:13–27. Eisenman and Wise conclude:
A key phrase in the text is, of course, the reference to calling the coming kingly or Messianic figure, whose “rule will be an eternal rule”, “the son of God” or “the son of the Most High”, … Other imagery in the Biblical Daniel also helped define our notions about Jesus as the Messianic figure, imagery relating to the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven” (Dan. 7:13).
There can be no denying the relation of allusions of this kind to the Lukan prefiguration of Jesus: He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the Throne of his father David … For that reason the Holy offspring will be called the “Son of God” (Luke 1:32–35).22
Recently, no one has written more clearly on what the Jews in ancient times believed about the Messiah than Raphael Patai. In his incredible book The Messiah Texts (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1979) he condenses and catalogs the most prominent Jewish writings on the subject. No, he does not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah as the Jews expected! But Christians who are looking for a coming world tribulation and the literal return of Jesus as that heralded and anticipated King, cannot help but be touched by what the orthodox Jews longed for.
To begin, the orthodox Jews held that the Messiah existed in eternity past. They would of course have gotten that from Micah 5:2, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity,” and, His name is “Eternal Father, …” (Isa. 9:6). The First Book of Enoch calls Him the Head of Days, “an epithet alluding to his preexistence, or to the emergence of his name before God prior to the creation of the world.”23 In the Pesiqta Rabbati it reads “You find that at the beginning of the creation of the world King Messiah was born [and] that he emerged in the thought [of God] even before the world was created.”24
When asked where the Messiah would be born, the Jews always referred to Micah 5:2 and answered, “From the royal fort of Bethlehem in Judah.”25 (But the ancient body of writings called the Midrash, compiled from the 4th through the 14th century, raises a problem some of the rabbis wrestled with. How can the Messiah suffer and die for sins and yet reign as supreme world king? Christians believe that both Old and New Testaments give the answer. The Messiah first comes as a sacrifice for sin, is resurrected, goes back to glory, and finally returns from His heavenly Father as King!
If the Jews had believed that, they would have to accept Jesus as their promised One. Instead, they created two Messiahs, one to die and the other to reign. The rabbis argued that a Messiah ben (son of) Joseph (or ben Ephraim) would die at the hands of Armilus, or the antiChrist. His body is left unburied in the streets for forty days after which he is resurrected by Messiah ben David. Ben David will then reign.26
Because Israel is called the servant of Jehovah in Isaiah, some rabbis tried to claim that the Suffering Servant of that book is the nation itself. But the majority of discerning rabbis realize Isaiah 53 is speaking prophetically about the fact that the Messiah Himself will actually die as a lamb for the people’s sins. It is said He “suffers undeservedly for the sins of others.”27 (Psalm 22 is paraphrased in the Pesiqta Rabbati: “You suffered because of the sins of our children … your skin cleft to your bones you strength became like a potsherd. All this because of the sins of our children.”28 The Zohar adds: “The Messiah … summons all the diseases and all the pains and all the sufferings of Israel that they should come upon him …. “ (Patai, p. 116)
Before He returns as King, the Pirqe Mashiah quoting Zechariah 12:9 notes: “And I shall gather all the nations to Jerusalem for war.”29 As the Son of Man, He returns in the clouds30 and steps on the Mount of Olives as Israel’s King.31
Messiah ben David, as the Son of God will inherit the nations.32 “Once the kingdom of heaven over the earth is established, [the Messiah’s] active role has come to an end, and nothing more is left for him than to sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem.”33 (The Pesiqta Rabbati further adds: “And all will come and fall upon their faces before the Messiah and before Israel, and will say to him: ‘Let us be servants to you and to Israel!”34
Almost everything written above is found in rabbinical commentaries on Old Testament passages. And though some of it was penned later in Jewish history, it reflects what the rabbis have thought through the decades about what the Bible was teaching. Of course some of it is embellishment. Some of it is speculation that actually goes against the Bible, such as the two Messiahs! The Jews of ancient times almost had it right and yet they could not bring themselves to the point of accepting Jesus as their Savior and future King!
The Author Of The Book Of Matthew
There has been little doubt about who wrote Matthew. Some of the critics try to argue for a previous unknown author that the apostle Matthew later copied. Others attempt to argue that a much later editor compiled some of the stories of Jesus into the present gospel and put the respected name of Matthew to it as the original writer. But almost no one takes such theories seriously.
In the three lists of the apostles in the New Testament, Matthew is always identified as seventh or eight. However, he was probably the most educated and influential of all of them. Assigned to Capernaum as a tax-collector, he must have had a high position that was approved by the Roman government.
Originally called Levi, the son of Alphaeus, he was far better know by the name Matthew. This apostle comes suddenly on the scene (Mt. 9:9) but he must have been contemplating the words of Jesus earlier. He came to the conviction that he must give up his life as a government official to completely serve the Messiah.
Matthew is last mentioned in Acts 1:13 but tradition gives him great praise. By reputation he was known as a soulwinner and was called Matthew the Evangelist.
The Name Matthew
Originally he was called Levi (Lu. 5:27) but also the son of Alphaeus (Mk. 2:14), the tax-collector (Mt. 9:9). He is most well known as Matthew, the Semetic Mattahias, which means “gift of Yaweh.” Levi is a nickname referring to the tribe of Levi, of which he must have been a member. The word can mean “to join” or has the idea of “companion.”35
The etymology of the name Levi is suggested in Gen. 29:34. Leah says after the birth of Levi, “Now this time my husband will be joined [niphal of lawa] to me, because I have borne him three sons.” The name expressed Leah’s assurance that the birth of her third son would enhance the bonds of her husband’s affection. Wordplay is apparent in Nu. 18:2, 4, where the tribe of Levi is directed to “join” Aaron in the ministry of the sanctuary.36
A Tax Collector
The term was an expression of contempt for the Jews. Matthew wants his reader to know how far he has come spiritually, for he continually refers to himself as such throughout his Gospel. Mark and Luke are more polite and do not refer to him with this title. Interestingly, Matthew does not wish to throw any more contempt than necessary on other fellow tax collectors. He leaves out of his book any mention of the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lu. 18:9–14) and the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus (19:1–10).
The Romans used a system of tax farming that was used in Palestine during Greek or Hellenistic times. A tax collector won his profession by a bidding arrangement. The one who put in the highest bid, won the position. These individuals would then serve directly under the Roman government.
The tax collector was in a position to make a lot of money because the Romans called for only so much tax revenue. The collector could then go beyond what was required and pocket the rest. Behind him stood the power of the Roman authorities.
In Palestine and other provinces, there was a network of tax collectors. They were positioned at strategic locations to receive tolls, custom taxes, especially on transportation of goods and merchandise. The collector could be seen along caravan routes, seaports, and at city gates. In the Gospels, tax collectors were seen often in the area of Capernaum in Galilee and in Jericho. Both places were near major highways and borders. These were natural locations to levy taxes.
Being a tax collector gives additional internal evidence that Matthew was the author of this first Gospel. This is due to the fact that there are many references to money used - more than in any other Gospel. For example: “the two-drachma tax” (Matt. 17:24); “a four-drachma coin” (17:27), and the word “talents.” Since Matthew was a tax collector with an interest in money, it would only be obvious that he would pay such attention to coinage.
In the Gospels the tax collectors were associated with sinners (Mk. 2:15, Mt. 11:19; Lu. 15:1). Along with sinners, they were linked with harlots (Mt. 21:31) and Gentiles (18:7). They are even classed separately because they were so conspicuous and hated among the people. They were especially despised because they: (1) collected money for a foreign power; (2) they were notoriously unscrupulous; (3) they had to often come in contact with unclean Gentiles; (4) they were regarded as a class of thieves; and (4) because they were so cruel to their own people.37
Jesus also used tax collectors to illustrate corruptness and selfishness. He warned His followers not to love those who loved them back, because “even the tax-gatherers do the same” (Matt. 5:46). Jesus explained that an unrepentant sinner, after ample encouragement to do right, was to be treated as a “Gentile [rejected as not in a covenant with God] and a tax-gatherer” (Matt. 18:17). This association implies that tax gatherers were no more accepted in Jewish culture (even though they were often Jews by birth) than were Gentiles.38
One can imagine the shock of the crowds when Jesus first sees Matthew and calls out “Follow Me!” (Mt. 9:9). Not long after, Matthew fixes a banquet meal for Jesus and His disciples, and for other tax-gatherers and sinners (v. 10). Because the Pharisees were so surprised they asked the disciples “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” (v. 11). Hearing this, Christ gives His famous answer “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (v. 12). Quoting Hosea and the words of the Lord (Hosea 6:6) He says ‘“I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). The grace of God can even reach down to tax collectors!
Matthew The Author
Being a tax collector, he was in the practice of keeping good records and accounts. Because of this, some believe that he kept good notes as to what the Lord said. He certainly gives a detailed narration of the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 to 7), the parables (chapter 13), the denunciation of the Pharisees (chapter 23), and the Olivet Discourse (chapters 24 and 25).
As a tax-gatherer, he had rubbed shoulders with Gentiles. In his book he shows the faults of both the Jews and the Gentiles, showing he had no prejudice against the foreign world. Being no doubt an educated man, and probably well versed in the many messianic prophecies, Matthew focuses on the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises that came to pass in regard to the coming of the King.
Matthew also focuses on the parables. There are ten in his book not in the other Gospels. He gives the narration of the birth of Christ from the position of Joseph while Luke tells the story from the standpoint of Mary. Since Matthew is concentrating on the coming of the King, this only makes sense. The King’s right to rule comes through the line of “the father.” In this situation, that right to rule even comes through the adopting father, Joseph, who was of the kingly house of David as was Mary. Jewish law said the stepfather could give all of his rights and privileges to his stepson. This would be the case of Jesus. As to the importance of the book Matthew wrote, Robertson writes:
The Gospel of Matthew comes first in the New Testament, though it is not so in all the Greek manuscripts. Because of its position it is the book most wisely read in the New Testament and has exerted the greatest influence on the world. The book deserves this influence … Yet it is a wonderful book and gives a just and adequate portraiture of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The author probably wrote primarily to persuade Jews that Jesus is the fulfillment of their Messianic hopes as pictured in the Old Testament. It is thus a proper introduction to the New Testament story in comparison with the Old Testament prophecy.39
Confirmation As Author
Almost all the major Church fathers confirm Matthew as the author of this Gospel. The earliest Greek texts also include the phrase “kata mathaion.” Nothing within or without the book would give any alarm that Matthew is not the author. Some scholars have tried to point out certain inconsistencies but those claims have never created reasonable doubt.
There are many indicators that keep pointing to Matthew as author. The writer was certainly an eyewitness to so many of the events recorded. Matthew as an educated man, and as a professional, both of these factors would qualify him as the author. From the earliest New Testament history there was never any question raised as to his authorship. And by all tests, including the historical accuracy of the accounts in the book, the conclusions lead to the genuineness of the author and his work. Hendriksen indicates:
Use of this Gospel in the earliest patristic writings that have been preserved (those ascribed to Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp) is abundantly attested. The Didache also adds its testimony. In fact, one can say without exaggeration that external evidence of the early use of this Gospel, and of its ascription to Matthew as soon as ascriptions were made, is unanimous. It would be hard to explain how within a period of perhaps sixty years since this Gospel was composed the name of its true author could have been lost and a fictitious name substituted.40
The Spirituality Of Matthew
Even before Matthew listened to Christ and gave himself to Him, one could argue that this future apostle was a religious man. Being of the upper class and highly intelligent, he probably studied the Old Testament, if for no other reason than curiosity. But when the Lord summoned him, he responded instantly. There is no question that he knew the Old Testament in Hebrew and, he was also well acquainted with the Septuagint Greek.
Guided by the Spirit of God, the Lord used Matthew to interpret the new situations surrounding Christ. Matthew was able also to weigh events and see their predictions in the Old Testament and their fulfillments taking place before his very eyes. “The Gospel according to Matthew tallies with this ability on the part of Matthew. The writers of the other Gospels, we may assume, were able to make use of Matthew’s notes.”41
The Gospel According To Matthew
The Textus Receptus reads “The Holy Gospel according to Matthew.” From the earliest days, the word “gospel” has been attached to this book, but also to all of the other three Gospel writings. Overall, the word implies the good news of salvation found in Christ. But there needs to be a clarification when applying the word to the Gospel books themselves.
The good news in these books then is the fact that the King had come and the Kingdom of David had been offered. When the Jews rejected their Messiah, the Kingdom was postponed and the issue from the book of Acts on, is personal faith in Jesus in order to receive justification through His blood.
The Anglo-Saxon word Godspell gives us the English word Gospel. Godspell is referring to the narrative or story of God, as He revealed Himself through the life of Christ. This is of course the best news that the world has ever been given. The idea of the “word” or Logos as found in John 1:1, 14 is brought to mind.
So then it is, according to the Greek, not the Good News of Matthew, but the Good News of God, brought to us in Christ the Word, the Son of God, the Image of the Father, the Message of the Father. We are to study this story first as presented by Matthew. The message is God’s and it is as fresh to us today in Matthew’s record as when he first wrote it.42
Matthew’s Role As An Apostle
There is nothing conspicuous about Matthew among the disciples. Because of this, some have argued that it would be strange for tradition to assign the Gospel to him if he did not write it. But by all known about him, he was prepared and able for the task. As an official with the government, he was under Herod Antipas. He needed to know Aramaic, Latin and Greek. There is little doubt that he knew Hebrew also. Because he seemed to respond so quickly to Jesus, he was probably well aware of the Old Testament messianic promises and believe instantly that Jesus was the Promised One.
The calling of Matthew as an apostle was not by accident but by the providential working of the Lord. His being picked by the Lord was not by random choice. When Jesus said “Follow Me” (Mt. 9:9), this was not the first time that Matthew had seen nor heard Him. Glasscock says
It should not be assumed that this was the first contact between Jesus and Matthew and that Matthew recklessly jumped up to follow Him as if in a trance. As with the other disciples, preliminary contact may have been made in which Matthew would have already been prepared for this event (cf. 4:18–20 and John 1:35–42).43
Some feel that Matthew was at the baptism of John along with other tax collectors (Lu. 3:12). This might show that early on he was under spiritual conviction. Jesus, of course, knew this and called him to be one of His apostles (Mt. 9:9; Lu. 5:27).
In the completed listing of the twelve apostles in the Gospels, Matthew is the only one whose profession is mentioned, “Matthew the tax-gatherer” (Mt. 10:3). Interestingly, this is only mentioned in Matthew’s list and not in the list of Luke and Mark. In the final apostolic listing in Acts, Matthew is included but without the reference to his being a tax-gatherer (1:13).
After Christ’s ascension, some believe Matthew joined an ascetic group of Christian Jews who followed vegetarian dietary laws. The theory is that some of the other apostles may have held similar practices. This may explain the exhortations given new churches as mentioned at the first Jerusalem council (Acts 15:29). But one should not assume that Matthew was a legalist. This attitude is certainly not reflected in his Gospel narratives.
Nothing else in Scripture is seen of Matthew’s apostolic ministry except the fact that he is with the twelve in the last accounting in Acts 1. No doubt, by the influence of his later Gospel writing, he held tremendous respect within the circle of followers.
The Final Years Of Matthew
At some point the apostles scattered and apparently went far and wide spreading the gospel. Tradition says that Matthew proclaimed the good news for fifteen years in Palestine and then left for Macedonia, Syria, the land of the Persians, Parthians, and Medes. He penetrated as far as Ethiopia where he delivered the message of Christ at the juncture of the rivers Asphar and Hyssus. Some believe he was killed there by wild crowds who rejected the gospel.
Another tradition says Matthew returned from Ethiopia back to Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Accused of not sacrificing to the god Jupiter, he was put to death. Another tradition says he was accused by the high priest of committing blasphemy against God and Moses, was hung on a cross, stoned, and afterward beheaded by an ax. He and all the other apostles, except John, probably died by 70 AD or shortly before.
The Dating Of Matthew
On one hand, it may be impossible to place an exact date on the writing of the Gospel of Matthew. On the other hand, some important factors can be considered to place its origin within a certain range of dates. However, common sense might dictate that the book was written earlier than many scholars would like to admit. A liberal position on the date would say that the book could have been compiled a hundred years or so after the life of Christ. This view would argue that a later editor pieced the book together from many sources. This approach makes little sense and has not the slightest evidence for such a composition. Another view, often cited by liberals and conservatives, is that Matthew borrows from the book of Mark, and was composed by or before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Without apology, Allen writes
The data furnished by the Gospel itself seem best satisfied if we suppose that its author compiled it within a period of a few years before or after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. An earlier date does not seem possible, in view of the fact that the compiler had S. Mark’s Gospel before him.44
Some of the Church fathers say that Matthew wrote before he left for his missionary journeys. Others contend his Gospel was composed about the time Peter and Paul were martyred (either 64 or 67 AD). Since the fall of Jerusalem was in 70 AD, all conservative scholars agree that the Gospel was penned before that time. Glasscock reasons
There simply is not a lot of evidence to consider for a specific date, but general perimeters can be set, as has been suggested a date of approximately A.D. 65 will be assumed.45 Barnes adds:
Epiphanius says that the Gospel of Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. This was about the year of our Lord 63, about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is now generally supposed that this Gospel was written about this time. There is very clear evidence in the Gospel that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of the Holy City is clearly and minutely foretold, but there is not the slightest intimation in it that these predictions had been accomplished-a thing which we should naturally expect of the Gospel if it was not written until after these clamaties came upon the Jews.46
Some have noted that within Matthew a period of time had elapsed since the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. For example, 27:7–8 mentions a custom continuing “to this day,” and even 28:15 refers to a story being circulated “to this very day.” These phrases, of course, could imply simply a few years or many years. But they do show a passing of time and that the rumors had not ceased.
Since early church tradition has strongly advocated that the Gospel of Matthew was the first Gospel account written, perhaps a date somewhere around A.D. 50 would satisfy all the demands mentioned. It would also be early enough to permit Matthew to be the first Gospel account.47
Another factor that gives credence for an early date is the tradition that Matthew preached in Palestine for fifteen years before leaving for other countries. More than likely he would have written his accounts before departing. And that would give a date from 45 to 50 AD. Though Thiessen believes Matthew may have written an earlier Aramaic Gospel, he writes
And since Luke’s Gospel is earlier than the Book of Acts, and Matthew undoubtedly is earlier than Luke, we believe that Matthew must have prepared his Greek Gospel shortly after he wrote in Aramaic. We, therefore, date the Greek Matthew about A.D. 50.48
The great and honored Greek scholar Henry Alford agrees. He not only believes Matthew was written quite early but that it was recorded originally in Greek. He admits that this represents a change from what he first believed.49
No one can be dogmatic as to when Matthew was written. If it were written late, the puzzling question would be, “Why would the author wait so long before writing down the account of the life of Christ?” Why would any author put off sharing such a story? Under all normal circumstances, such a book would be written down fairly early on. The supposition is if the book is not mentioned early, or if it is not discovered in early history, then it must not have existed! For this commentary, such an argument is unacceptable.
The Place Of Writing
Very few wish to attempt to even guess where Matthew was written. An argument can be made for Palestine because there is so much in the book that the reader could understand. This is true of geography, religious traditions, the temple politics, the structure of the Roman government, the tensions between the Jews and the Romans, social customs, etc.
Two theories have been put forth but with very little argument for these positions. The first theory says Matthew was still living in Palestine when he wrote. He is summarizing the events surrounding Christ in order to convince the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah.
The second theory says that Matthew had already left Palestine and that he possibly wrote from Antioch in Syria. The reason for this is that this city had become a Greek teaching haven for Christianity as it went forth into other nations. This would be one of the reasons he would be writing in Greek instead of Aramaic.
The most important issue is that the Gospel was written with Matthew as the human author and the Holy Spirit the divine author. The book sets forth the messianic hope of the Jewish people. It verifies that Jesus was indeed the prophesied King who was rejected by His own people. Israel rejected this truth and was set aside in God’s dispensational program. The Kingdom has been postponed and the message of personal salvation has now gone to the nations of the world. All of these historical and biblical facts are better understood because of the blessed Gospel given to us by Matthew, the apostle of the Lord!
The Place Of Matthew In The New Testament Canon
As far as can be determined, the early Christians quickly and universally accepted Matthew. This acceptance seems to have taken place as soon as the book was written. This Gospel never suffered the questioning and scrutiny that divided the Eastern and Western churches over other issues.
With its prestigious position in the New Testament it has been the most widely accepted and read of the Gospels. Because of this it has sustained a most powerful influence in the world, as authenticating the life of Christ. The church father Origen placed the New Testament books in their present order. Matthew was given first place since it had long been considered the first and earliest Gospel. The fact that Matthew was also an apostle played a role.
The external evidence as to the place of Matthew also helped. For example, The Didache (120 A.D.), one of the first post-New Testaments writings, indicates the importance of Matthew. Matthew 5–7 and chapter 24 are quoted in other works more than any other portion of Scripture. The often used phrase “It is written” begun in Matthew, is found in the Epistle of Barnabas as an allusion to chapters 20:16; 22:14. In Ignaius’ Epistle to the Smyrneans, there is a clear reference to 3:15. Other portions are quoted by the early church fathers Justin Martyr, Eusebius, and Dionysius of Corinth, Hegesippus, Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras the Athenian.
The early Church unanimously said Matthew wrote this Gospel. History has verified that this view was also represented by a uniform second century tradition. Few have questioned this opinion.
The early Fathers are quite clear in their testimony that Matthew was the first gospel to be written and was followed in order by Mark, Luke, and John. This is the order observed in the Scriptures as now published. Some today, however, prefer the order of Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Modem liberal scholarship, however, is generally united that Mark’s gospel was first and that Matthew had Mark before him when he wrote the gospel.50
Some have pointed out that it is self-evident that Matthew should be placed first in the canon. It stands as a bridge between the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament predicted the coming of the king, the Anointed and Matthew opens the New Testament with the fact that He has arrived! Matthew’s driving purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and that He fulfills the requirements of being the King long ago promised. He fits all the criteria. He is a son of David. His ministry and life support the evidence that He is the prophesied King of Israel.
What is interesting is that amillennial scholarship admits that Matthew points to Christ as the promised earthly King. But then by a twist of interpretation that kingship becomes something that is spiritualized or allegorized and no longer literal, as it was attested in the Old Testament.
Matthew presents Jesus as the Christ beginning with His royal genealogy and the fact of His early recognition that He was King of the Jews. These historical facts are reinforced at the Sermon on the Mount, with the moral principles laid down by the Messiah, and the fact that many of His opponents among the Jews of His day realized who He was.
Matthew goes on and shows that Christ did not bring in His prophesied kingdom. The rejection against Him grew until the final denunciation by the unbelieving nation. With His resurrection, the truth of a second advent became more obvious. Christ came first to suffer but He would come back someday to reign, as promised.
In the normal sense, Matthew is not really designed as an apologetic for Christianity. Instead, it is meant to explain Jesus to the Jews, who had expected the Messiah. But they looked only for a conquering hero instead of a suffering servant. But the book becomes a platform on which the later books of the New Testament were placed. With His rejection, and with the advent of the dispensation of the Church Age, Paul’s letters and the other books of the New Testament begin to make sense.
The magnitude of Matthew’s contribution as he wrote, guided by the Spirit of God, fully justified the attitude of the early church, which regarded Matthew as the most important gospel and its contents as fundamental to the Christian faith.51
Names Given To Jesus In Matthew
There are more than fourteen different names and descriptions assigned to Jesus in Matthew. Most have a distinct messianic flavor to them, and they are used to point the Jews to the fact that Christ is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. In biblical times names indicate the characteristics of a person or they may show what an individual may be called to do in a spiritual sense. Names may even change as circumstances shift, as with the name of Saul being changed to Paul. But with Christ, His many names show forth His many offices and roles He must fulfill, in His first coming and beyond.
The adjective beloved (agapeetos) comes from the verb agapao, the strongest Greek word for love. The origin of the word is unknown but all agree it expresses the most sacred concept in the love relationship. It goes beyond the idea of physical love to the concept of sacrificial love with no boundaries or conditions placed upon it. It may be described as love that is totally unselfish.
“Beloved” is used three times in Matthew as God the Father pictures His love for the Son. Twice the Father says “This is My beloved Son” (3:17; 17:5). Once the Father calls Christ the “chosen; My Beloved” (12:18). Peter refers to the transfiguration of the Lord, which he witnessed along with James and John (17:1–9). He writes “… but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’” (2 Pet. 1:16b–17).
The apostle Paul also makes reference to the fact that Christ is the Beloved of the Lord. He writes: “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
The first time Beloved is mentioned is at the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan river (3:13–17). As the Lord came out of the water, “the heavens were opened, and [John] saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him” (v. 16). The voice from the heavens identifies Jesus as “My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (v. 17).
The crowd standing about should have thought of Psalm 2 where God calls the Anointed (v. 2) “My Son” (v. 7). It is doubtful that many understood at that moment the full implications. But this psalm is one of the most messianic among the poetry chapters. Here, the Son is given the nations for His inheritance (v. 8). The world must someday pay homage to Him lest they “perish in the way” because of His anger (v. 12).
The Jews who correctly thought of Psalm 2 after hearing the voice of the Lord, had to know for certain that the promised Messiah was in their midst.
Xristos is the Greek of the Old Testament Mosheeakh. In both languages the meaning is “to anoint.” In Old Testament times, to anoint one with oil was a sign of blessing. God has His blessed One (Ps. 2:2) who is the promised Messiah or Anointed One. Throughout the New Testament writings Jesus is so identified. He is the prophesied Christ.
The New Testament continually uses the expression Jesus Christ which translates out in meaning “Jesus, designated as the Anointed One.” Christ is used some seventeen times in Matthew. But once the name or description is established in the Gospels, it is used over 525 times in all of the New Testament.
Though Psalm 2 seems easy to understand now when we look back into the prophetic Word, its full implications must have been clouded over by many. But the Father in heaven enlightened and revealed the messianship issue in a dramatic way to the apostle Peter. When Jesus asked him who He was, Peter answered “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 16:16).
The Expected One
“The Expected One” is a descriptive participle (present, active) of the verb erkomai and should better be translated “The Coming One,” or, “The One Coming.” The imprisoned John the Baptist asks the Lord “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for another?” (11:3).
John had previously used the expression when he spoke of “He who is coming after me is mighter than I ….” (3:11). He uses the same present participle form (ekromenos). In both cases the expression pictures the Messiah, with certainty, on His way and coming to Israel to establish His kingdom reign.
This expression was undoubtedly a reference to the Messiah and was so understood and used by the Jews (Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27).
This designation was derived from Ps. 118:26 and Ps. 40:7, which is evident from the acclaim of the multitude on Palm Sunday, 21:9 …. and from the use of Ps. 40:7 in Heb. 10:5–9. … The present participle is timeless, and its substantivization indicates that coming characterizes this person.52
The Davidic messianic Psalm passages reads: “Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me;I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart’” (40:7–8). And, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;” (118:26a).
The word describes the northern region of Palestine that was almost considered a worthless area for most of the Jews. This would certainly be the way those living in Jerusalem would look upon that part of the country.
The region of the Galilee might have carried a curse because it was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt. 4:15). The word “Galilee” means “circuit,” or “district.” It was the region of the Decapolis, the ten cities most occupied by Gentiles (4:25). Probably too an uprising by a rebel Jew named Judas of Galilee had stirred great distrust of the area. When Gamaliel warned the Jewish leaders not to be too hasty in persecuting the apostles, he reminded them that this particular Galilean rebellion by Judas came to nothing because God was not in it (5:34–39).
It must also have seemed not only remote in distance but in culture and language dialect. Often in the Gospels and even in Acts, people could be identified by their Galilean speech. At Pentecost the crowds were astonished to hear the Gospel in another language from the disciples. “And they were amazed and marveled, saying, ‘Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?’“ (Acts 2:7).
Nazareth, the city where Jesus was raised, was marked out as part of the Galilee area. By this, the Lord was stigmatized as being from “Nazareth in Galilee” (Mark 1:9). It seemed as if everyone asked the question, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). In fact, the accusations against Christ grew even stronger. Since He was labeled “the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matt. 21:11), the taunt became worse with the challenge “Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (John 7:52).
The Lord is most well known by this common but important name. Because of who He is, the name carries great spiritual significance. The Hebrew verb Yosha (in the Hebrew Hiphil form) means “to save.” Ieshua, or Joshua means “Jehovah saves.” Related is the Hebrew name Isaiah (Yeshaiah) which means “the salvation of Jehovah.”
In the Old Testament God describes Himself by the participle and noun as being Israel’s Savior, and, the God of their “salvation.” By understanding the deity of the Christ, the implication is clear that those references point to the work that He will accomplish on the cross.
Dozens of references can be cited to show the salvation work of God. It is said of Israel “they forgot God their Savior” (Ps. 106:21) who is “The Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:3). There are other Old Testament verses that imply the work of Jesus, such as “I, the Lord, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (49:26), and “there is no savior besides Me” (Hosea 13:4).
The reason Matthew mentions in the genealogy that Jesus is a son of David, is to establish the fact that He is the promised King of Israel (1:1).
From this stated fact, the idea of the king is intertwined with the prophecy of the coming Kingdom.
The magi coming from the east knew by the prophecy of Numbers 24:17 that the prophesied King of the Jews had been born. They asked the citizens of Jerusalem “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (2:2).
Herod understood quite well what was happening because of the words of his court of chief priests and scribes. They confirmed the words of Micah 5:2: Out of Bethlehem would come forth the Ruler who would shepherd God’s people Israel! This incredible prophecy establishes the direction and course of the book of Matthew!
In the Olivet Discourse (24–25), Jesus speaks of the coming of false christs who are counter to Himself as the true Christ (Messiah) (24:5, 23, 24). In this section, in the third person He refers to Himself mainly as the Son of Man who will be coming “on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (v. 30). The Jews had no doubt from Daniel 7:13 that the Son of Man was the King. Jesus confirms this, noting “the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’“ (25:34). He adds that the King (v. 40) will reject those who mistreated “these brothers” (the Jews) during the tribulation. They will be cast into eternal fire (v. 41).
It is at the hearing of Jesus before the governor Pilate that He is asked “Are You the King of the Jews?” (27:11). Christ answers in the affirmative, “It is as you say.” As the Lord was being tormented by the drunken Roman soldiers in the Praetorium, they mockingly salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews !” (v. 29).
As Christ is crucified, the charge is placed over His head for all to see, “This Is Jesus The King Of The Jews” (v. 37). Going before Pilate, the chief priests tried to get the inscription changed to “He said, ‘I am King of the Jews’” (John 19:21). Pilate utters his famous words “What I have written I have written” (v. 22).
Fittingly, it seems, the last reference to Christ’s kingship is shouted by the rejecting chief priests, scribes, and elders, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him” (v. 42).
Interestingly, the book about the King has few references to the word King. And yet few can doubt that to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah is exactly the purpose of Matthew’s writing.
Jesus is called the Leader (or Teacher). This Greek word (kathegetes) is used twice in Matthew, in the same context. The NAS translates the word the first time as “Teacher” (23:8) but as Leader in verse ten. The word is never used again in the New Testament. Nicoll sees the word as meaning “guides, leaders in thought, desiring abject discipleship from followers.”53
Nicoll believes the word is related to hodegos which also means leader. Hodegos has the idea “to lead along the way.” “The word is used frequently in Hellenistic literature of the authority of teachers and of those whose actions are given as models …”54
The Lord used this word to remind the disciples of their position with Him. He said “Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers” (23:8), “And do not be leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (v. 10).
This word (kurios) is used some seventy times in Matthew. When referring to Jesus, it is used in several different ways. When John the Baptist cried “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (3:2), Matthew correctly took this as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 which reads “Clear the way for the Lord …; make a smooth path in the desert a highway for our God.” Since Jesus is that One John is proclaiming, he is heralding the arrival of God in the person of the Messiah! Lord then is clearly used as God!
When the woman of Canaan cried “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (15:22), more than likely she understood that Jesus was the Messiah, being the Son of David; but because of this fact, He was also the Master over Israel as the King of that people. As well, this seems to be true of the centurion who lived in Capernaum, in that he saw the messianic authority of Jesus and knew He could heal his paralyzed servant (8:5–9). He said “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (v. 8b).
In a rather complicated but profound encounter with the Pharisees (22:41–46), Christ made it clear He was both the Son of David but also deity. He quotes Psalm 110:1 which reads “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet.” Jesus was trying to make the Jews understand that the Son of David was the Lord of David! That is, the Messiah was David’s physical seed but also his divine Lord!
Lord Of The Sabbath.
Or, Master over the Sabbath. When the disciples were eating the heads of grain while traveling through the grain fields on the Sabbath, the Pharisees saw it and accused them of breaking the law (12:2). Christ reminds them that David fed his hungry men with consecrated bread because human needs come before ceremonial rules. He pointed out that God desires compassion and not a sacrifice (v. 7). But Jesus also states “something greater than the temple is here” (v. 6). What is the greater?
Since the kingdom is superior, those who served the kingdom were superior to those who served in the temple. And if David, not yet king, had the right to feed his men the consecrated bread, then He, the King of Israel, had a right to allow His men to eat grain on the Sabbath …. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” ([Mark] 2:27). The Sabbath was to be a benefit for mankind, not a legalistic burden.55
The Greek word didaskalos carries the idea of educator or one who shares knowledge, information, or who teaches doctrine. Teacher would be a more accurate translation. As a Master/Teacher the Pharisees did not expect Christ to eat with tax-gatherers and sinners (9:11). Mockingly calling Him Teacher, they said “we want to see a sign from You” (12:38). His enemies continued to try to expose any fault of the Lord they could find. They taunted the disciples, asking “Does you teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” (17:24), and goaded Jesus with a testing, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (22:36).
As the feasts of Unleaven Bread and Passover drew near, the Lord directed His disciples to prepare for the holy ceremonies. He reminded them of His teaching relationship with them and said,
Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is at hand; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples’” (26:18).
Though Jesus taught His followers many things while with them, it was not until His resurrection that they would begin to comprehend the meaning of all He did and said. Before His ascension He reminded them that He had told them all things about Himself from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and that now, they were being fulfilled (Luke 24:44). At that moment, as the great Teacher that He was, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (v. 45). When this instructing work was finished, He went to be with His Father.
The first time Jesus referred to Himself as a prophet, as recorded in Matthew, was in His city of Nazareth. The people were skeptical and asked “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?” (13:54). As they took offense at His teaching, He answered “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household” (v. 57). Because of their rejection “He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief” (v. 58).
Though the crowds were often fickle, at the end of His ministry many multitudes began calling Him a prophet of the Lord. In fact, as He entered Jerusalem that final week of His ministry, many who believed in Him shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” (21:9b). They cried out “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (v. 11).
In some of His final prophecies before the chief priests and Pharisees, the Lord predicted that those who fell upon Him, the stone, would be broken to pieces (21:44). His enemies understood that He spoke of them. As they attempted to seize Him, they suddenly feared the crowds “because [the people] held Him to be a prophet” (v. 46).
In His final few hours before the entire Sanhedrin and leadership of the Jews, Christ caused them to go blind with rage as He spoke of Himself as the Son of God, the Christ, and the Son of Man. They tore their robes and accused Him of blaspheme. Many spat and slapped Him crying out “Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?” (v. 68).
That Jesus would be the ultimate Prophet, was predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15–19. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” (v. 15). The Jews were well aware of this prediction. When the Jerusalem priests and Levites came out to John’s baptism, they asked “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21). John answered that he was not that expected Prophet (v. 25) but when that One comes, he would not be worthy to untie the thong of His sandal (v. 27).
The next day Jesus appears before John who cries out “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word!” (v. 29). Within the context of a few sentences, the Lord is introduced to Israel as the Christ and the Prophet (v. 25), the Lamb of God and the Son of God (v. 34). With all of these titles, the Jewish people are instantly confronted with the fact that the Messiah has arrived!
Formed from the Hebrew rav, the word actually means “my master.” By the time of Christ, the title of Rabbi was conferred officially upon those in Palestine authorized to decide ritual or legal issues. Though used often in the Gospels, it is used but twice in Matthew, and that only by Judas on the night of Christ’ s betrayal.
At the Passover meal, Christ mentions the fact that the Son of Man will be betrayed as predicted. Judas, probably feeling the guilt says “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answers and says “You have said it yourself” (Matt. 26:25).
As the disciples later stayed with Christ on the Mount of Olives, Judas appears with a club and sword-beating mob. He immediately goes up to Jesus and said “Hail, Rabbi!” (v. 49) and kissed Him. Pretending to honor the Lord with the title so revered by all, Judas uses the designation to cause Him to be arrested.
Nathanael, who would become one of the faithful followers of the Lord, realized that Jesus was the Messiah! Using the long-standing title of honor, he proclaimed “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).
There is only one direct reference in Matthew to Christ being the Servant of God. The apostle quotes Isaiah 42:1: “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (12:18). Matthew does not use the word bond-servant (doulos) but the word pais which normally is translated as son or child.
But concerning the relation of Christ to God, “In this connection it has the meaning servant, because of the identification of the ‘servant of God’ of certain OT passages with the Messiah (Is 52:13 et al.) Mt. 12:18 (cf. Is 42:1); …”56
In writing of Jesus and His servanthood, Luke in the book of Acts also uses the same word (3:26; 4:27, 30). But in Romans 15:8, the apostle Paul writes of Christ as the diakonos. Generally, this word sometimes is used of one who takes on the role of a servant or deacon in order to accomplish a specific task. Diakonos is made up of two words that together mean “through the dirt.” This describes one who takes on the lowly position of serving by “shuffling through the dirt.”
The Son of God left His glory to become a servant of humanity. He was obedient to the Father, all the way to the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8).
Son Of David
Matthew begins his Gospel be showing that Christ is the descendant of David (1:1). This is one of the qualifications to be the promised Messiah. Matthew uses this title ten times, more than any other Gospel writer. Since the book of Matthew is about the King, this would be expected.
When God promised David that his house or lineage would last forever (2 Sam. 7:16), the Jews understand this to mean that One would come to claim the ultimate position of the eternal Messiah. Many later prophesies confirm this promise.
There will be no end to the increase of [the Messiah’s] government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forever more. (Isa. 9:7) Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse (David’s father), and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. (11:1) “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. (Jer. 23:5)
In a great moment of triumph, these promises were fulfilled at the announcement to Mary that, the One being born to her will be called Jesus and that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32b–33). Matthew simply picks up on these promises and shows that Jesus indeed is the Son of David!
Son Of God
(See Christ above.) The expression Son of God means “the Son who is related to God.” Or, “the Son who comes from God.” The expression comes directly from Psalm 2:7 where the Lord said of the Anointed One “Thou art My Son.” Matthew uses the title many times in his Gospel. He also reports that Satan uses it in addressing Jesus (4:6) and so do the demons (8:29).
As Christ was hanging on the cross, the Jews taunted Him, “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:41). At the very end, the Lord made it clear to Israel “I am the Son of God” (v. 43).
Son of Man
This title is found in Daniel 7:13. The setting seems to take place following the ascension of the Lord back to glory where He enters the throne room of the Ancient of Days, the heavenly Father. Son of Man probably means “the Son who is related to Mankind.” Jesus is called in theology “The God/Man” being very God but also very man. Because of His faithfulness even to dying for humanity, He is rewarded with glory, a kingdom, and dominion (v. 14).
At His hearing before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, three titles were mentioned that speak of the role of the Messiah but also have some implications to the issue of deity, even among the Jewish leadership. The high priest said “Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). Jesus answered “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64).
The Jewish leaders got the point! They knew that He was speaking of a relationship with God the Father. The high priest tipped his robes, accused Christ of blasphemy while the others called for His death (vv. 65–66).
Borrowing from Daniel 7, the Apocrypha pseudopigrapha 1 Enoch mentions many times the title Son of Man. One example is 1 Enoch 62:7–9 which reads:
From the beginning the Son of Man was hidden, And the Most High has preserved him In the presence of His might, and revealed him to the elect.
And all the elect shall stand before him on that day. And all the kings and the mighty and the exalted and the rulers of the earth Shall fall down before him on their faces, And worship and set their hope upon the Son of Man, And petition him and ask for mercy at his hands
1 1. Interpretation Of The Oracles Of The Lord, in five Treaties; op. cit,, III. xxxix. 3–5 2
2 2. Everett F. Harrison, Introduction To The New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 169
3 3. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, gen. eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1978), p. 15
4 4. William Hendriksen, The Gospel Of Matthew. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), p. 90
5 5. Lenski, p. 13
6 6. Ibid., p. 14
7 7. Alford, 1:29
8 8. Ibid.
9 9. Glasscock, p. 21
10 10. John Gill, Gill’s Commentary, 6 Volumes. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1980, 5:1
11 11. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, p. 15
12 12. Martin Gilbert, cons. ed., The Illustrated Arias Of Jewish Civilization. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company), 1990, p. 43
13 13. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, edts., Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels. (Downer Grove, ll.:lntervarsity Press, 1992), p. 325
14 14. Robert H. Eisenman, Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. (New York: Barnes & Noble), 1994
15 15. Ibid., p. 18
16 16. Ibid.
17 17. Ibid., p. 19
18 18. Ibid., p. 20
19 19. Ibid., p. 23
20 20. Ibid., p. 29
21 21. Ibid., pp. 70–71
22 22. Ibid., p. 68
23 23. Patai, p. 17
24 24. Patai, p. 19
25 25. Patai. p. 123
26 26. Patai, pp. 165–66
27 27. Patai, p. 105
28 28. Patai, p. 113
29 29. Patai, p. 176
30 30. Patai, p. 81
31 31. Patai, p. xxv
32 32. Patai, p. 167
33 33. Patai, p. 190
34 34. Patai, p. 193
35 35. Aaron Pick, Dictionary Of Old Testament Words For English Readers. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1977, p. 582
36 36. Goeffrey W. Bromiley, gen. ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 Volumes. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1986), 3:108
37 37. Ibid., 4:742
38 38. Glassock, p. 25
39 39. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, 6 Volumes. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), 1:xiii
40 40. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary On Matthew. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 96
41 41. Ibid.
42 42. Word Pictures In The New Testament, l :xv
43 43. Glasscock, p. 204
44 44. Willoughby C. Allen, A Critical And Exegetical Comentary On The Gospel According To St. Matthew. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993), p. lxxiv
45 45. Glasscock, p. 28
46 46. Albert Barnes, Notes On The New Testament, 9:xvi
47 47. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1978), p. 16
48 48. Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction To The New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), p. 137
49 49. Alford, The Greek Testament, 1:31
50 50. Walvoord, Matthew Thy Kingdom Come, p. 11
51 51. Walvoord, Ibid., p. 13
52 52. Lenksi, Matthew, p. 425
53 53. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 Volumes. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 1:280
54 54. Horst Bal Gerhard Schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary Of The New Testament, 3 Volumes. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 2:222.
55 55. Glasscock, p. 263
56 56. William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament. (Chicago: The Un&ersity of Chicago Press, 1959), p. 609