This essay was originally titled "A Biblical Theology of the Gospel of Matthew." I wrote it while I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, which at the time (1978) was unabashedly dispensational in its leanings. My professor pointed out that, while I dealt in depth with the Kingdom motif, this work could not really be called a Biblical Theology because I did not deal with any of the other important doctrines of the book, such as faith, fruit, forgiveness, repentance, prayer, discipleship, etc.
While the title has changed, you will still see references in the document which refer to it as a Biblical Theology.
This paper is reproduced here essentially unchanged from the way I wrote it as a student. As I study the works of non-dispensational writers, I will either add footnotes to this work, or write completely different documents, putting forth those views.
This Biblical Theology of Matthew is written from an evangelical, premillenial and dispensational standpoint. No attempt will be made to refute any other viewpoints, nor is it the purpose of this paper to put forth an apologetic for the dispensational standpoint, although it is hoped that this Biblical Theology will make it obvious to the reader that The Gospel according to Matthew can only be understood properly when viewed dispensationally.
The Gospel according to Matthew has two purposes. The first purpose of the book is to present Christ as Israel's promised Messiah. The second purpose of the book is to explain the postponement of the earthly Kingdom.
Matthew can be divided into two main sections. In chapters 1-11, the King, and therefore the Kingdom, is offered, and in chapters 12-28, the King and Kingdom are rejected. In the first section, Christ's right to rule is established through His geneology, fulfillment of prophecy, and His dominion over the physical, spiritual and natural realms. The Kingdom is proclaimed to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:6)". In the second section, we realize Christ's rejection when the Pharisees accuse Him of being empowered by the devil. He then reveals the new "mystery" form of the Kingdom and throughout this second section He teaches His twelve apostles. Israel's rejection of Christ becomes greater and greater throughout this section until it reaches the point where a murderer is chosen over Him and He is crucified. But even in this second section, further evidence is put forth to show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
Matthew argues in his Gospel account that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah of Israel. He argues that Christ came to set up His earthly Kingdom, but when He was rejected by Israel, the earthly Kingdom which Israel expected was postponed and a "mystery" form of the Kingdom, one which was not obviously revealed in the Old Testament, was set up.
Writers of the early church abundantly attest that Matthew was the author of this gospel account, and there is no good reason to doubt such authorship. Matthew, also called Levi, was a tax collector, but he was Jewish. That the book was addressed originally to Jews is the obvious conclusion from several observations. First, the Old Testament is used frequently. Second, much space is given to demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecy. Third, customs are not explained, as in Mark, which implies that the readers understood them without an explanation. Fourth, the earthly Kingdom is a predominant theme, which would be of special interest to the Jews.
There are two major themes in Matthew's Gospel; the presentation of Jesus Christ as Israel's Messiah, and the Kingdom. Each of these major themes will be dealt with in a separate section of this paper.
The first seventeen verses of Matthew present the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of our Lord's mother. Since the legal right to the throne would be traced through the father, this is relevant even though Joseph was not Jesus' actual father.
That the genealogy starts with Abraham is significant. To Abraham was given the promise that "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22:18)." This extension of the genealogy as far back as Abraham insures that the reader makes the connection between Abraham and Christ. It is to be understood that Christ is that promised seed through which all the nations of the world will be blessed.
It is also of import to note Christ's descent from David, with whom God made a covenant that his throne would be established forever. It was understood from Scripture that the Messiah would be one of his descendants (Isaiah 11:1-10, 9:6,7). Therefore, it was essential to show Jesus' descent from David in order to demonstrate His legal right to reign over Israel.
Jesus fulfilled the prediction made by Isaiah in 7:14 that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. He also fulfilled the prediction of Micah 5:2 that He would be born in Bethlehem.
There are three prophetic fulfillments related to Jesus' early childhood which Matthew mentions in 2:13-23. A thorough treatment of these references is beyond the scope of this Biblical Theology, but a brief explanation of each will be given below.
In 2:15, Matthew states that Christ fulfills the prophet's words, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Within its context in Hosea 11:1, it speaks of Israel's exodus from Egypt. It is best to understand this reference as typico-prophetic. Matthew sees this historical event as a type which has its fulfillment in Christ's coming up out of Egypt after the death of Herod.
In 2:18, Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, and sees it as being fulfilled in Herod's execution of infant males. As it appears in Jeremiah, however, it refers to the Babylonian in- vasion. The best explanation of this problem is that this is a dual-reference prediction. We can see parallels in the fulfillments. In both cases, Israel was suffering under a foreign, Gentile world power which was oppressing the people and bringing death and sorrow. While Herod's slaying of infant males is not a fulfillment of the specifics of Jeremiah 31:15, it is a fulfillment of the principle.
Matthew 2:23 presents a problem, since there is no place in the Old Testament which reads "He shall be called a Nazarene." Many explanations have been put forth to explain Matthew's statement here, but the most feasible explanation is the fol- lowing: First, it can be observed that prophets is plural, and therefore Matthew seems to be stating something which is the sum teaching of all the prophets, not just one. Second, it should also be observed that what is translated in the A.V. as a direct quotation is in Greek a hoti clause, which could also be translated as indirect discourse, so that we would have, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, that He shall be called a Nazarene." Third, it should be noted that "Nazarene" was used not only as an adjective pointing to one's dwelling place, it was also a term of contempt, based upon the Jews' hatred of the commercialism of that city. Now the prophets did teach that the Messiah would be despised (for example, Isaiah 53), and Matthew here is using the fact that Jesus actually grew up in Nazareth to accentuate the prophetic teaching that He would be despised and rejected.
Matthew cites four prophetic fulfillments in relation to Christ's ministry. Christ's move to Capernaum fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy in 9:1,2 (4:14-16). Matthew states that Christ's healing and exorcism fulfilled Isaiah 53:4 (8:16,17). Jesus' plea for silence regarding Him was a fulfillment of Isaiah 42:1-3 (12:15-21). Christ's entry into Jerusalem on a donkey's colt fulfilled Isaiah 62:11, one of the signs whereby He was to be recognized.
Matthew cites three prophetic fulfillments related to Christ's death. The first is Zechariah 13:7, fulfilled at the time of His arrest, when His disciples scatted (26:31). Matthew states in 27:9-10 that the purchase of a potter's field with the returned betrayal money fulfills one of Jeremiah's prophecies (the reference is actually found in Zechariah 11:12,13. For a good explanation of this problem, see Walvoord, p. 227). The casting of lots for Christ's garment fulfilled Psalm 22:18.
Thus we can see that Matthew has relied heavily upon the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy as evidence to support his thesis that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
In verses 1-11 of chapter 4, Jesus is tempted by Satan and seen to be victorious over him. Since Satan is now the prince of this world, in order to have the right to reign Christ must be victorious over him, and here He is seen to be so.
Matthew shows that Jesus had dominion over the physical, spiritual and natural realms. He deemed this necessary to show that He was indeed the promised Messianic King.
Another way in which Jesus' dominion over the physical realm was demonstrated was by His miraculous feeding of the masses. In 14:15-21, we read of five thousand being filled to satiation with only five loaves of bread and two fish. In 15:32-39, four thousand were fed with only seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.
Jesus' dominion over the natural realm is demonstrated in four different instances. In 8:23-27, He caused heavy winds and a tempestuous sea to cease. In 14:22-33, He walked upon a stormy sea, and enabled Peter to do the same. And once in the boat, He caused the winds to cease and the sea to be calm. In 17:24-27, He caused a fish to deliver money to Peter. And in 21:18-22, He caused a fig tree to wither.
Jesus states in 28:18 that He has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. It was on the basis of this authority that He gave the great commission.
That these men were Gentiles is obvious from the fact that they did not know where Christ was to be born (that was common knowledge among the Jews). Apparently, it had somehow been revealed to them that a King was being born. They came to worship Him and to bring gifts -- and expensive gifts at that. It was customary to give gifts to show recognition, submission and a desire to be under a king's graces (Cp. Gen. 43:11,12). The fact that these were Gentiles from another country is, therefore, especially significant. This recognition of Christ as their King is a foreview of the eventual fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, when Christ will be the Head of the worldwide Kingdom.
While Matthew does not specifically cite John's recognition of Jesus, as John does in his Gospel, his recognition is implied by their dialogue in 3:14,15. The significance of this recognition is that since John was the forerunner of the Messiah (3:3), it was his duty to point the way to the Messiah.
After proclaiming the Kingdom, being rejected, and explaining the new mystery form of the Kingdom, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. Due to His rejection, they might have had reason by now to doubt His identity, but nevertheless Peter, seemingly acting as the spokesman for the twelve, replied, "Thou art the Christ (i.e., Messiah), the Son of the living God (16:16)." Jesus affirmed his answer (v. 17).
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey colt, multitudes spread garments and tree branches before Him and shouted, in apparent sincerity, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! (21:9)." Multitudes of people, therefore, recognized Him as the Messiah.
When Jesus died, there was an earthquake, as well as other signs. When the centurion in charge of the crucifixion, and the men of his company, saw these signs, they recognized Jesus as the Son of God (27:54). Matthew intended this recognition to be further proof that Jesus was the Messiah.
On two occasions, the Father spoke in affirmation of Jesus Christ. The first occasion was at His baptism, when the Father spoke from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (3:17)." The second occasion was at the transfiguration, when God spoke from out of a bright cloud and said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him (17:5)."
Matthew has presented Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah of Israel. He has done this by demonstrating that (1) Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies, (2) was victorious over Satan, the prince of this world, (3) exercised dominion over the physical, spiritual and natural realms and (4) was recognized as the Messiah by both human and divine agencies.
Coupled with Israel's hope for their promised Messiah was their hope for His earthly Kingdom. This would mean the end of oppression for their nation.
Because of Daniel's prophecy of seventy year-weeks (9:20-27), the people of Israel were expecting their Messiah and His Kingdom to come soon. Because of this timetable, many were willing to listen when John began to preach that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
The preaching of the coming Kingdom actually began with John. It was his job to prepare the hearts of the people for their coming Messiah. They were to repent, and part of this act of repentence was confessing their sin and being baptized by John.
The relationship between John and Elijah is very hard to understand, and a discussion of that relationship is beyond the scope of this paper.
After John the Baptist was thrown into prison, Jesus went forth and preached an identical message; "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (4:17)."
Christ's Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) is definitely connected with the proclamation of the Kingdom. Within this sermon, the principles governing the coming Kingdom are set forth. But Christ's Sermon on the Mount was also intended to answer a very important question in the minds of its hearers.
The multitudes had heard that the King had come, and His Kingdom was at hand. And now, as they came out to Him, they were no doubt asking themselves, "How do I get into the Kingdom? Is my rightiousness good enough?"
To a Jew living at this time, righteousness was adherance to the Mosaic Law as interpreted by the Pharisees and taught by the Rabis. This consisted of 250 commandments and 365 prohibitions. Jesus, at points in the sermon, quotes some of the Rabinical precepts, but then goes beyond them to lay down precepts which are even more strict. The crux of His sermon is to be found in 5:20; "For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." But Jesus was not giving them a means of entrance into the Kingdom. On the contrary, He was teaching them that they could not make it into the Kingdom through their works.
In Chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent forth His apostles to preach that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 7)." He commanded them not to go to the Gentiles, or to the Samaritans, but only to those of Israel.
There was opposition to the Kingdom even during the ministry of John the Baptist. But the first hint of rejection by Israel is seen in Jesus' prediction that "the sons of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness (8:12)." In the parable of the children playing in the market place (11:16-19), Jesus points out that Israel was stubborn. Their attitude was, "Why don't you do things our way? Why don't you agree with the teachings of the Pharisees regarding the Kingdom?"
Jesus performed many miracles among the people, yet they remained indifferent towards Him. We read of His denunciation of them in 11:20-24.
But the pivotal point of Matthew's Gospel is found in 12:22-50. In this passage, His rejection by both the Jewish people and the Jewish leaders becomes apparent. A look at verse 23 in the A.V. seems to indicate that the people recognized Him as the Messiah. However, a look at the Greek text reveals that a negative answer was expected (the particle mati is present). The N.A.S.B. has translated it, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" The Pharisees then accuse Him of being empowered by the devil.
From this point on, things change drastically. His comments concerning His mother and brethren in 12:46-50 indicate that His work will no longer be with the nation, but with His chosen twelve. Now He begins to teach in parables, and to reveal that He will be put to death (16:21).
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey's colt, He was making a public offer of Himself as King. He was giving them another opportunity to recognize and accept Him. But when He came into the city, He found nothing but more opposition. Now, with all hope shattered, we see Him lamenting over Jerusalem, pronouncing their doom and leaving them with the statement, "Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord (23:39)".
What could perhaps be considered the ultimate rejection came when Pilate offered to release Jesus, since it was customary for him to release a prisoner of their choice at the time of the Passover. But they chose, instead of their King, a murderer (27:19-23).
The term"Kingdom of Heaven" refers to God's administration of His authority. It has existed in the past in various forms. For example, the theocracy under David and Solomon was a form of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Millennial Kingdom will be the ultimate form of theocratic government. But in Matthew 13, Jesus reveals that a different form of theocratic rule will now be set up which will last from the time of Christ's rejection until the time of His reception by the nation of Israel. This form of the Kingdom includes the Church age.
The "mysteries" which Christ speaks of are previously undisclosed truths. Old Testament eschatology speaks of two ages -- the "present age" and the "age to come." The "age to come" would be ushered in by the coming of the Messiah, which would be preceeded by a seven-year tribulation period. The Church age, while it can be seen in the Old Testament from our present standpoint, was apparently not revealed to Old Testament scholars prior to the time of Christ. The characteristics of the new form of the Kingdom which are to be described in parables in chapter 13 are therefore "mysteries" -- previously unrevealed truths.
In chapter 13, Jesus speaks eight parables which describe characteristics of the mystery form of the Kingdom. These parables have been interpreted in various ways. The characteristics which are listed below are based on what the author considers to be the best interpretation of each parable. Time and space do not permit a detailed discussion of each parable.
The parable of the sower and the soils (13:1-23) illustrates that during the new form of the Kingdom a message will be preached to which there will be four basic responses.
The parable of the tares among the wheat (13:24-30) teaches that there will be a competitive message or messages authored by Satan. Satan will oppose this form of the Kingdom just as he has opposed all those which have been before. This opposition will go on until the end of the age.
The third characteristic is illustrated by the parable of the mustard seed. From an extremely small beginning, the Kingdom will grow to great proportions.
The parable of the leaven (13:33-35) is one of the most controversial parables in Scripture. Perhaps the best under- standing of the parable is that it illustrates that the Kingdom's growth will be the result of the inherent properties of the word. (Note: I doubt this interpretation now. I need to take another look at this parable - CAS).
The parable of the hidden treasure is best understood as illustrating that God would pay a great price to obtain a multitude for Himself out of the nation of Israel (13:44).
The parable of the pearl is very similar to that of the hidden treasure. It refers, however, to Gentiles rather than Jews. God is to obtain, at great price, the souls of a multitude of Gentiles (13:45-46).
The parable of the dragnet (13:47-51) teaches that this form of the Kingdom will end in judgment, with the wicked being separated from the righteous at that time.
The parable of the householder (13:52) teaches that a study of the Scriptures will reveal new things to the members of this new form of the Kingdom. We can see this characteristic illustrated in the writings of the apostles.
Contrary to the Pharisaic belief that entrance into the Kingdom was on the basis of one's adherance to the Mosaic law, Jesus taught that entrance into the Kingdom was on the basis of childlike faith (18:1-6, 19:13-15).
Unlike the world, a man does not become great in the Kingdom of God by exercising dominion over others. Instead, Jesus instructed His disciples that those who wanted to be leaders should become servants (20:20-28). Humility is the key to greatness (18:4).
Even before Christ's rejection in chapter 12, He revealed that Gentiles would be included in the Kingdom. After seeing the faith of the Roman centurion, He declared that "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Issac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven (8:11)." His healing of the Syrophoenician woman was a foreview of Gentile involvement in the Kingdom (15:21-28), as the visit of the wise men at the time of His birth had been. The parables of the householder (21:33-46) and the marriage feast (22:1-14) also allude to Gentiles in the Kingdom. Finally, in the great com- mission of 28:19-2O, Christ instructs His disciples to go to all nations, which is in contrast to His instructions of 10:5,6 to go only "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
The earthly Kingdom was not cancelled, just postponed. Christ's Olivet Discourse describes the signs related to His return and the imminence of His coming (chapters 24,25). (An exposition of this discourse will be uploaded to this site in a future release - CAS).
We have seen, therefore, that Christ offered His Kingdom to the Jews, but when they rejected Him, the new mystery form of the Kingdom was set up and the Kingdom program was expanded to include the Gentiles. This new form is an intercallation which was not obvious in the Old Testament. This new mystery form of the Kingdom will be terminated when the earthly Kingdom is set up.
It is hoped that this paper has convinced the reader that Matthew's Gospel was written for the purposes of presenting Christ as Israel's Messiah and explaining the postponement of the earthly Kingdom. Also, while this paper was not intended as an apologetic for Dispensationalism, it is hoped that opponents of that system can see in the arguments of this paper the feasibility of the doctrine of the offer and rejection of the earthly Kingdom.
Martin, John A. Lecture notes, Bible 305. DTS, Fall 1978.
Pentecost, J.D. Lecture notes, Bible 318, DTS, Spring 1978.
Pentecost, J.D. Lecture Notes, Bible 324, DTS, Spring 1978.
Swan, Craig A. An exposition of the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24-25. Unpublished.
Walvoord, John F. Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come. Chicago, Moody Press, 1974.