From the second century AD onward, Matthew the tax collector has been identified as the author of this, the first Gospel in our New Testament. As is true with the other three Gospels, it first began to be circulated without an author’s name and so it remains debatable whether or not he was the actual author; that is if you want to debate. Most likely written sometime after 70 AD, there has never been much in the way of debate concerning its veracity or worthiness of being considered divinely inspired, and it usually appeared at the top of any list of writings to be included in Scripture.
This Gospel is uniquely Jewish in its orientation, which is why it was thought to have been written for a primarily Jewish audience. More than any other of the Gospels, Matthew points out all of the things Jesus did to fulfill Old Testament Scripture, yet the records indicate that it was probably the most popular of all New Testament writings as early as the second century. It was most often referred to and most often quoted in the surviving early Christian writings, by both Jewish and Gentile Christians.
Among the writers of the New Testament, Matthew stands out as the best actual writer in literary terms. He writes not as an eye witness, which he most assuredly was to many of the events in his narrative, but as a third party narrator, which gives his readers an advantageous position from which to view the events he describes. Often, he tells us what the characters are thinking, what their motivations and emotions are, insights which clearly increase our understanding. He, as we will see, uses literary devices to illustrate his points, as well as a deliberately devised structure that helps to clearly set out his seven major themes… and there is a fascinating unity in the fact that there are seven sections of the book, that use seven themes to convey the Person of Jesus Christ to his readers.
There is little doubt in my mind that the use of “seven” was deliberate on his part. Seven of course, is the number of completeness or perfection; some would say it is God’s number as seen in an apocalyptic view of the Scriptures. As we will see in our discussion of chapter 1, the very genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s account is full of the number seven, or more accurately a multiple of that number: 14… the number of Messiah. You just can’t read Matthew without being clear about who Jesus is!
Here is the structure of the book:
1:1 – 4:16 Establishes the identity and role of Jesus Christ.
4:17 – 11:1 Jesus begins His ministry of teaching and healing to establish God’s presence in the land.
11:2 – 16:20 Jesus’ disciples, through divine inspiration receive special insight into His person and mission.
16:21 – 20:34 Jesus engages the disciples in explicit discussions about His priorities and intentions and the ultimate purpose of His mission.
21:11 – 25:46 In Jerusalem Jesus’ teaching and actions lead to rising conflict with the Jewish leaders.
26:1 – 27:50 As the situation intensifies, Jesus strives to willingly complete His mission.
27:51 – 28:50 God vindicates His Son through cosmic signs and resurrection from the dead and gives Him the authority to commission His Church.
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to get started; see you next time!