Reflections on Matthew

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Joshua and Mark. You can find all I’ve written on Matthew here.

One thing that our chapter and verse divisions make it hard to detect is Matthew’s original division of his book into a number of sections. He does so by using summary sentences, for example 4:23 and 9:35 mark the beginning of two sections. He also repeats a certain phrase, so that we can consider 5:17 and 7:12 the beginning and end of that block of teaching.

Speaking of teaching, one of Matthew’s themes is Jesus as Teacher. Matthew structures his book around 5 teaching discourses:

5:1-7:28 The Sermon on the Mount
10:1-11:1 Teaching on missions and evangelism
13:1-13:53 Parables of the Kingdom
18:1-9:1 Kingdom community
24:1-26:1 The coming of the Kingdom

Note the closing formula he uses in 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1: “When Jesus had finished saying all these things,” or a variant.

Going back to 4:23, here’s another interesting thing. In that introductory verse, Matthew says that Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching and preaching and healing. He then details the teaching and preaching in 5:1-7:28 and the healing in 8:1-9:34. There is a method in Matthew!

A little on the parables in chapter 13. They answer the following questions:

  • If the Kingdom is here, why is the response so varied? (Parable of the soils)
  • How can the Kingdom be said to be here when evil is still so prevalent? (Parable of wheat and weeds and parable of the net)
  • How can the Kingdom be here if it’s making so little impact and spreading so slowly? (Parable of mustard seed and parable of yeast)
  • How can the disciples be citizens of the Kingdom if they have nothing to show for it? (Parable of hidden treasure and parable of the pearl)

Another theme in Matthew is Jesus as King. He gets into it right in the first verse, designating Jesus Christ as the son of David. In chapter 2, the Magi come to worship ‘the one who has been born king of the Jews’. Jesus preaches the Kingdom (4:17), and in His parables refers to Himself as King (25:34, 40). He is also mockingly called King (27:29, 37, 42). The irony, of course, is that He is not only King of the Jews, but also of the rest of us and the entire universe.

A third theme in Matthew is the inclusion of non-Jews into God’s kingdom. Matthew’s has historically been regarded as a gospel written primarily for the Jews, with its numerous OT quotations and emphasis on Jesus’ being the son of David and of Abraham (1:1). However, a number of Gentiles make appearances, starting with the Magi, who come to worship (2:11); the Roman centurion, who is commended for his faith (8:10); the Canaanite woman, whose faith is also commended (15:28) and the Roman centurion who, at the crucifixion, sees what the religious leaders failed to see (27:54).

Yet another theme is the warning not to be a false disciple, which is outlined in this aptly-titled article, Matthew’s Amazing Warnings Not to Be a False Disciple.

Now for a non-theme thing. In 3:17, God the Father declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The devil then comes to tempt Christ saying, “If you are the Son of God,” basically challenging what the Father had said. Just like in Eden.

Now for a question that bugged me. What did Moses and Elijah say to Jesus at the transfiguration? If the gospels are made up, then this is more proof of their counter-productiveness. Anyone who would invent this would have at least put some words into Moses’ and Elijah’s mouths. But the story isn’t made up, and the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire Matthew or any of the other gospel writers to tell us what these two OT giants said, so we’ll just have to keep wondering, and reminding ourselves of Deuteronomy 29:29!

Sources: Covenant Theological Seminary, The Proclamation Trust