Keys to Understanding Matthew’s Gospel
Matthew’s Gospel is the first book of the New Testament. Even though it is listed first, it does not appear to have been written first. Matthew seemed to incorporate almost all of Mark’s Gospel into his book. Matthew also provides much additional material that is not in any of the other three Gospel accounts.
There are a variety of ways that one can approach the study of Matthew’s Gospel. One of the first has to do with the fact that Matthew was presenting Jesus as, “The Jewish Messiah.” Matthew, more than any of the other three Gospel writers, attempts to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of many prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures. He is clearly writing to a Jewish audience and goes to great pains to point how “Jewish” Jesus really was.
This first study method for Matthew involves many Old Testament prophecies. As one reads through this Gospel, it is a great practice to note when Matthew refers to Jesus fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy. An example of this is found in, 1:20-23: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”-which means, “God with us.”
Here, Matthew sees Jesus’ birth as a fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah. Marking these passages in the Gospel and then reading them in their context in the Hebrew Scriptures will provide the reader with a much deeper and richer understanding of what Matthew was trying to say. It was very important to Matthew that his readers understood that Jesus was God’s plan all along and that He had predicted His coming hundreds of years earlier.
A second way of studying Matthew is by focusing on the teaching narratives. Matthew provides more of Jesus’ teaching than any other of the Gospels. Matthew groups together five teaching discourses. They are:
1. The Sermon on the Mount- chapters 5-7
2. Instructions to the Twelve as He sends them out- chapter 10
3. Parables about the Kingdom of God- chapter 13
4. Life in the Kingdom of God- chapters 18-20:16
5. Teaching about the End Times- chapters 24-25
Each of these blocks of teaching are worth spending time studying. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, has been described as one of the greatest messages ever preached. These teachings contain the essence of what the Christian life should be.
The Parables about the Kingdom of God provide the reader with snapshots of what Jesus taught about God’s Kingdom. Almost each of these parables is prefaced by the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” For example, in 13:31-32 says, “He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Jesus seems to be saying that though the visible Kingdom might appear small now, it is going to grow into something large and influential. Each parable presents a different facet of God’s Kingdom.
These two study methods should greatly enhance the reader’s understanding of Matthew’s Gospel. Can you think of any other ways to approach Matthew?
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