Matthew is a link to the Old Testament that was written after the 400 year period of time when God did not speak to the Nation of Israel through the prophets. Its main purpose was to record the coming to earth of the long promised Messiah, the King of Israel.
Various scholars date this book anywhere from 50 AD to 60 AD, which would be 25 or more years after the cross. It’s very evident that it’s in its rightful place at the beginning of the New Testament because it is definitely the connecting link between the old dispensation of law and the new dispensation of grace.
Matthew contains numerous quotes from the Old Testament prophets that were written to show how the Lord Jesus Christ would come as the promised King of Israel. He brings out how these things occurred in exact accordance with the prophecy. These predictions of Christ as King reach back as far as Abraham's day and down to the writing of Malachi when prophetic testimony stopped. It would be more than four hundred years until the coming of John the Baptist. He was the last of the prophets and his message was “The Messiah of Israel has come!”
Matthew's Gospel was written specifically to the Jews, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a message for us Gentile Christians. The Holy Spirit designed it to present Jesus in such a way that it would be clear to Jewish readers that He is the One that Moses and the prophets spoke of, and that He is the King of Israel.
Matthew, who was also called Levi, was a publican, a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government. The Jews didn’t like it one bit that their government was from Rome and that the Romans taxed them heavily and hired Jewish citizens to do the tax collecting. This may have been a political move by the Romans to win support for Rome through the hiring of Jewish citizens as government officials. Taxes are never popular and the thought behind this may have been that the Jews wouldn’t rebel against one of their own as quickly as they would the Romans. However, Matthew and all the other publicans were still very much despised by their fellow Jews because of their collaboration with Rome. Regardless of his occupation as a tax collector, Matthew responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him.
Matthew’s Gospel answers some of the questions the Jews asked about Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be their Messiah. They wanted to know if He was the Messiah that was predicted in the Old Testament, and if He was, why did He fail to establish the promised kingdom? They also wanted to know if the kingdom would ever be established and if so, when would it be. Another thing they wanted to know was what God was going to do until it was established.
In answering their questions, Matthew often spoke of Jesus as the Son of David or as the One who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.
Matthew's Gospel also approached the subject of the kingdom of heaven in great detail, and in chapter 13, Jesus used some parables in bringing a new revelation in connection with the kingdom.
The leaders of the people of Israel refused the offered kingdom and deliberately discredited all the credentials of the King.
In one incident, they attributed His power to Beelzebub, (Satan) so they committed the sin against the Holy Spirit which allows for no forgiveness. Matthew 12:32b. “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
This resulted in the setting aside of Israel nationally for the present, and brought a new order of things which God had foreseen from eternity past. It was the revelation of the mystery of the Church as one Body, called out from both Jews and Gentiles.
From this point on, in Matthew's Gospel, the term “the kingdom of heaven” refers to the form in which that kingdom was to be made manifest after the King had returned to heaven. It will continue in this form until He comes a second time, this time to rid His kingdom of all unrighteousness and all the unrighteous.
In the parables in chapter 13, the Lord set forth the form the kingdom would take on earth as a result of His rejection. This was all foreknown to God and provision was made for it. Christ was refused and rejected by the leaders of the nation of Israel even before He had made propitiation for their sin by His sacrificial death on the cross. He ascended back to heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God. During His absence the Holy Spirit has come in a new way as the Comforter to enable His servants to preach the Gospel in convicting power. John 16:7-11. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Wherever the gospel is preached, it is the seed of the kingdom. Luke 8:11b. “The seed is the word of God.” As a result, many people recognize the Lord Jesus as earth's rightful King and as their Lord and Savior. But, just as in the days of Matthew, there are also those who give Him lip-service but do not take Him into their heart.
The kingdom promised to Israel through the prophets depended on the reception of the King by the chosen nation. In rejecting Him they lost that opportunity, and so the kingdom was taken from them. Matthew 21:43. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”
When Jesus does appear on earth in all His power and glory, the Nation of Israel will turn to the Lord, and all things that are written concerning the kingdom will be fulfilled. In the meantime, wherever the Gospel, which is the Word of the kingdom, is preached, there will be a mixed group of those who possess Him as Lord and Savior and those who only profess Him as Lord and Savior. The kingdom is a wider sphere than the Church, inasmuch as it includes both true and false professors.
The separation of the two groups will take place at the end of the age, and then the kingdom of the Son of Man will be established on earth.
In chapter 1:1-17 we have the genealogy of the King, and in verses 18-25 the birth of the King. Then over in chapter 2, verses 1-18, we have some Gentiles who did homage to the King.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
2. Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers.
3. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram.
4. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon.
5. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse,
6. and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.
7. Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa.
8. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah.
9. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah.
10. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah.
11. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.
12. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel.
13. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor.
14. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud.
15. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob.
16. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.”
Matthew gives us the genealogy of Joseph, the step-father, and as such, the legal father of Jesus. Luke gives the genealogy of His blood line, the genealogy of His birth mother. It was through Joseph’s lineage that came through Abraham and David that the legal rights to the throne belong to Jesus but His physical right to the throne came through His mother.
Matthew tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David, in the days of Herod the King. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. This would make the date of Jesus’ birth sometime earlier than is commonly accepted. He was born sometime late in 5 B. C. or early in 4 B. C. so the visit by the Wise Men took place less than two years after His birth. His star may have appeared in the East at the time of His conception. That would allow the Wise Men time to travel to Bethlehem. Their visit was followed almost immediately by the flight to Egypt.
When we read these amazing accounts, it seems that everything in connection with the advent of the King took on a miraculous character. If we take into account who He really was, that He was truly “Immanuel,” “God with us,” as prophesied in Isaiah 7, it shouldn’t surprise us.
How could it be any other way that when God came down to earth certain natural laws of nature and society would be suspended in order that He might enter into our world in a miraculous way? His birth from a virgin mother was supernatural. No one before this time nor since has ever been born of a virgin mother. He became God in human flesh just like our flesh, yet He did not have our sin nature.
In some supernatural way, the Wise Men from the East knew to follow a certain star that led them to Bethlehem. God used these Gentile Wise Men to save His life.
The account as a whole brings out the power and grace of God in such simplicity that it should make us want to worship Him and give thanks to God for His unspeakable Gift.
The book of Matthew starts with “the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” He gives the genealogy of our Lord from Abraham to Joseph. But this wasn’t His blood-line. It was the royal line that carried with it the legal right to the throne.
As the Son of Abraham, Jesus is the promised Seed in whom all nations of the world shall be blessed (Genesis 22: 18). As the Son of David, He is the King who is to reign in righteousness on David's throne (Isaiah 9: 6, 7).
Had He been the natural child of Joseph, the curse put on Jeconiah in Jeremiah 22 would have kept Him from the throne. Jeconiah (verse 11) is called Coniah in Jeremiah 22:28. The curse pronounced on him was that none of his seed would prosper and sit on David's throne. Joseph descended from Jeconiah, so if Jesus was the natural son of Joseph He could never reign from the throne because of the curse. But Christ descended from David through Mary's line so the curse on Coniah's seed didn’t pertain to Him. Jeremiah 22:30.“Thus says the LORD: 'Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.”
Notice what is says, in verse 17 of our chapter: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are 14 generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are 14 generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are 14 generations.”
In order to divide the genealogy into three groups of fourteen generations each, some names had to be omitted and Mary's name has to be counted to make fourteen in the last group.
In verse 8, there were three king's names omitted who reigned between Joram and Uzziah. They were Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. It may be because they were especially wicked. They all had connections with Ahab, Jezebel, and Athaliah, and all of them died a violent death.
Another unique thing is that the names of five women are included in these lists, a very unusual thing for a Jewish historian to do. These are Tamar, whose shameful story of her twins by her father-in-law is recorded in Genesis 38. Rahab, a harlot and a Gentile. Ruth the Moabitess, a Gentile believer who entered the royal line through her levirate marriage to Boaz. Bathsheba, who became David's wife by way of adultery and murder, and Mary, a virgin Jewish maiden that God chose to became the mother of Jesus by divine intervention.
God, in His sovereign grace, chose to bring these five women into the line of promise. The inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba show the mercy that God extends to the most undeserving. Ruth’s inclusion shows God’s sovereign grace when He included a Gentile believer who was a Moabite. Then there is Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
This brings us to the birth of the King, in verses 18 to 25.
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
19. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
20. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
22. So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:
23. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
24. Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,
25. and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.”
Verse 18. “Before they came together.” The Scriptures are clear that the birth of our Savior was the virgin birth. Mary and Joseph were engaged but not yet married. In that society, an engagement was looked on as though the couple were set aside strictly for one another, just as in marriage. When Joseph learned Mary was to become a mother, and knew that he was not the father of her child, he “Was minded to put her away secretly.”
If Mary wasn’t a virgin, the penalty under the law of Moses was death by stoning. Joseph wanted to save her from this. An angel told him in a dream not to be afraid to marry her. The father of her child was the Holy Spirit and the child would be the Son of God in the flesh. He instructed Joseph to name the child “Jesus.” The name Jesus is the equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua. It means “the salvation of Jehovah.” Isaiah made this prediction nearly seven centuries before its fulfillment.
Let’s look at chapter 2 and read some more details surrounding Jesus’ birth.
Matthew 2:1-18. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2. saying, “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.”
3. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6. But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
7. Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9. When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
11. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
13. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,
15. and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
17. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18. “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”
These verses tell the story very well. Luke records a visit to the temple when Jesus was eight days old to be circumcised. While they were there, Simeon recognized the babe as the Messiah and called Him “the Consolation of Israel.” He said “My eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
The aged prophetess, Anna was also overjoyed. “And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
The Jewish religious community was looking for an earthly Messiah. God sent them a heavenly Messiah and they rejected Him.
When the wise men inquired of Herod where they could find the newborn King of the Jews, naturally he didn’t know. He was an Edomite, not a Jew. He sent for the chief priests and the scribes and they told him “In Bethlehem of Judea, the town five miles south of here.”
Herod feared he would lose his position of rule and asked when the star that led the wise men appeared. They evidently told him it was about two years before this and he sent them on their way. The star guided them to Bethlehem and to the house where the young child was. They delivered their gifts and worshipped Him. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod so they returned to their country by another route.
An angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to “flee to Egypt.” Herod had murdered most of his own offspring, leaving only his son, Archelaus, to inherit his kingdom. He ordered all the Jewish boy babies two years old and younger to be killed in an attempt to secure his kingdom and prevent the actual King of Israel from appearing.
Herod's own death came a short time later. Little did he know that the Son of God he was trying to kill would die on the cross for his sins and the sins of the world. But it was too late for Herod. There is no indication in scripture that he ever came to know Christ as his Savior.
It’s not too late for you to accept Christ.
You can be saved right now.
God wants you to believe that
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
and that He was buried,
and that He rose again the third day
according to the Scriptures.”
1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
God is a loving God but He is also a just God.
“For God did not send His Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved.
He who believes in Him is not condemned;
but he who does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed
in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”