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  • Writer's pictureEric Cline

Christology in The Gospel of Matthew


Introduction

Matthew does not identify himself as the author of the Gospel of Matthew. However, church fathers Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius, quoting from other sources, all attest that Matthew is the author. “The term gospel is used in the New Testament in at least three distinct ways. The first refers to the preaching of Jesus who proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The second is in the Apostolic Writings where the Gospel is a proclamation about the person and work of Christ. It is the gospel of (about) Jesus Christ. The third is to refer to a form or genre of literature—the narrative records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which we call Gospels.”[1] This paper will focus on the second way, specifically how Matthew sees the person and work of Christ.

Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ and for the next three chapters elaborates on the early life of Jesus. The single theme, the most central theme of the entire gospel of Matthew, is the coming of the kingdom. The author reveals nothing of himself and is clearly focused on his writing to portray Jesus as the sovereign King. Throughout this paper, the implication is how Matthew understood Jesus to be based on the way he tells his story of Jesus; therefore, much of what Jesus does and says will be presented as “Jesus said . . . “ rather than “Matthew wrote that Jesus said . . . “ Matthew sees Jesus as the sovereign King and as such, recorded those events to emphasize that particular Christology. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate a single Christology in the Gospel of Matthew. The thesis of this paper is that Matthew portrays Jesus as the Sovereign King.



Matthew announces and authenticates Christ as the Sovereign King through a genealogy that reveals God’s purpose in history with Jesus Christ, son of David, the Son of Abraham. In the extraordinary birth narrative, Matthew presents the virgin birth, something one could easily consider as contra naturam, for it goes against nature. Matthew later illustrates the righteousness in the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and His sovereignty when the Spirit of God descended like a dove and a voice came from heaven, saying “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

Matthew records the temptations of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness. For forty days, Sovereign King Jesus faced the same temptations as did the Israelites during the forty years of exile in the wilderness. “Jesus’ forty-day fast corresponds symbolically not only to Israel's forty years in the wilderness, but also to Moses' forty-day fast on Mount Sinai, and to Elijah's forty-day fast on his trip to Mount Horeb.”[2]


There are some who believe the kingdom has already been consummated and there are some who believe the kingdom is yet to come. Both are errors in modern theology. The kingdom is already here; the Sovereign King Jesus is already in place. The supreme authority over all the earthly kingdoms, indeed over the entire cosmos, is in His hands and Matthew sees this in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5–7. Matthew would have no reason to record the Beatitudes if the kingdom belonged to a future age or if it had already been consummated. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The Beatitude sermon is directed to the disciples and through them to the whole church today. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13b).


For those who do not do the will of the Father, a Sovereign King, Jesus, cannot excuse disobedience any more than, at the most basic level, a federal court judge can excuse murder. Matthew paints a vivid picture of Jesus’ treatment of those who are not repentant of their sins “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 7:21). There will be those who have prophesied in His name, have cast out demons in His name, and have done many wonders in His name, but if they are lawless, Jesus will “declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23).


In His sovereign Kingship, Jesus empowers the apostles over unclean spirits, in healing, and in all kinds of disease. He instructs the twelve to go out into the cities and towns and do what He has been doing, not with the Gentiles, but with a focus on the lost sheep of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In doing so, it is His sovereign nature to warn them to “not worry about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34). Matthew sees Jesus as having a sovereign global awareness about the effects of anxiety. The New Testament uses the same word, merimna, for healthy and unhealthy anxiety. Paul uses the same word in Philippians 4:6. Jesus knows that anxiety will chip away at our faith. Moth and rust destroy treasures, bad eyes create inner darkness, and worry about food and drink does not add years to one's life. “The birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them” (Matt. 6:26). Matthew sees that Jesus is sending the apostles “out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16) but Sovereign King Jesus tells them to “not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Clearly, Matthew is portraying Jesus as Sovereign King.

John the Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was the Coming One or should they look for another. The Jews expected the Messiah to bring an army, not bring themselves to be crucified, and John expected a royal executioner of divine justice, and chopping down trees of wickedness (Matt. 3:10, 12). “Despite John’s questions, he should not be seen as weak or vacillating. In fact, he is the greatest in a long succession of prophets. But great as he is, something greater is here, namely, Jesus and the kingdom.”[3] John the Baptist may have been the greatest prophet of the old age but Sovereign King Jesus is least in the kingdom of heaven which far surpasses John the Baptist and any kingdom on earth. “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11).

The disciples did many types of “work” on the Sabbath and Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Matthew records where Jesus healed “a man who had a withered hand” (Matt. 12:9). The Pharisees, hoping to accuse Him of breaking the law, asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Cessation from work was a Jewish, Pharisaical law, a ritualistic legalism, and Jesus reminded them about how David took and ate the consecrated bread from the holy place. Human needs took precedence over ritual custom. The priests had to do more work on the Sabbath day because the offerings in the temple were doubled. Worship of God took precedence over Pharisaic regulation. Sovereign King Jesus did not abrogate Sabbath law but He has the right to interpret it. Matthew notes that Jesus desires mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus does it “in a way that undercuts Pharisaic legalism. He puts compassion above ritual.”[4]

The divine ability of Jesus to tell suspenseful stories was not lost on Matthew. Matthew, probably because he did view Jesus as Sovereign King, recorded more of His parables than did the other gospel writers. “The word parable comes from the Greek para (“beside or alongside”) and ballein (“to throw”). Thus the story is thrown alongside the truth to illustrate the truth.”[5] Parables were very effective because they immediately gained attention and they were true to life. Readers wanted to know how the master would treat his unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35). They wanted to know what would happen to those who kept killing servants and then the son of the landowner (Matt. 21:33-46). They wanted to know how not wearing wedding clothes symbolized missing an invitation to God’s kingdom or how wearing them symbolized the gift of Christ’s righteousness. (Matt. 22:1-14). Parable encouraged people to think and compelled them to evaluate their own lives and behavior. The believers, the followers of Jesus, understood the parables but those on the “outside”, the teachers of the law, had already demonstrated their unbelief and did not comprehend the meaning of the parables.

John the Baptist told Herod it was wrong that Herod took his brother’s wife. Herod’s wife made Herod promise to deliver to her the head of John the Baptist. So, Herod had John the Baptist beheaded. Why Sovereign King Jesus could not heal John the Baptist Matthew does not say. It is a mystery. But Jesus feeds 5,000 on one occasion, 4,000 on another, walks on water, and continues to heal many people. Matthew expounds on Jesus being the Sovereign King by recording numerous times that multitudes of people followed Him.


It is one thing for our children to not listen to what we tell them but it is a whole different situation if they rebuke us as parents. That is essentially what James did to Jesus after Jesus explained that as Sovereign King “He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matt. 16:21). James rebuked Jesus, pushing back against the divine words of instruction coming from Sovereign King Jesus. Jesus rebuked James with “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23) just as He rebuked the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. James had presented the same kind of temptation.


Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Sovereign King Jesus where once again, the voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5) They then came down from the mountain to learn that even after Jesus empowered the disciples to cast out demons in His name, the disciples failed to cast out the uncontrollable movements of a man’s demon-possessed son. When asked why, Jesus said it was because of their unbelief. Jesus rebuked the demon “and the child was cured from that very hour” (Matt. 17:18).


Matthew likely views Sovereign King Jesus as holding the Kingdom of Heaven in the palm of His hand when it comes to forgiveness. Jesus told Peter to forgive “up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants” (Matt. 18:22–23). The story goes that this king forgave a servant of a huge debt and that servant later tried unsuccessfully to collect a debt owed him by another who begged for but did not get forgiveness and was subsequently thrown into prison. When the king learned of this he became very angry and delivered the uncompassionate servant to the torturers. “So my heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matt. 18:35). When we refuse to forgive the repentant, we transgress against God. Jesus truly is the Sovereign King and if we do not forgive, we are actually in a worse position than the unforgiven.


Matthew records an event where Jesus is not only Sovereign King over the Pharisees but over the behavior of all creation and the institution of marriage from the beginning of time. Man and woman become one when they come together. Marriage is an institution established by God and “what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). If it is not lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason, the Pharisees ask, then why did Moses offer a certificate of divorce, separating what God had joined together (Deut. 24:1–4)? Sovereign King Jesus transcends the debate, reminds them of the order of creation by God (Gen.2:24), and explains that the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, through Moses, made a provision for divorce due to the hardness of the human heart and sin. “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).

The first level subheading here could also read, “Historic Judaism: The Cradle in Which Christianity Was Born.” The Jewish leaders opposed any kingdom established by Jesus, they questioned His authority, and they did not recognize that Jesus was actually the destroyer of earthy kingdoms. Matthew illustrates the sovereignty of Jesus as King by recording a parable in which the first servants sent by the landlord of a vineyard were killed, the second servants sent were also killed, and when the landowner sent his son, he was also killed. The vineyard represents a kingdom established by God. The landowner’s son represents Christ. Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22–23, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.” The Jews rejected the Messianic identity of Jesus. “The vineyard parable clearly refers to Jesus’ eventual death at the hands of the Jerusalem leadership.”[6] Christianity sees Jesus as the Messiah but Judaism does not.

Jesus is the Sovereign King in that we do not have to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or give clothes to the stranger out of guilt or some desire for earning merit. Jesus took all of that on Himself. It is He that is all of that. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, . . . I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:35–36). “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the one. Of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). We do for those in need because it is the least brethren, but nonetheless, the brethren of Jesus.


Jesus Was Always Sovereign King And Never A Victim Matthew26


“What looked like a terrible trip to death was actually a magnificent climb to the peak of God’s intentions. In perfect faithfulness and obedience, Jesus walked down the lonely road toward death, only to emerge on the other side victoriously. He was always a king and never a victim.”[7] Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man but the superintended words in the Gospel of Matthew, by the author himself, reveal Jesus as Sovereign King whose prophecy is now being fulfilled as the Son of Man carries out God’s plan which included betrayal by His friend Judas, and His atoning death.


This Is Jesus The King Of The Jews Matthew27


How could Matthew not have portrayed Jesus as the Sovereign King when Jesus, because of his love for us, sacrifices his life to take the shame and guilt of the sin of all people? Matthew recorded the final utterance of Jesus on the cross without giving us the actual words he said, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice” (Matt. 27:50). As his final act of that Passover Friday, the Messiah gave up his spirit. The king proved sovereign even over the timing of his own death.


Bibliography

Blomberg, Craig L. The New American Commentary–Matthew. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishing, 1992.

Dunn, James D.G., and John W. Rogerson. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Green, Michael. The Message Of Matthew. Edited by John R. W. Stott. Downers Grove , IN: inter-Varsity Academic, 2000.

Sproul, R. C. Right Now Counts Forever. Vol. II. Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2021.

Weber, Stuart K. Matthew: Holman New Testament Commentary (HNTC). Edited by Max Anders. Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 1999.

Zuck, Roy b. Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide To Discovering Truth. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1991.


Notes

[1] R. C. Sproul, Right Now Counts Forever, (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2021), 179. [2] Dunn and Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary On The Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans P.C., 2003), 1010. [3] Craig L. Blomberg, The New American Commentary–Matthew (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing, 1992), 464. [4]Michael Green, The Message Of Matthew, (Downers Grove, IN: IVP Academic, 2000), 343. [5] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide To Discovering Truth, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1991), 194. [6] Dunn and Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary On The Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans P.C., 2003), 1047. [7] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew: Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 1999), 400.

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