Introduction to Matthew
Who was Matthew?
Matthew (Levi) was a young tax collector who gave up everything to follow Jesus when he met Him. Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 mention Levi, believed to be Matthew’s original name.
Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and also the first listed synoptic gospel. A ‘synoptic gospel’ is one that tells stories that are similar in style and order. The first three of four gospels are synoptic, with the gospel of John being different in style. Matthew is not a complete narrative of the life of Christ, nor does it claim to be. However, it does show that Jesus is the long-expected Messiah of Israel and the only lawful claimant to the throne of David.
Matthew may be the first to appear in the New Testament canon, but is not necessarily the first to have been written. That distinction is generally thought by scholars to belong to Mark.
So why does Matthew open his gospel account with a genealogy that leads up to Christ? First of all, this basically summarizes the entire Bible up until His birth, if you look at the people involved and read their stories. It also shows the reader how Christ fulfills prophecy as the One promised as the Messiah. To sum it up, the purpose is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal king.
400 years had passed since the last of the Old Testament prophecies and Jews were still waiting for the coming of the Messiah (Luke 3:15). Matthew is gong to present Jesus as the King and Messiah who will reign forever, as indicated in Isaiah 11:1-5. At this time in history, Rome controlled the land of Israel, largely considered an insignificant outpost by many in the whole picture of the vast empire. Family lineage was important to the Jewish people (as it is to many different people today), and Matthew chose to use this approach to establish Christ as the promised One who would deliver His people. This genealogy is the first of many ways Matthew used to establish the position of Jesus as the Messiah.
In the first 17 verses we meet 46 people whose lifetimes spanned 2,000 years and who were the ancestors of Jesus. They varied in many ways: position, wealth, reputation and experience. They illustrate (as the Life Application Bible puts it) that God is not limited by human frailties and sins in His work throughout human history. We will consider some of them to illustrate God’s use of imperfect people to achieve His perfect goals. Aside from some women of notorious repute we will list momentarily, some prominent male figures had very questionable ethics and dealings in the past, yet God was able to use them in key ways to achieve His purposes. Two of note listed in Matthew’s gospel include: Abraham, who was a liar (Genesis 12:10-13) and King David, who murdered his friend after committing adultery with his wife to cover it up. Other Bible characters of importance who did some bad things include Moses (a murderer), Paul (killed many Christians) and Peter, who denied Christ three times. Paul was well aware that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
(Read note on Matthew 1:3-6 in Life Application Study Bible).
Matthew 1:1. Jesus Christ. The word we use for our savior in English is Jesus. The actual name in Hebrew is Jeshua and means “the LORD is salvation.” Christ comes from Christos and means “anointed one.” It is the exact equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (Dan. 9:25). The Son of David is a term found in the Synoptic gospels as a messianic title. The title Son of Abraham establishes His royal lineage all the way back to the nation’s inception in the Abrahamic covenant found in Genesis 12.
5 women Matthew lists in his genealogy:
1:3. Tamar. It is unusual for women to be named in genealogies, yet Matthew names 5. She was a Canaanite woman who posed as a prostitute to seduce Judah (Gen. 38:13-30).
1:5. Rahab. A Gentile and a prostitute.
1:6. Ruth. She was a Moabite woman and worshiper of idols. The woman with whom David begot Solomon was Bathsheba, former wife of Uriah and who had committed adultery with him while Uriah was away in battle.
Mary. In 1:16 we see the name of Mary, who bore the stigma of unwed pregnancy (even though we know she conceived by the Holy Spirit).
Other interesting points worth mentioning:
Jeconiah is mentioned in verse 16. He was a King who was cursed by God as recorded in 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 (NKJV). Had Jesus been the real son of Joseph, He would have fallen under this curse. But in reality, we know He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was rather the legal son of Joseph, allowing Him to be the heir to the throne through Joseph.
1:18. The Birth of Jesus Christ. Most of us know the story of the first Christmas as told by our parents, the church and in song. But there are interesting things to note that some may not now. Mary became pregnant while betrothed to Joseph. In the culture of the day, that was every bit as much considered adultery [by those who did not know the circumstances] as it would be, had she already been formally married to Joseph. (A betrothal commonly lasted a year before the marriage ceremony took place). So Joseph, who obviously loved Mary and had no wish to harm her, decided to quietly “put her away” (the equivalent of divorce). He knew that he would be considered complicit in the matter and disgraced as well, should word get around that he was aware of the situation but chose to do nothing about it. Of course he changed his mind, once he received word from an angel as to what he was to do.
1:22. Prophecies fulfilled. Matthew points out fulfilled prophecies no less than a dozen times in his Gospel.
1:23. Immanuel. See Isaiah 7:14.