This is the first free day of our read through the New Testament. So here are some thoughts about the gospel of Matthew. First off let’s look at Jesus’ genealogy. Both Matthew and Luke have Jesus’s genealogy but they are somewhat different. Both follower King David’s line but Matthew follows David’s son Solomon while Luke follows David’s son Nathan. A possible explanation is that Matthew records Joseph’s genealogy while Luke records Mary’s. Genealogies were a big deal in Judaism and the Old Testament because land rights were apportioned for families in Israel and because certain offices were passed from father to son. Sometimes genealogies ran a record from the past to the present to illustrate religious themes, family descent, political ties, and simple chronology. Most lists were representative rather than being a complete list of every individual. Unlike Luke, Matthew’s purpose is to show Jesus’ heritage as running from Abraham through David. That confirms Jesus as a legitimate heir to David’s throne. Matthew goes back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. In contrast, Luke goes all the way back to Adam. This is consistent with Luke’s emphasis on Jesus as the Savior for all people everywhere. Matthew included five women in his genealogy, an unusual mention of women with stained reputations, two of them Gentiles. Matthew emphasizes God’s Grace to redeem even those deemed unworthy by others. Matthew, a hated tax collector knew this first hand.
One of the groups of people who play a prominent role in Jesus life and ministry are the Pharisees. They were one of three major Jewish sects along with the Sadducees and the Essenes. The Pharisees were a non political lay movement within Judaism. They arose from the Hasidim or pious ones. They opposed the syncretizing of Greek culture and religion with Judaism in the 100’s B.C. The Pharisees attempted, by rigorous examination of the details of the Old Testament law, to make the law accessible and practical to people seeking to be obedient Jews. They taught strict adherence to the law, not only the written law of Moses, the Torah, but also the oral traditions which they claimed Moses had passed down to them. Their goal was to defend the written law against any possible infringement. Pharisees were God fearing and law abiding people. They were famous for passing their interpretations from generation to generation by word of mouth establishing an oral tradition concerning legal matters. They argued that if the laws were obeyed by all, the nation would be purged of sin and God would establish His kingdom over all nations. Their traditions developed into rabbinic writings known as the Mishnah and the Talmud. Pharisees were small in number but their influence on Israel was widespread. The primary influence of the Pharisees was in the local synagogue communities. The Sadducees were more influential in temple worship in Jerusalem and in the Sanhedrin; the Jewish high council. Unlike true Sadducees, the Pharisees had a strong belief in the resurrection of the dead. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Pharisees provided leadership and direction for the people of Israel. Jesus often came into conflict with the Pharisees, accusing them of hypocrisy and of elevating human rules over God’s righteous standards. Jesus opposed the Pharisees because they were leading people away from God’s plan for redemption. They were theological shepherds of Israel, but Jesus castigated them as hypocrites for their perversions of doctrine and practice. In Matthew’s gospel the Pharisees oppose the work of God from the outset, mostly because of their meticulous observance of the law and Jesus’ shocking disregard of their traditions.
The Sadducees were from the priestly class. They lived near Jerusalem and were powerful aristocrats, but they did not have great influence with the people. The Pentateuch was their primary scriptural authority. They rejected oral tradition and did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, angelic beings, or final judgement. They opposed Jesus because He affirmed these things. When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. the Sadducees disappeared from history.
Essenes were a separatist Jewish sect who, like the Pharisees had their roots in the separatist movements that arose during the 100’s B.C. when Greek culture was spreading. The Essenes left the cities and lived in small towns and separate communities. Initiation to the Essenes community took several years and required solemn oaths to maintain precise doctrinal unity, and to foreswear property and any food but the food of the community. They lived a frugal, even ascetic, communal life in separation to other Jews.
Zealots in the time of Jesus were a militant, anti Roman, revolutionary faction. One of Jesus’s disciples was or had been a Zealot. (Simon Luke 6:15). Zealots opposition to Roman rule was rooted in zeal for the Torah and for God the only King. The zealots regarded themselves as agents of divine judgement and redemption, fearlessly contending against idolatry and apostasy. The zealots thought the Messiah would come to lead them. Those who didn’t follow Christ died at Masada in 73 A.D.
Priests were responsible for Jewish worship in the temple in Jerusalem, which was central to Jewish life. So, the priesthood was held in considerable authority. They were also powerful politically through their association with the Roman government and their control of the Sanhedrin. Most internal matters in Judaea were within the authority of the Sanhedrin, whose membership included the ruling and former high priests and a large number of Sadducees, many of whom belonged to influential priestly families.
The last major group were the scribes. They were teachers of religious law. Not only did they copy the Jewish law, but they also taught and interpreted it for the people. They were closely affiliated with the Pharisees and were highly respected as authorities. The teachers of religious law were hostile to Jesus. They disapproved of His mingling with the unclean and outcasts, and His interpretation of the law threatened their authority within the community.
One of the phrases you have read in the Book of Matthew is “Son of Man”. This was Jesus’ favorite way to refer to Himself. One of the reasons Jesus preferred this is because it wasn’t as inflammatory as Christ or Messiah. This term is used in three ways in the Gospels. The background to this title comes from the Book of Daniel 7:13-14 where an exalted Messianic figure “like a son of man”, (that is having a human form), comes with the clouds of heaven and is given great glory and power. Jesus understood Himself as that one who would return to earth in the clouds of heaven. Sometimes Jesus used “Son of Man” in this sense, to refer to His role as judge, deliverer, Savior, and vindicator. Jesus also used this phrase to describe Himself as a suffering redeemer. This comes from Isaiah 52:13-53:12. At times Jesus apparently used the title to refer to Himself as the representative of humans. The Book of Ezekiel (2:1-8) uses this title in a similar sense. However, Jesus did not use “Son of Man” to distinguish His humanity from His deity, which is “Son of God”. By using this title Jesus could define Himself as Messiah on His own terms. He used it to describe His total identity and as a veiled suggestion that those who watched and heard Him should pay attention to who He is.
The writer of the gospel of Matthew was Jesus’s disciple Matthew, or Levi as he was also called. Matthew was a tax collector for the Romans. Tax collectors were notorious for stealing from the people. As long as they could collect what Rome wanted they were free to charge whatever they wanted over and above that for themselves. Many tax collectors were wealthy because of this, but their wealth came at a price. They were some of the most hated people in Israel. Jews who collected taxes for the Romans were generally considered despicable sinners by their fellow Jews. It is significant that Jesus called a tax collector to become one of His disciples. His father’s name was Alphaeus and some wonder if he was the brother of James, son of Alphaeus but there doesn’t seem to be any real connection and their names are not linked in the lists of disciples like the other brothers are. When Matthew invited Jesus to his home to eat with his friends He was criticized for being with the low life of Israel. Jesus used this moment to teach the importance of compassion, emphasizing that it was precisely for sinners, not those who considered themselves righteous that He had come. Matthew responded immediately to Jesus’ call, leaving everything behind to follow Him. Matthew’s gospel, written for his fellow Jews, gives us a Jewish perspective on the life and teachings of Jesus. It includes topics of special interest for those from a Jewish background. His Gospel was the most popular Gospel in the early church which is probably why it occurs first in the canonical sequence.
Just like today, eating meals together was a big deal. It was a religious matter among the Pharisees and other observant Jews. Righteous Jews enacted many regulations to prevent themselves from being ceremonially defiled at meals. It as not done so much to exclude others as it was to show commitment to the law. Most Jews lived by the food laws most of the time. Jesus did so too. But He also regularly, purposefully, and offensively ate with those who were ritually unclean or whose commitment to the law was inferior. Sharing a meal with another indicated both covenantal and social equality. The Pharisees, believing that separation from such sinners was a necessity for righteousness, were offended by Jesus’ sharing meals with such people. However, this was a means of enacting God’s Grace. Jesus extended God’s love and forgiveness, welcoming open participation in a new society. This practice developed into the early Christian communion meals.
One of the battles we see in the New Testament is between Jesus and the evil one. In Matthew he is called satan, meaning adversary, the devil, the tempter, the prince of demons, beelzeboul, the evil one, and the enemy. Jesus’ mission of announcing and bringing in the kingdom of God inevitably led to conflict with the evil one’s forces, including exorcisms. Matthew records that the evil one had power over kingdoms and that he has angels at his command. His primary tool is temptation though there are many others in his tool box. His goal is to generate disobedience to God. Since Jesus Christ is the agent of God for the salvation of humanity, the evil one attacked Jesus first. But Jesus Christ had defeated him and will eventually strip him of all his power. What a grand and glorious day that will be.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W