The Gospel according to Matthew:
Christology and Discipleship by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
I) Christology: Matthew's Portrait of Jesus
The Gospel according to Matthew accepts and uses the main Christological titles found already in his main narrative source (Mark's Gospel), including Christ/Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Rabbi, and Teacher. But in contrast to Mark, Matthew adds several new titles and emphasizes certain aspects of Jesus' identity differently from Mark. Matthew's Gospel begins by identifying Jesus as "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (1:1), thus indicating Jesus' Davidic/royal and Abrahamic/Jewish heritage, respectively. Throughout Matthew's Gospel,
Jesus is also presented as "the New Moses" for the people of Israel, and is given a variety of other titles, including Emmanuel, Savior, Prophet, and King of the Jews.
Jesus as the Son of Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob)
- stresses Jesus' Jewish heritage
much more directly than Mark's Gospel did
At the very beginning of the Gospel: "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. / Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers..." (Matt 1:1-2)
In summarizing Jesus' genealogy: "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations." (Matt 1:17)
In John the Baptist's preaching to the scribes and Pharisees: "Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." (Matt 3:9)
When Jesus complements a Roman centurion's faith: "I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, / while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 8:11-12)
When Jesus argues with the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead: "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, / 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living." (Matt 22:31-32; citing Exod 3:6; par. Mark 12:26)
Jesus as the Son of David and King of the Jews (and King of Israel)
Matthew's version of Jesus' genealogy also stresses that he is the royal "Son of David": "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham... / ...and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah... / So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations." (Matt 1:1, 6, 17; cf. 1:20)
More subtle references to King David in this genealogy are three mentions of the number fourteen (the number of the name "David" in Hebrew gematria, since D=4, V=6, and only consonants are counted; thus D+V+D = 4+6+4 = 14). Moreover, the deportation to Babylon is also a subtle reference to the royal line of David, since it was at that time when the descendants of David ceased to rule as Kings of Judea (in contrast to the promises made in 2 Sam 7:11b-13).
Matthew later frequently stresses thatJesus is the royal "Son of David" (Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:1-9; 21:15; 22:42-45).
In Mark, the title "King of the Jews" is only used near the end of the Gospel: during the trial of Jesus before Pilate (Mark 15:2, 9, 12; cf. Matt 27:11), when the soldiers mock the condemned Jesus (Mark 15:18; cf. Matt 27:29), and on the titulus on the cross stating the reason why Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:26; cf. Matt 27:37). Before Jesus dies on the cross, some bystanders also mockingly call him "the King of Israel" (Mark 15:32; cf. Matt 27:42).
Already at the beginning of Matthew, the Magi from the East come in search of the newborn "King of the Jews" (Matt 2:2).
Note that kings also appear as characters in various parablesof Matthew's Gospel (Matt 18:23; 22:2-10; 22:11-13; 25:34-40), much more frequently that in Mark or Luke.
Jesus as a great Prophet and Teacher, like a new Moses
The name "Moses" is not directly used in a Christological
Title, nor can Jesus be called the "Son of Moses," since Jesus belongs to the Tribe of Judah, while Moses belongs to the Tribe of Levi (see a chart of Abraham's Descendants). However, Jesus is portrayed as being very similar to Moses in several interesting and significant ways:
Just as Pharaoh ( King of Egypt ca. 1300 BC) killed all the baby boys of the Hebrews, and only Moses is saved (Exod 1:22–2:10),
so also Herod (King of Israel at that time) kills all the male babies in Bethlehem, and only Jesus is saved (Matt 2:13-18).
When Moses' life is in danger, he flees from Egypt to Israel, but returns to Egypt after many years (Exod 2:15; 7:6-7);
when Jesus' life is in danger, he takes the reverse itinerary: from Israel to Egypt and later back to Israel (Matt 2:13-21).
Just as Moses goes up to a mountain to receive the Law (incl. the Ten Commandments) from God (Exod 19:3),
so also Jesus goes up to a mountain to give a new Law (incl. the Nine Beatitudes) to the people (Matt 5:1).
Just as Moses does not eat or drink for forty days and forty nights while on the mountain, recording God's Law (Exod 34:28),
so also Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights in the desert, being tempted by Satan (Matt 4:2).
Just as Moses was thought to have written the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Gen, Exod, Lev, Num, Deut),
so also the teaching of Jesus is contained in five speeches or extended "discourses" in Matthew (ch. 5–7, 10, 13, 18, 23–25).
Overall, Moses was considered the greatest teacher, prophet and lawgiver in the Hebrew Bible (and throughout the NT);
so also Jesus is portrayed in Matthew's Gospel as a great teacher, prophet and lawgiver, equal to or even greater than Moses.
Moses is explicitly mentioned seven times in Matthew (8:4; 17:3-4; 19:7-8; 22:24; 23:2), most of which have parallels in Mark;
the Matthean Jesus also explicitly upholds the law of Moses, rather than abolishing it (5:17-20; 22:35-40; etc.)
For many more parallels between Moses and Matthew's Jesus, see Dale C. Allison, The New Moses (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993).
Jesus as Emmanuel ("God with Us") and Savior
In Matthew's infancy narrative, an angel tells Joseph in a dream: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. / She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." / All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: / "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us" (Matt 1:20-23; citing Isaiah 7:14).
During a storm at sea, Jesus' disciples cry out, "Lord, save us" (Matt 8:25); and when Peter attempts to walk on water, but begins sinking, he similarly cries, "Lord, save me" (Matt 14:30).
Jesus several times teaches, "Whoever endures to the end will be saved" (Matt 10:22; 24:13; cf. 24:22).
When Jesus tell his disciples how hard it is for rich people to enter the Kingdom of heaven, they ask, "Then who can be saved?" (Matt 19:25; cf. 16:25)
While dying on the cross, Jesus is taunted by various groups of people: "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." (Matt 27:40; cf. 27:42, 49).
When the risen Jesus speaks to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee, his very last words are, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt 28:20; cf. 26:29)
II) Discipleship: Matthew's Description of Following Jesus, in Christian Life and Community
The ideal disciple is a loyal subject, who obeys the great King and does what the King commands:
In the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:19)
In the Lord's Prayer: "Your Kingdom come, your will be done" (Matt 6:10; longer than in Luke 11:2)
Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matt 7:21)
Jesus and a scribe dialogue about the greatest commandments: to love God and love our neighbors (Matt 22:34-40; similar in Mark 12:28-34)
At the very end of the Gospel, the risen Jesus instructs his disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20a)
The ideal disciple is a good student, who learns from the Teacher and understands what is taught:
Jesus' disciples understand his parables (Matt 13:51; contrast Mark 4:13)
Jesus tells his disciples to "Listen and understand" (Matt 15:10; similarly in 24:43)
When Peter asks Jesus to explain something further, Jesus challenges him, "Are you also still without understanding?" (Matt 15:16)
The disciples eventually understand when he tells them to beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Herodians (Matt 16:12; contrast Mark 8:17-21)
When Jesus speaks about Elijah, his disciples understand that he means John the Baptist (Matt 17:9-13; not in Mark 9:11-13)
Jesus admonishes his disciples: "But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. (only in Matt 23:8)
Disciples of Jesus are expected to live in "righteousness" or be "righteous" (i.e., live in "right relationship" with God and with other people):
Greek adjective dikaios (used 17 times) and noun dikaiosyne (7 times) occur much more frequently in Matthew than in the other Gospels.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matt 5:6)
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:10)
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:20)
"Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous (Matt 10:41)
Jesus teaches about the end of the ages: "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!" (Matt 13:43)
Matt 1:19; 3:15; 5:45; 6:1, 33; 9:13; 13:17, 49; 20:4; 21:32; 23:28, 29, 35; 25:37, 46; 27:19
Authentic discipleship requires putting faith into action, as illustrated in various sayings and parables:
John the Baptist preaches, "...every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt 3:10)
Jesus teaches, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:16)
Jesus uses analogies of trees and other plants producing good or bad fruit (Matt 7:15-20; cf. 12:33-37)
The parable of two people who build houses on rock or on sand (Matt 7:24-27)
The parable of the sower and the seed, only some of which produces a great yield (Matt 13:8, 23)
The parable of the two sons, one who first says no but then acts, the other says yes but does not act (only in Matt 21:28-32)
The parable of the ten bridesmaids (only in Matt 25:1-13)
The parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30; similar in Luke 19:11-27)
The parable of the sheep and the goats, in which the righteous are rewarded and others are punished (only in Matt 25:31-46)
Matthew's Gospel also stresses the reality of judgment, of the ultimate separation between good and evil:
This theme is already seen in many of the above texts that stress obeying God's commands and putting faith into action (and the consequences when people do not!)
The parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30; explained only in 13:36-43)
Several short parables of the separation of good & bad, evil & righteous (only in Matt 13:47-50)
Sayings about two men in a field and two women grinding meal (Matt 24:40-41)
Matthew's Gospel stresses the necessity for mercy and forgiveness (both offering and receiving) and reconciliation:
"So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, / leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. / Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him..." (only in Matt 5:23-25a)
In the Lord's Prayer: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12; similar in Luke 11:4)
Just after the Lord' Prayer: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; / but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (only in Matt 6:14-15)
When Peter asks, "Lord, if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" / Jesus replies, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." (Matt 18:21-22; shorter in Luke 17:3-4)
Jesus then tells the parable of the unforgiving servant (only Matt 18:23-35)
Jesus' words at the Last Supper: "Drink from it, all of you / for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt 26:27-28; the phrase "for the forgiveness of sins" is only in Matthew, not in the parallel texts in Mark and Luke!)
Note: Luke's Gospel also stresses the theme of forgiveness, in several pericopes not found in Matthew or Mark.
Discipleship is lived not just individually, but in community with other believers:
The discourse of Jesus in Matthew 18 deals mostly with various aspects and problems of relationships within the community:
Be humble, like a child, and don't cause anyone to "stumble" (18:1-10)
Parable of a shepherd with 100 sheep (18:12-14)
Four-step process for dealing with a community member who sins (18:15-17)
Sayings about "binding and loosing" and "where two or three are gathered" (18:18-20)
Peter's question about how often we must forgive (18:21-22)
Parable of the unforgiving servant (18:23-35)
Among the four Gospels, only Matthew uses the word ecclesia ("church"):
When Simon Peter tells Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," Jesus responds, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. / And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. / I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:17-19)
Part of Jesus' teaching about how to treat a brother who sins: " If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Matt 18:17)
Peter's leadership role in the church is emphasized more in Matthew than in the other Gospels:
Peter is clearly already prominent in Mark's Gospel, but many of the episodes contain subtle differences in Matthew's versions
Only in Matthew does Peter attempt to walk on water (Matt 14:28-31)
In their dialogue at Caesarea Philippi, Peter's words about Jesus and Jesus' response to Peter (Matt 16:17-19, quoted above) are much more elaborate in Matthew than in the other Gospels