The New Testament begins with the four gospels - the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. "Gospel" means good news. The good news is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. These four gospels tell us about the life, the ministry, the teachings, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. God's promises which He had made to His people are now fulfilled in Jesus. The New Covenant is ushered in.
Each gospel is named after the person who wrote it. These four gospels are similar yet distinctive accounts - four different perspectives, and four different viewpoints, and they were written to four different audiences, and they focus on four different questions about Jesus. But all four gospels reach the same conclusion as to the identity of Jesus. He is the Son of God.
Knowing the viewpoints, audience and focus of each gospel will enhance your reading and understanding.
Let's start with the Gospel of Matthew.
Who was Matthew?
Matthew was Jewish.
He was one of the 12 apostles.
He was also called Levi.
His occupation when Jesus chose him was a tax collector. Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people because they worked for Rome and often ripped off their own people.
Matthew's viewpoint was he was Palestinian Jewish.
His audience was a Jewish cultural world.
Matthew was focusing on the question Is He the Messiah, the King of Israel? He was writing to the Jewish people to prove Jesus is. Matthew presents the life and ministry of Jesus as the fulfillment of the long awaited Messiah.
The Gospel of Matthew was written around 60-70 A.D. Why is this important? People who had witnessed the events happen were still alive and knew they were the truth.
Matthew begins his account with the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah. This genealogy shows Jesus is the legal descendant of David through the royal line. Without this genealogy it would be impossible to prove Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel.
I wrote a blog on this. You might find it interesting to read.
A key word in the Gospel of Matthew is "fulfilled." Matthew focuses on how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises and God's redemptive plan for Israel and the world.
Jesus fulfills all of the OT prophesies!
Isaiah revealed the manner of the Messiah’s birth (of a virgin)
Micah pinpointed the place of His birth (Bethlehem)
Genesis and Jeremiah specified his ancestry (a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)
The Psalms foretold His betrayal, His accusation by false witnesses, His manner of death (pierced in the hands and feet, although crucifixion hadn’t been invented yet), and His resurrection (he would not decay but would ascend on high)
And on and on.
Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus walked the earth!
The word fulfill ties Jesus Christ to the Old Testament and highlights the faithfulness of God.
Now that you know Matthew was writing to the Jewish people to tell them their Messiah had come, you will notice things in this gospel that are distinctly Jewish.
For instance, Jewish tradition was there had to be 2-3 witnesses for every fact to be confirmed (Deuteronomy 19:15). Note as you read Matthew how often two or more witnesses confirm the events around Jesus. (Matthew 9:27 – two blind men.)
Matthew talks about how Jesus gave Himself as the spotless, perfect blood sacrifice for all sinners, once for all time. The Jewish people are well aware of the sacrificial system and Passover.
The Gospel of Matthew sets forth the distinction between law and grace. The Jewish people were well aware of the Law.
A key concept in all four gospels is the "kingdom of God." But Matthew most often calls this concept the "kingdom of heaven." (31 times Matthew calls it the "kingdom of heaven" and 4 times he calls it the "kingdom of God.") The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is found only in Matthew’s Gospel, but “kingdom of God” is found in all four Gospels. They mean the same thing. Matthew most often use the phrase "kingdom of heaven" because the Jews, out of their intense reverence and respect, did not pronounce God’s name.
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
..., Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Matthew may have originally written primarily to a Jewish audience, but as children of God we are grafted into His people and the Gospel of Matthew is for us too.
Matthew is an excellent way to start the Good News.