Introduction To The Gospel Of Matthew
Today we begin a new study in the Gospel of Matthew.
This account of Jesus’ life was written by one of His twelve direct disciples. Also known as Levi, Matthew was a tax collector in Israel [Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32] which was a province of the Roman Empire at the time.
Tax collectors (also known as “publicans”) were hated because they were locals (Jews) who worked for the Roman government which was occupying Israel. As such they were seen as traitors. When they collected their taxes for Rome they would turn over the required amount of money but were allowed to keep anything above this amount that they could collect. This would be their income and was often obtained through nefarious means. For this reason tax collectors were often very wealthy and very much hated [Luke 19:1-10].
Because tax collectors were in partnership with the Romans, who were despised by the Jews for being Gentiles and also for their harsh treatment, tax collectors were considered the worst kind of sinners. Throughout the gospels tax collectors are often mentioned in the phrase “sinners and tax collectors” indicating that the Jews considered tax collectors to be a special kind of sinner that was worse than the others [Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1 et. al].
By calling Matthew to be one of His disciples Jesus was clearly telling everyone back then (and today) that there is no sin that can keep us from Him. Jesus came to save all people and can turn around the life of anyone who simply agrees to follow Him.
It is believed that Matthew wrote his gospel in the late 50s or early 60s which would have been about 25 to 30 years after Jesus ascended into heaven. This is important because many eyewitnesses to the events would have still been alive to corroborate Matthew’s account. Of course this does not mean that Matthew was working entirely from memory. Tax collectors were required to be literate and as such Matthew could certainly have recorded his first-hand observations with Jesus in real time only to publish them later.
Matthew’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ life with emphasis on His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. In fact, Matthew quotes from just about every Old Testament book. For this reason it is assumed that Matthew’s intended audience were Jews, as Gentiles would not be familiar with the Old Testament writings. His goal was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for for so long.
The Gospel of Matthew is the most frequently quoted gospel found in other ancient writings from the first and second centuries. There is a lot of great information in this book that is applicable to all people today, not just Jews. Matthew’s gospel is an eye-opener. By revealing the Old Testament prophecies that refer to the Messiah God promised to send and proving that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies and is, hence, that Messiah, Matthew gives extraordinary credibility to the Bible’s claims to be divinely inspired. After all, who else could have known that all these things would come true hundreds of years later but God?
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