The Theme Of The Gospel of Matthew

matthew

Welcome to Kyle Shearin’s class at the Crown College. Glad to have this opportunity to share this with you.

The Gospel of Matthew holds a special place among the books that make up the Word of God. We must carefully analyze the features of Matthew to determine what our Lord intended us to have in giving it to us.

The Theme of Matthew     

             Traditionally, the theme of Matthew has always been described as Jesus is the King of the Jews. Without doubt, there is much about Jesus as a King with His Kingdom in this Gospel. Israel is especially in view and the Jewish people are clearly the original intended audience. However, does that really express fully the purpose of our Lord giving us the Gospel of Matthew? We believe the idea that Jesus being the King of the Jews starts us down the path to an understanding of Matthew’s Gospel, but does not alone capture the essence of what we are to see here. The purpose for this Gospel is not so much that Jesus is the King of the Jews, but rather coming to terms with who Jesus the King of the Jews really is.

As we consider Matthew, how do we get to the theme? We find that various strands of thought are woven together with divine hands.[1] If we think about Matthew, what are the key elements that we find? With the Jewish emphasis of Matthew’s Gospel, surely the thought of Jesus Christ fulfilling all that the Old Testament said about the Messiah is one. As we progress reading, we see that Jesus Christ shows Himself mighty as He performs miracles of the greatest magnitude. As stated before, there is much about the Kingdom and we find that Jesus Christ the King explains, and in a way never seen before, governs His Kingdom. What also becomes progressively clear as one proceeds through Matthew is that Jesus Christ faces rejection. That rejection comes amid the irony of the great evidence of Who He is. These strands of thought taken together bring the theme of Matthew clearly before us. The theme of the Book of Matthew, then, is that Jesus Christ the King of Israel is the Son of God.

With this theme in mind, we can see how carefully it is carried through the Book of Matthew. Jewish people had their ideas of what a king and his kingdom should be and this had to be shown, particularly to Jewish readers. This kingdom is not made up of political elements as much as spiritual ones. Why would this need such careful explanation? The Jewish people, Matthew’s original audience, knew their Messiah would be a powerful and mighty king, but they were not seeing that He was the very Son of God. He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but the Old Testament only touched the hem of the garment. King Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, is the Son of God.

In developing the case that the theme of Matthew is that Jesus the Messiah was the Son of God, we notice many trends contained in the pages of Matthew. Take the title “Son of God”, which is mentioned 8 times in Matthew, and notice its usages. The first three mentions of the title are spoken by either Satan or a demon.[2] Matthew even highlights the irony of the depths of the rejection Christ faced by showing that the Devil and his henchmen admit what those in Israel could not. The double irony also developed is that this rejection in no way overthrew or even hindered what King Jesus planned for His Kingdom. Particularly in 8:29, the demons, in a state of abject fear, tell what they know to be fact when they call our Lord “Jesus, thou Son of God.” What better evidence could there be than this confession? In the Gospel of Matthew the Jewish reader, as well as all other readers, must grapple with the fact that Jesus, though not the king Israel wanted, is the King Who is the Son of God.

Another usage of the title “Son of God” appears in Matthew 14:33. There in one of the greatest physical miracles that Jesus performed in His earthly ministry He rescued His terrified Disciples in a ferocious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Matthew gives the most detail on this great miracle. Only he records Peter walking on the water to Christ, growing afraid and sinking, and then being grabbed by Christ before going under. When Jesus stepped into the boat, the winds ceased. This miracle was so awe-inspiring that the Disciples with worshipful hearts proclaimed: “Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” For the record, Matthew was one of those Disciples. Jesus Christ is clearly more than an earthly king, more even than a king with God on His side. He is the Son of God.

The next three usages of the title “Son of God” come from His enemies.[3] Each case is one of mocking sarcasm. The High Priest at His sham of a trial, the crowd of human vultures around His cross, and finally the chief priests, scribes and elders at His cross ridicule Him in His sufferings. The irony the reader of Matthew sees is all that the first 25 chapters told us of Him. His reception does not match the facts of His Person. He is the Son of God.

The final usage of “Son of God” in Matthew is the most ironic of all. Jesus has just died on the cross. Matthew records the statement of a Roman centurion: “Truly this was the Son of God” (27:54). With his rank in the Roman army, this was not the first crucifixion he had witnessed. Likely, he had grown accustomed to the grisly scene of death. This story happens against the backdrop of Israel’s rejection. This soldier’s allegiance is to a king in far-away Rome while the King Who was worthy of all allegiance is rejected by the people privileged to have Him in their midst. The irony–even a despised soldier of the occupying army could see that He was the Son of God. How powerful this presentation must be to the heart of a Jewish person that is Matthew’s target audience. In that a book of the Bible is for both the generation when written as well as later generations, this theme of Matthew makes a powerful appeal to those who read it today.

In a passage unique to Matthew, Peter’s confession of Christ is given (16:16). Peter was a man of many, often misplaced, words, but here is his shining moment. He proclaims, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is the Christ, the great Messiah-King. Matthew’s Gospel presents Peter’s statement as a positive statement of obvious truth. In 16:17, 18 Jesus Himself agrees with and commends Peter’s statement. As the Jewish reader considers what he reads in Matthew, he cannot fail to see that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. In addition, Peter, one close to Him, claims the same thing. Peter is a Jew, raised with full knowledge of Jewish teaching and custom, and an intimate association with Jesus makes him willingly state that Jesus is the Son of God. Again, that ought to be fodder for thought to a Jewish person in Matthew’s target audience. Would you not agree that after 2000 years it has lost none of its punch? We Gentiles, not part of that original audience, are at no loss whatsoever. Matthew’s Gospel remains the profound book that moves us to see that Jesus our Savior is the Son of God. Such are the timeless writings of the Almighty God.

The theme of Jesus the Messiah being the Son of God is shown throughout Matthew beyond the usages of the title “Son of God” itself. Chapter 1 begins showing that Jesus is of the kingly line of Israel but moves right into showing that He is the Son of God. Matthew 1:1-17 gives us Jesus’ pedigree, which proves a legal right to Israel’s throne. This genealogy is beyond dispute, as the Sanhedrin would have exposed any evidence to the contrary. There was none. The best they could do was to deny the Virgin Birth and call Him the “carpenter’s son”. Joseph, a man who grew up in the Jewish mindset, became convinced He was the Son of God. For the record, though the kingly line has long since been cut off, Joseph is the one man in that line and he believes. In fact, the Sanhedrin never once denied His kingly heritage, but always denied that He was the Son of God. Matthew’s Gospel carefully shows this to its readers. Israel desperately wants a Messiah, but Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God and has ideas contrary to all of Israel’s plans. There is where the conflict arose and that is what Matthew is giving the Jewish reader to contemplate.

We cannot even get out of chapter one before all this becomes fully apparent. Matthew 1:21 says His name is JESUS, which is Savior. Israel would gladly accept a king to save her from her political troubles. Matthew’s Gospel, though, tells us “he shall save his people from their sins.” That is another matter altogether and explains a great deal of the rejection Jesus Christ faced.

Matthew 1: 22-23 goes on to tell of His Virgin Birth. Matthew’s Gospel of the four Gospels gets the task of highlighting the Virgin Birth. Can you guess why? Surely, it is to help the Jewish reader see that Jesus the King, Israel’s great Messiah, is more than a great king. It is not that He is more dynamic as a king, or that He is innately greater because He is Jewish, or even that He is more favored by God than any other king that has ever lived; no, it is because He is the Son of God.

Another strand of thought that brings our theme together is that Jesus fulfills all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. Matthew 1:23-24 offers Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. It relates what Jewish readers of the Old Testament apparently missed. Jesus Christ, the King, is Emmanuel, or “God with us.” God is with us in the person of God the Son. The Jewish reader has that groundwork laid early in Matthew’s Gospel in order to think about it as the remainder of the Gospel is read. It is the essential theme for the Jewish reader or for us, in that; it takes that essential truth–Jesus is the Son of God– to gain from the life of Jesus Christ. That it is a continuation of God’s revelation begun in the Old Testament only adds to it.

Matthew does not give all the human-interest side of Jesus’ birth as does Luke, but only Matthew’s Gospel gives us what is found in chapter two. Many of the strands of thought that combine to give us Matthew’s theme comes out here. An obvious allusion to Daniel 9:27 for timing and Micah 5:2 for place shows Old Testament fulfillment. Miracles involving the star and supernatural warnings show the uniqueness of Jesus and are a prelude to His mightiness that will be shown throughout Matthew’s Gospel. He is the King of the Jews as even the Wise Men can see. The irony of His rejection comes into clear focus as the religious leaders of Israel who through the Scriptures know the time and place of the Messiah’s birth ignore Him. There is no celebration at His birth and no one even makes the effort to go the six or so miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. That would surely smite the Jewish reader’s heart. The reader is left to wonder if the Jews who claimed to want a Messiah, and who did want political help with Rome as well as more freedom and power, knew more than they let on. Did they see that He is the Son of God with a spiritual agenda? Is that why they have no use for Him? The wonder of the Holy Spirit’s design in Matthew’s Gospel is that this all works together as a powerful polemic to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

No doubt, Jesus’ earthly ministry was far removed from what many Jews expected. It is not what you would think an earthly king would do. For example, Jesus inaugurates His ministry with a baptism.[4]  Where is the coronation? We should see, however, that no matter what expectations were, Jesus is the Son of God. The dramatic scene at the Jordan River shows us. The Father Himself states: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Israel is not pleased, but the Father is. Ouch. How this must pierce the heart of the Jewish reader. In that there is rejection in all of our hearts, this should move us as well.[5]  It is as if the Father reserved for Himself the first mention of Jesus being the Son in Matthew, the first of the New Testament in fact.

Chapter 4 moves on into Christ’s temptation. Besides the practical teaching on facing temptation, the reader can see that this Jesus Christ is not a mere man. Not even the greatest man, nor the strongest king, could triumph as Jesus did here. He is the Son of God.

The Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven given us early in this Gospel shows us His perfect teaching. Matthew’s Gospel records the fullest account of that famous sermon. You hear the ring of the Old Testament in it, yet it is so much more. So spiritual, so discerning, so unselfish, and so unlike the heart of man is His sermon. He is the Son of God.

Matthew’s Gospel presents its material in a uniquely organized way. While the other three Gospels are for the most part chronological, Matthew has one whole section that is not.[6] Outside of this section Matthew is mostly chronological, but in this one section the material is given in topical form.[7] In relation to the theme, Matthew’s Gospel puts some of the greatest miracles early.[8] This might especially help the Jewish reader to see that Jesus is the Son of God. In Matthew’s design the earlier this truth can be ascertained the better. You and I now with four Gospel records to read are blessed to have one of them with this approach.

After the aforementioned special topical section in Matthew’s Gospel, there are other places where the theme shines through. Besides the episodes where the title “Son of God’ is mentioned, there are passages like the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-13. Yes, two other Gospels tell the same story, but reading Matthew straight through you see it falls in line with the theme. That Jesus stands above Moses, the great Lawgiver, and Elijah, Israel’s famous larger-than-life prophet, speaks volumes. A great king would not have credentials to overthrow them, but the Son of God does. That no misunderstandings develop, the Father speaks again: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.” Notice too in the story of the Transfiguration that Matthew puts great emphasis on Jesus’ brilliant radiance so that we would not miss that we read about the Son of God.

Then there is the account in Matthew 18:20 where Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” While a king could not do that, the Son of God could. Jesus also told parables with Himself in them.[9] For example, in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandman Jesus is the unique son.[10] Even the casual reader can see that “the son” is none other than Jesus Christ the Son of God.

In the aforementioned trial of Christ where the High Priest sarcastically mentions the title “Son of God,” that same episode gives another irony that the reader of Matthew’s Gospel should not fail to see. Jesus is condemned on the very charge of claiming to be the Son of God.[11]  By this point the reader of Matthew already knows He is the Son of God and it is Jesus’ accusers who are the blasphemers.

Another thing we see throughout Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus forgives sin.[12]  What would be evident to all readers is that only God could do that. Matthew’s Gospel, then, has presented its theme in various ways since chapter one so the foundation is laid before we are told of the greatest event of human history¾the Death, Burial, and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus on the cross is the act of paying for sin so that it can be forgiven. No king could do that deed; no, only the Son of God could.

Think of His Resurrection. We are so beyond the pale of men, so beyond a great king, and so beyond what even the most optimistic Jewish person could hope for in a Messiah. He conquers death! He is the Son of God.

Even how Matthew’s Gospel ends highlights our theme. Each of the four Gospels ends highlighting a different event. Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission that is the King’s orders until He returns. Still, Matthew 28:18 is the pinnacle of what Matthew has been saying to his Jewish readers and to us. There Jesus says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Look at the scope of His power. Look at the borders of His Kingdom. He is not a mere king, or even the greatest king. Israel is just a portion of His vast Kingdom. Israel’s Messiah is just a snapshot of His Eternal Person. The Jewish perception cannot contain Him. No, it is clear, as Matthew’s Gospel labors to show, that Jesus Christ the King of Israel is the Son of God.


[1]      See the chart “The Theme of Matthew”

[2]      Matthew 4:3, 4:6, and 8:29.

[3]      Matthew 26:63, 27:40, and 27:43.

[4]      Matthew 3:13-17.

[5]      The point of this discussion is not to highlight Israel’s guilt regarding Jesus Christ as much as to show a loving appeal given on their behalf.

[6]      The section is Matthew 4:12-14:13. It corresponds to the “Early Great Galilee Ministry” as shown on the chart “Overview Harmony of the Gospels”.

[7]      See the Chart “Shadow Division of Matthew IV”

[8]      Matthew 8:1-9:34.

[9]      These particular parables are often called Kingdom Parables.

[10]      Matthew 21:33-46.

[11]      Matthew 26:57-68, particularly verse 65.

[12]      Matthew 1:21; 20:28; 26:28.

Email me if you want a pdf of any chart referenced.

30 thoughts on “The Theme Of The Gospel of Matthew

  1. When Jesus refers to himself, he favors the identity of “the Son of Man,” a phrase that points back to Dan. 7:13-14 where one like a son of man was given dominion and glory and kingdom (by the heavenly Ancient of Days), that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. Thus Matthew prefers the phrase “kingdom of (or from) heaven” to describe Jesus’ new kingdom: it begins when Jesus is anointed as king by the Spirit from the heavens and begins to announce his new kingdom in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt. 3:16; 4:15-17). As the Great Commission makes clear at the end of Matthew, Jesus is the king of a new international kingdom of disciples (beginning with some Jewish disciples). And Jesus’ ongoing conflict with Jewish rulers shows that the plot conflict of this story is Jesus’ kingdom of heaven versus the kingdoms of earth, beginning with the kingdom of Israel.

  2. The emphasis if the Kingdom in the first book of the New Testament exhibits the importance of this doctrine, establishing a theme for the remainder of the Bible. Here is the king, the very Son of God, introducing his kingdom, explaining entry requirements and other specifics to the Jews. The Jews reject the kingdom, so it is held in abeyance as the king seeks another people, a bride, to occupy the heavenly sphere.

  3. Revealing the motive of who the Jews wanted, for personal reasons, vs. the one Matthew was describing that had come. Displaying the evidence of His lineage to the throne only magnifies His true person, the King of Kings, the Son of God. The one that will be rejected by many gave so much.

    • There is a saying in Bible study, “All the Bible is for us, but not all the Bible is to us.” This article brings this truth out. The intended audience is the Jews and the message is this is your Messiah, the Son of God. But we also glean from this Gospel the great truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He has all authority over all people. We also see that without reconizing who Jesus is, the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again, we cannot be saved. It is amazing to see the rejection of the Son in the book of Matthew. But through this rejection came the death of Christ, and His resurrection, which without we would all be lost without hope.

  4. As I read down through this article, I was reminded of a truth we discussed last semester, why God gave us the Bible. The answer was to reveal Himself to us. We can see God through all 66 books of the Bible. The gospels are accounts of the life of Christ given by four of His disciples. We learn of Christ’s birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection. As you have clearly explained, in Matthew one of the major themes is who Christ is – the Son of God, King of the Jews.

  5. I find it very interesting how Matthew transitions quickly from Jesus’ royal birth, the son of David, the son of Abraham, to John the Baptist heralding Christ. As we see in Chap 3, John was baptizing Jews a procedure up to that time that was reserved for Gentiles.as part of the cleansing requirement to become a Jew. It irritated the religious leaders because the Jews were considered clean because they had their father Abraham. John points out that there was a new requirement for the Jews to have clean hearts and be baptized as an outward sign of committment to a new life. John continues the theme of royalty by announcing King Jesus was coming and the Jews must be ready for their King. Unfortunately the Jews didn’t understand that He would come as the Lamb for the sacrifice of mankind fulfilling our greatest need which is a sinless savior who, through his death, burial and resurrection, overcame death, hell and the grave. Praise God!

  6. The Kingdom of God is essential to fully understanding the Bible and the plan of God. I enjoyed the reminder that no one was celebrating the birth of the Christ child, neither will anyone be celebrating nor looking for His second coming in all of His glory.

  7. Bro. Reagan, I appreciate your reminder that there is so much more to Bible study than any one set of labels can entail. It is true that many expositors over many years have done great research and contextual work to determine the traditional themes we apply to various portions of Scripture. These are certainly helpful for us to gain an initial grasp of the overall point of the particular passage. However, we must never be content to settle for our current level of understanding. Your point that Matthew is not just about Jesus as the King, but also as the Son of God, reminds us that there is always another layer to peal back in our study of Scripture. There is always deeper meaning than what we have already gained, and, ultimately, we always need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s illuminating us as we endeavor to plumb the depths of this greatest of all Books.

  8. The biggest thing that truly spoke to me reading through this is the fact that the devil acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. There are so many people as you pointed out including the Jews that reject this fact. The devil who is always trying to deceive people into not following The Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him is the same devil that recognizes the truth about Jesus. How truly hard is it to believe that The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. For His people to reject Him and others even now who reject Jesus is a sad thought. This was an excellent breakdown of the Book of Matthew, thank you.

  9. What I really found interesting from this article was the breakdown of the usage of term “Son of God” found in the book of Matthew. I had never noticed who used the term and when the term was used while reading through the book of Matthee. It is interesting to me that six out of the eight times the phrase “Son of God” is used, it is by devils or enemies of God.

  10. With the theme of the Gospel of Matthew primarily focused on “Jesus Christ the King of Israel is the son of God”, no one could doubt that fact with the multiple verses throughout which support this theme. As I read this article I could not help but think, the greatness of this man and the miracles recorded early in this Gospel should have provided enough evidence to drive men to action. However, we see the rejection He continually faced by His chosen people, the Jews.
    The interesting facts you listed in your article, concerning the rejection Christ faced then…and relating it to the same rejection we see even today does not surprise me. The fact that Satan and his demons reject the “Son of God” even though they recognize His Godhead in stating “Jesus, thou Son of God” serves as a motivator to continue for the faith…in serving the Son of God.

    I think your best statement in the paper states, “His rejection does not match the facts of His Person. He is the Son of God” points to the fact that not only Satan rejects Christ for who he is, but Christ’s own people (High Priest, Crowd of human vultures, chief priests, scribes and elders) ridiculed Him in His sufferings. Furthermore, these same religious leaders (His own people) who knew the Old Testament Scripture, rejected the prophecies in Daniel 9:27 (the timing of his birth) and Micah 5:2 (the place of His birth) and did not even bother to show up for His birth.

    As I stated earlier, those who rejected Him then and even today, prepared this world for a Redeemer. Had not the Jews rejected Him and his Godhead, we would not be in a position where the Redeemer could be extended “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24) as part of God’s Divine Plan.

  11. Your point,” Matthew’s Gospel carefully shows this to its readers. Israel desperately wants a Messiah, but Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God and has ideas contrary to all of Israel’s plans. There is where the conflict arose and that is what Matthew is giving the Jewish reader to contemplate.” is the same conflict people have today. People do not want the Jesus of the Bible. There is nothing new under the son. They wanted a Messiah to free them from Roman rule and most people today want a Messiah to take them to heaven, but not to tell them how to live.

  12. Enjoyed the article! The Jews idea of a king was different than what our King embodied. The Son of God coming to everyone and propagating the Great Commission!

  13. What a good read! What stood out to me the most is how Israel rejected Him while God was “well pleased” with Him. Should we be surprised that God’s stiff-necked chosen were fulfilling and continuing their reputation of rebellion against God? Is it any wonder why they failed to reach their full potential and accept the blessings God wanted for them? This is John 1:11 at its finest…or worst rather.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s