The Gospel of Matthew: An Overview

The first book of the New Testament begins in a manner similar to the first book of the Old Testament: focused on genealogy (cf Matthew 1:1–17; Genesis 5). Matthew sketches for us a human landscape from Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, to Jesus, the Savior of Israel and of the nations. Matthew is keen to tell both the glorious elements of the story as well as the tragic ones. Throughout the book, Matthew emphasizes how Jesus taught and fulfilled the Word of the Lord for the sake of the people.

This blog post is adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion Volume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament,and Bible Dictionary.



The Gospel according to Matthew was apparently written for religious instruction, perhaps for Jewish Christians. Matthew helps his readers understand the Old Testament Scriptures correctly in view of Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (c 35 times). Within a generally chronological framework that is common to the first three Gospels, the arrangement of the deeds and words of the Christ is more topical than chronological. The facts are massed and marshaled in impressive and easily remembered units of three, five, and seven. This topical arrangement is not absolutely peculiar to Matthew; but it is found in Matthew in a fuller and more highly developed form than in any of the other evangelists.

Matthew used what one may call an “extreme case” method; that is, Matthew illustrates the bent of Jesus’ will by means of words and deeds that indicate the extreme limit to which Jesus went. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ miracles the first three are extreme case miracles, which illustrate the lengths to which the compassion of Jesus will go (8:1–15). Jesus heals the leper whom the Law cannot help, but must exclude from the people of God; He helps the Gentile who is outside the pale of God’s people; and He restores to health the woman whom some in Judaism degraded to the rank of a second-rate creature of God. The Gospel amplifies the uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching and mercy, which create a distinct body of disciples. 


A prominent feature in Matthew’s teaching about Jesus is the use of contrasts, similar to that process in the pictorial arts that creates its impression not by the clearly drawn line, but by the skillful blocking out of figures and features by means of contrasting areas of light and shade (chiaroscuro). For example, in the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew marks Jesus as son of Abraham and son of David, the crowning issue of Israel’s history (Matthew 1:1–17). The immediately following section is in sharp contrast to this: here it is made plain that God gives to Israel what her history cannot; the Messiah is not the product of Israel’s history, but God’s creative intervention in that history of guilt and doom; Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:18–23).

Thus the Christ portrays the absoluteness of His grace for mankind and the absoluteness of His claim upon them by recording both His claim to an absolute communion with God, which strikes His contemporaries as blasphemous, and His full and suffering humanity, which makes Him a stumbling block to His contemporaries. He is not a sage, so that His significance for mankind can be told in His words alone; He is not a hero, whose deeds alone can signify what He means in history. He is the Christ, and His whole person, His words and works as a unity, must be recounted if we are to know Him, believe in Him, and have eternal life in His name.

[Of the four Gospels], Matthew gives us the fullest account of the creation of the disciples, how Jesus called them, how He trained them, how they failed in the face of the cross, and how the risen Lord forgave and restored them. The five discourses of Jesus, which determine the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, are all addressed to disciples; and the last word of Jesus in Matthew’s record of Him is “Make disciples” (28:19). The thought that is in all the Gospels, that Jesus sought nothing and found nothing in the world except the men whom the Father gave Him, His disciples, comes out with special force and clarity in Matthew. As God is known by His works, so the Christ becomes known to others by His disciples, by the men whom He called and molded in His own image.

Summary Commentary

Chapters 1–2: In the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Matthew makes no effort to hide sinners and scandals. Instead, he highlights them. Jesus’ ancestors include prostitutes, adulterers, violent men, and other sinners of all descriptions. 

Chapters 3–4: When Jesus suddenly came to receive baptism, John [the Baptist] realized that he was unworthy to baptize Jesus, whom he recognized as the promised Messiah. When Jesus received Baptism from John, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, and God the Father spoke from heaven—a manifestation of all three persons of the Trinity.

Chapters 5–6: Jesus’ first discourse (chapters 5–7), the Sermon on the Mount. Only after Jesus has assured His disciples of God’s goodness to them does He call on them, in the rest of His sermon, to be good and do good. Jesus calls us to hide our good works when we are tempted to show them. Our works must glorify the Father.

Chapters 8–9: Cleansing the leper is the first of 10 miracles that Jesus performs. By calming a storm, Jesus shows His faithful disciples that He has divine authority (cf Psalm 65:7; 89:9). A paralytic brought to Jesus hopes for physical healing. He receives an even greater blessing: absolution.

Chapters 10–11: Jesus’ missionary (second) discourse. He selects representatives to extend His gracious kingdom. He concludes His sermon by promising a reward to those who support the Gospel message and fellow disciples. God’s gracious plan of salvation, hidden from the wise and understanding, relieves those burdened by the Law.

Chapter 13: The parable (third) discourse. Jesus teaches that when His laborer faithfully sows the seed, a plentiful harvest may follow, even if some seed goes to waste. 

Chapters 14–16: The feeding of the 5,000 is obviously important because all four evangelists have recorded this miracle that bolstered the disciples’ faith. When miracles fail to lead the Pharisees and Sadducees to faith, Jesus points them to the sign of Jonah, Jesus’ death and resurrection. He warns the disciples against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Peter confesses faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, a climax in the Gospel.

Chapters 16–17: The transfiguration is a foretaste of coming glory: Christ’s resurrection and His earthly appearances afterward, His ascension, and finally heaven. He tells His disciples repeatedly that He is going to suffer, die, and rise.

Chapter 18: The forgiveness (fourth) discourse. Jesus demonstrates that humility is the hallmark of greatness in the kingdom of heaven. One need look no further than Jesus’ words about temptation to see how much the holy God hates sin. yet Jesus compares the Father’s love for His little ones to that of a shepherd who left his 99 sheep to search for the one who went astray. 

Chapters 19–20: When questioned about marriage and divorce, Jesus emphasizes that a lifelong, monogamous union is God’s intent for a man and a woman. For a third and final time, Jesus predicts His Passion. Jesus continues to convince His disciples that in His kingdom, humility and service, not acclaim and power, are most highly valued. 

Chapters 21–22: Palm Sunday is another high point, as a crowd at the Jewish capital openly acclaims Jesus as Messiah. Jesus further provokes the Jewish leaders by driving merchants and money-changers out of the temple. By cursing a fruitless fig tree, Jesus reveals symbolically God’s judgment against the faithless and fruitless. He avoids every trap set by His opponents, correctly identifying love for God and for neighbor as the two main concerns of the divine Commandments.

Chapters 23–25: Jesus sharply criticizes the scribes and the Pharisees for hypocrisy and obstinacy. Just days before His sacrificial death for all people, He laments the fact that so many of His people reject Him and the gift of eternal life. Jesus’ (fifth) discourse about the end times fills chapters 24–25. On the Last day, Jesus will separate true believers from hypocrites and those who reject Him. 

Chapter 26: Both Jesus and His enemies long for His impending death. Judas agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. As Jesus transforms the Passover into the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins, He warns Judas against betraying Him. While Jesus prays three times in Gethsemane, His disciples give themselves over to sleep rather than to prayer. Judas betrays Jesus. Jesus stands trial before the Council. He notes that He will come again to judge them and all who have sinned. He makes this confession so He can go to the cross and die for all who have perverted justice. Peter denies Jesus three times.

Chapter 27: The leaders in Jerusalem hand Christ over to Pilate for judgment.  Jesus silently listens to His accusers. The crowd chooses Barabbas instead of Jesus, and Pilate condemns Jesus to death. The Roman soldiers mock Jesus. He is crucified, reviled, and dies. After Jesus is buried, the chief priests and their allies secure Jesus’ tomb to prevent a faked resurrection. 

Chapter 28: The story concludes with the testimony of various witnesses. The women see the empty tomb and the angel, who proclaims that Christ has risen. The guards report His resurrection to the authorities, but the authorities prefer to create and spread a lie. Christ commissions His disciples as witnesses, to go and make disciples of all nations through Baptism and teaching. 

Martin Luther on Matthew

In his prefaces to the New Testament (1522, 1546, etc.) Luther wrote that there is only one Gospel, which is proclaimed throughout the Scriptures:

“The gospel, then, is nothing but the preaching about Christ, Son of God and of David, true God and man, who by his death and resurrection has overcome for us the sin, death, and hell of all men who believe in him. Thus we see also that he does not compel us but invites us kindly and says, ‘Blessed are the poor,’ etc. [Matthew 5:3]. And the apostles use the words, ‘I exhort,’ ‘I entreat,’ ‘I beg,’ so that one sees on every hand that the gospel is not a book of law, but really a preaching of the benefits of Christ, shown to us and given to us for our own possession, if we believe. 

That is what Christ meant when at the last he gave no other commandment than love, by which men were to know who were his disciples [John 13:34–35] and true believers. For where works and love do not break forth, there faith is not right, the gospel does not yet take hold, and Christ is not rightly known. See, then, that you so approach the books of the New Testament as to learn to read them in this way.” (AE 35:357–61)”

Blog post adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion Volume 2: Intertestamental Era,
New Testament,and Bible Dictionary
 copyright © 2014. Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture: ESV®.

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