Literature Study GuidesNew TestamentGospel Of Matthew Summary

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New Testament | Gospel of Matthew | Summary

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Summary

Chapters 1–2

The gospel opens with a genealogy and birth narrative.

  • Matthew traces the family of Jesus back to King David and Abraham, key figures in the Jewish Scriptures.
  • An angel appears to Joseph the carpenter in a dream to say Joseph's fiancée Mary is pregnant because of the Holy Spirit, and a child, Jesus, will be born in Bethlehem.
  • Magi (astrologers) from the east follow a new star to the birthplace of Jesus.
  • While the Jewish King Herod plots to kill the infant, the magi offer Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • Joseph hides his family in Egypt, returning to Nazareth after Herod's death.

Chapters 3–25

Jesus travels, preaches, teaches, and heals in his public ministry.

  • John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, while the Spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice announces that he is God's beloved son.
  • Jesus gathers 12 apostles, beginning with four fishermen who will now "fish for people" (Matthew 4:19), and they travel through Galilee "proclaiming the good news of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23) and healing many.
  • In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), Jesus announces Beatitudes or "blessings" for particular groups.
  • In Matthew 10 Jesus sends The Twelve out to preach and heal, warning them they will face persecution because they follow him.
  • Jesus tells many parables, or short symbolic narratives that culminate with a moral teaching.
  • In a conversation with The Twelve, Jesus praises Simon for identifying him as the Messiah and says now Simon will be called Peter and is the rock on which Jesus will "build [his] church" (Matthew 16:18).
  • Matthew 18–20 provides guidelines for living in a Christian community, especially the need for forgiveness and the dangers of wealth and power.
  • Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem by crowds waving palm branches and singing.
  • Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and the suffering that will come at the "end of the age" before the Son of Man arrives for the final judgment.
  • Parables in Matthew 25 advise people to remain watchful and be righteous.

Chapters 26–28

After his Last Supper with The Twelve, Jesus is arrested and crucified. He is raised from the dead.

  • Jesus shares a Passover meal with his disciples, offering them bread and wine that he identifies as his body and blood.
  • Judas betrays Jesus, who is arrested and sentenced to death by Pilate.
  • When Jesus dies on the cross, there is an earthquake and dead people come back to life and appear to people in the city.
  • On the third day an angel at Jesus's empty tomb tells Mary Magdalene and other women that Jesus has risen.
  • Jesus meets his disciples on a mountain in Galilee and commissions them to spread the good news.

Analysis

The Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus firmly embedded in Jewish tradition, as a Messiah who fulfills the promises of the Hebrew Bible. The evangelist constantly refers to prophecy and remarks that certain events took place "to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet" (for example, Matthew 1:22).

In many ways, the events of Jesus's life parallel the events of Moses's life, particularly as described in the book of Exodus. Already in Matthew's birth narrative there are parallels to the Exodus 2 story about Moses: a hostile ruler (Pharaoh/Herod) threatens and kills infants (Hebrew slaves/infants in Bethlehem), but the story's hero (Moses/Jesus) escapes through divine providence and returns to/from Egypt to lead his people.

Moses's important role as the lawgiver who brings the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) down from Mount Sinai (Exodus 20) is echoed in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 where Jesus, too, comments on the Mosaic law and ways to maintain a right relationship with God and with others. Even the dreams of Jesus's adoptive father, Joseph, create another link to the Hebrew Bible, for the patriarch Jacob had a son named Joseph, whose story is told in the book of Genesis (chapters 37–50). That Joseph was another famous biblical dreamer.

A second Hebrew Bible allusion seems to inform the evangelist: the prophets who bring God's message to God's people. The historical and prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible describe figures who arrive to share God's message when the people turn to idolatry or social injustice. Often, these prophets are rejected, even violently, by the Jewish people or their rulers who continue to commit acts that are not righteous. Jesus himself references this biblical pattern in Matthew 23:29–39. There is a repeated type-scene in the Gospel of Matthew where Pharisees and scribes, leaders of the Jews, challenge Jesus's teachings and reject his message (see Matthew 12:1–8 and 21:23–27).

At the same time, Matthew shows some unexpected groups such as tax collectors and sinners welcoming Jesus and his message. Even gentiles (non-Jews) such as the magi in Matthew 2 are more likely than Jews to accept Jesus in this text. When the people of Jerusalem call for Barabbas to be released and say of Jesus, "Let him be crucified!" (Matthew 27:22–23), the gospel implies that Jesus's passion and crucifixion reenact the Jewish tendency to reject God's prophets in the Hebrew Bible.

Another compelling feature of Matthew's account is its focus on unusual natural phenomena, especially at Jesus's birth and death. In part this might reflect a Greco-Roman fascination with interpreting omens. In Greek and Roman biographies, supernatural signs are said to accompany the births of many famous rulers, such as Alexander the Great. But the new star of Matthew 2:2 and the earthquake of Matthew 27:51 could also be linked to a particular view of God. The God who created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1–3 could certainly influence natural phenomena to mark the birth and death of his son.

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