We have to remember when we read a gospel account, the author’s intention is not just to relay the facts of what happened in Jesus’ life. The author’s intention is to organize the facts (and his own commentary on the facts) in such a way that the reader finishes the book with a certain impression about Jesus. It is as if the words and deeds of Jesus are various paints and Matthew—empowered by the Holy Spirit—has taken those paints and created a beautiful picture of Jesus. Get to know the real Jesus through each unique account. Let’s start with Matthew.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The primary theme of Matthew’s account is “the kingdom of Heaven.” But what does “kingdom of heaven” mean? And what is the kingdom of heaven?
First, when we think of the word “heaven,” we tend to juxtapose it with “hell.” We often think of heaven and hell as a pair of contrasting words. Interestingly enough, the Bible does NOT pair those words like that. The Bible says a lot about heaven and a lot about hell, but not together.
When the Bible (especially the book of Matthew) talks about “heaven,” the word with which it is most often paired is “earth.” Heaven is the space of God and earth is the space of man. The book of Matthew is all about Jesus bringing heaven’s kingdom to earth. And remember, when we talk about kingdom, we mean “rule and reign.” So, Matthew is painting a picture of Jesus as the one who has come to establish heaven’s rule and reign on earth.
Another way to put it might be like this, Caesar brings Rome’s rule, but Jesus brings heaven’s rule.
One thing to notice is that the kingdom of heaven would be established during the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries, but it would not be established in its fullness. The kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus’ parables, begins small and inconspicuous and it grows over time. As the rule and reign of king Jesus continues to expand today, we could say the kingdom of heaven has come, is coming, and will come.
Jesus rules and reigns today, but not over all the people. God’s will is not yet done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
A sub-theme is that of the law and prophets being fulfilled. When we read the word “fulfilled,” we shouldn’t substitute it with, “done away with.” Jesus didn’t come to say you should no longer pay attention to Israel’s Scriptures. In fact, the story of Jesus makes no sense without the background of Israel’s Scriptures. Jesus is saying he is the climax and pinnacle of that story.
When Matthew says something Jesus did to “fulfill” a certain verse in the Old Testament, you should not for a moment think Matthew is pulling something “out of context.” Nor should you think the Old Testament prophet was simply foretelling a specific event in the life of Jesus.
When you read, “This fulfilled what was written,” you ought to go and read the chapter from which the quote comes. You will find that often the prophet being quoted wasn’t speaking specifically about Jesus, but about Israel. Matthew is making the point that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel. Jesus is the living representative of the nation of Israel, the one who will fulfill Israel’s covenant with God.
God as Father
Another theme is that God is Father. He is the Father of Israel; and specifically of Jesus, the perfect embodiment of Israel. Like the nation of Israel before him:
- Jesus was brought out of Egypt
- He was brought through the wilderness
- He was tempted and tested
But unlike the nation of Israel, this Son of God was faithful to the Father. He did not fall away in the wilderness. He did the Father’s will. And through Jesus, even Gentiles will be able to become part of the new Israel and experience the love and care of a heavenly Father.
The Sins of Israel
When we concluded the Old Testament, we noted that the sins of Israel still loomed as a dark cloud over their heads. The people of God were still in exile, though some of them had returned to Jerusalem. 400 years later, Jesus finds them in the same predicament they were in during the days of Malachi. Jesus comes offering to forgive this sin.
We tend only to think of sin as individual; and there is certainly a sense in which it is individual. But if we do not understand that sin is also cumulative, then we will never understand the story of Jesus. The generation in which Jesus lived finished filling up “the cup” of sin their forefathers started filling up. Killing Jesus was the final act of rebellion that sealed the fate of the wicked.
However, on behalf of all those who would put their trust in him, Jesus drank the cup. He absorbed the guilt, shame, and death of all the sins of humanity that had accumulated or would accumulate. For every individual who would become his disciple, they could return from exile.
But many would persist in sin. Jesus was driving out the evil spirit from Jerusalem, but that evil spirit would return with “seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.” Jesus warned the wicked people of that generation that they would be shut out from the kingdom. They would be cast into the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna). They were sacrificing Jesus, as their forefathers had sacrificed innocent sons and daughters of Israel, and their fate would be one of judgement.
Not long after Jesus warned them to repent of their wickedness, God sent Roman troops to Jerusalem. As Jesus said, “They destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” The wicked people of Jerusalem who had long rejected the messengers of God and killed his son, were cast out into the darkness, where there was fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Disciples of Jesus
The book ends with a proclamation that Jesus is God’s anointed king with authority over everything in heaven and on earth. His disciples are sent out to the world to invite to the wedding feast as many they could find. Those who were originally invited rejected the invitation to be Jesus’ disciples, but now the invitation has come to us.
Now we can be his disciples by being baptized and learning to obey all he commanded. Now we can have God as our Father. Now Jesus can be our King. Now we can be part of God’s mission of bringing the kingdom, so his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
I love you and God loves you,