Introductory Notes by Arno C. Gaebelein

© 1994 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
Baltimore, Maryland

First Edition, 1948 Revised Edition, 1994

Unless otherwise indicated,
Scripture quotations are taken from the King James version of the Bible.

Introductory Notes taken from
Gaebelein ‘s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
© 1970, 1985 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.

Introductory Notes by Arno C. Gaebelein

The Gospel of Matthew stands first among the Gospels and in the New Testament because it belongs in the first place and may be rightly termed the Genesis of the New Testament. Matthew is the book of the beginnings of a new dispensation.

The Author

The instrument chosen by the Holy Spirit to write this Gospel was a Jew. Matthew belonged not to the religious, educated class, the scribes, but to the class that was most bitterly hated. He was a publican—that is, a tax collector.

The Roman government appointed officials whose duty it was to have the legal tax gathered, and these officials—mostly if not all Gentiles—appointed the actual collectors, who were generally Jews. Only the most unscrupulous among the Jews would hire themselves out for the sake of gain to the avowed enemy of Jerusalem. Wherever there was still a ray of hope for Messiah’s coming, Jews would naturally shrink from being associated with the Gentiles, who were to be swept away from the land with the coming of the King. For this reason the tax collectors, being Roman employees, were hated by the Jews even more bitterly than the Gentiles were.

Such a hated tax collector was the writer of the first Gospel. How the grace of God is revealed in his call is seen in the record. That he was chosen to write this first Gospel is in itself significant, for it speaks of a new order of things about to be introduced: namely, the call of the despised Gentiles.

Internal evidences seem to show that most likely originally Matthew wrote the Gospel in Aramaic, the Semitic dialect then spoken in Palestine, and the Gospel was later translated into Greek. This, however, is certain: the Gospel of Matthew is pre-eminently the Jewish Gospel. There are many passages in it, which in their fundamental meaning can only be correctly understood by one who is quite familiar with Jewish customs and the traditional teachings of the elders. The book of Matthew, as the Jewish Gospel, speaking of the King and the kingdom, is dispensational throughout.

The Content

Seven great facts are prominent in this Gospel, and around them everything is grouped:

(1) The King. The Old Testament is full of promises that speak of the coming of not merely a deliverer or sin bearer, but a King— King Messiah as He is still called by orthodox Jews. This King was eagerly expected, hoped for, and prayed for by the pious in Israel. The Gospel of Matthew proves that our Lord Jesus Christ is truly this promised King. Everything in Matthew shows that He is in truth the royal person of whom seers and prophets wrote.

To prove that He is legally the King, a genealogy is given. Showing His royal descent, chapter 1 begins, ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In Matthew the generations go back to Abraham, while in Luke they go back to Adam.

The wise men, whose visit to Bethlehem is only recorded in Matthew, came to worship the newborn King of the Jews. His royal birthplace, David’s city, is given in the account. The infant, we read there, was worshiped by these representatives of the Gentiles and they did homage, though the marks of poverty were around Him.

Every true king has a herald, and the King Messiah had a forerunner who told the nation that the kingdom was “at hand,” that the royal person so long foretold was about to appear. Testing the King, the devil showed Him “all the kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:8), but He came forth a complete victor and began His ministry.

The sermon on the mount is given in full in Matthew, but Mark and Luke report it only in fragments, and John has not a word of it. This is an indication that the sermon concerns the kingdom; in this wonderful discourse the Lord spoke as the King and expounded the principles that are to rule His kingdom. Later Christ was presented to Jerusalem as King, and in Matthew 21:9 we hear the Messianic welcome: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

His kingly character is brought out in Matthew’s account of His miracles, His imparting of power, His preaching, His teaching, His revelations, His suffering, and His death. In the closing scene the King says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (28:18). He rules in Heaven now and on the earth when He comes again.

(2) The Kingdom. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs only in the Gospel of Matthew. We find it there thirty-two times. If Israel had accepted the testimony of John the Baptist and repented, and if they had accepted the King, the kingdom would have come then, but now it has been postponed until Jewish disciples will pray again, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (6:10). That will be after the church has been removed to the heavenly places. The “kingdom of heaven” is not the church.

(3) The Rejection of the King and the Kingdom. This is foretold in the Old Testament in such texts as Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:26, and Psalm 22, and in such types as Joseph and David. In Matthew, prophecy is seen fulfilled in the rejection of Christ.

In no other Gospel is the story of the rejection so completely told as here. The herald of the King was first rejected, imprisoned, and murdered. Then came the rejection of the King himself. It began in Galilee in His own city and ended in Jerusalem. The rejection was not human, but Satanic; all of the wickedness and depravity of the heart was uncovered and Satan was revealed. All classes were involved in the rejection: the crowds who followed the King and were fed by Him, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the priests, the chief priests, the high priest, the elders. At last it became evident that they knew who He was, their Lord and their King, and they willfully delivered Him into the hands of the Gentiles. The story of the cross as related in Matthew brings out the darkest side of the rejection.

(4) The Judgment of the Lord’s Earthly People. This is another Old Testament theme that is very prominent in the Gospel of Matthew. We read for example of the Lord cursing the fig tree, which foreshadowed Israel * s national death (21:19). In 21:43 He declared to the chief priests and elders, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” In 23:37-39 He spoke of Jerusalem and declared that their house will be left desolate until they say, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The Lord’s earthly people rejected Him, He left them, and judgment fell upon them (see 11:21-24).

(5) The Mysteries of the Kingdom. During the absence of the King, the kingdom on earth is in its mystery form. The mysteries of the kingdom, which have been hidden since the foundation of the world, are now made known (see Matthew 13). But what is the kingdom in its mystery form? It is Christendom, which becomes what the King never meant it to be. The leaven of evil leavens the whole lump and thus it continues until the King comes back and separates the tares from the wheat.

(6) The Church. In no Gospel other than Matthew is anything said of the church. Here we read that Peter gave his testimony concerning the Lord, and the Lord responded, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (16:18). Note that He said, “I will build my church,” not “I have built.” Much that follows this declaration of the Lord is to be applied to the church. He spoke of His suffering and death and the glory that will follow.

(7) The End of the Age. This last fact is prominent in Matthew 24-25, which contains the prophetic discourse from the mount of Olives. In this passage, one of the most remarkable sections of the entire Gospel, the Lord teaches concerning the future of the Jews, the Gentiles, and Christendom, which includes the true church.

The Key Word

The key word of the Gospel of Matthew is “kingdom.” In the third chapter the herald of the King, John the Baptist, first announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The King himself, in beginning His ministry, preached the same message, and when He sent forth His disciples, He gave them this instruction: “As ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7).

But this preaching suddenly ended. John the Baptist was cast into prison, and the Pharisees and Sadducees opposed the King and the kingdom He preached. After the twelfth chapter we hear no longer the kingdom announced as being at hand. Instead, the Lord began to teach the mysteries of the kingdom. He announced His rejection and death, then went up to Jerusalem, where He was presented as King, then suffered, died, and rose from the dead.

The Gospel therefore has two main divisions. The first includes chapters 1-12, and the second, chapters 13-28.

The book of Matthew can be compared to a mighty tree. The roots are deeply sunk in massive rocks while its uncountable branches and twigs extend upward higher and higher in perfect symmetry and beauty. The foundation is the Old Testament with its Messianic and kingdom promises. Out of this, all springs forth in perfect harmony, reaching higher and higher into the new dispensation and to the end of the millennial age.