While we have no means of knowing just when this gospel was written, or even whether (as some suppose) it first appeared in Hebrew, or was originally written in Greek as it has come down to us, it is very evident that it is placed rightfully at the beginning of the New Testament; for it is very definitely the connecting link between the prophets of old and the new dispensation of grace. The many quotations in it from the books of the prophets are designed to show how our Lord Jesus Christ came as the promised King of Israel, in exact accordance with the numerous predictions that God had inspired His servants to give from Abraham’s day to that of Malachi, when prophetic testimony ceased, and was silent for four hundred years, until John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, came declaring, “The time is fulfilled.”
Matthew is in a very real sense the Jewish gospel. This does not mean that it has no message for Christians, but rather that it is designed by the Holy Spirit to present Christ so as to make it clear to honest Jewish inquirers that He is the One of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. In 1:1-17 we have the genealogy of the King and in 1:18-25 the birth of the King. In 2:1-12 the Gentiles do homage to the King, and in 2:13-23 we see the preservation of the King. Chapter 3 gives the dedication and anointing of the King, while in chapter 4 we have His testing. In chapters 5-7 inclusive (the so-called “Sermon on the Mount”) the King unfolds the principles of His kingdom. From chapters 8-12 we see the King accredited by mighty works of power, but meeting with ever-increasing rejection. In chapters 13-20 we behold a new condition—that which was to prevail after the rejected King returned to heaven, and until He comes again. The kingdom of heaven is seen throughout in mystical form. In other words, it is the development of what we generally speak of as Christendom. The culmination as to Israel is seen in chapters 21-23, God’s earthly people set to one side because of their refusal to receive the King when He came to them in exact accordance with their own Scripture. Chapters 24-25 have to do with the second advent of the King. In chapters 26-28 we have His death and resurrection, closing with His commission to His disciples to go forth to the nations with the kingdom message.
The genealogy given in Matthew is that of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, lineal descendant of David and heir to the throne, through whom the throne rights were transmitted to our Lord. Christ’s birth occurred in Bethlehem late in 5 B.C. or early in 4 B.C., while the visit of the wise men took place possibly some two months afterward, and this was followed almost immediately by the flight into Egypt.
We need not be surprised to find that everything in connection with the advent of the King was of a miraculous character, when we realize that He was truly “Immanuel,” “God with us,” as predicted in Isaiah 7:14. When God came down to earth, how could it be otherwise than that certain natural laws should be suspended in order that He might enter into our world in a manner becoming to His majesty and power. So we see Him taking our humanity as born of a virgin mother. His coming was made known in some supernatural way to the wise men from the East, and His life was preserved by divine arrangement so that the malice of Herod could not reach Him in order to destroy Him. The beauty and simplicity of the narrative fills us with admiration and moves our hearts to worship and thanksgiving for God’s unspeakable Gift.
While it is of great importance that we observe and take into account the special dispensational place of this gospel, we shall lose much if we fail to realize that it is gospel, and not law. For the gospel is God’s message concerning His Son, and here the Son is presented in His kingly aspect that we may learn to reverence Him as such and bow in subjection at His feet.