Messiah in the Prophecies

The King and His Kingdom

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.—Matthew 11:28-30

The first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John —are called the gospels [good news] because they describe the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). Like the four seasons in a year, each has its own distinct beauty and loveliness. We read them  over and over and never tire of them, something that cannot be said of ordinary human history. Consider these stirring words from a nineteenth century biblical commentary:

“The Fourfold Gospel is the central portion of Divine Revelation. Into it, as a Reservoir, all the foregoing revelations pour their full tide, and out of it, as a Fountain, flow all subsequent revelations. In other parts of Scripture we hear Christ by the hearing of the ear; but here our eye seeth him. Elsewhere we see him through a glass darkly; but here, face to face. … So long as the Gospels maintain their place in the enlightened convictions of the Church, as the Divine record of God manifest in the flesh, believers, reassured, will put to flight the armies of the aliens.”—Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary, vol. 3, pp. iii, iv.

The first three gospels are called synoptic because they look at the life of Jesus from the same point of view; their “synopsis” of his life is similar. But similar does not mean identical. There are differences because the writers had different objectives. Mark, for example, was attracted to the events in Jesus’ life. Matthew was more interested in Jesus’ teachings, so he gathered together all he knew about what our Lord taught on any given subject. He did not follow a rigorously chronological approach.

Although many of the followers of Jesus had limited formal education, that would not be true of Matthew. He was a tax collector, which required education. When he responded to Jesus’ call to follow him, he left everything behind except his pen (Matthew 9:9). He and John were two of the twelve whom Christ selected to be constantly with him, so they were in a position to use their own eyes and ears to report all that he did and said.

Nonetheless, as most will attest, it is not easy to remember much of what others say, especially if one does not understand what was said. So how could Matthew and the other evangelists remember such detail as spoken by the master? The answer is divine inspiration. Peter invoked divine inspiration when he referred to the writings of the ancient prophets: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the holy spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NIV). Jesus said, “The Comforter … shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). Notice that the Comforter, a title for the holy spirit, would teach them the meaning of the words it brought back into their minds. Because the writers were able to convey the sense behind the words—though they often did not understand the words when they were first spoken—their written records are invaluable to the Christian community.

Matthew shows Jesus Christ as king, the Messiah promised in the prophecies the nation revered. But this was a king unlike any the world had ever seen. What other king said, “I am meek and lowly in heart”? Which king promised “rest” to his subjects? Yet Matthew 11:28-30 provides one of the best explanations of the spirit of the gospel message to be found anywhere.

The words king and kingdom appear more often in Matthew than in any other gospel [1] Matthew begins his gospel by stating that Jesus Christ is the son of David—a phrase found more often in his gospel than in the others—and the son of Abraham. Why these and not “son of God” as we find it in Mark (1:1) and Luke (3:38)?

To be the son means to be the heir. Jesus Christ was the heir of David, the one selected to establish an everlasting kingdom: “When thy [David’s] days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee … and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (2 Samuel 7:12,13). Jesus Christ was equally the promised seed of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 28:14; Galatians 3:6).

Matthew stresses the kingly nature of the new-born babe in Bethlehem. Instead of shepherds we find wise men bearing costly gifts who seek the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1). Jesus allows Pilate to call him the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11). On the cross there is the sign proclaiming him to be the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37).

Matthew’s view of Jesus as king permeates his writing. In Luke’s recounting of the parable of the marriage feast, the host is “a certain man” (Luke 14:16); in Matthew he is a king (Matthew 22:2). The first teaching of Jesus begins from a mountain (Matthew 5:1). Over and over Jesus demonstrates his right to be a law-giver with the words, “But I say unto you.” The kingly power of Jesus continues to the end of the book where again from a mountain Jesus uses words found no other place: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18), a phrase reserved for kings.

Because Matthew writes for a Jewish audience, he quotes extensively from what we call the Old Testament. He cites forty-three texts directly and eight indirectly. (An example of an indirect reference is in Matthew 11:14 where Jesus says, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come,” an indirect reference to Malachi 4:5.) Many of Matthew’s citations are not repeated in the other gospels. Thirteen of his quoted prophecies he specifically says were fulfilled by our Lord (see “That It Might Be Fulfilled,” p. 6).

The Jews thought of themselves as having an exclusive relationship with God, one that excluded Samaritans, Gentiles, and certainly Roman soldiers. Yet Matthew describes the miracle of the healing of the servant of a Roman army officer who was responsible for one hundred men. That centurion’s faith was so strong Jesus says of him, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).

Matthew also foresees a day when all mankind will be blessed because of Jesus:

“I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 8:11

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”—Matthew 24:14

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”—Matthew 28:19, NIV

Matthew describes a close relationship between believers and the heavenly Father. In his gospel Jesus speaks of, or to, God as his father twenty-two times, much more often than in the other gospels. He sees believers amalgamated together in assemblies. The Greek word ecclesia, translated church, is used twice in Matthew and never by the other evangelists.

Matthew’s gospel, the first book of the New Testament, brings a wonderful perspective to the life of our Lord. He is presented as a king presiding over a kingdom. The wonderful promise to his followers is that, if faithful, we will be with him: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).