Is Jesus the Messiah? This is the question that the evangelist Matthew was seeking to corroborate for his audience. More than likely, the original audience of Matthew was a group of Jews who had converted to Christianity and who lived alongside other Jews who had rejected the message of Jesus. More than likely the following questions were being posed to these Jewish Christians:
If Jesus was the Messiah, why is it not so clear that he was the son of a Davidite? If Jesus was the Messiah, why have so many of our own people rejected him? If Jesus was the Messiah, why was our temple and holy city demolished so savagely by the Romans? If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he executed by crucifixion? If Jesus was the Messiah, why is it mostly Gentiles who are turning to him? Matthews’s fundamental answer to these questions is to announce that all these things that seem to disqualify Jesus as the Messiah are actually the fulfillment of Holy Scripture. The massive rejection of the Messiah by his people, the destruction of the temple, the crucifixion and the turning of Gentiles to the God of Israel actually demonstrate that he is the Messiah.
In the Matthean framework, the following five groups of texts serve to demonstrate his messianic status.
1. Genealogy of Jesus
Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that has left interpreters wondering just what it is that he's trying to say. I suggest that Matthew is communicating the following fundamental point through his genealogy: Jesus is the promised Jewish Davidic Messiah who is also the Messiah for all people.
There is no question that Jesus is Jewish. He is the son of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Calling Jesus a son of Abraham means that he's included in God's covenant with the Jewish people as his own special possession. Jesus is a Jew. Jesus is also the son of David.
Yet Matthew has made the bold move to include four women of dubious character in the genealogy of Jesus. It is striking that the Jewish matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are not mentioned in this genealogy. Rather, we hear of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. Why include these four Gentile women? Matthew appears to say that Gentiles have always been part of the people of God. In fact, to be a son of Abraham is necessarily to be for the other, for the nations. Thus, the ever-expanding Gentile character of the church actually confirms the genuineness of Jesus as the Messiah.
2. Parable of the Sower
By the time we reach Matthew 13, it is clear that something is not quite right. Jesus has healed, delivered, cleansed, and forgiven countless crowds. Despite his ministry of compassion, the crowds do not demonstrate the commitment to him which Jesus describes of a true disciple in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Matthew concludes this section on the ministry of Jesus by quoting from Isaiah 42:1, thus designating Jesus as the servant of Isaiah. Before the crucifixion, Matthew is thinking of Jesus as the servant of Isaiah due to his healing and his serving of the people.
But in chapter 13 Jesus addresses the problem of rejection with a number of parables, all of which appear to be saying that there will not be a satisfactory response to Jesus in this age of the kingdom of God. In order to explain this rejection, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6, which becomes the explanation of Israel's hard heart. Because they have been rejecting him, the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled. Jesus says: “You will indeed hear but never understand. You will indeed see and not perceive.” This rejection by the Jews and subsequent reception by the Gentiles is actually a fulfillment of Scripture. Isaiah 6 does show that the massive rejection does not mean that Jesus is illegitimate, but rather shows his legitimacy as the Messiah of Israel.
3. Destruction of the Temple
In AD 70, the Romans, led by Titus, destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. I am convinced that unbelieving Jews were blaming the Christians for the destruction of the temple. The accusation is that the Christians followed a heretic, Jesus. By following a heretic, they polluted the people of Israel, bringing God's judgment down upon the people of Israel in the destruction of the temple. How does Matthew want Christians to answer the unbelieving Jews? Matthew agrees the destruction of the temple was God's judgment, but it was not because of Jesus.
Matthew’s answer is found in Matthew 21-22. In Matthew 21:18-22, you have the cursing of the fig tree where Jesus condemns Israel for not having produced fruit. This will result in their judgment. Then you have a trilogy of parables prior: the parable of the two sons (21:28-32), the parable of the tenants (21:33-46), and the parable of the wedding feast (22:1-14). When you read all these parables together with the cursing of the fig tree along with the actual reporting of the cleansing of the temple (21:12-13), Matthew’s message becomes clear: the leaders of Israel have misled the people; they have been greedy for power, hypocritical, and disobedient. Because of their abuse of the people, God will judge them by destroying the temple. Henceforth, the leadership of the people of God will be given to the disciples of Jesus and taken away from the Jewish leaders.
4. The Crucifixion
The fourth event is the crucifixion. To say that the Messiah was a man who had been crucified could simply not be accepted by Jews. For the Jews, based on the reading of Deuteronomy, the one who hung upon a tree was cursed by God (Deut 21:23). They could not accept Jesus as the Messiah because he had been crucified. Yet, the Christian understanding of the crucifixion, stemming ultimately Jesus, becomes the center of God’s forgiveness. I would suggest that the Last Supper is crucial in this respect, functioning as the hermeneutic through which we are to interpret the crucifixion. When we do that, the following emerges: the crucifixion was actually the way that God healed the broken covenant. In the sacrifice of Jesus, God was forgiving the sins of the world, “I'm making a new covenant. This is my body broken for you. This is my blood of the Covenant shed for all” (Matt 26:26-30).
Furthermore, in the crucifixion, Jesus showed himself to be the righteous sufferer of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. When you read the intertexts of the crucifixion account, Psalm 22 keeps popping up. Jesus is the suffering servant, the righteous sufferer who has been rejected by his people. But his suffering, ironically, demonstrated that he was the Son of God, the king who reigned from a throne that was a cross. The crucifixion began the enthronement of Jesus, the real Son of God who was abandoned but then vindicated by his resurrection. Christians, in light of Jesus resurrection, began to understand the crucifixion in a different light. It is not just the account of a man who was cursed by God, but it's also the place where the King reigns. The crucifixion is the beginning of his enthronement, the beginning of his glorification.
5. Immanuel Forever
God's plan, if you have read Matthew carefully, has always included the nations in his purposes. Preaching to the nations is not the waving of a white flag but the fulfillment of God's eternal plan. As the disciples carry out their task, Jesus promises them, “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Immanuel, “I am with you,” “God with us.” The Gospel of Matthew concludes with bookends. Just as in Matthew 1:23, where Matthew tells us Jesus’s name will be “Immanuel,” the Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying “I am with you always to the end of the age.” So the message of the Gospel of Matthew is that in Jesus, God is with us.
As I see it, the biblical concept of application is irreducibly tied to the genre of the section of Scripture we are reading. Thus, the application of, say, Proverbs is going to be different from the application of Romans 12-13, and this, in turn, will be different from the application of Revelation 20-21. What we do not want to do is to flatten application so that it always looks the same. When we do that we are letting the culture dictate what application should be.
With that in mind, what are specific sermonic applications that flow from the Gospel of Matthew? I have four here that I want you to think and reflect upon.
- Without the Old Testament, we have no concept of who Jesus is. I do not think you can read the Gospel of Matthew and come away with something different.
- The truthfulness of the messianic status of Jesus depends totally on his fulfillment of the Old Testament. If Jesus does not fulfill the Old Testament, he is not the Messiah, quite simply.
- Our apprehension of this truthfulness that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament is not one we control through a disinterested, supposedly scientific testing of the facts. You cannot come disinterested and open the Gospel of Matthew and say, “He fulfills this Scripture here, and here he does not fulfill Scripture”! That's not the way it works. It is in the context of a community where the Holy Spirit dwells and that has been transformed by Jesus where we can hear God. As the Fathers of the church and theologians like Calvin, Barth and T. F. Torrance have taught us, God alone can reveal God. This means that we must come to God like beggars, pleading with him to reveal himself to us. We must come wanting to taste that the Lord is good and that the Lord is God. Only when we come seeking can we “figure out” if he has fulfilled the Scriptures or not.
- To be a follower of Jesus means that you are fundamentally for the other, whoever that other may be. In this way, we keep the law and the prophets, by being perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).
Watch the complete lecture from Dr. Padilla below: