The Global Message of Matthew
Jesus Christ is the climax of the Bible and of all of human history. He brings the whole Old Testament to fulfillment, and he is also the means by which salvation floods out to the nations. Matthew’s Gospel thus has much to say to the global church today as God’s people, comprised of both Jew and Gentile, seek to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
Matthew and Redemptive History
The purpose of creation was that mankind, made in God’s image as his ruling representatives, might be fruitful and multiply and spread God’s glory throughout the earth. This quest was repeatedly hijacked by sin, however, throughout the Old Testament. After Adam and Eve sinned, Noah was called by God to be fruitful and multiply, thereby assuming the mantle of spreading divine blessing (Gen. 9:1). After Noah ended his life in shame (Gen. 9:20–23), God called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to carry this mantle (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:5; 17:2; 22:17–18; 28:14; 35:11). Yet they too proved to be sinners, and unequal to the task. The nation of Israel, led by Moses, was also called to be fruitful and multiply (Deut. 6:3; 7:13), but it too failed in this worldwide mandate.
But at what proved to be the center of human history, God sent a Second Adam, a new Moses, a true Israel, to spread divine glory throughout the earth. This was Jesus Christ. He was called God’s “Son” just as Adam and Israel had been called God’s “son” (Luke 3:38; Ex. 4:22–23). This, however, was the personally divine Son of God, now incarnate, who gloriously succeeded in his mission. Indeed, he was the perfect prophet, priest, and king who succeeded where all the previous prophets, priests, and kings had failed. As he tells the story of this second Adam, Matthew connects his Gospel account to the Old Testament more frequently and more explicitly than any other Gospel writer. He repeatedly sees Jesus as the one who “fulfills” the promises of the Old Testament (e.g., Matt. 4:14–16; 8:17; 12:17–21; 26:54, 56; 27:9). And beyond explicit connections of Jesus to individual promises of the Old Testament, Matthew structures his whole Gospel in this way. Jesus gives five extended discourses, for example, echoing the five books of Moses—with whom Jesus also explicitly links himself (5:17–48).
In presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, Matthew shows that Jesus is the one through whom God’s original blessings of creation are to spill forth to the world. Perhaps the commission of Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply throughout the whole earth is in the back of Jesus’ mind in his own commission to his disciples to fruitfully multiply disciples throughout the whole earth (Matt. 28:18–20).
Universal Themes in Matthew
The new family of God. The new community of faith is not defined by lineage from ethnic Israel. Rather, the new community transcends ethnic boundary markers and is defined by trusting faith in the Messiah, the coming king, Jesus. Jesus extends mercy to Gentiles (Matt. 12:18, 21) even as his own Jewish kinsmen are hard-hearted and resistant to the gospel (e.g., 23:1–39). The blessing that was intended to spread to the nations in the Old Testament finds realization in Jesus, who creates a new family of God composed of men and women from every tribe and people group and nation.
The global dimensions of discipleship. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18–19). The final charge to his disciples, built on the full authority (28:18) and everlasting presence (28:20) of Jesus, is to make disciples of all nations. The Christian gospel is not for a certain culture or class; it is not a parochial or regional gospel. It is a gospel for all, in fulfillment of God’s original call and promise to Abraham that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
The dawning of the kingdom and the coming new earth. Throughout Matthew, Jesus declares that the kingdom of heaven is dawning (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 11:12; 13:44–46). This is a worldwide kingdom, into which all people around the world are invited (24:14). And one day the consummation of this kingdom will be complete: explaining to his disciples what it takes to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus expressed the hope of a completely restored new earth, covering the globe as a fully restored and undefileable new Eden: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28). The Greek word here translated “new world” means “renewal” or “regeneration” (see Titus 3:5, the only other place this word is used in the New Testament). Here it refers to the total rebirth that the cosmos will undergo upon Christ’s return. No corner of creation will go un-restored. In Jesus the kingdom of heaven has dawned, and its final fulfillment is sure.
The Global Message of Matthew for Today
With Jesus, the dawning of the kingdom means that the curse of Genesis 3 has been dealt a decisive blow and the diseased fallenness of the world is beginning to lift. Matthew shows Jesus calming storms, rebuking demons, healing sickness, teaching his disciples, and cleansing the temple, all in fulfillment of Old Testament messianic hopes of a coming deliverer. In all of this, Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of heaven. He is reversing the curse of the fall (Gen. 3:14–19). The world is being restored to the way it was meant to be.
As Christians around the globe find themselves embattled with the effects of the fall—Satanic warfare, political oppression and corruption, economic adversity, dysfunctional family relationships, infant mortality, large-scale hunger, shortage of clean water—we are reminded from Matthew’s Gospel that amid all the darkness, light shines. And this light, though often repressed, must one day encompass the whole earth as Christ returns in final victory over sin, death, and Satan (Rev. 21:1–22:5). In the meantime, it is the church’s privilege to spread the love of Christ not only through word (for the next life) but also through deed (for this life), as the parable of the final judgment makes plain (Matt. 25:31–46).
Above all, global Christians remember the final three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, in which the entire account climaxes. Here we see Jesus not only defeating Satan by casting demons out of people but defeating Satan by stealing his power of accusation: Jesus bears the punishment his people deserve, so that Satan can no longer accuse them. Here the Lamb of God is forsaken so that his people around the world and down through history, despite their sin, will never be forsaken (Matt. 27:46). Here the temple curtain is torn in two from top to bottom, because the way is now open for God’s people to meet with God openly and boldly—wherever they live, rather than only in Jerusalem (see Acts 1:8).