Essay, Research Paper: Matthew's Christology


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Matthew’s Christology is one that emphasises to a Jewish audience the
Jewishness of Jesus. It will be the purpose of this paper to argue that the
raison d’etre of Matthew’s Christology is to portray Jesus as entirely
compatible if not with the Judaism of his day then with ancient Judaic
tradition, namely the Old Testament. Whilst there are numerous titles given to
Jesus that are exclusive/predominant within the Matthean account, such as that
of Son of God, it is the writer’s assertion that these merely complement
Matthew’s central theses; this being the portrayal of Jesus as Messiah and so,
as such, will not be investigated except where they promote this conclusion.
This fulfilment of Judaic tradition will be investigated in three separate yet
interrelated areas: Jesus as the fulfilment of Hebraic messianic expectation,
Jesus’ role as a Jewish teacher and Jesus as inaugurator of God’s Kingdom.
Matthew is a Semitic gospel written as an encouragement to Jewish Christians and
as an apologetic to unbelieving Jews. From the outset Matthew identifies Jesus
as one of royal Davidic lineage and Abrahamic descent. Matthew immediately
identifies with Judaic tradition portraying Jesus with the Immanuel figure of
Isaiah 7:14 (1:23). This motif of the Jewishness of the gospel is especially
prevalent in its depiction of Jesus’ role as the fulfilment of the Old
Testament’s messianic hope (2:4, 26:63) as well as running throughout the text
on varying levels. Perhaps one of the most interesting theories offered in
detailing this continuation between testaments is Leske’s proposal that
Jesus’ role and ministry is antecedent to the Isaianic literature, and, in
particular, the Servant nation of Israel. Whilst a comprehensive critique of
Leske’s argument is outside the scope of this study, it would seem fair to
concur that Matthew does indeed identify Jesus with the Servant (cf. 3:17;
Isaiah 42:1). Consequently, we see in Matthew’s depiction of Jesus a
fundamental tenet of Israel’s theological history personified. Jesus is, as
the Messianic Servant, shown to be the fulfilment of further Isaianic prophecy,
that of the suffering Servant. Throughout Matthew’s gospel there are six
direct allusions to Isaiah 53 indicating a definite link and identification by
Matthew with this Israelite and Messianic hope. Further, Farmer suggests that
direct allusions notwithstanding in 20:20-28 and especially 26:26-30 Isaiah 53's
redemptive hope is supposed to be fulfilled through Jesus’ description of the
outcome of his crucifixion. Isaianic prophecy aside it is also clear that
Matthew above the other three evangelists presents Jesus as the fulfilment of
the law, a new Moses. The structure of the book into five sections is intended
to help the Jewish readers identify Jesus as an antecedent of Moses. Jesus is
according to some scholars a type of Moses bringing about a new exodus and a new
Israel. More explicitly however, Matthew portrays Jesus as the only man to have
fulfilled the law in its entirety as well as the messianic fulfilment of Old
Testament prophecy through the many formula quotations (3:15; 5:17-48;12:17-21;
13:35; 21:5, 16, 42; 22:44; 23:39; 26:31; 27:9, 35, 46). Judaism as a religion
placed great stress on the role of the rabbi or teacher, the concept of a
teacher having students/disciples is ancient, Elijah and Elisha being cited as
examples(1 Kings 19:19-21). In the Judaism of Matthew’s time such
relationships were symptomatic of the religious climate with the array of
schools of disciples that existed. It is not surprising then that Matthew in
addressing recent adherents to this religion should portray Jesus as a teacher
with his own band of disciples albeit a distinctive one. Whilst it must be noted
with France that in comparison with Mark Matthew uses the term rabbi
infrequently this should not be taken to mean Jesus as teacher is an
inappropriate title to Matthew. Clearly, Jesus is revealed as Messiah far more
explicitly than in the other synoptics but, Jesus nonetheless describes himself
as a rabbi (3:15; 5:17-48; 11:27; 13:10-17; 23:8) and others recognized his
similarity to other teachers and thus addressed him as such (8:19; 9:11; 12:38;
17:24; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36). As teacher Jesus is portrayed as the revealer of
God’s will and Israel’s true teacher and as such one of the central motifs
of Matthew is Israel’s rejection of His teaching (cf. 11:1-12:50). In line
with many Old Testament prophets Jesus’ teaching is rejected. (5:10-12;
24:14). Further, the parabolic teaching of Jesus which is emphasised in Matthew
is typical to rabbinic teaching of the day as well as the subjects used in these
parables. This familiarity in teaching is especially predominant in the Sermon
on the Mount. Matthew depicts Jesus as antecedent to Moses especially in regard
to its emphasis on ethical teaching. Further, the location on the mountain is
very reminiscent of Moses’ unveiling of the law upon Sinai as well as Jesus’
active comparison of his teaching with that of Mosaic law (5:21, 31, 33, 38, 43)
in contrast to the Lucan account (Luke 6:27-35). What is clear is that Jesus is
presenting a teaching that while distinct is precedented from within the Mosaic
law itself and is thus seeking to affirm to the Semitic audience the
authenticity of his mission. One of the central features of Jesus’ teaching as
Messiah is his stress on appropriating the teaching and not merely internalize
it. It is this very principle that Matthew portrays Jesus displaying in Jesus’
teaching on the Kingdom of God. Hebraic expectation of the Kingdom of God was
primarily teleological. The Kingdom of God was an apocalyptic hope. What is
characteristic of Jesus’ ministry however is what has in recent years been
labelled realized or inaugurated eschatology, that is, the present reality of
the Kingdom in the temporal. Jesus’ synopsis of His message is given in 4:17,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and, in so doing Jesus is,
according to Keener, employing “typical Jewish periphrasis for God” and
emphasising the cruciality of Jesus’ ministry as bringing about the awaited
for the reign of God. This idea of the immanence of the kingdom is especially
paramount in Matthew more so than in any other gospel with its emphasis in the
parables of the kingdom. Jesus in these parables emphasises that while God’s
reign is not complete, in His followers the kingdom is present and expanding,
this is especially true of the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast. In
addition, Jesus is described not just as an emissary of the kingdom, the
kingdom-bringer. He is also shown to be the king Himself. Jesus is described as
being of royal lineage, He is the Son of David and the Son of Man Judaism was
anticipating. Such references would not be lost to the Jewish hearers, Jesus is
King of the Jews (26:64) and thus the king of the kingdom was present. This
motif in Matthew of the presence of the kingdom is exemplified in the way Jesus
is depicted as a miracle worker, one who is ushering the kingdom into physical
reality. Matthew depicts Jesus’ miracles as evidence of this inauguration of
the kingdom (11:2-6; 12:28). As Son of David Jesus is shown to be bringing the
kingdom through his healings (9:32-34; 12:24). Perhaps the clearest example of
this inauguration of the kingdom through Jesus’ actions is Matthew’s
description of the presence of the kingdom in the passion. The passion as the
means of forgiveness of sins and thus fulfilment of the prophetic kingdom hope
of Isaiah 53 is displayed to be a primary means of the inauguration of the
kingdom and an anticipation of the kingdom’s final consummation. Further,
Matthew portrays the resurrection in a typical Jewish apocalyptic linguistic.
The description of the angel’s descent, the earthquake and the fearful guards
makes 28:2-4 appear “to recount the events of Easter morning as though they
were events of the last times”. Clearly then Matthew is reflecting, to an
extent, the intertestemental Jewish apocalyptic writings. So, to conclude, the
predominant theme of Matthew’s Christology is Jesus’ continuance from Judaic
tradition and scripture. Jesus is shown to be the consummation of Mosaic law and
to be the Messianic figure from the prophets. This is notably true in regard to
Isaiah’s Servant songs, particularly the Suffering Servant, namely Isaiah 53.
Secondly, Jesus is shown to be a teacher, following many conventional rabbinic
customs. As a teacher He is shown to be antecedent to Moses particularly through
the Sermon on the Mount and thus while still a teacher one such as Israel had
never received before. Finally, Jesus’ mission is, in 4:17 shown to bring
about the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth and thus fulfil Judaic
eschatological hope. In all of these areas Matthew is portraying Jesus to be the
Messiah Israel was anticipating, but, like other scriptural prophets one who
would be rejected by His own people.BibliographyAland, Barbara and Aland, Kurt. “Loci Citati Vel Allegati”, Nestle-Aland
Greek-English New Testament, 8th ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
1994. Byrskog, Samual. Jesus the Only Teacher: Didactic Authority and
Transmission in Ancient Israel, Ancient Judaism and the Matthean Community,
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1994. Carson, D A. Moo, Douglas
J and Morris, Leon. An Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1992. Davies, W D and Allison, Jr, D C. A Critical and Exegetical
Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew I-VII, Edinburgh: T&T
Clark, 1988. Farmer, William R. “Reflections on Isaiah 53 and Christian
Origins”, Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins,
ed. William.H.Bellinger and William.R.Farmer, Harrisburg: Trinity Press
International, 1998. France, R T. Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary,
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. . “Matthew, Mark and Luke”, George.Eldon.Ladd.
A Theology of the New Testament, rev ed. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1994. Gundry,
Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament, 3rd ed, Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994.
Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future, Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994.
Keener, Craig S. The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts: Divine Purity and Power,
Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997. Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament,
rev ed. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1994. LaSor, William Sanford et al. Old
Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd
ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Leske, Adrian M. “Isaiah and Matthew: The
Prophetic Infleuence in the First Gospel”, Jesus and the Suffering Servant:
Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins, ed. William.H.Bellinger and William.R.Farmer,
Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998. McKnight, S. “Matthew, Gospel
of”, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel.B.Green et al, Leicester:
IVP, 1992. Mounce, Robert H. Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary,
Carlisle: Paternoster, 1995. Nixon, R E. “Matthew”, The New Bible Commentary
Revised, ed. D.Guthrie et al, London: IVP, 1970. Vos, Geerhardus. Biblical
Theology: Old and New Testaments, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975. Wright, N T.
Jesus and the Victory of God, London: SPCK, 1992.
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