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Missions in the Gospel of Matthew

  • Thomas Schirrmacher,
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The Great Commission (Mt. 28, 16-20) is not only the end of the Gospel of Matthew; it is also its climax and its goal. For this reason, Matthew emphasizes from the first chapter on, that the Good News is also for the heathen. That this particular Gospel, written for Jewish Christians — as the book itself demonstrates, and as the Early Church unanimously reports — should so emphasize missions, demonstrates that, beginning with his birth, the earthly Jesus was already the Salvation of the Gentiles.

According to Mt. 5:14, the Christ’s disciples are “the salt of the world,” that is of the cosmos, not only of the Jewish homeland, as in the case of “the salt of the land [or of the earth]” in Mt. 4:13. Similarly, the “field” which God sows in Mt. 13:38 is the whole “world.” “This gospel shall be preached in the whole world” (Mt. 26:13).

The harvest in Mt. 9:37-38 is great, so that the disciples must ask God for more laborers, for “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations” (Mt. 24:14).

In Mt. 25:31-46, when the heathen nations appear before the throne of the Son of Man, some are lost and others saved (the “blessed of My Father,” vs. 34). For this reason, the disciples will “he hated of all nations” (Mt. 24:9).

In Mt.12:18-21, Matthew quotes a prophecy from Isaiah (Is. 4:1-4) that the Messiah will “shew judgement to the Gentiles” and that “in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” (Compare a similar quote Isa. 8:23 and 9:1 in Mt. 4:13-17.) The “nations,” whom Mt.28:18 describes as recipients of the proclamation of the Gospel, have therefore already been mentioned in the whole book (approximately half of the examples of the word Gentiles or nations in Matthew have been mentioned).

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Mt. 1:1-7) mentions women only when they were Gentiles! The Canaanite Thamar (Mt. 1:3. Gen 38) and the Hittite Bathseba (in Mt. 1:6, he calls her merely “the wife of Uria” rather than naming her, because she was a Hittite only by marriage) were cases of adultery. Two of the women, however, were Gentiles who had come to believe in the living God of Israel. The former prostitute, Rahab (Mt. 1:5) had made a covenant with the Israelite spies and was saved from the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 2). Because she had taken the God of Israel to be her own God, she could he married to Salma (Mt. 1:5). Ruth (Mt. 1:4) had been born a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4), and had thus been cut off from the fellowship with the people of God (Deut. 23:4). Because, however, of her vow, “thy people shall be my people and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16), she was able to marry Boaz and become the best-known ancestress of David and of Jesus.

What an affront to Matthew’s Jewish contemporaries, to find heathen women in Jesus’ genealogical table! He must have mentioned them on purpose, in order to show that the very purpose of Israel’s history was to bring salvation and blessing to the Gentiles! (Compare Gen.l2:3; 18:18).

While Luke, a Gentile, mentions the Jewish shepherds in the Christmas story as the first visitors to the newborn Savior of the world (Lk. 2), Matthew ignores them and reports the journey of the heathen Wise Men of the East, who believed, unlike the educated Jewish scribes, and travelled to Bethlehem and worshipped (Mt. 2:1-12).

That Gentiles were often more likely to believe than were the Jews, is an unbroken thread in the Gospel of Matthew. The following examples must have been insulting to his Jewish readers as Jesus’ own statements were to his hearers:

— Jesus had to flee his homeland and seek refuge in Egypt of all places (Mt. 2:13-15)!

— In Mt. 4 13-17 the writer reports that Jesus began his call to repentance in heathen Galilea, in order to fulfill the prophecy in Isa. 28:23. 9:2, that “the people that walked in great darkness” that is, in the above-mentioned Gentile territory, “have seen a great light” — namely Jesus (Mt. 4:15-16).

— Mt. 8:5-13 describes a heathen centurion, who has come to believe in Jesus, who says: “ I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (vs 10) and adds, that many people from all the corners of the earth will feast with the patriarchs in Heaven, while many Jews (“children of the kingdom”) will be cast out (vs 12-13).

— Shortly after, Matthew reports that Jesus said of the Jewish cities that rejected His messengers (Mt. 10:15), “Verily, I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for that city.”

— A similar statement may be found in the following chapter (Mt. 11:20-24) for Tyre and Sidon, symbols of paganism as were Sodom and Gomorrha. They would have repented, had Jesus done such miracles there as He had done in Jewish cities.

— In Mt. 15:21-28, Jesus is on Gentile territory again and meets a believing Canaanite woman, who is willing to be satisfied with Israel’s leftovers and with the Messiah.

— In Mt. 16:4, He reminds the Pharisees of the “sign of Jonah” that had been understood by the Gentiles.

— In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), the Jews would seem to be the first who are last and the Gentiles to be the last who are first.

— This idea is repeated more strongly in the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Mt. 21:33-46), in which the vineyard is taken from the original tenants, the Jews, and given to others, the Gentiles (Mt. 21:41-43), as the chief priests had to realize, to their own condemnation.

— This message recurs in the parable of the wedding guests (Mt. 22:1-4), for here again, the original guests, the Jews, are rejected in favor of the people from the highways, the Gentiles, who certainly did not belong there.

The message that the Gentiles could be grafted onto the olive tree of Israel’s salvation history through the cutting off of the Jews (Rom. 11:11-24) — which does not contradict the doctrine of the repentance of Israel in the future — had, therefore, been preached by Jesus again and again, and Matthew, demonstrating that faith is the essential factor, not nationality, held up the mirror to his Jewish contemporaries.

  • Thomas Schirrmacher
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