Jesus’ Theology in Matthew

I’m also doing posts on Jesus’ theology in the other two of the synoptic Gospels, Mark and Luke (as well as John). There’s overlap — much of Mark is found in both Matthew and Luke — and I summarized the Luke post this way:

Jesus’ theology in Luke can, I think, be succinctly stated by summarizing what’s laid out above: Jesus is God, and He knew the future, performed miracles, and forgave sins. He stressed faith, recognized the law even as he added to it, and urged repentance. He also emphasizes the Resurrection, eternal life, and divine rewards and punishments. Jesus prayed (and urged us to pray as well), established the Eucharist, and was baptized. Finally, He discussed the End Times and acknowledged all three persons in the Trinity.

As you can see below, this is a fair summary of Jesus’ theology in Matthew as well. In addition, Matthew has an important passage about the establishment of the Christian church (16:18-20), and the most direct indication by Jesus Himself that His death on the cross cleanses us of sins (26:26-28; see also 20:28).

Jesus’s Divinity

In Matthew, Jesus leaves no doubt about His divine status and mission.

At 14:33, Peter and others in the boat refer to Jesus as “God’s Son.” One would expect Jesus to rebuke this if it were not so; cf. Acts 12:21-23. In all events, when (at 16:16-17) Peter refers to Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus affirms this by responding, “Blessed are you … because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven.” (Note that we are told that the Father Himself refers to Jesus as “My beloved Son” at Jesus’ baptism (3:17) and at the Transfiguration (17:5), the latter event itself showing Jesus’ special, likely divine status.)

In the same vein, at 11:27-30, Jesus says,

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son determines to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.”

At Matthew 9:2-6, Jesus asserts the authority to forgive sins (there’s more on forgiveness at 6:9-15 and 18:21-35, by the way); who but God can forgive sins? Regarding Jesus’ exercise of divine authority, see also 7:28-29: After He delivers the Sermon on the Mount, “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

His authority and His mission are evident in Jesus’ address to the twelve apostles as He sends them out in chapter 10. To give just one example from this address (at 10:1, 8), Jesus gives the twelve apostles authority to cast out unclean spirits and to heal all diseases and sicknesses, saying, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give.” He does this, by the way, because He feels compassion for the distressed multitudes, and sees that “[t]he harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (9:36-38).

Jesus also discusses his mission at 9:12-15, when He says He “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” and justifies His disciples not fasting by the fact that He is now with them. And at 18:11 He says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

Just after the Last Supper and just before before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus prays by Himself at Gethsemane (26:36-46). He is “grieved and distressed” and prays repeatedly, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Though wilt.” As I noted in the post on Jesus’ theology in Luke, this anguished prayer really makes sense only if He knows that His sacrificial mission here on earth is about to come to its climax. Then, after His betrayal and arrest, Jesus says that, if He wanted to appeal to “My Father,” “more than twelve legions of angels” would be sent, but that He’ll make no such appeal since Scripture must be fulfilled (26:52-56).

Then, before the high priest, this exchange occurs (26:63-66):

And the high priest said to Him, “I place You under oath by the living God, to tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now  on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? See, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!”

Jesus also acknowledges to Pilate that He is “King of the Jews” (27:11).

Earlier, at 19:29, Jesus had promised eternal life and other rewards to those who leave home and family “for My Name’s sake.” And finally, at 26:13, Jesus defends the woman who poured extravagant perfume on His head, saying, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Next in this post, I discuss that Jesus performed many miracles, frequently miracles of healing. As I noted in my post on Jesus’ theology in Luke, the relationship between Jesus’ status and His miracles is perhaps best shown by what He told the followers of John the Baptist, when they came on his behalf and asked (Matthew 11:3), “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus replied (11:4-6): “Go and report to John what you hear and see: those who are blind receive sight and those who limp walk, those with leprosy are cleansed and those who are deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is any person who does not take offense at Me.” Just after this (11:8-10), Jesus says that John the Baptist “is more than a prophet” — that he is the one about whom it is written “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.”

Jesus’ Miracles

Another manifestation of Jesus’ divinity is His performance of miracles, most of which were healing miracles. Sometimes specific miracles are recounted, and sometimes Matthew declares Jesus’ miracle-working in more general terms. I’ve simply listed and summarized the various verses below in the order they appear in Matthew. It’s rather overwhelming, and I think that in itself teaches: What would be the point in repeating a lie with this many variations? (I have a short post on Jesus’ miracles on this blogsite, here.)

Jesus’ healing of all kinds of pain, sickness, and disease is described at 4:23-24. Specific examples are given in chapter 8 at verses 2-3 (leper), 5-13 (centurion’s servant, paralyzed and in great pain), 14-15 (Peter’s feverish mother-in-law), 16 (“many who were demon-possessed”), and 28-32 (two more demoniacs). He also finds time to calm a sea storm at 8:26. More healing is related in chapter 9 at verses 6-7 (paralytic), 22 (hemorrhaging woman), 24-25 (raises dead girl from the dead), 27-30 (two blind men), 32-33 (demon-possessed dumb man), and 35 (“Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages … and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness”). In chapter 10, verses 1 and 8, as noted above, Jesus empowers the apostles to perform healing miracles of every kind. In chapter 12, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand (10-13) and a demon-possessed blind and dumb man (22). At 14:14, Jesus “saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick”; at 14:15-21 and 15:32-38 we find the famous miracle — performed twice — of the loaves and fishes; in between, at 14:36, Matthew says that “as many [who were sick] as touched [the fringe of Jesus’ cloak] were cured.” In chapter 15, Jesus heals a demon-possessed girl (28) and, two verses later, “great multitudes came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, deaf, dumb, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them.” There’s more: 17:18 (Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy), 17:27 (Jesus’ miracle of the fish with a coin in its mouth), 19:2 (“great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them”), 20:33-34 (Jesus heals two blind men), and 21:19 (Jesus causes a fig tree to wither).

Jesus, Resurrection, and Prophecy

The Resurrection is itself a miracle; moreover, it also can fulfill the promise of eternal life.

Jesus’ Himself resurrects a girl (9:24-25), and affirms that people generally will be resurrected (22:23-33). Jesus foretells His own Resurrection many times. See 12:38-40; 16:4, 21; 17:9, 23; 20:18-19; and 26:32. Knowledge of the future is not uniquely divine, but it is an attribute of divinity. In chapter 26, Jesus foretells other events, too, such as His betrayal, crucifixion and death, and Peter’s triple denial of Him “before a cock crows.”

But Jesus’ most extensive prophecy, in the sense of telling the future, is found in chapter 24 and 25, when He describes the End Times. In it, moreover, Jesus directly indicates His divine status (see, for example, 24:7, 24:35, and 25:31). Things will get very bad before the end, which no one else can foresee, and there will be great rewards (including “eternal life,” 25:46) for the righteous, and great punishment (“weeping and gnashing of teeth,” 25:30) for the wicked. We turn to these rewards and punishments in the next section.

Faith, Rewards and Punishments, and Eternal Life

Jesus stresses the importance of faith, and He also repeatedly affirms that there is eternal life, and that there are rewards and punishments for us. In Matthew, these dots are not all always explicitly connected, but neither in context is it unreasonable to connect them.

Thus, Matthew 10:32-33 is similar to John 3:16-18, except that in Matthew the faith must be publicly professed: “Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before people, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before people, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

There is also a connection between faith and rewards in the famous “Ask, and it shall be given to you” passage (7:7-11), which concludes with, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?”

Healing is often linked to faith. See 8:5-13 (incident with the centurion’s sick servant, where Jesus “marveled” at the centurion’s “great faith” and concludes, “Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed”); 9:2-7 (when people brought a paralytic to Him, “Jesus seeing their faith” forgave and healed him); 9:22 (Jesus says to a woman suffering from a hemorrhage, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well”); 9:27-30 (Jesus heals two blind men, first asking, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and, when they say yes, saying, “Be it done according to your faith”); and 15:28 (as he healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman, He said, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish”).

Conversely, when with those in his hometown, “He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief” (13:58). And Jesus even criticized His disciples when their lack of faith resulted in them being unable to exorcise demon, saying that with just a little faith “nothing shall be impossible to you” (17:17-20). And later He reassured them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt” you can work miracles — “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (21:21-22).

Jesus speaks directly about rewards and punishments many times. Consider: 10:28 (Jesus affirms life after death in 10:28 and, in 10:39-42, He affirms rewards for the righteous); 11:22-24 (Jesus warns unrepentant cities that after judgment day they will go to Hell); 12:36-37 (Jesus warns, “But I tell you that for every careless word that people speak, they will give an account of it on the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”); 13:24-30 (explained 13:36-43 and 47-50: The righteous will be separated from the wicked at the end of the age, with the latter being burned up; see also the two vineyard parables at 21:28-46); the famous passage at 16:24-28, especially 16:27 (“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds”); and 19:29 (those who leave home and family “for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much [as they left behind, I think], and shall inherit eternal life”).

The Beatitudes themselves (5:3-11) are a series of blessings for various sorts of righteousness, and at the end of them (5:12), Jesus declares, “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

As we continue to read the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus in this passage (6:1-21, omitting the Lord’s Prayer in the middle) affirms that there are rewards, and that whether you get them hinges on how you “practice your righteousness”:

“Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, so that they will be praised by people. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But as for you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.


“Now whenever you fast, do not make a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they distort their faces so that they will be noticed by people when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But as for you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be noticed by people but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The passage in Matthew 19:16-30 is like that in Luke 18:18-30, which I also discuss in my post on Jesus’ theology in Luke. Here Jesus makes clear that there is eternal life and that in it there are rewards and punishments; this passage is also a good segue into the discussion on what Jesus has to say about the law, my next section. When asked (Matthew 19:16), “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?,” Jesus tells the questioner to follow the commandments, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to give all he has to the poor; if he does that, Jesus says, then “you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (19:17-21). This was a hard answer for the questioner, since he was very rich, and so Jesus said to his disciples (19:23-24) that it is hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God — indeed, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” But the difficult is not impossible, for with God all things are possible” (19:26). A few verses later, Jesus reassures Peter that those who make the necessary sacrifices will “receive many times as much [as they may have left behind, I think], and shall inherit eternal life” (19:29).

Jesus and the Law

Jesus in no way denigrates the law in Matthew (this is true of the other Gospels, too, and we would not expect an exception in this, most Jewish, of the Gospels). Consider the just-discussed passage at 19:16-30, where Jesus tells the rich man what he has to do to gain enteral life. And earlier, in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount soon after the Beatitudes, Jesus declares (5:17), “Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” He then (5:18-48) discusses at length this “law-plus”:

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished! Therefore, whoever nullifies one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness far surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be answerable to the court.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be answerable to the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.  Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Come to good terms with your accuser quickly, while you are with him on the way to court, so that your accuser will not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will not be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last quadrans.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’;  but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

“Now it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away is to give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. [On this point, see also 19:3-9, where Jesus explains, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”]

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’  But I say to you, take no oath at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God, nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you take an oath by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.  But make sure your statement is, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil origin.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may prove yourselves to be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors, do they not do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Even the Gentiles, do they not do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

That last sentence, to be sure, suggests that God must be considering a person’s faith and thus his efforts as well as simply whether sin is committed — for who can be perfect? Later in the Sermon on the Mount (6:19-34), Jesus explains that faith can help us to serve God, because if we trust in Him we won’t be serving something else — mammon in particular (6:24). So faith and repentance and not sinning all matter.

The Lord’s Prayer includes of course the line, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12). (Jesus calls on people to repent at 4:17 and at 11:20-21.) Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus enjoins His listeners (7:12): “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” And the final words of the Sermon are relevant here, too (7:21-27):

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and its collapse was great.”

Consider also these three passages later on in Matthew:

  • 13:41-42 (Jesus speaking) — “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  • 22:34-40 — And one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”
  • 23:23 (Jesus speaking) — “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

Finally, when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for breaking the Sabbath (see 12:1-8 and 9-14), but Jesus’ response to these (doubtlessly pretextual) criticisms is to argue that they are within the law, rather than to say the law does not matter. What’s more, in another exchange with the Pharisees (15:1-20), Jesus points out that they are the ones who are violating the law — that is, they have elevated their own rules above God’s law — and concludes by listing what truly defiles men, namely “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”

I’ll end this section, however, by stressing that Jesus’ definition of righteousness requires more than simply not doing bad things: We must act affirmatively with compassion for those who are suffering (see 25:34-46). Again, it’s “law-plus.”

Importance of the Church

Jesus says to Peter, to whom God the Father has revealed Christ’s divinity (16:18-19), “[U]pon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

A Universal Message

In the incident of the centurion’s sick servant (8:5-13), Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;  but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The universalism of Jesus’ message is, I think, also demonstrated by His parable of the wedding feast (22:1-14), especially verses 9-10, where the king instructs his slaves, “Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast,” so that then “those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.” The parable of the vineyard workers (20:1-16) is to like effect.

Eucharist and Baptism

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ establishment of the Eucharist is very significant because it is, I think, the most direct indication by Jesus Himself that His death on the cross cleanses us of sins (26:26-28):

Now while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;  for this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

In this regard, another significant verse is 20:28, where Jesus says, “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus also endorses the other Protestant sacrament, baptism, at 3:15 (at the time of His own) and in 28:19 (the Great Commission).

The Holy Spirit

Jesus, who of course recognizes many times His Father, affirms the Trinity by also referring several times in Matthew to the Holy Spirit. Probably the most dramatic of these is at the very end of the book, when He gives the Great Commission (28:18-20):

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Other references by Jesus in Matthew to the Holy Spirit are at 10:20, 12:28, and 12:31-32. Note also that the Holy Spirit, as well as God the Father and His “beloved Son,” are all present at Jesus’ baptism (3:16-17).

Odds and Ends

  • Jesus seems to affirm the existence of Satan/Beelzebul in 12:26-28, and He addresses Satan during His temptation in the wilderness (4:10). It’s also interesting that twice Satan begins sentences during the latter time with, “If You are the Son of God,” and on neither occasion does Jesus dispute that fact. Demons address Him as “Son of God” in 8:29 as well, and once again Jesus does not dispute that this is who He is.
  • Jesus prays alone (14:23) and later tells his disciples, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (21:22). He also teaches us the right way to pray in the Sermon on the Mount, when he gives us the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13).
  • Matthew’s own calling by Jesus is related at 9:9; see also 10:3.