The Gospel of Matthew - Looking Forward

In the last blog post we saw how Matthew tells the story of Jesus looking backward and understanding Israel’s story through the person and work of Jesus. In this post I want to see how Matthew looks forward through Jesus’ story.
No sooner has Matthew affixed the story of Jesus firmly into Jewish history and shown Him as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy (beginning in 1:23), than the gospel goes out of its way to step out of its Jewish-centric focus and introduce gentiles into the mix. In chapter 2, we are introduced to wise men from the east – pagan gentiles – who are already being drawn to this Jewish Messiah. Already the stage is being set for Jesus’ greater mission.
As Matthew goes out of his way to establish Jesus as the fulfillment of all of these Old Testament stories and promises, the natural response of the Jews would be to believe that perhaps the arrival of this Messiah meant that their expectations were coming true at last. This meant that the Jewish nation would be restored, the true king would take his throne in Jerusalem, the promises to the prophets of a restored and renewed kingdom were right at the doorstep!

And indeed, Jesus does come declaring that the kingdom has come! The most consistent theme of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew is the arrival of the “Kingdom of heaven” – but even this new “good news of the kingdom” is soon revealed to be an outward, forward-looking announcement.

The Kingdom of heaven is not the re-establishment of the kingdom of Israel in Jerusalem, but the establishment of a new Kingdom; a Kingdom with no national borders, that cares nothing of blood or ethnicity. And far from the kingdom of Israel being restored and the king taking up his throne in Jerusalem, Jesus declares to the Jews that, because of their hard hearts, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits…”(21:43); He declares that the city itself will be destroyed within a single generation (24:2, 34), and the nation of Israel would be no more (and this theme is very prominent in Matthew – it can’t be missed).  Several of Jesus’ parables in Matthew are focused squarely on God’s work in Christ to usher the gentiles into the Kingdom, often at the expense of the unbelieving Jews (i.e., the parable of the wicked tenants in 21:33-41 and the parable of the wedding feast in 22:1-14).

The expectation of the Jews, Jesus is declaring, have been too small and their focus has been far too insular. The kingdom they are looking for is far too limited. The Kingdom Jesus announces, Matthew tells us, is far bigger, far more important, far more permanent than what any of them expected. It is, as the author of Hebrews described, a Kingdom that “cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:27-28).

The death and resurrection of Jesus becomes, in Matthew, an invitation.

An invitation for all (gentiles included) to join Him in His death and to share in both His resurrection and in His mission. “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The book ends, therefore, not with a promise to the Jews, but a declaration that His salvation is meant to extend to the ends of the earth. It is meant to slowly work its way through the nations, like leaven in a lump of dough (13:33), growing like a mustard seed (13:31-32).

The story of Jesus, Matthew wants us to see, is not just the culmination of Israel’s story and the fulfillment of prophecy, but the transition into a new story. A story we ourselves are getting swept up in. The kingdom of the world is becoming the Kingdom of God (Rev. 11:15). In Christ, who is the true Israel, God’s purpose for Israel is at last being fulfilled (“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Gen. 12:3; “…and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him shall they glory” – Jer. 4:2).

Jesus Christ and His church, Matthew is telling us, is the true Israel, and in Him Israel would achieve its true calling. Through Jesus, and through his followers, those who are united to him by faith, all the nations of the earth would be, and indeed, have been and will be, truly blessed.