Introduction to the New Testament
and Study of Matthew 1-4
October 2nd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Overview of New Testament

We continue Bible 365 with the New Testament, which contains 27 of the 66 books of the Christian Bible that are common to the Protestant and Catholic traditions. We will review these in the standard order found in the Bible, beginning with the Gospels, followed by one book of History, many books of Letters and then, a final book of Prophecy. As Christians, we believe that all of these books and letters were inspired by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Timothy 3:16).

The New Testament centers around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the growth of his Church, with an eye towards the Day of The LORD, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We will observe how Jesus represents the fullfillment of the Law and the Prophecies of the Old Testament. He tells us that fact explicitly at one point, just to make sure we did not miss it (see Luke 4:14-21).

The books, letters, and visions of the New Testament were primarily written in Greek. Not in the formal Greek that was used to record accounts of kings and nations, but in the every day Greek used by people as they they went about their busy lives in the first century A.D. We will use a number of English translations, including Eugene Peterson's The Message, in which the author seeks to capture the tones and rhythms of the oringal language.

The political landscape had changed a number of times since the last group of prophets. The Greeks had conquered the Babylonians and established their language and culture across a vast empire. Then, in the 2nd century B.C. the Greeks were defeated by the Romans, who further modernized their territories in the Mideast and elsewhere. People in the occupied lands generally retained their own language, but the Greek language continued to be a primary means of communicating among different nations under the rule of the Romans. The Roman Empire comprised a wide area of land with established roads and appointed governors and kings in each territory - such as Herod who was king of Palestine at the time of Jesus' birth. It is during the time of the Romans that the New Testament events and writngs take place, but we should remind ourselves that these nations and organizations of men come and go, but our God's Dominion is forever.

The Gospels

The English word Gospel is translated from the Greek word euangelion, from which we also derive the English word evangelize. For the Greeks and their Roman conquerors, the word euangelion was used to announce the good news of military victories or other accomplishments. For Christians, the four books of the Biblical Gospel record the Good News of the first-hand experiences of life with Jesus on earth, as seen by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The content in these books was originally distributed in an oral fashion, which was a traditional method that allowed the Good News to be heard by a large class of people who could not read. The first three books of the Gospels are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they look at the story with a single eye (1). The last Gospel, John, provides a unique perspective in a book that is filled with many complex passages, but we begin with the book of Matthew, the Tax Collector.


The book of Matthew is the first of the four Gospels in terms of the order that it appears in the Bible and is presumed to have been written by the Disciple Matthew, although there has been some debate over the true author and the timing of the written version. It is the first book by tradition because it was held in high esteem in the early church and was frequently quoted.

The book covers Jesus' life from birth to death and resurrection and is directed primarily at the Jewish audience with whom Matthew had familiarity. Matthew's main objective was to explain to this audience that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they have been waiting. As such, we will frequently see a phrase something like this, "This was done to fulfill what was said by the Lord through the prophets." You might see at least 3 or 4 uses of this phrase in today's reading alone.

Having read through the Old Testament and all of the prophets’ books we can have some understanding of the many references to these books that are found in Matthew. His audience was familiar with this scripture so he made sure to connect the dots for them.

The book can be divided into three topical sections (2)

    Birth and Preparation of the Messiah - chapters 1-4

      Matthew 1-4 (Setting the Stage for Jesus' Life on Earth) - October 2nd

    Message and Ministry of the Messiah - chapters 5-25

      Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount) - October 3rd
      Matthew 8-9 (Demonstrations of Power and Healing) - October 4th
      Matthew 10-11 (Getting the Right People on the Bus) - October 5th
      Matthew 12-13 (Lord of the Sabbath) - October 6th
      Matthew 14-17 (Removing All Doubt) - October 7th
      Matthew 18-20 (Disciples Struggle to Understand) - October 8th
      Matthew 21-22 (Jesus Cleans Up in Jerusalem) - October 9th
      Matthew 23-25 (People Get Ready) - October 10th

    Death and Resurrection of the Messiah - chapters 26-28

      Matthew 26 (Betrayal and Conviction) - October 11th
      Matthew 27-28 (Death and Resurrection) - October 12th

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Barclay, William, The Gospel of Matthew, Volumes 1 and 2, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KY 2001
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

Matthew 1-4 (Setting the stage for Jesus’ life on earth)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.

- Matthew 1:17 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

These first four chapters establish the credibility of Jesus and set the stage for his life on earth.

The first chapter reviews the genealogy of Jesus and the events surrounding his birth, including the Immaculate Conception carried out by the Holy Spirit. Thus Matthew established Jesus' birthplace and the lineage from which where he has come. The chapter concludes by quoting from the prophet:

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14)” (which means “God with us”).

    - Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV)

The next three chapters summarize Jesus’ life before the commencement of his ministry. The first of these three chapters begins with the visit from the Magi to Bethlehem, followed by the escape to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod, and finally a return to Nazareth, the home of Mary and Joseph. All of these actions fulfill prophecies from the Old Testament regarding the Messiah, such as the one from Micah referenced below:

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

    When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

    They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

    'It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
        no longer bringing up the rear.
    From you will come the leader
        who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel (Micah 5:2,4)’ ”

    - Matthew 2:1-6 (MSG)

In chapter 3, Matthew introduces the long-awaited messenger, John the Baptist, who was preparing the way for the Son of God. Jesus asks John to baptize him and subsequently the Spirit of God falls upon him as God announces to all who can hear, “ ‘This is my son’ (Matt 3:17 - NIV).”

In chapter 4, Jesus makes final preparations to launch his ministry. He passes the test of temptation during a fast in the desert, then calls his disciples and begins preaching and healing in Galilee.

Matthew reports that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness among the people (Matt 4:23 - NIV).” News of Jesus spread across the region and large crowds began to follow him.

Reflection and Application

The prophecies about the coming Messiah that we read in Isaiah and other books helps us to have a perspective on how his birth may have been interpreted by the people of that time period. They had been waiting for so long that it may have seemed the time would never come. When the Messiah was revealed, some people reacted with great joy, such as the Wise Men and John the Baptist, while others reacted with fear and jealousy, such as Herod. If the Messiah were to arrive, feared Herod, then he would no longer be the big man in Israel, therefore he thought he could thwart God's plans. He was not the first or last to fall into this fallacy, and failed just like all the others.

The genealogy of a person was important to the people of that time and culture, therefore Matthew begins with this list to satisfy protocol and demonstrate the royal lineage. Our experience in reading the Old Testament brings this whole list to life. When we recall the stories about each of these individuals we recognize that none of them were perfect, and some were far from it. We may also notice that this list includes some unusual entries, notably the names of women, non-Jews, and sinners. The Biblical expert William Barclay notes that in doing so Matthew points out the removal of several barriers:

• Barriers between Jews and Gentiles
• Barriers between men and woman
• Barriers between sinners and saints (if there are any)

Jesus came for all people and offers salvation for those who have not been righteous (which probably means all of us).

The Escape to Egypt is a story that is often over-looked and rarely spoken about from the pulpit. Nevertheless, the Reverend Greg Doll took up the challenge to preach on it in a sermon at the Noroton Presbyterian Church on December 26th, 2010. Doll shared several observations in this sermon: The passage reveals how God jumps right into the fray, Herod’s paranoid reaction is not that uncommon, and the declaration for Joseph and his family to go to the backwater town of Nazareth after leaving Egypt is one more reminder that God chooses the weak and helpless to tell his story.

God jumped right into the fray by delivering Jesus in a humble manger with limited fanfare yet vulnerable to the jealousy of Herod – he also jumps right into the fray with us.

Doll noted that we all share with Herod certain human weaknesses, including the fear of Jesus usurping his throne. My take on this is that while Herod was a ruthless tyrant who murdered thousands, the rest of us are stealth tyrants who want to live life our own way. Believing and accepting Jesus is a threat to our tyrannical desires, so we block him from entering all the areas of our lives. In his sermon, Doll asks us to ask ourselves if “there are still areas of our lives where we have not allowed the Lord in.”

Why did Jesus have to be baptized if he was free from sin? This is a hard question to answer, but maybe he wanted to model the act of cleansing. In addition, this act allowed God an opportunity to introduce Jesus to the people. That must have been quite a shock for all to hear this booming voice from heaven. Was it louder than a normal voice? Probably – and for people who had no concept of electronic amplification this must have been awesome and terrifying at the same time. It’s hard to conceive that anyone who heard his voice that day could ever doubt the credibility of Jesus and the omniscient presence of the Father.

One of the distinctions of Matthew noted by Barclay is that Matthew was consistent in saying Jesus healed “every” person or “every” sickness. The other two synoptic writers were a bit more reserved. Which is closer to your view? Would you report that he heals all or just that he heals many?

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What do you know about your genealogy?
    2. Into what fray would you like God to jump into with you?
    3. What areas of your life are you holding back from God?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you created the human race for greatness. Help us to reclaim that greatness through your son, Jesus Christ.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Pregnant Mothers


    (1) Barclay, William, The Gospel of Matthew, Volumes 1 and 2, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KY 2001, p. 1
    (2) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991, p. 1637

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)

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