Expository notes on the Gospel of Matthew
Much of the material embodied in this volume has appeared in the course of the past nine years, in The Sunday School Times, and is used here in accordance with an understanding had with, and permission given by, the owners of that periodical when I assumed responsibility for the leading article on the weekly International Lesson.
With so much matter already in print and available for use, it was thought best not to wait until circumstances permitted me to give a series of lectures on Matthew to be stenographically reported and edited for publication, but rather to write a connected exposition, filling in with new material what was lacking in the notes from The Sunday School Times. This accounts for the different form in which this book appears to those on the other Gospels for which I have been responsible. I send the book out with the earnest prayer that it may prove helpful to many.
—H. A. Ironside
While we have no means of knowing just when this gospel was written, or even whether (as some suppose) it first appeared in Hebrew, or was originally written in Greek as it has come down to us, it is very evident that it is placed rightfully at the beginning of the New Testament; for it is very definitely the connecting link between the prophets of old and the new dispensation of grace. The many quotations in it from the books of the prophets are designed to show how our Lord Jesus Christ came as the promised King of Israel, in exact accordance with the numerous predictions that God had inspired His servants to give from Abraham’s day to that of Malachi, when prophetic testimony ceased, and was silent for four hundred years, until John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, came declaring, “The time is fulfilled.”
Matthew is in a very real sense the Jewish gospel. This does not mean that it has no message for Christians, but rather that it is designed by the Holy Spirit to present Christ so as to make it clear to honest Jewish inquirers that He is the One of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. In 1:1-17 we have the genealogy of the King and in 1:18-25 the birth of the King. In 2:1-12 the Gentiles do homage to the King, and in 2:13-23 we see the preservation of the King. Chapter 3 gives the dedication and anointing of the King, while in chapter 4 we have His testing. In chapters 5-7 inclusive (the so-called “Sermon on the Mount”) the King unfolds the principles of His kingdom. From chapters 8-12 we see the King accredited by mighty works of power, but meeting with ever-increasing rejection. In chapters 13-20 we behold a new condition—that which was to prevail after the rejected King returned to heaven, and until He comes again. The kingdom of heaven is seen throughout in mystical form. In other words, it is the development of what we generally speak of as Christendom. The culmination as to Israel is seen in chapters 21-23, God’s earthly people set to one side because of their refusal to receive the King when He came to them in exact accordance with their own Scripture. Chapters 24-25 have to do with the second advent of the King. In chapters 26-28 we have His death and resurrection, closing with His commission to His disciples to go forth to the nations with the kingdom message.
The genealogy given in Matthew is that of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, lineal descendant of David and heir to the throne, through whom the throne rights were transmitted to our Lord. Christ’s birth occurred in Bethlehem late in 5 B.C. or early in 4 B.C., while the visit of the wise men took place possibly some two months afterward, and this was followed almost immediately by the flight into Egypt.
We need not be surprised to find that everything in connection with the advent of the King was of a miraculous character, when we realize that He was truly “Immanuel,” “God with us,” as predicted in Isaiah 7:14. When God came down to earth, how could it be otherwise than that certain natural laws should be suspended in order that He might enter into our world in a manner becoming to His majesty and power. So we see Him taking our humanity as born of a virgin mother. His coming was made known in some supernatural way to the wise men from the East, and His life was preserved by divine arrangement so that the malice of Herod could not reach Him in order to destroy Him. The beauty and simplicity of the narrative fills us with admiration and moves our hearts to worship and thanksgiving for God’s unspeakable Gift.
While it is of great importance that we observe and take into account the special dispensational place of this gospel, we shall lose much if we fail to realize that it is gospel, and not law. For the gospel is God’s message concerning His Son, and here the Son is presented in His kingly aspect that we may learn to reverence Him as such and bow in subjection at His feet.
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Matthew begins with the genealogy of our Lord from Abraham to Joseph. But this was not the blood-line. It was the royal line, however, and carried with it the throne rights. As Son of Abraham, our Lord is the promised Seed in whom all nations of the world shall be blessed (Gen. 22:18). As Son of David, He is the King who is to reign in righteousness upon David’s throne (Isa. 9:6-7). His actual descent from David was through His mother, Mary, who was the daughter of Heli, but was married to Joseph before her holy child was born, thus giving Him legal, full title to the throne, though the curse upon Jeconiah (Jer. 22:30) would have precluded His occupancy of it had He actually been the son of Joseph.
We need not quote this genealogy here as it can be readily referred to by the careful student. We note verse 17: “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.” This verse epitomizes the genealogy, dividing it into three groups of fourteen generations each. In order to do this, certain names are omitted and in the last instance Mary’s name has to be counted to make fourteen, unless, as others have suggested, we are to consider the birth of Jesus as the thirteenth and the second coming of Christ as the fourteenth.
Others have drawn attention to the inclusion of the names of five women in this list, and all of these just such as no Jewish chronologist would naturally have desired to recognize. These are Tamar, whose shameful story is recorded in Genesis 38; Rahab the harlot, a Gentile, who, though a woman of evil character, became the wife of an Israelitish prince; Ruth the Moabitess, also a stranger from among the Gentiles, who entered this royal line only through her levirate marriage to Boaz, her first husband’s near kinsman; Bathsheba, definitely mentioned as “her that had been the wife of Urias,” thus bringing to mind David’s terrible failure; and last of all, and sweetest of all, Mary the Virgin of Nazareth, the one whose fair name has been impugned by unbelieving Jews, because she became the mother of Jesus apart from the natural order.
What a list is this! How it tells out the grace that is in the heart of God who, in His sovereignty, chose to bring these five women into the line of promise. The names of unchaste Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba tell us of mercy that goes out to the most sinful and depraved. The name of Ruth, loyal and devoted, yet a stranger, speaks of grace acting in spite of the ban upon the Moabites (Deut. 23:3-6). When we think of Mary the Virgin Mother, we adore the God who gave us His holy and blessed Son through her as the human instrument.
We come now to consider the birth of the King, of which we read in verses 18-25:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
“Before they came together.” The Scripture is clear about the virgin birth of Jesus. His mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, but had not yet been married to him when he learned that she was to become a mother through direct operation of the Holy Spirit and altogether apart from natural generation. “Minded to put her away privily.” If Mary was not a virgin, the penalty for her condition, according to the law, was death. Joseph thought to save her from this. “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife.” The wonderful mystery of the incarnation was revealed to Joseph by angelic ministry. “Thou shalt call his name Jesus.” Jesus from the Greek and Joshua from the Hebrew are one name, and the meaning is “Jehovah the Savior.” “That it might be fulfilled.” This is a distinctive phrase in this gospel, used often because the object of the inspired writer is to show that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the prophets. “They shall call his name Emmanuel… God with us.” Isaiah made this prediction nearly seven centuries before its fulfillment. The name given is an intimation of the mysterious union of the divine and the human in the virgins Son (Isa. 7:14). “Took unto him his wife.” He married her notwithstanding her condition, that she might have the place in Israel of a wedded wife before she became a mother. “He called his name Jesus.” Obedient to the last detail, by calling the child “Jesus,” Joseph evidenced the reality of his own faith.
The name “Jesus,” as intimated above, is simply the Anglicized form of the Greek lesous, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua—“the salvation of Jehovah.” Many had borne that name before the Savior came into the world, and even in its Greek form it was not uncommon. We read of a “Jesus, which is called Justus” in Colossians 4:11. But throughout all the centuries since the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our blessed Lord, that name has stood out as distinct from every other. To Christians it is the name above every name at which every knee shall bow. Having taken it here on earth, He will keep this name “Jesus” for all the ages to come. The two shining ones who announced His future coming (Acts 1:10-11) spoke of Him as “This same Jesus.” In Revelation 22:16 He says, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.” In response to His last message from heaven, “Surely I come quickly,” the seer replied, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). By this name we shall know Him throughout a blissful eternity, provided we know Him now on earth as our very own Savior, Jesus, who has redeemed us to God by His blood.