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Bible: The New Testament

Literature
Summary

The Gospel According to Matthew (Matthew)

Summary The Gospel According to Matthew (Matthew)

In Chapter 26, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with the disciples. Jesus indicates that Judas, one of his disciples, will betray him. Jesus predicts that after his death, the other disciples will flee, and Peter will also betray him. When he breaks bread and drinks wine with the disciples, Jesus initiates a ritual that later becomes known as the Eucharist, the consumption of bread and wine symbolizing Jesus’s body and blood. After dining with the apostles, Jesus goes into a garden called Gethsemane. There he prays, asking God if it is possible to escape the impending suffering. As Jesus is leaving the garden, Judas approaches, accompanied by a mob and a great number of Roman soldiers. Judas kisses Jesus in order to show the angry mob which man claims to be the Son of God.

Jesus is arrested and brought before the Jewish court, where he is convicted of blasphemy. Caiaphas, the high priest, sends him to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Rome, for a final verdict. Pilate looks surprisingly weak and undecided. He turns to the crowd for the judgment and they all chant, “Let him be crucified!” (27:22). Pilate concedes. Jesus is led out, crowned with thorns, mocked, and crucified. On the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and then dies (27:46). Matthew notes the presence of “many women” at the execution, including “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (27:56). Jesus is buried by Joseph of Arimathea and a guard is set over the tomb. On the first day of the week, three days after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and Mary go to visit Jesus’s tomb in order to anoint his body with oils and spices according to Jewish custom, but they find the tomb empty. Astonished, they see an angel who tells them that Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and that he can be found in Galilee. The women leave the tomb both happy and afraid. Suddenly, Jesus greets them and asks them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. After the women leave, the guards tell the city’s chief priests what has happened, and the priests bribe the guards to report that Jesus’s body was stolen while they were sleeping. In Galilee, Jesus commissions his disciples to teach and baptize nonbelievers as they travel throughout the world.

Analysis

The Gospel of Matthew is strongly connected to the Old Testament. Although Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all cite Old Testament prophesies that they regard as having been fulfilled in the person and works of Jesus, Matthew is particularly careful to point out that Jesus’s teachings are compatible with Judaism, and to insist that Jesus’s life fulfills Old Testament prophesies. Matthew portrays Jesus as a second, greater Moses, an important prophet in the Old Testament. Just as Moses gave his law from Mount Sinai in the Old Testament, Jesus preaches his new laws in a sermon he gives from a mountain. Like Moses, the young Jesus hides in Egypt from the wrath of a vengeful king. Finally, Jesus is tempted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, while Moses and his people wandered the wilderness for forty years.

Matthew further emphasizes Jesus’s ties to Jewish tradition by tracing Jesus’s ancestry to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Matthew clearly speaks from within the Jewish tradition to a largely Jewish audience. But at the same time, Matthew’s Gospel contains some of the most vehement anti-Jewish polemic in the entire New Testament. For example, Matthew challenges mere external obedience to religious law, valuing instead an internal spiritual transformation: “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” (5:43). It is also possible to interpret such passages as Jesus’s reinterpretation of Jewish law rather than his rejection of it. Jesus is simply reminding his community what Jewish law already indicates: that God demands absolute obedience and not just the appearance of obedience.

Matthew is the most carefully structured of the Gospels: it proceeds through an introduction; five central segments, each designed with a concluding sermon that responds to the concerns raised in the preceding narrative; and a conclusion detailing Jesus’s Passion. Matthew’s careful construction reflects his Gospel’s concern with rhetorical structure. In contrast with Mark’s spare style and Luke’s formal tone, Matthew’s rhetoric is meant to be stirring. Many readers regard the five sermons in which Matthew conveys Jesus’s teachings as some of the finest prose in the New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount is Matthew’s greatest composition, in which he reveals his talent for epigrams, balanced sentences, and rhetorical shifts as he moves the sermon from its graceful and quietly powerful opening, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3), to its tempestuous finale, “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” (7:27).