The Birth of Jesus – Matthew 1–2

Read the Passage: Matthew 1-2

Authorship and Date – Although the Gospel of Matthew, like all of the four Gospels, is technically anonymous, Matthew’s name has been associated with it from ancient times. This is the same Matthew, also known as Levi, who was, by his own admission, a tax-collector prior to his conversion (cf. Matt. 10:3). Matthew falls into what could be called a second subgroup of apostles, along with Philip, Bartholomew, and Thomas (cf. Matt. 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16; Acts 1:13). This book was certainly written before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, perhaps as early as 40 AD. Note that Church Fathers as early as Eusebius (ca. 265–339 AD), Origen (ca. 185–254 AD), Papias (ca. 60–135 AD), and Ignatius (ca. 35–110 AD) refer to or quote from this Gospel, as well as does the early Christian document Didache (ca. 90s AD).

Purpose and Theme – Matthew was writing to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the King of Israel. Several facets of the book make this clear, including Matthew’s quotation of over 60 different Old Testament passages, most of which are prophetic passages that Matthew uses to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of dozens of biblical prophecies. Additionally, Matthew frequently refers to Jewish customs without explanation, painstakingly traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham (not Adam, as does Luke [cf. Luke 3:23–38]), and ascribes to Jesus Messianic titles such as “Son of David” (cf. Matt. 1:1, 20; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31; 21:9, 15; 22:42). Essentially, Matthew is demonstrating that Jesus is the new and better Moses, promised by God at Deut. 18:15–22 (cf. Acts 3:22–26; 7:37).

Structure and Outline – Apart from a lengthy prologue and short epilogue, Matthew’s Gospel is structured around five discourse and narrative sections—similar to the structure of the Pentateuch. Each discourse ends with the phrase “when Jesus had ended these sayings” (cf. Matt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1) and is followed by a narrative. It is important to note that Matthew is more concerned with themes and concepts than with giving a chronological timeline of events.

  • Prologue (1:1–4:25)
  • Discourses and Narratives (5:1–28:15)
    • First Discourse and Narrative: Sermon on the Mount (5:1–9:38)
    • Second Discourse and Narrative: Commissioning of Apostles (10:1–12:50)
    • Third Discourse and Narrative: Parables about the Kingdom (13:1–17:27)
    • Fourth Discourse and Narrative: Childlike Faith (18:1–23:39)
    • Fifth Discourse and Narrative: Olivet Discourse (24:1–28:15)
  • Epilogue (28:16–20)

The Son of God (1:1–25)

Matthew begins his Gospel by painstaking demonstrating that Jesus was qualified to be the Messiah, for he was a descendant of Abraham. A few important observations about this genealogy are that like most Jewish genealogies it is abbreviated, it names five females (i.e., Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary), and this genealogy traces Jesus’ earthly lineage through Joseph, whereas Luke traces it through Mary (cf. Luke 3:23–38). The big event in this chapter is that Mary conceived a child while betrothed to Joseph. In Jewish custom marriage was usually arranged. Once arranged, a couple was betrothed—that is, they were morally and legally considered to be married, yet they were not yet living together as husband and wife. The main reason for this arrangement was to test the validity of the spouses’ devotion to one another.

Visit of the Wise Men (2:1–12)

Matt. 2:1–12 contains the record of the visit of the wise men, which is only recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. The reason for its inclusion here is likely to emphasize Matthew’s point that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. In the narrative it is recorded that the wise men were from the East, which is likely a reference to Persia, a land in which mathematics and astrology were quite developed. By some unspecified method of revelation, the wise men had seen a star in the sky and understood that the Messiah had been born. Logically, they went to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem in search of the new king. This Herod is Herod the Great who reigned from 37–4 BC. Through consultation with the scribes, the wise men and Herod learn that the king was to be born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah 5:2.

Flight and Return from Egypt (2:13–23)

In Matthew 2:13–23 the author records Jesus’ family’s flight to and return from Egypt, as well as Herod’s cruel slaughter of children in Bethlehem. Note that given Herod’s death in 4 BC, this trip probably only lasted a matter of months. Here in this passage Matthew records that this trip fulfilled three additional Old Testament prophecies—Hos. 11:1; Jer. 31:15; and Judg. 13:5. Two things in this passage stand out. First, Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus, whom he understood to be the Christ (cf. Matt. 2:4) is arresting. Herod clearly did not have a proper view of God and the Lord’s sovereignty. Ironically, Herod attempted to kill God; yet, God would soon kill Herod. Second, this passage records two additional angelic visitations that Joseph received (cf. Matt. 2:13, 20), in addition to the one he has received earlier (cf. Matt. 1:20). Such revelation is unusual in the Bible.

Application Questions

  1. What is the significance of the virgin birth? Must one believe in the virgin birth to be saved?
  2. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of Micah 5:2, because Caesar freely decreed a national census (cf. Luke 2:1). Is man free or is God sovereign?
  3. Ought we, like Joseph, to expect to receive angelic communication in dreams?