The Gospel of Matthew has provided much content for various sides in the theological debate among Christians who disagree about how to best answer this question. However, there are some big themes in Matthew that are clear to any observant reader and worth our time.
One big Theme in Matthew’s Gospel: The end of the Ages has dawned in Christ.
As had been prophesied for so long before, the offspring (Gen. 3:15) and Immanuel (Is. 7:14) had come in the form of the Christ-child (Matt. 1:23). This same one is the ‘child,’ the ‘son’ upon whose shoulders the governorship of God will rest forevermore (Is. 9:6-7). Indeed, Jesus Christ was and is this one, and Matthew intended to make that clear from the very beginning of his Gospel.
Additionally, Matthew quotes Jesus as having answered the direct question about His own fulfillment of prophetic projections. Matthew tells us that John the Baptist inquired of Jesus through sending some of his disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3).
Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matt. 11:4-6).
Jesus’ response is only veiled to our 21st-century eyes, but this is a direct reference to the eschatological (end or last things) language of Isaiah 35. Jesus is effectively saying that He indeed is the one who would bring about the end of the ages, and He is doing it right then.
Finally, after Jesus was resurrected, He commissioned His disciples in between a declaration and a promise (Matt. 28:18-20). The declaration Jesus made was concerning His own authority and lordship over all; Jesus is King and eternal ruler (v18). The promise Jesus made was to be with His disciples through to the ‘end of the age’ (v20).
This promise is the culmination of the eschatological dawning of the end of the ages. Christ has been inaugurated as King, and the end has dawned. We now await the final fulfillment of judgment and recreation.
A second big Theme in Matthew’s Gospel: The people of God are redefined by/in Christ.
Jesus embodies Old Testament Israel in Matthew’s Gospel, and His life has several parallels to God’s historical people. Jesus flees Herod’s wrath by going to Egypt, but returns from there as the Hebrews of old had done (Matt.13-15). And like them, Jesus passes through water (at His baptism) and is claimed by God as “Son” (Matt. 3:13-17).
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus retells and explains the ten commandments (Matt. 5:1-7:27). Like Moses had done, Jesus delivers the law of God from atop a mountain. Also, Jesus chooses and sends twelve disciples as His representatives (Matt. 10:5-15). This is certainly reminiscent of Jacob’s (Israel’s) twelve sons who carry on his legacy.
Just as Jesus embodies the Israel of the Old Testament, Matthew also emphasizes the necessity of entering the kingdom/family of God’s people by faith and not by ethnic lineage. This is clear in Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28), the parable of the vineyard laborers (Matt. 20:1-16), and the parable of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14).
At the wedding feast, we can see this clearly presented. Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son…” (v2). The story continues with many invitations going out by way of servants’ requests, but those who were invited ignored, mistreated, and even killed the king’s servants. Then the enraged king destroyed those murderous ones, that had been invited, and instead gathered guests from wherever people might be found.
Jesus spoke this parable to the chief priests and the Pharisees (21:45); therefore, we may gather that the message it pointed at them. One can easily see how their rejection of God’s invitation through prophets, and now even Jesus Christ Himself, is going to end badly for them. The people of God, according to Matthew, are those who trust the King – love God (22:36).
Like the first theme, we may also see some culmination in the Great Commission here (Matt. 28:18-20). Christ is King, and He commissions His people to bring others into the kingdom through baptism and obedience to His commands, rather than by ethnic procreation.
These themes are just two of the major ones we find in Scripture generally and in Matthew’s Gospel especially. The regular and repeated reading of Scripture will yield marvelous insights, and the reader will never be disappointed.
May God encourage our embrace of His Word and His promises. Here is where true hope can be found – even as the end draws near.