Matthew - Revolutionary Levi|
Matthew was the notorious tax collector who left all when Jesus called him to "Follow me" (Luke 5:27). His account appears to consist of several handbooks, manuals, and guidebooks containing among other things a guide for the "cost of discipleship" and a handbook for the "end times."
Blocks of Teachings
These blocks of teachings include the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) which is comprised of the famous Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer, the Parables of the Kingdom (chapter 13), and the Olivet Discourse (chapters 24-25). Last, the book closes with the Great Commission (28:18-20). (ESV Introduction)
Despised yet Valuable
That Matthew was a tax collector is not a small, amusing or incidental thing. We tend to view the tax collectors of that period as despised traitors working for Rome who collected money dishonestly from fellow Jews. It's true they were despised by the Jews. Tax collectors overcharged and kept the difference for themselves. But, Matthew's skills served a vital need.
There is more to the story concerning Matthew's skills. In ancient times historians and government officials needed people who were skilled as "ready writers" for documenting valuable records. In the Greek Septuagint (translated around 285 B.C.), "ready writers" were known by a name synonymous with "tachygraphos," or "shorthand writer." (See Psalm 45:1). In the New Testament period they are called an "Amanuensis" (See 1 Pet. 5:12, Ro. 16:22, Acts 13:5).
The photo you are looking at is the "Lord's Prayer" in various modern shorthand versions.
Word for Word Accounts
As a tax collector, Matthew had to take skilled shorthand to do his job well. Why is this important? As a skilled shorthand writer Matthew likely took down the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' kingdom parables word-for-word, among Jesus' other teachings! Verbatim. This revolutionizes our thinking about the gospel of Matthew. Now we realize that when we read the book of Matthew we are reading something akin to a court stenographer's word-for-word transcription of Jesus' very words!
It is even possible that we have a few fragments from Matthew's original gospel account! In 1994 the oldest fragment from the gospel of Matthew - formerly kept at Oxford Library - was dated by a scanning laser microscope as an account written by Christ's contemporaries (The Times, London, 12-24-94). It is called the "Magdalen Papyrus" P64. In any event, Matthew's gospel account can be dated very early - by 50 A.D. or possibly earlier.
Written in light of Hebrew Culture
Matthew's gospel account is the only one said to have been written in Hebrew. It is fitting that Matthew is also known as Levi - a Hebrew name. According to David Bivin Ph.D., scholar at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, some of Matthew's imagery and stories are only understood in light of cultural and historic Judaism.
The early church father, Irenaeus, says that Matthew preached his gospel among fellow Hebrews. Clement of Alexandria claims he did this for fifteen years. Eusebius states that Matthew wrote his Gospel in the Hebrew tongue - the only disciple to do so.
Kingdom of Heaven suffers Violence - (Matt. 11:12)
For example, consider this odd saying: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).
Charles Ryrie explains, "Since the time John began preaching, the response had been violent, whether by vicious opponents or enthusiastic supporters" (Ryrie Study Bible 1996, 1531).
In contrast, however, Dr. Bivin suggests that from an old rabbinic interpretation (Midrash) concerning Micah 2:13, the Matthew phrase is most like a shepherd penning up his sheep for the night. "He quickly builds a fold by throwing up a makeshift rock fence against the side of a hill. The next morning, to let the sheep out, he makes a hole in the fence." Eager to get out, the sheep shove and push, bursting through the breach in their eagerness to get into the green pasture.
In other words, the rabbinic interpretation suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking forth (not suffering violence), and every person in it is breaking forth (like water from a broken dam)… (Bivin 1987, 123-125).
Manual on Persecution&Cost of Discipleship
Matthew presents us with a shocking view of persecution and suffering - something very difficult for our Western culture to comprehend. Those Jesus calls "blessed" would be among those we call "cursed."
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12, ESV).
The suffering presented here is for Him, on account of Him, in a manner similar to that suffered by the Old Testament Prophets, to be accepted submissively (and with joy), with the knowledge of future promises and rewards. Furthermore, the disciple's suffering is inevitable - something to be expected. The most honorable form of suffering in this passage concerns those who are persecuted for doing right - not wrong. This is revolutionary.
New Family&Theology of Suffering
Furthermore, in a culture centered around family and honoring one's parents, Jesus warned that "Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death" (Matthew 10:21, ESV). This is a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy from Micah 7:6.
Kingdom our Family - not Kin
In first century Jerusalem the family formed the basis of society. Everything - one's place in society, his schooling, vocational training, and basic needs - were met through the family. For a new Christian convert to set this aside to be a follower of Christ meant giving up everything he had - possibly even his very life. Jesus insisted that the Kingdom come first - not one's kin.
Jesus made it clear that we might we lose family. But, that is not our main fear:
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
The power of those who may murder us is not the worst thing. They can only kill our bodies. The worst thing is that we might be disobedient to God and find ourselves in eternal hell. That is the worst thing that can happen to any man!
End Times Guidebook - Persecution&Apocalypse
Finally, while Luke 21:12 suggests that his end times guide pertains to those living "before" the signs of the end - wars, famines, earthquakes and so on, Matthew's end times guidebook, called the Olivet Discourse, probably refers to those living "after" those same signs (wars, famines, earthquakes).
"But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name" (Matthew 24:8-9, NASB).
Luke references Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Luke's end times guidebook refers to the coming fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. when millions of Christians fled the area - just as Jesus warned them to flee - when Romans began to surround the city. Fourth century church historian Eusebius quotes first-century historian Josephus noting that their lives were saved because they obeyed Christ's warning to flee (Ecclesiastical History, 3:5).
The fall of Jerusalem is illustrated by John Roberts in 1850.
Matthew references Great Tribulation
Matthew's end times guidebook refers to the Great Tribulation or "Time of Jacob's Trouble," however (Missler 2005, 13). It is similar to Luke's Apocalyptic Discourse - but for a different group of people who would live after the wars, famines, and earthquakes begin. This begins the worst persecution of the Jews in world history - worse than that perpetrated upon the Jews by Hitler.
How far did Matthew preach? Almost all of the early church fathers claim that Matthew brought the gospel message as far as Ethiopia in Africa (there was another Ethiopia in Persia).
But, there is disagreement as to where Matthew was martyred or how he was killed. However, Matthew - also known as Levi - the brother of James the Less (the son of Alphaeus) clearly had an apostolic mission to Ethiopia. Traditional thought says he was beheaded "while carrying out Jesus' commission to reach the world" (Foxe 2007, 12).
Regardless, Matthew's legacy is that he gave us accurate records of the life and words of Jesus; he presented Jesus' teachings in a way that completely redefined and revolutionized the purpose and meaning of suffering, persecution, and the cost of discipleship; and he continues to help all of us to reorder our priorities in our current world.
Bivin, David. 1984. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus. Shippensburg, PA: Center for Biblical Analysis, a division of Destiny Image Publishers.
Foxe, John. 2007. Foxe Voices of the Martyrs. Orlando, FL: Bridge-Logos.
Missler, Chuck. 2005. Tape cassettes. This Generation? Resolving The Olivet Discourse.. Supplemental Notes, 13. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House.
Thiede, Carsten Peter. 1994. The Times London, UK. Front page, Dec. 24. (Director of the Institute for Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany).
Author: Valorie Mays Emilio received her MA in History from UCLA focusing upon Christian origins, and a Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. She teaches and writes articles for the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Ken, serves as Director.