Matthew’s Gospel opens with a genealogy tracing Jesus’ lineage back to King David as well as Abraham. This emphasises his identity as the Messianic King that was promised to Israel. Matthew highlights other aspects of Jesus’ life that would have been particularly noteworthy to the primarily Jewish audience of the time. He intimates Jesus as a new and better Moses figure through the use of parallels: they both go through the waters of baptism (River Jordan and Red Sea); they both spend 40 days/years in the wilderness; they both receive and give teaching from mountaintops (The Sermon on the Mount and the Mosaic Law). Matthew also points out how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament prophecies. Where this occurs, do go back and read the Old Testament scripture in full; it is incredible to see God’s faithfulness to his Word, given hundreds of years beforehand.
Jesus himself also refers back to the Law in his teaching, not in order to ‘abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfil them’ (Matt 5:17). He does not discount the Word that God gave his people in previous generations. Instead he builds on it. Oftentimes he takes laws that have focused on outward actions, and draws out the importance of the inward, heart attitude behind them. He emphasises that both his teachings and ‘all the Law and the Prophets hang on… two commandments’- that is, to ‘love the Lord your Lord with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind’, and ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matt 22:37-40). Jesus’ teachings are radical, built on those of the Old Covenant- all Words of life come to us from the one God with the same heart. Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15); that same ‘God of Abraham…Isaac, and…Jacob’ (Matt 22:32); the God who freed his people from slavery in Egypt and who now also offers salvation to all people who believe in Christ. The particular emphasis on Jesus as a fulfilment of and bridge between the Old Covenant and the New should inspire us to get stuck into the Old Testament scriptures, having been reminded that they reveal to us more of the heart of our God, who ‘is the same yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8).
The teachings God gave Israel through Moses were counter-cultural to the surrounding nations of their time; similarly, Jesus’ teachings are also counter-cultural and deeply challenging to our lives today. A life lived in response to Jesus’ saving grace is not easy- it is the way of the cross. Jesus said his followers must ‘deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me’ (Matt 16:24). So as we come to the book of Matthew, know that we come by the grace of God. Come with an open heart; come ready to be challenged, come ready to act.
Also, check out the Bible Project videos for a really great summaries: