What is the Book of Matthew About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Matthew!


Historical Context

Matthew (also called Levi), the former tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple, is the author. The original audience may have been the church in Antioch of Syria. Its members included Jewish and Gentile Christians.

—ESV Global Study Bible

We do not definitively know who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, but the universal testimony of the early church is that it was penned by Matthew, one of the twelve disciples. Matthew was called from his labor as a tax collector, which was one of the most despised vocations any Jew could hold, yet because of his training as a tax collector, Matthew was acquainted with lists and genealogies from the public registry, so he would know the family history of the people being taxed. He was also, obviously, literate and probably spoke two or three languages. Therefore, his work as a tax collector, under the providence of God, was the Lord’s preparation for Matthew to begin his most important and celebrated task. This book has been called, even by critics of historic Christianity, the greatest book ever written.

—R.C. Sproul

Source: Matthew: An Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul © Ligonier Ministries 2019. Used by permission of Ligonier Ministries. All rights reserved.

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Matthew for your good and to lead you into joy.

Matthew was probably written in the late 50s or early 60s AD.

The Setting of Matthew  

The events in the book of Matthew take place almost entirely within the vicinity of Palestine, an area extending roughly from Caesarea Philippi in the north to Beersheba in the south. During this time it was ruled by the Roman Empire. The opening chapters describe events surrounding Jesus’ birth in Judea, where Herod had been appointed king by the Romans. The closing chapters end with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension during the rule of Pontius Pilate and the tetrarchs Antipas and Philip.

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

Matthew by Spoken Gospel

In this series of three-minute devotional videos by Spoken Gospel, you will learn how each chapter of Matthew points us to Jesus, and helps us know and love him more.

Matthew Dictionary

As you read through Matthew, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal, or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

Heavenly beings created by God before he created Adam and Eve. Angels act as God’s messengers to men and women. They also worship God.

A god the Philistines worshiped. In the New Testament, Beelzebub is another name for Satan, the prince of the demons.

To praise or make holy. The word bless is used in different ways in the Bible: (1) When God blesses, he brings salvation and prosperity and shows mercy and kindness to people. (2) When people bless, they (a) bring salvation and prosperity to other persons or groups; (b) they praise and worship and thank God; (c) they give good things or show kindness to others.

An officer in the Roman army who was the leader of 100 men.

A rule or teaching that people are to follow. Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The Bible gives commandments for Christians to follow because they love God and want to obey his Word.

(1) A request that harm come to someone; (2) blaspheme. In the Bible, curse does not mean to swear or to use bad language. When a person cursed something, he or she wished evil or harm to come to it. When God cursed something, he declared judgment on something.

Something a person owes someone else—usually money. In the Lord’s Prayer, the word debt means sins or wrongdoing, and the word debtor means someone who sins against us.

An evil spirit working for Satan (the devil). People can be tempted, harassed, or possessed (controlled) by demons. Jesus has authority over all demons and in his earthly ministry ordered evil spirits to come out of many people.

Roman money. A denarius, which was a small silver coin, was the payment for about one day’s work.

Someone who follows the teachings and example of another. In the New Testament, disciple usually refers to a person who believed that Jesus is God’s Son and loved and obeyed him. Sometimes disciples means the twelve men Jesus chose to be his special friends and helpers. At other times, it refers to all people who love Jesus and obey his teachings.

(1) In the Old Testament, an older man in a family, tribe, or town. (2) Also in the Old Testament, a member of a group of older men in a town. The town elders made major decisions for the town. (3) In the first four books of the New Testament, the Sanhedrin—the group of men who governed the Jewish people in Jesus’ time. (4) In the Early Church, the church leaders.

(1) To be certain about the things we cannot see or to trust someone because of who he or she is. For example, a Christian has faith that Jesus is God’s Son. (2) The whole message about Jesus Christ—that he is God’s Son and that he came to take the punishment for our sin so that we may become members of God’s family. This describes the faith of a Christian.

Always loyal and trustworthy. God is faithful. We can always trust him to do whatever he has promised. We are also to be faithful in doing what is right.

A decision of the will to stop feeling angry and to stop blaming a person for something wrong he or she has done; to be friends again. God forgives everyone who repents of his or her sins and believes that Jesus died to take the punishment for his or her sins. When God forgives a person, God forgets the person’s sins forever. God instructs Christians to forgive each other in the same way he has forgiven them.

The family name of five kings appointed by the Roman emperor to rule Judea in New Testament times. Jesus was born during the rule of Herod the Great. The names of the other four kings are Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I, and Herod Agrippa II.

The most important priest of all the priests, who served God in the tabernacle and later in the temple. In the Old Testament, the high priest offered the most important sacrifices to God for the people. In New Testament times, he was also a powerful political leader. He was the head of the Sanhedrin—the group of men who governed the Jewish people. He even had a small army. The high priest wore special clothing described in Exodus 28:1-39. Aaron was the first high priest. All other high priests were his descendants. The New Testament says that Jesus Christ is now our high priest, the one who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see Hebrews 8–9).

A person who pretends to be something different from what he or she really is. In the Old Testament, hypocrite means a godless person. In the New Testament, it means a phony. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because they did many things to make themselves seem very religious, but they would not listen to God.

The most important city of Bible times. Jerusalem was the capital of the united kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The temple was built in Jerusalem, so many people traveled to the city to worship God. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and mostly destroyed by Babylonian armies. The city was rebuilt when the Jews returned after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Jesus taught in the city of Jerusalem, was crucified outside the city wall, was buried near the city, and then rose again. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit came to the believers there.

(1) All the rules God gave to help people to know and love him and to live happily with each other. The Ten Commandments are part of God’s law. (2) The first five books of the Bible. These five books are often called the Law. (3) The entire Old Testament. Sometimes the Old Testament is referred to as the Law. (4) Any rule that must be obeyed, whether it was decided by God or by people. (5) God’s rules in the Old Testament plus other rules added by Jewish religious leaders. (6) The conscience of an unbeliever who knows he or she has not followed his or her own moral code (see Romans 2:14-16).

The Savior whom God promised to send. Jesus is the Messiah. In Hebrew, Messiah means “the Anointed One.” In Greek, the word for “the Anointed One” is “Christos.” Christ is the name used in the New Testament to show that Jesus is the Savior.

Among the Jews, a man who offered prayers and sacrifices to God for the people. Priests led the public worship services at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Often the priests also taught the Law of God to the people. The priests of Israel were all descendants of Aaron’s family. All Christians are also priests (see 1 Peter 2:9). We are to help others learn about and worship God.

Men and women in the Old and New Testaments chosen by God to tell his messages to people. Also refers to the seventeen Old Testament books written by prophets.

Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.

A sect of Jewish religious leaders in New Testament times, to be distinguished from the Pharisees (see Pharisees). They said that only the laws in the first five books of the Old Testament had to be obeyed. They did not believe in the Resurrection or in angels or spirits. When the New Testament speaks of the chief priests, it is referring to the Sadducees.

A place where Jews meet together to read and study the Old Testament and to worship God.

The permanent place in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped God. The first temple was built by King Solomon and the people by following the instructions God had given Solomon’s father, King David. The temple was a very beautiful place. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice. In AD 64, the temple was destroyed again but was not rebuilt.

Misery, sorrow, or great suffering.

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?


The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Matthew.

So [the book of Matthew] is not a congregational letter, not a comprehensive biography, and not chronologically history. Above all, this is a Gospel—a carefully arranged account of good news of the life, death, resurrection of Christ. 

—David Platt 

Source: David Platt, quoted from his message, “The King and His Kingdom,” published at on December 4, 2011.

A list of names. It’s an odd way to begin [the book of Matthew]. But the list shows readers this isn’t a fairytale, but a true story. The New Testament doesn’t begin with “once upon a time,” but with a family tree… Matthew shows us his story is no myth—this is the narrative of the historical Jesus Christ, who has a family lineage and was born in the line of David. 

Patrick Schreiner 

Source: Patrick Schreiner, quoted from his article, “5 Reasons Matthew Begins with a Genealogy.” This article originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition

Chapter one [of Matthew] starts with the genealogy of Jesus. The very first words, in Greek, are biblos geneseos Iesou Christou—a book of the beginning of Jesus Christ. Now why is that significant? Well, because that word geneseos is a form of the word genesis, as in the first book the Bible. I don’t think Matthew is trying to be tricky here, but surely he knew the first book of the Bible and realized that when he begins his gospel with “a book of the genesis of Jesus” he is, at least, strongly suggesting that this story of Jesus Christ marks a new beginning for the people of God. The story is starting over. This suggestion is supported by another parallel with the first book of the Bible. Genesis is broken up into ten toledoth sections. Ten times in the book of Genesis, we read “these are the generations (toledoth) of…” Interestingly enough, these toledoth sections are, in a couple of places, translated into the Greek Septuagint with biblos geneseos (Genesis 2:4; 5:1), which further points in the direction that Matthew understood Jesus to be a new generation, a new genealogy, a new beginning for the nation of Israel. 

—Kevin DeYoung  

Source: Kevin DeYoung, quoted from his article, “Out of Egypt I Called My Son.” This article originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition

The opening two chapters of Matthew announce the arrival in world history of Jesus Christ. This was a long-anticipated moment in an ongoing story. Through various Old Testament references, allusions, and quotations Matthew shows us that Jesus came as the climax of the Old Testament storyline. He is the long awaited Messiah, the King who will bring to fulfillment God’s promises to rescue his people and restore this broken world… At the heart of Matthew’s account is the identification of Jesus Christ as the true King of the universe who ushers in the kingdom of heaven.

—Drew Hunter

Source: Content taken from Matthew: A 12-Week Study by Drew Hunter, ©2014. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. 

The book of Matthew follows after the Old Testament and is the beginning of the New. It is the connecting link between the two parts of the Bible. It is written for the Jews and it is fittingly placed. It takes for granted that the course of events up to this point is known to its readers. The Old Testament had closed with the chosen nation looking for their long-promised King, their Messiah. Now the silence is broken and the coming of the Messiah declared. Matthew’s Gospel shows that Jesus was that King. It is the Gospel of fulfillment. 

—Henrietta Mears 

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Old Testament story ends with longing for a King to come establish God’s kingdom. This kingdom will bring reconciliation to God for sinners and restoration to flourishing for creation. Matthew announces the arrival of this King and the dawn of this kingdom through Jesus’ message and ministry. Jesus’ words declare how his people will be ethically transformed (Matthew 5­–7) and his works display how his creation will be physically healed (Matthew 8–9). This is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Yet Matthew shows us, especially in chapter 13, that this kingdom does not arrive all at once. The mystery of the kingdom is that while it has already dawned in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it will not arrive in its fullness until Jesus returns.

—Drew Hunter

Source: Content adapted from Matthew: A 12-Week Study by Drew Hunter. This article first appeared on; used with permission. 

Here in this Gospel is the dramatic change of covenant—when the old covenant gave way to the new, when the sacrifices of the Temple were replaced by the sacrifice of the cross, when the law of Moses was outstripped by the teaching of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel is the account of these fundamental changes. It tells us not only who Jesus was, why he came, and how he was related to the Old Testament Scriptures God had already provided, but also how the first disciples came to understanding and faith. 

In short, the book we are about to study concerns Christian origins; and it is hard to imagine a Christian who is uninterested in such a theme. Moreover, because this Gospel ends with a commission (Matthew 28:18-20), it refuses to be taken as a sourcebook for history buffs but no more. Rather, it lays the framework for Christian mission throughout the ages, and cries out to be studied and obeyed so that the purpose of Christ’s coming may be accomplished in us. 

—D.A. Carson 

Source: Carson, D.A. God With Us: Themes from Matthew. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1995. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

Jesus will be that Davidic King who will reign over that eternal kingdom that will be a blessing to all peoples of the earth. 

—Douglas Sean O’Donnell

Content taken from Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth by Douglas Sean O’Donnell, ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

I don’t have enough space to explain how, for Matthew, Jesus is the new Abraham (who has many children from the East and West), the new David (who is the true king), the new Solomon (who delivers wisdom in his teaching), and the new Jeremiah (who laments the fate of Jerusalem). Judas is the typological betrayer of the nation (the new Jezebel, Ahithophel, and Absalom). The disciples are the new 12 tribes of Israel, and the Jewish leaders are the new rulers from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. The mountains in Matthew are the new Sinais. The deserts are the new wilderness of Israel, and the rivers are the new crossings into and with the people of God. The best way for Matthew to disciple and teach future generations—to fulfill the Great Commission—is through these stories of Jesus that echo, complete, and advance the narrative of Israel. Matthew’s inspired wisdom is embedded in his literary form. 

So look at the stories of Matthew in their larger context. You might be surprised at what you begin to see.

Patrick Schreiner

Source: Patrick Schreiner, quoted from his article, “Matthew’s Gospel as You’ve Never Read It Before. This article originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition

Following Jesus means absolute allegiance—trust in him and obedience to him. In the Great Commission Jesus will put it this way: we are “to observe all” that he has “commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Do I mean his teachings on sin and Scripture, idolatry and adultery, money and marriage, slander and suffering, anger and evangelism, purity and prayer, alms and anxiety, fasting and forgiveness, luxury and love? Yes! Everything he commanded. Christianity is not a pick-n-save religion: you pick whatever teachings you like and you still get saved. Oh no! If that’s how you think, you have it all wrong. Just listen to Jesus if you won’t listen to me. He stated it straight-forwardly: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21). To be a follower of Jesus is to be someone who does “the will of [his] Father in heaven” (cf. 12:50)—not perfectly as Jesus did, but consistently and repentantly. It’s a matter of allegiance: Jesus first, everyone and everything else second. You see, all authority demands all allegiance from everybody… even me and even you. Welcome to the Gospel of Matthew!

—Douglas Sean O’Donnell

Content taken from Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth by Douglas Sean O’Donnell, ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Matthew Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Matthew.

Matthew’s Begats
by Andrew Peterson | Folk
Sing We the Song of Emmanuel
by Keith & Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa | Hymn
For God Is with Us
by for KING & COUNTRY | Contemporary
Kingdom Come
by Rebeccas St. James feat. for KING & COUNTRY | Pop
God Made Low
by Sovereign Grace Music | Praise & Worship
by Vertical Worship | Praise & Worship
Help My Unbelief
by Audrey Assad | Chill & Relaxing
O Come, All You Unfaithful
by Sovereign Grace Music | Contemporary
Christ Our Treasure
by Sovereign Grace Music | Praise & Worship 
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
by Fernando Ortega | Hymn
Compassion Hymn
by Keith and Kristyn Getty | Hymn
Walk On Water
by Family Force 5 feat. Melodie Wagner | Pop
More Songs