III. The Theology of The Gospel
As indicated above, the structure of the gospel suggests that the principal concern in this book is Christology. It is therefore appropriate to begin this examination of Matthean theology with Matthew's understanding of Jesus.
We have seen that Matthew presents Jesus primarily as Son of God. Jesus is Son of God in that he has his origin in God, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:18-25). Moreover, Jesus is Son of God as the one who perfectly obeys the will of his Father (in ancient times, sonship implied obedience). Jesus submits to baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15; cf. v. 17), and as he faces the cross, Jesus prays to his Father, “Not as I will, but as you will” (26:39).
Matthew presents Jesus also as Son of Abraham and Son of David. As Son of Abraham, Jesus fulfills the promise made to Abraham regarding a son in Ge 22:18 (“through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed”) and thus serves as the means whereby God's salvation is extended to all peoples throughout the earth, not just to Israelites. As Son of David, Jesus is the messianic King in the line of David who gently shepherds his people (2:6; 11:29-30), pouring out his blood for them (26:28) in order to save them from their sins (1:21).
For Matthew, therefore, Christian faith and life are rooted in the person of Jesus. Christians throughout the ages, including Wesley and his followers, have recognized the centrality of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, there has been a tendency at certain points in the history of the Wesleyan movement to emphasize the work of the Spirit that the centrality of Christ has been set aside. The gospel of Matthew, then, draws us back to the heart of our faith, reminding us that the Spirit always points to and bears witness to the person and work of Christ (10:20; 12:28; cf. Jn 14:25-26; 16:12-15).
In addition to Christology, the author voices three other major theological concerns. Each of these concerns involves discipleship, and each of them relates to primary emphases in Wesleyan thought.
First, there is here a distinct concern for Christian ethics, i.e., a concern for questions of right and wrong in the Christian life. Matthew emphasizes, as later Wesley would also emphasize, that discipleship involves a profound commitment to obey God's will in every dimension of life. The will of God is summed up in the command to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves (5:43-48; 7:12; 22:34-40).
Second, related to the concern for Christian ethics is the issue of divine and human cooperation in salvation. Although Matthew makes it clear that salvation stems entirely from God's gracious acts, especially the death and resurrection of Christ (1:21; 20:28; 26:28), he makes it equally clear that Christians have a part to play in maintaining their salvation. Thus Matthew warns his Christian readers that disobedience will lead to their condemnation on the Day of Judgment (7:21-23; 24:45-25:46), while they can be assured of final salvation only as they continue to do “the will of my Father in heaven” (12:50; cf. 24:13). Theologians refer to this divine and human cooperation as “synergism” (lit. “working together”), and no one has drawn out the implications of this synergism for Christian salvation more fully than Wesley.
A third theological emphasis involves the Christian mission. The concern for evangelism is evidenced by the fact that the book reaches its climax with the resurrected Christ commanding his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (28:19). Moreover, the whole of ch. 10 is given over to instructions regarding missionary activity. Matthew locates the basis for the Christian mission in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of Abraham who draws all nations to his worship (1:1; cf. 2:1-12). Moreover, as one who has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth,” Jesus commands his disciples to bring all persons everywhere under his sovereign rule (28:18-20). It was Matthew's desire that all Christians could say, with Wesley, “The world is my parish.”