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Matthew’s Gospel: outline and summary


(Photo: Unsplash)

A survey of the Gospel of Matthew, of how Christ received his reign.

How do the pieces fit together? With my grandson, we started with a stack of Lego pieces, followed 48 pages of instruction, and finally saw what we set out to see: the assembled car.

Larger books of the Bible can feel like that. You start reading the verses, to understand the paragraphs, and the chapters, and the sections, and eventually you get the big picture, how the whole story fits together.

So here’s a brief guide to Matthew’s Gospel, a simple outline distilled from 5 years of processing and pondering the details, meditations that could fill two books (275 posts). From opening statement (anointed son of David) to closing declaration (all authority in heaven and earth, with the nations being instructed as he commands), Matthew’s message is how heaven’s anointed became earth’s king.

This is how Matthew traces the good news of Jesus as the one who restores heaven’s reign to earth:

A. The king is appointed by heaven (1–4)
B. The king addresses his people (5–7)
C. The king’s authority is seen on earth (8–9)
D. The king provides no safety for his servants (10–12)
E. The king plants seeds of kingdom life (13)
D’. The king provides for his people (14–15)
C’. The king’s authority is revealed by heaven (16–20)
B’. The king confronts the leadership (21–25)
A’. The king defeats the ultimate enemy, is enthroned by heaven (26–28)

The outline is shaped like the steps of a journey — there and back again as Tolkien would tell it. When you reach the middle, you retrace your steps for the journey home. In the end, you have reached the destination promised in the beginning. This is a well-known story structure (chiasm), regularly used in the Old Testament. It’s the perfect plotline to present Jesus as the fulfilment of the story of God.

At the heart of the story (section E), we glimpse the destination through the parables of the kingdom. Like a farmer planting seeds, Jesus sows his words into the earth where God decreed fruitfulness. Many seeds are unproductive, yet the kingdom gradually grows, so in the end God receives the harvest he anticipated the earth to produce for him.

Using the map above, let’s follow the steps of the journey, walking with Matthew as he takes us there and back again.

A. The king is appointed by heaven (1–4)

Jesus enters the Abrahamic story as the Davidic heir, saving his people from captivity, restoring God’s reign (God-with-us). Heaven announced his birth to his own people (1) and to foreigners (2). The voices of earth (John the Baptist) and heaven declared his kingship, Son of the heavenly sovereign, confirmed by the Spirit.

Then the king was led into the wild places to battle the Enemy for his people. He overcame the Enemy, and a great light broke into the darkness as he announced heaven’s reign (4).

B. The king addresses his people (5–7)

We call this the Sermon on the Mount, but the audience thought it sounded unlike a sermon, more like a manifesto from someone in authority (7:29).

What the king gave on the mountain was instruction for life in his kingdom. Under his reign, those who had been missing out (the poor) would inherit the kingdom (5:3), and so on.

C. The king’s authority is seen on earth (8–9)

After delivering his address, the king moved among his people, using his authority to care for their needs. His authority might be more obvious to a foreigner (8:9), but the king carries away the sufferings of his people (8:17). His command extended to what they thought was uncontrollable (8:26), even to foreign places (8:32).

He was the human descendant with authority to release people from sin’s debilitating dominion (9:6-8, 13), with authority over uncleanness and death (9:22-25), authority to restore the earth as God’s farm (9:35-38).

D. The king provides no safety for his servants (10–12)

The king shares his authority with his servants (10:1). That exposes them to the same dangers he faces. A king with no armies or fortresses is asking his servants to take up their crosses as he does (10:16-39). The incarcerated John the Baptist is a case in point (11:2).

This radically non-violent and unprotected approach gives no immediate safety, but it works in the long term. Jesus’ kingship comes not from regiments but revelation (11:27), so he’s not taxing like previous kings (11:29). His heart is for rescuing rather than regulating (12:11), justice through divine wisdom rather than street riots (12:18-21), extending justice to the nations (11:41-42), treating us all as his family (12:50).

E. The king plants seeds of kingdom life (13)

At the heart of Matthew’s Gospel are the parables, the king’s insight into life in his kingdom, revealed by comparison with things we already know.

King Jesus is more like a farmer than a warrior. Instead of forcing people under his power, he just plants the seeds, relying on the blessing of fruitfulness God gave the earth. Not everyone responds, yet the kingdom grows and God has his harvest (13:3-23).

But what about the weeds? Won’t evil overtake us if good people don’t root them out? The king forbids it, knowing we will damage each other with that approach (13:29). We’re hauling the net, not sorting the catch (13:49).

The little mustard seed grows until his kingship fills the earth (13:31), like leaven spreading through the whole recipe (13:33). In human history, divine kingship is a treasure buried and forgotten long ago, but it’s such good news when it’s rediscovered (13:44), of greater value than anything people prize (13:46).

The seeds at the heart of the story now germinate as the story unfolds and Jesus becomes king.

D’. The king provides for his people (14–15)

Although the king provides no safety for his servants (section D), he does provide for his people. Herod was celebrating himself when John’s final prophetic act exposed how Herod’s power came from killing his enemies (14:10). By contrast, Jesus relied on heaven’s help to provide for his people (14:19) and rescue them (14:32).

The threat against Jesus’ kingship isn’t just Rome (Herod); Jerusalem is also undermining what he said, nullifying God’s decree (15:6). But they won’t stop him: his authority extends beyond the boundaries: freeing Canaanites (15:28), providing for gentiles too (15:36).

C’. The king’s authority is revealed by heaven (16–20)

In section C, the king’s authority was revealed through signs that pointed to heaven as the source of his authority. In this section, heaven directly reveals his authority.

Peter is the first to get the revelation (16:17), though it doesn’t work as he imagines (16:22). Jesus’ kingship comes in their lifetime, by revelation not revolution (16:27-28).

For just a moment, they see his glory, as the voice from the cloud affirms his authority (17:5). Again, Jesus explains his kingship comes not by crushing his enemies but by being crushed by those in power (17:22). God’s upside-down kingdom (18:3) is established as we absorb the mistreatment and willingly release people (18:35).

It’s difficult for those who have wealth (19:24) to submit to his throne (19:28). His generosity doesn’t match their work ethic (20:15). Heaven will raise him up (20:19), when the king gives his life to rescue his people (20:28).

B’. The king confronts the leadership (21–25)

The longest address so far was the king’s instructions regarding life in his kingdom, delivered on the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee (Section B).

Now the king rides into the capital, overturns the temple, and delivers an even longer address regarding leadership in his kingdom, delivered in the temple precincts and on the mountain overlooking the temple.

A’. The king defeats the ultimate enemy, is enthroned by heaven (26–28)

At the end of the first section of Matthew, the Spirit led the king into a confrontation with the Enemy. After defeating Satan, we regularly saw the king freeing his people from Satan’s grasp.

Now, in the final section, Jesus is led into a confrontation with the ultimate enemy, the one we all face in the end: death itself. Jesus had explained that death was the power behind evil rule (23:27–39), and he knew he must give his life to rescue his people (20:28). He was trusting God to raise him up out of death (16:21; 17:23 etc) when he was betrayed, condemned, and crucified.

That is how God’s anointed received the kingship. He is not here. He is raised, just as he said, heaven’s messenger declared (28:6). With death’s grip broken, Jesus had received all authority, both in the heavenly realm and the earthly one (28:18).

The anointed son of David has overturned the captivity, saved his people, and reigns as God-with-us. The nations are coming under his kingship, as foreshadowed by the magi. The Spirit of God descended on his body in the tomb as heaven decreed the kingship of the Son.

Everything promised in the opening section is being fulfilled in the end.

Conclusion

When you assemble the pieces, the Gospel of Matthew is a vehicle for Jesus’ kingship, the story of how he received it by coming down (incarnation), facing the enemy for his people, going down into death, and being raised up as redeemer and regent for his people. That’s how heaven’s governance (the kingdom of heaven) comes to earth in God’s anointed (the Christ).

For all the people of the earth, that is good news — the gospel, according to Matthew.

Related posts

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia
View all posts by Allen Browne

Used with permission of the author, Allen Browne.

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