The book of Matthew introduces the reader to Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the long-awaited fulfillment of old testament prophecies. Matthew (also known in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 as Levi) was a “publican” or tax-gatherer by trade (Matthew 10:3) –he worked for the Roman government, and was therefore despised by many of his countrymen as a traitor to Judah (much like Zacchaeus, Luke 19). Matthew’s record contains some of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings (the Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the Sower, teaching about divorce, and the parable of the talents), as well as accounts of some of mightiest and most-seen miracles (many miraculous healings, casting out of evil spirits, and His transfiguration). A prominent feature in the book of Matthew is the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish rulers, who repeatedly tried to ensnare Him in an inconsistency or otherwise dispute His teaching.
Matthew begins by reviewing the ancestry of Jesus, reaching back as far as Abraham. By beginning with Abraham Matthew establishes that Jesus is his legitimate heir via Isaac, Jacob, and Judah (cf. Galatians 3:16-19), which means He is qualified to rule over Israel as king. The importance of this fact arises in chapter 1:12, with the mention of Jechoniah; when we compare this reference with the words of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:30), we learn that none of Jeconiah’s offspring would be allowed to rule on earth, in Jerusalem. This means that Jesus cannot –ever– rule on a physical throne in Jerusalem (as various millennialist theories assert). When He told Herod that “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), He was alluding to the spiritual nature of His kingdom, in contrast with the materialistic and physical character of this world’s kingdoms.
In chapter two, we meet the “Magi” or wise men who came from the east to seek and worship Jesus at the time of His birth. The word “worship” in verse 2 is important, because Jesus Himself would later (chapter 4:9) rebuke the devil for even daring to suggest that worship could be offered to anyone other than Deity; yet Jesus Himself accepted such reverence and adoration without question or objection in Matthew 28, Luke 24, and John 9:38. Notice also that in His parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) the “master” who received the “worship” of the indebted servant is actually a reference to God. Several additional, but important, points from Matthew 2 include the fact that Herod’s advisors knew from Micah 5:2 where the Messiah would be born (verse 5), that by the time these men arrived in Bethlehem the Lord’s family was no longer in a stable but in a house (verse 11 -which shows that they did not arrive on the night of His birth), and that Jesus’ family fled into temporary exile in Egypt in order to escape Herod’s genocidal attempt to murder Him in infancy (verses 13-18; and both facts fulfilled old testament prophecies about Him).
Chapter three introduces us to John the “baptizer.” The word “baptist” here has nothing to do with the denomination that uses that name; rather, it describes the action that distinguished John from other teachers and would-be prophets of that day. As for John’s own religion, he was a Jew(in fact, John was never a Christian, since he died before the church began). The account of his basic message (“the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) in verse 2 is important because his description does not allow for the passage of hundreds or thousands of years until what he prophesied would be fulfilled (notice also Jesus’ teaching, in Matthew 4:17). The words “at hand” mean imminent; near; about to occur. Modern premillennial doctrines assert that the Lord’s kingdom has not yet been established and that the church is merely a “place-holder” until Jesus can return to earth to institute a material kingdom which will (supposedly) last 1,000 years. The words of John (and Jesus) show that this cannot be true (especially when we consider Jesus’ words to His disciples in Mark 9:1).