Mark Dever surveys the historical context, organization, and theology of each New Testament book in light of God's Old Testament promises. His message is that of the New Testament itself, one of hope fulfilled.
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About the Author
Mark Dever (PhD, Cambridge University) is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and president of 9Marks (9Marks.org). Dever has authored over a dozen books and speaks at conferences nationwide.
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he has served since 1969. He is known around the world for his verse-by-verse expository preaching and his pulpit ministry via his daily radio program, Grace to You. He has also written or edited nearly four hundred books and study guides. MacArthur is chancellor emeritus of the Master’s Seminary and Master’s University. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children.
Read an Excerpt
THE MESSAGE OF MATTHEW: JESUS, THE SON OF DAVID
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY GOSPEL ACCOUNTS?
This month, the world population is projected to reach 6 billion people for the first time ever. Out of that 6 billion, about 14 million people claim to be Jews, 22 million claim to be Sikhs, and 350 million claim to be Buddhists. Various new religions claim around 100 million adherents, and about 250 million people are adherents of various tribal religions. There are also supposed to be about 150 million atheists. Everyone I have mentioned so far, then, totals about 900 million people.
The statisticians who compiled these figures describe about 800 million people as nonreligious. They do not explain how they compiled that category. If these particular researchers have defined mild Confucianism and Shintoism not as religions but as life customs, the great bulk of these "nonreligious" must be Chinese and Japanese.
Of those that are left, about 800 million are Hindu, a little more than one billion are Muslim, and about two billion are professing Christians.
I wonder how you react to such statistics. Those of us who are professing Christians may see something of the great challenge still before us for reaching the unreached. Some less spiritual types may feel a vague reassurance, a strangely satisfied feeling that "our team is on top!" Some may feel a despair of ever knowing the truth for themselves. Such a great variety of perceptions of ultimate reality seals their case — that the whole world is as confused and divided as they are.
An inquiring historian appearing on the scene might well ask, where did this largest of all the world's religions come from? Perhaps knowing a bit about religion, the historian realizes that Christianity is not a political or military movement like Islam that can expand by the sword. (The Crusades were a failed error on the part of a minority.) Nor is Christianity simply the life customs and mythology of a populous culture, emerging slowly out of the mists of common practice and lore, like Hinduism.
Christianity burst onto the scene, like Minerva emerging fully formed from Zeus's head. True, our understanding of various doctrines has developed through the church's history, but we trace them all back to our one teacher, Jesus Christ. His life and teaching, his death and his victory over death are together the exploding nucleus which has propelled this faith across Asia, Europe, Africa, and the globe. It all began in him.
It is this One, easily the most influential figure ever to live, who will be the subject for our studies in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts — the section we have called "The Truth About Jesus." To learn this truth, we will display one of the strange riches of the Christian faith: the accounts of four men who were contemporaries of Jesus — John, the disciple; Luke, the historian friend of the apostles; Mark, the young, well-placed friend in Jerusalem; and perhaps the strangest one of the lot, Matthew, the bureaucrat, the tax-collecting, pencil-pushing scribbler. Matthew was a tortured combination — Jewish by birth and Roman by employment. More important, he was one of the twelve disciples called by Jesus.
All four authors include in their accounts the same basic themes about the mission and message of Jesus, and you will find no disagreement between them. For example, our discussion of Mark is titled "Jesus, the Son of Man," because this is a title Jesus uses to refer to himself that is very prominent in Mark's Gospel. But we should not conclude that "Son of Man" is not used in Matthew. Indeed, it is used about thirty times in Matthew. And just one more example: where would an experienced Bible reader guess the following verse is from? "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." An experienced Bible reader may think this sounds like John's Gospel, but it is Matthew 11:27.
These four verbal portraits of Jesus clearly present a unified picture. They are talking about the same person. And yet the Bible provides four separate accounts for a reason. The Lord did not leave just one testimony. Each Gospel writer emphasizes slightly different themes, and we can learn something fresh about Jesus from each one. Ultimately, all four will enrich our understanding of Jesus himself.
We begin where the New Testament begins, with Matthew, who presents the new with an understanding of its rootedness in the past. Everyone agrees that Matthew's Gospel was written in the decades immediately following the life of Jesus. Matthew's name is at the top of the book, but nowhere is Matthew named in the text itself. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the apostle Matthew was the author. From the earliest history of the church, other writers quoting from the text cite him as the author. And nothing in the book would lead us to think he did not write it. The book is written in fairly good Greek, which a tax collector and scribal official such as Matthew would be trained in. No other name has been closely associated with the book. And, honestly, there would be little reason for an anonymous writer to ascribe anything to Matthew. Matthew's background was not prestigious. A number of books were written right after the New Testament period under the assumed identity of someone famous. But these pseudonymous writers picked Peter, or Paul, or John. Nobody would have picked Matthew.
Pulling down Matthew's document from the shelf of history, what do we find? What does Matthew tell us about Jesus?
Some people expect to find the religious inventor par excellence. Jesus, they like to imagine, really knew how to make up a religion. He discovered the key to the human psyche and could market himself, or let himself be marketed, better than anyone ever.
Other people expect to find a Horatio Alger story, some self-made hero who has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.
But if either group were to take up Matthew's Gospel and begin reading it carefully, they would not find someone who was a religious innovator with a product to sell or a self-made man, though Jesus certainly did teach some new things. Rather, they would find someone who thought and taught — indeed, who embodied and personified — what people had been taught not just for decades or centuries, but for millennia before him. It was as if history itself had been prepared for him.
Matthew provides a deeply textured portrait of Christ. What does this portrait portray? Was Jesus about something new? That is what the religious leaders at the time thought. We must go back two thousand years and listen to Matthew tell us what caused this startling phenomenon of Christianity. Specifically, we want to ask three questions: 1) What does this book say? 2) Was Jesus more new or more Jew? 3) Who is Jesus?
WHAT DOES THIS BOOK SAY?
First, what does this book say? When you read Matthew's Gospel, which took me two hours to read aloud, you encounter many familiar things. You find the Golden Rule and the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission, the baby Jesus and Peter's declaration that Jesus is the Christ. You find Jesus' teaching on the church, discipline, and divorce.
Matthew presents Jesus' ministry in seven sections. The first four chapters provide an introduction. They include a genealogy and an account of Jesus' infancy, his baptism, and his preparation for ministry. The three concluding chapters in Matthew, chapters 26 to 28, recount his suffering, his death on the cross, and his resurrection.
The great bulk of the book is the middle section, chapters 5 though 25, which comprises the body of Jesus' ministry. These middle chapters easily divide into five sections. Each of these sections begins with a long teaching block, followed by narrative. Matthew is the only Gospel with this structure. We get the longest sermons of Jesus in this book.
Let me take you through those five sections. The first covers chapters 5–9, and comprises the Sermon on the Mount and accounts of a number of Jesus' healings. In this first section, Matthew appears to be establishing Jesus' authority as a teacher and healer. Jesus is someone we are supposed to hear, trust, and obey.
Chapters 10–12 make up the second section, which shows a rising opposition to Jesus' ministry. In chapter 10 Jesus prepares his disciples for this opposition, some of which they experience in chapters 11 and 12. This section is helpful for the Christian who is experiencing opposition to his or her faith.
From chapter 13 through the middle of chapter 16, this opposition leads to the formation of two camps — those who are beginning to see that Jesus is the Christ, as Peter acknowledges, and those who do not. Jesus teaches in the block of parables in chapter 13 that a polarization happens when the kingdom of heaven comes. This polarization is then acted out in the remaining chapters. This section is helpful for reorienting us outward for evangelism. God has a concern that is going to push us out even amid people who may disagree with us about who Jesus is.
The fourth section begins at what people say is the turning point in the Gospel. The hinge of Matthew is Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah, which ends the previous section. We then read,
From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (16:21).
In the rest of chapter 16 and then throughout chapters 17 and 18, Jesus teaches about discipleship, corrects misunderstandings, and shows his disciples how to live together. The block of parables in chapter 18 does this by teaching about the church. Jesus answers questions like, How are we to deal with sin in the church? How are we to forgive one another? It is almost as if Jesus, seeing the opposition in chapters 10–12 and the division into two camps in 13 to 16, now turns and directly instructs those who have decided to follow him. This section is helpful for dealing with wrong expectations in the church.
Then there is the final, large section of Matthew's Gospel — chapters 19 to 25 — that focuses on judgment. The conflict grows as the opposition to Jesus intensifies in the first half of the section, and then Jesus' promise of judgment upon Israel for rejecting the Messiah becomes obvious in a long teaching section in the second half. Here it is clear that God will judge the leaders of the people, the temple will be destroyed, and, according to Jesus' parables in chapter 25, everybody will finally be judged by God. Those words can be more difficult to hear, but they are also helpful, especially when we as Christians feel discouraged, thinking that God will never win. He doesn't seem to be winning in our life, or in the world around us. This section is a reminder from Jesus that God intends to bring the whole world into judgment. It is helpful for encouraging us even when we see no ground for hope.
There you have the five main sections in the middle: Jesus' authority in 5–9, opposition to him in 10–12, polarization concerning him in 13–16, teaching about discipleship in 16–18, and a promise of judgment on those who reject him in 19–25. Add the introductory chapters 1–4 about his birth and beginning of his ministry, and the concluding chapters 26–28 about his arrest, trial, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, and you have the story of Jesus as presented by Matthew.
All of it is laid out to bring us to the core of Matthew's message, and the core of our concern for understanding who Jesus is. Which brings us to our second question.
WAS JESUS MORE NEW OR MORE JEW?
Jesus the New
With all this opposition from the Jewish leadership, including their final rejection of him and his rejection of them, was Jesus more new or more Jew? Stepping back and looking at the whole of Matthew's Gospel, we find the tremendous story of a teacher and preacher, a rabbi, a faithful Jew, and one who knew the Old Testament and was certain it would be fulfilled in his ministry. As he taught and performed miracles, his mission caught the imagination of the Hebrew people, and they began calling him by titles close to their hearts — Son of Man, Son of David, Messiah, the Christ. This figure was not so much the founder of a new religion as he was the inheritor and interpreter of a deep, ancient stream of God's special revelation of himself to his special people.
Not that there was nothing new about Jesus and his ministry. Whole books have been written about what was new in the ministry of Jesus. My own Bible has a table of contrasts between the Old and New Testaments (it does not provide a table of continuities!). Certainly there is a lot of newness in Matthew. Jesus talked about new wine, new wine skins, and new treasures. In Matthew 24, Jesus taught that the temple, the gigantic building in which he was standing, was going to be destroyed. This destruction would have huge implications. Think about how the Judaism of the time would be rearranged. Animal sacrifices would end. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus described his own body as the temple, and said that he would die as the ransom for the sins of many. The vision Jesus presented was one of considerable change.
The replacement of the temple had other implications, including the end of the priesthood and a decline in the significance of the earthly city of Jerusalem. Matthew, like the other three Gospel writers, shows that Jesus worked to include people from all nations, not just Israel. This is clear from the Gospel's beginning, when Gentile wise men came to worship him, to the Gospel's end, when Jesus instructed his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations." The good news Jesus brought and proclaimed was meant for all nations. His mission had a global reach. While we will look at this more clearly in Luke's Gospel, only Matthew contains the statement that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [ethnic Israel] and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (21:43). Only Matthew uses the parable of the sheep and the goats to picture a universal judgment. And only Matthew records this final call of Jesus to preach the gospel to all ethne, all nations.
Jesus the Jew
Yet having said all this, we notice from the first sentence of Matthew's Gospel how Jewish this Jesus was. You can hear the plaintive, haunting note of the shofar, the ram's horn, blowing as you read, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham" (1:1). Mark does not begin with a sentence like this, nor does Luke or John.
Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. It was written in the first century A.D., a formative time for Judaism. After the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the ancient religion of Judaism was bound to change. In fact, only two main branches of Judaism survived after the Roman invasion and destruction — Rabbinic Judaism, which directly descended from the Pharisees of the New Testament Gospels, and Jewish Christianity. A century earlier, before the time of Jesus, there were many variations of Judaism. And Matthew's Gospel appears to have been written at a time when the break either loomed just ahead or had just happened. Issues of what it meant to be Jewish were both critical and problematic for those who followed Jesus. So it is no surprise that Jesus taught and Matthew recorded much about the Jews' reaction to Jesus during his ministry.
Some of those reactions were quite severe. For example, toward the end of Matthew we find what has been called the most anti-Semitic statement in the New Testament. Jesus had been handed over to the Roman governor Pilate, who was trying to find a way to let him off because he did not find anything wrong with Jesus. He certainly did not want to kill Jesus. Yet the people yelled back, "'Crucify him!' When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!'" (27:23b-25). Is retelling this account anti-Semitic? When we hear the conflict recounted in Matthew between Jesus and many Jewish leaders, we can well imagine something like this being said. And if this happened, is it wrong to recount it as history just because it is unpleasant or difficult to read? Shall we not have any books on slavery or the Holocaust? Matthew is honest about the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Message of the New Testament"
Copyright © 2005 Mark Dever.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by John MacArthur,
Introduction: Getting a Window Seat,
The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept,
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS,
1 The Message of Matthew: Jesus, the Son of David,
2 The Message of Mark: Jesus, the Son of Man,
3 The Message of Luke: Jesus, the Son of Adam,
4 The Message of John: Jesus, the Son of God,
5 The Message of Acts: Jesus, the Risen Lord,
KEY IDEAS FOR THE TIMES,
6 The Message of Romans: Justification,
7 The Message of 1 Corinthians: Church,
8 The Message of 2 Corinthians: Weakness,
9 The Message of Galatians: Faith,
10 The Message of Ephesians: Grace,
11 The Message of Philippians: Humility,
12 The Message of Colossians: New Life,
13 The Message of 1 Thessalonians: The Second Coming,
14 The Message of 2 Thessalonians: Hope,
15 The Message of 1 Timothy: Leadership,
16 The Message of 2 Timothy: Success,
17 The Message of Titus: Beginnings,
18 The Message of Philemon: Forgiveness,
LIVING IN THE REAL WORLD,
19 The Message of Hebrews: Sticking with the Best,
20 The Message of James: Faith That Works,
21 The Message of 1 Peter: When Things Get Tough,
22 The Message of 2 Peter: Certainty,
23 The Message of 1 John: Christianity and the Flesh,
24 The Message of 2 John: Truth and Love,
25 The Message of 3 John: Why Go to All the Trouble?,
26 The Message of Jude: Having Faith in Faithless Times,
27 The Message of Revelation: What Are We Waiting For?,
What People are Saying About This
"Many Bible readers are familiar with individual trees while failing to see the forest. They are in great danger of misinterpreting the parts of the Bible they read because they do not see the entire structure of a Gospel like John or an epistle like Ephesians. Mark Dever fills a gaping need with his sermons on each of the individual books."
—Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Associate Dean of the School of Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"Mark Dever's approach is thematic without ignoring the literary and theological structure of the books and is thus a stimulus to doctrinal preaching."
—Graeme Goldsworthy, Former Lecturer in Old Testament, Biblical Theology, and Hermeneutics, Moore Theological College
"Here is a vigorous, juicy, engaging, life-centered, God-honoring set of sermons, brilliantly overviewing the entire New Testament: a truly rich resource from which to benefit and borrow. Dr. Dever is a Puritan in twenty-first-century clothing, and it shows."
—J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"Mark Dever knows that Christians cannot be powerfully influenced by the Bibles they do not know. So here is the antidote: a biblical flyover that reveals the contours and glories of the New Testament landscape so that it becomes familiar geography to the soul. This book will grace many lives."
—R. Kent Hughes, Visiting Professor of Practical Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary
"A pastoral overview of the entire New Testament from the heart of a preacher who wants his people to know and live the truth. These expositions are theologically rich, biblically faithful, and loaded with superb introductions, illustrations, and applications."
—J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi
"Whether you are a Christian seeking a better understanding of the Bible, or a pastor seeking to preach 'the whole counsel of God,' this unique and invaluable resource provides a wealth of insight that will serve you for years."
—C. J. Mahaney, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
"This outstanding series of bird's-eye studies of the New Testament books will enable all Christians to feed deeper from God's Word and equip teachers to feed others. They expand the mind, warm the heart, and challenge the will."
—Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, England; Director, The Proclamation Trust; author, God's Big Picture
"Unusually prophetic utterances from the heart of the nation's capital, these overview introductions to the most salient truths of each book of the New Testament are vintage Mark Dever. Dever's scholarship abounds as all of his knowledge is here poured into truths that will transform a person, a church, or a nation."
—Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
"Is biblical exposition a lost art? Not if this book is any indication. This book is a gem and it belongs on every Christian's bookshelf."
—R. Albert Mohler Jr., President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary