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The Blue Letter Bible

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: Notes for Matthew

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Although it is not alleged that the arrangement of the books of the Bible is inspired, it is a historical fact that spiritual and scholarly men supervised the arrangement of the books of the New Testament canon. Therefore, it is no accident that the Gospel of Matthew is first. Even Renan, the French skeptic, said of this Gospel, “…the most important book in Christendom — the most important book that ever has been written.” This Gospel stands like a swinging door between the two Testaments. It swings back into the Old Testament and gathers up prophecies fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, and it swings into the New Testament and speaks of the “new creation” of God, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

Matthew was a converted publican (Matthew 9:9) who was chosen to write to the Jews concerning their Messiah.

Matthew presents the program of God. The “kingdom of heaven” is an expression peculiar to this Gospel. It occurs 32 times. The word “kingdom” occurs 50 times. A proper understanding of the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is essential to any interpretation of the Bible. The kingdom of heaven and the church are not the same. John the Baptist was the first to use the expression “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 3:2). He began his ministry with the bold and startling announcement, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When the Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry, He likewise began with this very announcement (Matthew 4:17). Neither John nor Jesus attempted to explain the meaning of the term. It is reasonable to assume that the people to whom the message was given had some conception of its meaning. The Jews of the first century in Palestine had a clearer understanding of the term than the average church member in Christendom today. They were not confused by the theologians of 19 centuries who have attempted to fit the term into some system of theology. In this they were fortunate. They understood the term to be the sum total of all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the King from heaven to set up a kingdom on this earth with heaven’s standard. The concept is not new (Daniel 2:44; 7:14, 27).
To read into this expression the history since John and Jesus made the first announcement is a presumption that the Scriptures will not countenance. The kingdom was near in the person of the King. The kingdom has not been postponed, as God still intends to carry out His earthly purpose on schedule — “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). God’s dealing with men since the rejection and crucifixion of the King has been in the framework of the kingdom of heaven. He is carrying out a heavenly purpose today “bringing many sons unto glory” (Hebrews 2:10). The calling out of the church is not synonymous with the kingdom of heaven, though the church is in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13). Neither is the term “kingdom of God” synonymous with “kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom of God”' is a broader term that encompasses all of God’s creation, including angels. The following chart may be helpful in thinking of these terms with the proper distinction.

Church vs. Kingdom of Heaven vs. Kingdom of God Chart

The church is in the kingdom of heaven, but it is not the same; likewise it is in the kingdom of God. Los Angeles is in the state of California, but it is not the same. California is in the United States and is part of it, but it is not identical to the whole country — in spite of what the Chamber of Commerce claims.
It will be seen that the term “kingdom of heaven” is a progressive term in the Gospel of Matthew. It assumes the mystery form during the days of the rejection of the King, but the King becomes a sower in the world (Matthew 13). The kingdom will be established on this earth at the return of the King (Matthew 24, 25).
The four Gospels constitute a modern newspaper: Matthew contains the announcements and advertising, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”; Mark carries the flaming headlines, “Behold my servant” (we need to know the headlines, at least, of God’s program); Luke has the special features — he alone records the songs connected with the birth of Christ, the stories of the Good Samaritan and of the Prodigal Son; John has the editorial section — he has written on the bread of life, the water of life, the true vine, and the Christian life.

Outline for Malachi ← Prior Section
Outline for Matthew Next Section →
Notes for Malachi ← Prior Book
Notes for Mark Next Book →
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