Matthew has some very significant things to say about the deity of Christ. To begin with, he opens his gospel with the assertion that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. Jesus’ very name, Emmanuel, means God with us (1:23); the child, Jesus, is Emmanuel. Matthew here says exactly the same thing as John, that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…..And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:1, 14 NRSV). Here is perfect agreement, perfect harmony, between the two apostles and their doctrine.
And here indeed was astonishing news. The promised Messiah, the Son of David, is revealed to be more than just a man in the line of David; he was God himself, manifested in human flesh; not this time a theophany, a spirit appearing as a man or an angel, but God himself coming into this world, having taken on the nature of a true human being. And by coming through the line of David, he showed how the promises to Israel (and to the world) would be fulfilled; that God would send his servant David to be their shepherd and their king for ever (e.g. Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-28).
The promise was fulfilled: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). Both Matthew and Luke rightly understood that a virgin would conceive, not just a young woman, as the liberals insist. “The Hebrew word ‘almah’ is the most accurate and precise term for virgin used in the Old Testament. Therefore, Matthew is clearly correct in quoting Isa 7:14 as being fulfilled in the virgin birth of Christ” (“KJV Study Bible”, comment on Matt 1:23).
Matthew had no doubt that this child was God manifest in the flesh, for he would have been aware of another prophecy concerning him, just two chapters after Isaiah’s prophecy of the Virgin Birth: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders: and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Here we see the child being called “Mighty God”, and it would be very unlikely and unreasonable to suppose that Matthew was unaware of both prophecies.
God comes to his People
Matthew shows how Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecy by connecting his coming to Israel with the Old Testament prophecies themselves: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. This is the one of whom prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Matt 3:2-3). The passage from which Matthew quotes is Isaiah 40:3. In our English bibles it says, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. If we read further on in the prophecy, it again states that the Person for whom the way is to be made straight, is God. “….say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God! See, the LORD GOD comes with might….He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep’” (Isa 40:10-11).
Do we not see God described in this passage? Do we not see Christ as the fulfilment of it? Do we not see God and Christ identified as one and the same person? Yes, yes, and yes!
Jesus can forgive sin
In chapter 9, Matthew again reveals Jesus as being God. When the paralysed man was presented to him, Jesus said to him, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). The scribes were present there, and they recognised what this meant. They “said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming’” (Mark adds “…who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mk 2:7). But Jesus didn’t disillusion them by denying his deity. On the contrary, he confirmed it by healing the paralytic. He said “’But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said he to the paralytic – ‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home’. And he stood up and went to his home” (Matt 9:5-6). And as I’ve shown below, even Jesus calling himself “the Son of Man” here is a claim to deity, especially as it is coupled with the power to forgive sins. And of his claim that God was his Father, the Jews reacted strenuously: “For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, making Himself equal to God” (Jn 5:18).
Jesus declares his deity
During his trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jews had already decided that Jesus was to be killed, and they sought for false witnesses to speak against him but they were unsuccessful; and Jesus did not speak. Finally, the High Priest demanded “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matt 26:63). He knew that the title “Son of God” equates to the “Messiah”, or “Christ” (Matt 16:16; 27:17; M15:32; Jn 6:69; 11:27; 20:31); and he knew that if Jesus admitted to it, they had him on a charge of blasphemy, a charge which carried the death penalty (Jn 5:18). To their malicious delight, Jesus replied “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power and coming in the clouds of heaven’” (Matt 26:64).
R. T. France (2000, p. 941) tells us: “The Messiah was expected to restore, even rebuild, the temple, so that Caiaphas’ question in v 63 followed logically from the charge in v 61 but in more explicit terms. Jesus at last breaks the silence with a defiant declaration of who he really is. He is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, his guarded reply (lit. ‘You have said’) suggests, however, that he repudiates the construction Caiaphas would put on those titles. He preferred to use his own chosen title, the Son of Man, and by combining those words from Ps. 110:1 and Dn 7:13, he showed the true nature of the authority of the Son of Man. It was to be found not in any earthly reign, but through his enthronement at God’s right hand in heaven. They would see the truth of this when the prisoner they were about to condemn was vindicated by God through resurrection and the triumph of his gospel in the world.
It this outrageous claim was not true, it was blasphemy. The violent actions of the members of the Sanhedrin (65, 67-68) expressed their total repudiation of this impostor” (New Bible Commentary).
The High Priest who questioned Jesus, and the leading Jews who were also there, would have been self-righteously outraged at this claim by Jesus, while at the same time, gleeful – it was all they needed, and his confession dispensed with the need for the false witnesses employed by these members of the Sanhedrin. That Jesus should identify himself with the Son of Man in this prophecy of Daniel, and that he should assert that he would be sitting on the right hand of power (i.e. the throne of God), a claim to deity, was utterly blasphemous in the eyes of the Jews, and they needed nothing more than this to sentence him to death.
Other expressions of Jesus’ deity
Jesus commands angels
In the parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus is shown as commanding angels and hell: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42). This agrees with Hebrews 1:6, where the Father says of Jesus, “Let all God’s angels worship him”. If, as God emphatically said, “I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols” (Isa 42:8), why would he command the angels to worship Jesus if he wasn’t God, the second Person of the Trinity?
Furthermore, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus warns us that he is returning to earth in judgment. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt 24:30-31).
Who has command of the angels? Only God! When God gave the Law to Israel, it was preceded and accompanied by angels and trumpets and earthquake and fire – it was terrifying (Heb 12:18-24). The One who gave the Law on Sinai is the One who will be returning, at which time the powers of heaven shall be shaken – this One is Jesus, God and creator of heaven and earth! The angels are his to command, and he sends them out to gather his elect to be with him – see also Matt 13:40-43; 49-50.
Jesus sends prophets, wise men, and scribes
Who has power and authority to send prophets to the people of God but God himself? The bible says it is God. God prepares each prophet, equips him with a message, and calls him. For example, Jeremiah writes: “Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations….. Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jer 1:5, 9-10).
Isaiah also describes the moment that God called and ordained him to be a prophet. After seeing God in a vision, God sends a seraph to prepare him for his great task, and told Isaiah, “Go and say to this people, ‘Keep listening but do comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand’” (Isa 6:9).
So would it not be blasphemous for Jesus to say to the Jews, “Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes” (Matt 23:34-39), if he were not God?
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath
When Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath, he referred them to the Old Testament where King David ate the shewbread that was reserved in the temple. Jesus told the Pharisees he was greater than the temple, therefore he had the right to break the Sabbath because, he said, “the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matt 12:8).
How could Jesus make such a statement, one which was a claim to deity, if he wasn’t God? When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, in the fourth Commandment which is that concerning the Sabbath, he says in part, “the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God……therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exod 20:10-11). How could any mere man or prophet make such a claim if it wasn’t true? Jesus’s statement that he is Lord of the Sabbath shows that he is identifying himself with the creator God; and therefore if he chooses to break the Sabbath by working, it is his prerogative to do so because the Sabbath is his alone.
Jesus is Lord of the temple
““Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overthrew the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’” (Matt 21:12-13).
Jesus called the temple “My house”. It was the place where God’s presence was on earth; where daily sacrifices were offered to God to atone for the sins of the people; where the people came to worship God and to pray – and Jesus called it his house.
“This cleansing of the temple was His first official act after entering Jerusalem. By it He unmistakably asserted His lordship over the temple” (MacDonald p 1204).
Jesus is the judge of all the nations
Only God has authority to judge the nations on the dread Day of Judgment. “Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire; anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15).
This scene is the backdrop to that which Jesus described while on earth; a future time when he judges the nations. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all, the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt 25:31-32). Jesus then judges them “according to their works” (Matt 25:32-45 cf Rev 20:12); and consigns them to the place of their reward or punishment accordingly: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46).
Gentiles recognise his deity
And, as Matthew reveals Jesus as the Son of God through being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, at his death, he shows some Roman soldiers, gentiles, declaring his deity. “Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matt 27:54). Not the son of God in the Jewish understanding, as Messiah, but as deity. These soldiers knew what they were implying; for their own emperor, Augustus, claimed the title Son of God for himself, and it was a title of deity.
Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity
Finally, Matthew has recorded Jesus’ last words to his disciples while on earth. When he was about
to ascend to the Father, he said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…..I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt 28:19-20).
Here Jesus identifies himself with and as God; he is the second Person of the Trinity; the Son of God; God, the Son. Matthew is in agreement with the apostle John here; John opens his gospel with the glorious statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1-2). And in his first epistle, John writes, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 Jn 5:7 KJV). So Matthew, as the climax to his gospel, has Jesus identifying himself as the second Person in the Trinity. There is Jesus, between the Father and the Holy Spirit, promising to be with his people forever. And there is not a word of blasphemy implied.
“Bible Believer’s Commentary: second edition” 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William MacDonald, publ. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee.
France, R. T. 2000, Commentary on Matthew, New Bible Commentary, ed. Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., Wenham, G. J., Publ. IVP Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, Illinois, USA
“The King James Study Bible: Second Edition”, Copyright 1988, 2013 by Liberty University, p 1365, publ. Thomas Nelson”
“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition copyright 1993 and 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” “Published by Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee 37214.