Deity of Christ in the Gospel According to St Matthew

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 was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1, 14).  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: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name 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 unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder:  and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).  Here we see the child being called “The 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 ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye 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, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye 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.  “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.  He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (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, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt 9:2).  The scribes were present there, and they recognised what this meant.  “They said to themselves, This man blasphemeth” (Mark adds “who can forgive sins but God only?” 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 that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.  And he arose and departed to his house” (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: “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with 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 adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, 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 “ Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on 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 shall send his forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42).  This agrees with Hebrews 1:6, where the Father says of Jesus, “let all the angels of God worship him”.  If, as God emphatically said, “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to a graven image” (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.  “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he shall send his angels with a sound of a great trumpet, and they shall gather together 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.  The writer of Hebrews described it thus: “For ye are not come unto the mountain that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more…..And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” (Heb 12:18-21).

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 out 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: “Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations…..Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth.  And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.  See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant”(Jer 1:5, 9).

Isaiah also describes the moment that God called and ordained him to be a prophet.  After seeing God in a vision, he cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts”.  God then sends a seraph (no less!) to prepare him for his great task (6:6-7), and told Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive it not.  Make the heart of the people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert , and be healed” (Isa 6:5, 9-10).

So would it not be blasphemous for Jesus to say to the Jews, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, 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 the sabbath of the LORD thy God…..For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, and hallowed 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

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (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.  “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works….and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15).

This scene is identical to that which Jesus described while on earth; a future time when he judges the nations.  “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations”.  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 shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (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 they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this man was the Son of God” (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…..lo, I am with you always, even unto 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.  The same 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). 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.

References

“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”