The Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were originally called “The Memoirs of the Apostles.” (This phrase comes from Justin Martyr writing in the mid-2nd Century A.D.) When you read the four Gospels, it’s obvious that they are written for believing communities – that is, those gatherings of believers in Christ that had sprung up all around the Mediterranean world in the mid to late 1st Century as a result of the preaching of the apostles.
The Gospels were not written to or for skeptics. They were not written for those who had no familiarity with the story of Christ. Even the Gospel of John, which is the only Gospel which states that it seeks to elicit faith (John 20:30-31), lays out its case for an open-minded reader – not a hostile one. It is easier to imagine its initial use to be for a new generation of believers rather than to convince the surrounding skeptical culture.
The Gospels seek to reinforce faith, especially in light of the coming of the kingdom of God. It appears that the Gospels were written late, not early, in the lives of the apostles. Reading the book of Acts, and the letters that follow it, it’s clear that the apostles’ mission was one of preaching and not publishing. In fact, the production of the Gospels seems tied to the apostolic mortality rate and the need to preserve the witness of Christ’s life. In other words, if the apostles were not being persecuted and killed to the point of extinction, it’s possible they might not have written gospels.
You can especially see the impending kingdom, and the judgment that would come with it, looming in the narrative that Matthew provides. It’s not just the story of Jesus being recounted, but being recounted in a way that emphasizes preparation for the coming crucible through which the kingdom of God would be birthed.
Imagine being a 1st-century believer who is hearing Matthew’s Gospel being read in the congregation. Listen to the teaching of Jesus, knowing that Matthew is preparing you for the judgment that Jesus said would come. Think about the wheat being separated from the chaff, the sheep being separated from the goats. Know that you want to respond to Jesus and His teaching so that you will be found among the wheat and found among the sheep.
You will gain more from the Gospel of Matthew – and all the Gospels – when you read them from this perspective.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted.