Matthew’s Vision of Jesus: Jesus is the New Israel

Many things could be said about the Gospel of Matthew but perhaps the most obvious is its attempt to portray Jesus as the new and better Israel. Let me explain.

Throughout the book, the author either alludes to or explicitly cites biblical passages that in their original context are about the people of Israel. In Matthew 2:13-15, after Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt and told to come back when Herod was dead, Matthew writes, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet,” ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:15). But look at the actual passage from the prophet he cites.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols. (Hosea 11:1-2)

Clearly, the prophet Hosea is speaking of the people of Israel and their flight from Egypt, not Jesus and his return from Egypt. Matthew is using Hosea for his own purposes and that purpose is to show that Jesus is the superior “son.”

Consider also the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He is taken into the wilderness and fasts for “forty days and forty nights” (v. 2). But why the wilderness? Because that is where God drew his people to after they left Egypt and it is where he would meet with them in the Christian vision of the coming of the Messiah. We read in Deuteronomy 8:1-3 that Moses told Israel,

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Notice anything familiar? Israel is led by God into the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2); Jesus is “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matthew 4:1). The purpose of this wilderness journey for Israel was to “humble you, testing you to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2); Jesus is led into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Israel is there for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2); Jesus is there for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2). Israel is fed by bread from heaven so that they might learn that man lives by every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3); Jesus cites Deuteronomy 8:3 when the devil tempts him to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3-4).

There are other parallels we could consider like Moses going up to a mountain to get the Decalogue (Exodus 19:20) and Jesus going up on a mountain and delivering his famous “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). Suffice it to say, Jesus is clearly being viewed as a superior specimen to even the greatest heroes of Judaism. For Matthew, at least, Jesus is the new, more obedient, and better Israel.

 

 

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