Matthew originally wrote his Gospel Account primarily for the Jews of his day (in biblical studies we call this the author’s original intended audience). He fills his account with Old Testament citations and presumes an awareness of Jewish culture that other Gospel writers need to spell out for their original audiences.
For this reason, it may seem odd that Matthew, at times, seems to anathemize his fellow Jews. One startling example occurs in Matthew 8:5-13. There Matthew records Jesus saying that a Roman Centurion’s faith surpasses the faith of anyone in Israel. Then he tells us Jesus said: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus paints a bleak picture for the Jews. Gentiles – non-Jews from east and west – will come to feast with the patriarchs at the messianic banquet at the end of the age. Meanwhile, many of the children of the kingdom – the Jews – will be cast out. While others are feasting in festivity, many Jews will be gnashing their teeth and weeping.
Does Matthew have an axe to grind against the Jews? Not at all. Matthew loved his fellow countrymen. He wanted them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew, however, knew that, in trusting in their Jewish identity, many Jews would deny the Messiah. He did not want them to say that because they had the Law and Jewish customs, they did not need Jesus. Matthew wanted the Jews of his day to make a decision about Jesus Christ. He did not want them to consign themselves to weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This warning can be aimed at many in the twenty-first century American church today. Far too many who say to Jesus, ‘Lord,’ do not know him (see Matthew 7:21-23). They say, “I go to church,” or, “mom and dad were Christians,” or “I was baptized,” or, “I check off the box marked Christianity under religious affiliation,” so I must be a Christian. We can trust something that looks very Jesus-ish but not be trusting Jesus himself. Cultural Christianity cannot save, only Jesus can do that.
Matthew wants you to enter the Kingdom through the only entry-point, repentance and faith in the person and power of Jesus Christ.