Early Church and Martyrs
Matthew was a man of an imperfect background. He was a tax collector and famous for his abusive style. He used excessive taxes to enslave people and control them. Yet everything changed when he encountered the Messiah.
Matthew lived in the Galilee which was controlled by the Romans through Herod Antipas. The Romans demanded taxes which were collected through aristocratic capitalists called publicans. As an abusive tax collector, Matthew was hated and branded a traitor and sellout. He was an agent of the oppressive Roman government.
“Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Mark 2: 13-17
If we look at the same account in Matthew’s Gospel, we see what message penetrated his heart. Matthew also changes the name from Levi to Matthew. He records Jesus’ response to the Pharisees as…
“But go learn what this means; ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Matthew 9: 13
Much like the woman who poured oil on the feet of Jesus, Matthew understood he had been forgiven much and so loved much (Luke 7: 47). We see this throughout his Gospel. Matthew was a clear demonstration of the power of the Lord Jesus and the cross to change a man. One of the four Gospels was written by a notorious sinner dramatically transformed by Jesus. In fact the Babylonian Talmud names Matthew as one of Jesus’ disciples.
Papias, a pastor at Hierapolis in Turkey, loved to study and learn about the disciples. Papias declared, “Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and everyone (translated) them as he was able.” (C.H 3.39.16). Irenaeus of Lyons also stated, “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the church.” (ANF, vol 1, Against Heresies 3.1.1). Origen of Alexandria further said, “Among our four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first w as written by Matthew, who was a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language,” (NPNF2, vol. 1, C.H 6.25.4).
Matthew Gospel is a well written document that using information from Mark as well as the saying of Jesus. It is possibly the second or third Gospel to be written. Matthews home base was believed to be in Syrian Antioch. Peter was a well respected leader there. We see in the Book of Acts that there was a large Christian community there, and that they were very devoted to Hebraic customs. Ignatius, the Bishop at Antioch in the early second century references Matthew’s Gospel in his letters.
Eusebius recorded that…
“Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue.” (NPNF2, vol.1 C.H 3.24.6).
There are many traditions on who those other people were that he ministered to. Catholic tradition has him ministering in Ethiopia where he was martyred. Tradition has it he was pinned to the ground and beheaded.