Meet Matthew the Apostle

Matthew: Gospel Writer and Follower of Jesus

Matthew the Apostle
Apostle Saint Matthew, by Domenikos Theotokopoulos a.k.a El Greco (1541-1614). Leemage / Getty Images

Matthew was a dishonest tax collector driven by greed, until Jesus Christ chose him as a disciple.

Matthew the Tax Collector

We first meet Matthew in Capernaum, in his tax booth on the main highway. He was collecting duties on imported goods brought by farmers, merchants, and caravans. Under the Roman Empire's system, Matthew would have paid all the taxes in advance, then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself.

Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because their decisions were enforced by Roman soldiers, no one dared object.

Matthew the Apostle

Matthew was named Levi before his call by Jesus. We don't know whether Jesus gave him the name Matthew or whether he changed it himself, but it is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means "gift of Yahweh," or simply "the gift of God."

On the same day Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Matthew threw a great farewell feast in his home in Capernaum, inviting his friends so they could meet Jesus too. From that time on, instead of collecting tax money, Matthew collected souls for Christ.

Despite his sinful past, Matthew was uniquely qualified to be a disciple. He was an accurate record keeper and keen observer of people. He captured the smallest details. Those traits served him well when he wrote the Gospel of Matthew some 20 years later.

By surface appearances, it was scandalous and offensive for Jesus to pick a tax collector as one of his closest followers, since they were widely hated by the Jews. Yet of the four Gospel writers, Matthew presented Jesus to the Jews as their hoped-for Messiah, tailoring his account to answer their questions.

Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives in the Bible in response to an invitation from Jesus. He did not hesitate; he did not look back. He left behind a life of wealth and security for poverty and uncertainty. He abandoned the pleasures of this world for the promise of eternal life.

The remainder of Matthew's life is uncertain. Tradition says he preached for 15 years in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus, then went out on the mission field to other countries.

Disputed legend has it that Matthew died as a martyr for the cause of Christ. The official Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church suggests that Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs also supports the martyrdom tradition of Matthew, reporting that he was slain with a halberd in the city of Nabadar.

Accomplishments of Matthew in the Bible

He served as one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. As an eyewitness to the Savior, Matthew recorded a detailed account of Jesus' life, the story of his birth, his message and his many deeds in the Gospel of Matthew. He also served as a missionary, spreading the good news to other countries.

Matthew's Strengths

Matthew was an accurate record keeper.

He knew the human heart and the longings of the Jewish people. He was loyal to Jesus and once committed, he never wavered in serving the Lord.

Matthew's Weaknesses

Before he met Jesus, Matthew was greedy. He thought money was the most important thing in life and violated God's laws to enrich himself at the expense of his countrymen.

Life Lessons

God can use anyone to help him in his work. We should not feel unqualified because of our appearance, lack of education, or our past. Jesus looks for sincere commitment. We should also remember that the highest calling in life is serving God, no matter what the world says. Money, fame, and power cannot compare with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Hometown

Capernaum

References to Matthew in the Bible

Matthew 9:9, 10:3; Mark 2:14, 3:18; Luke 5:27-29; 6:15; Acts 1:13.

Occupation

Tax collector, disciple of Jesus Christ, gospel writer, missionary.

Family Tree

Father - Alphaeus

Key Verses

Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (NIV)

Luke 5:29
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (NIV)

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Zavada, Jack. "Meet Matthew the Apostle." ThoughtCo, Apr. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/matthew-tax-collector-and-apostle-701067. Zavada, Jack. (2017, April 11). Meet Matthew the Apostle. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/matthew-tax-collector-and-apostle-701067 Zavada, Jack. "Meet Matthew the Apostle." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/matthew-tax-collector-and-apostle-701067 (accessed December 17, 2017).