Matthew traces Jesus’s ancestors back to the biblical patriarch Abraham, the founding father of the Israelite people. Matthew describes Jesus’s conception, when his mother, Mary, was “found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18). Matthew focuses very little on Mary herself, and praises Joseph for not abandoning his fiancée.
Jesus is born in Bethlehem, where he and his parents are visited by wise men from the East bearing gifts. The wise men follow a star to Bethlehem. Their king, Herod the Great, hears the rumor that a baby named Jesus is the “king of the Jews” (2:2). Herod orders all young children in Bethlehem to be killed. To escape the king’s wrath, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt. Joseph and his family return to Israel after Herod’s death, but then move to Nazareth, a town in the northern district known as Galilee.
Years pass, and Jesus grows up. A man in a loincloth, who lives by eating wild honey and locusts, begins to prophesy throughout Judea, foretelling of Jesus as the one who will come to “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:11). This prophet, John the Baptist, who is likely a member of the ascetic Jewish Essene community, eventually meets Jesus. John baptizes Jesus, and Jesus receives the blessing of God, who says, “This is my Son, the Beloved” (3:17). Jesus is led into the wilderness for forty days without food or water to be tested by Satan. Jesus emerges unscathed and triumphant, and begins to preach his central, most often repeated proclamation: “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). His ministry begins.
Matthew mentions Jesus’s earliest followers: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Once Jesus accumulates this small group of Jewish followers, he begins to preach. His early ministry reaches a peak when he gives a sermon famously known as the Sermon on the Mount, which deeply impresses his increasingly large group of followers (5:1–7:29). The sermon emphasizes humility, obedience, love of one’s...