The Trinity in Matthew’s Gospel
As of late, I’ve been thinking about doing topical studies on different central theological topics. After having read through Matthew’s Gospel, I decided to look at the doctrine of the Trinity as it appears throughout his text. This is by no means exhaustive, but it will serve well, I think, as a tool to help in understanding how solidly the doctrine of the Trinity is established in Scripture. Here is my attempt to piece together Matthew’s teaching regarding the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout his Gospel. [It’s less coherent, as a systematically deduced whole as I would want it to be, but I might attempt to re-do this later on…]
I. Chapter 1
The order of appearance of each of Three Persons of the Godhead in this chapter is interesting, for it seems, to me at least, to bear a structural similarity to other New Testament passages. It begins with Christ (vv.1-17), moves on to the work of the Holy Spirit (vv. 18-21), and ends with the point of origin of all of these events, namely, that “which was spoken by the Lord” (v. 23). Now, I think it is clear that “the Lord” in this instance does not refer to all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, but only to the Father, for the quotation from Isaiah is spoken by God about the Son, and we only learn that the prophecy would be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit’s working in conjunction with the Father’s plan. So Matthew immediately begins his account by point us to Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father, who are seen working in conjunction for His own glorification through Christ’s atoning work.
To some, then, Matthew’s mention of each of the Persons may at first seem to not have very much depth, but when we plumb each reference, we see that there is much to be learned here. For it is the Son who has become flesh, the Son of David and Abraham is also the Son of God, who is God, yet not the Father (cf. 1:23). And it is the Holy Spirit, not the Father, who forms the Holy Child in Mary’s womb, exercising Sovereign omnipotence over His creation as the Lord God who hovered over the face of the primordial waters (cf. Gen 1:2), and who now overshadows Mary’s womb (cf. Luke 1:35, which is also a Trinitarian verse – “The Holy Spirit,” “The Highest” (God the Father), and “that Holy One” (the Lord Jesus Christ)). And, finally, it is God the Father who has planned to send His Son at the right time. Paul, when writing to the Galatians about true sonship to God and about who the true Israel of God is, tells us:
…when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son
born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were
under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons…
Christ is the focal point, but the Holy Spirit and the Father are not disconnected from the narrative. Rather, the narrative is given greater depth when we see that salvation is all of God’s work: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
II. Chapter 3
Unlike chapter 1, there are two mentions of the Holy Trinity, and the order of each is different than the order given earlier. In verses 7-10, we see that God the Father is able to raise up children to Abraham (again, cf. Gal 4:4-5), i.e. non-Jewish children of Abraham by faith. He is doing this through Christ, whom He has sent to be both Savior and Judge (cf. vv. 9-10 & 11-12). The Lord Jesus is next mentioned in verse 11-12 as the Savior and Judge. He has been sent by the Father, and He is mightier than John the Baptist. Now, if we cross reference this passage to John 1:1 & 15 we see that John’s remarks in Matt 3:11-12 amount to nothing more than a full proclamation of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not simply Man, He is God the Son, Theanthropos, who has come to save and to judge. And finally, we see that the Holy Spirit is the One in whom the elect are baptized (cf. v. 11 & Eph 4:4-5). This is the first mention of the Holy Trinity.
The second mention follows immediately in verses 13-17. The first Person mentioned is the Lord Jesus, who is the obedient Son who for all of His life did all that was required by the Law and ever pleased God the Father. It is Christ, not the Father nor the Spirit, who came to fulfill all righteousness in our place. Christ lived to obey the Father, and the Holy Spirit rested upon Him, leading and guiding Him (cf. Matt 4:1). And it is God the Father who is well pleased with Christ, His Beloved Son who has come to die in the place of guilty and undeserving sinners.
Is there more to be learned here? Of course! There are theological implications that extend beyond the first application of the passage. Namely that, it is the Father whom the Son came to please in his perfect obedience and perfect sufferings for His elect. And it is the Son who is the Savior and Substitute for us, whose righteousness clothes the elect of God. And He is empowered and guided and led by the Holy Spirit, who alone reveals Christ to any man (cf. John 1:33, where the Holy Spirit is spoken of by John the Baptist as the One who reveals the identity of the Lord Jesus).
III. Chapter 10
When the Lord Jesus sent out the twelve, He told them that they would not be alone. Rather, the Holy Spirit will be with them and give them the ability to speak the very words of God. Verses 16-20 show us clearly the Three Persons of the Godhead and how they are related in the lives of the disciples. As ambassadors of Christ, the twelve were going to be persecuted for preaching Christ (cf. vv. 16-18), the only name given under heaven by which men may be saved. However, the “Spirit of [their] Father,” i.e. the Holy Spirit, will give them the boldness wherewith to proclaim the truth. And this truth is the Word of their Father, whose Word is Truth (cf. John 17:17).
God the Son is the only subject of their preaching, for He is the only object of faith that saves. God the Father will keep His own elect (cf Rom 8:28-30 & John 10:22-29), for His Word is Truth, and will do so by the preserving work of the Holy Spirit who will indwell and empower them. This is encouraging, for it shows us that the Lord God Almighty is our Sovereign Commander and King, as well as our Strength in time of need!
Again, we see that it is God the Father who has chosen us to be His children, and we are worth more than many sparrows. So not one hair of our heads is unaccounted for. The passage itself, in the way it presents us with the Persons of the Godhead, calls another passage from Paul to mind, namely Romans 8, which also deals with the suffering of the Lord’s children, albeit in a different sense. For Paul, the sufferings of this present age, as far as I can tell, have to do with (i.)personal struggles with sin (cf. Ro 7), (ii.)the groaning of creation, and (iii.)suffering in general due to both. In Romans 8, Paul tells us that the Father has chosen us (cf. Ro 8:28-30), that the Son has redeemed us (cf. 8:1-4; 34), and that the Holy Spirit indwells us and causes us to profess sonship through Christ (cf. 8:14-15). And is this not what we encounter in Matthew 10? It is. Those who are the sons of God are those whose words are given by the Spirit (cf. Matt 10:20), they profess Christ before kings and rulers(i.e. men, cf. vv. 19-20), and they do not, like the unregenerate, deny Christ before men (cf. vv. 32-33). [Side Note: Verses 32-33 of Matthew 10 are a good proof text against Arminianism, and not for it, for the Lord tells us that when His children stand before governers and kings, etc, (cf. v. 18), that the Holy Spirit will speak through them. Would the Holy Spirit not confess Christ? I say that a true believer cannot ultimately deny His Lord, for “…no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3). The Arminians cannot have this verse.]
IV. Chapter 12
This chapter presents us with the Trinity twice, as chapter 3 does; the first is in verses 18-21, the second is in verse 28. The order of the Persons is different for each. The first instance shows is as follows: (i.)The Father has chosen Christ, in whom He is pleased, so that He would preach the Gospel and send forth victory over sin, death, and satan; (ii.)the Son is our humble Savior, meek and lowly (cf. 11:28-30), who, empowered by the Spirit, preached the Gospel and fought valliantly against the powers of darkness to show forth His victory over them (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 & 54-57; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15; etc); and (iii.)the Holy Spirit was upon Christ in all that He did. He, the Holy Spirit, is mentioned again with respect to the Lord’s ministry of preaching, teaching, etc.
In verse28, we see the confirmation of the above. However, the order is different than the first instance, beginning with the Lord’s power to cast out demons, moving on to the Holy Spirit who empowered Him to do so, and ending with the Father, whose Kingdom, which He set Christ over (cf. Psalm 2), is now come by the advent of Christ with the working of powerful signs by the Holy Spirit.
V. Chapter 22
In verses 41-45, we learn that the Trinity is the One True God of the Scriptures, for the Lord Jesus Himself tells us that, (i.)the Father has crowned Christ as Lord and King, setting Him upon His holy hill (cf. Psalm 2); (ii.)the Son is the Divine Son of David, and not merely a man; and (iii.)the Holy Spirit is the authoritative Voice behind Scripture that legitimates the doctrine of the eternal deity of the Son.
VI. Chapter 28
This chapter only has one verse concerning the Trinity – verse 19. We are to baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And we are to teach His disciples to observe all that He has commanded us. Including the doctrine of the Trinity.
Let me know your thoughts…