St. Matthew, the First Disciple of Jesus Martyr;
c. 7 0 A.D.

StMatthew St. Matthew
Frans Hals
(Antwerp 1580 - Haarlem 1666)

Matthew, the first of the original 12 disciples of Christ,  is believed to have been martyred sometime around the year 70 A.D, in Ethiopia.

Matthew was born in First Century Judea. He was a Galilean and the son of Alpheus (Mark 2:14). During the Roman occupation, Matthew collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas, and his Tax Office was located in Capharnaum. Jews, who became rich in such a fashion, were despised and considered outcasts. However, as a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic (but probably not Greek or Latin).

On one occasion Jesus, coming up from the side of the lake near what is today Almagor, passed the custom-house where Matthew was seated, and said to him, "Follow me." Matthew arose and followed him, and became his disciple (Matthew 9:9). The same day on which Jesus called him he made a "great feast" (Luke 5:29), a farewell feast, to which he invited Jesus and his disciples, and probably also many of his old associates. On seeing this, the Scribes and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9)

Matthew Is also called Levi in Luke 5:27. Although Mark calls him Matthew in his list of the apostles, when recounting the story how the publican is called to be a disciple, he calls him Levi (Mark 2:14). Some explain this discrepancy by saying he formerly was known as Levi, but then he changed it, possibly in grateful memory of his call, to Matthew.

Matthew's ministry in the New Testament is somewhat complex. When Matthew is mentioned he usually paired him with Thomas. As a disciple, he followed Christ, and was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension. Afterwards, Matthew along with Mary, James and other close followers of the Lord, withdrew to the Upper Chamber, in Jerusalem.(Acts 1:10) At about this time James succeeded his brother Jesus of Nazareth as the leader of this small Jewish sect.

They remained in and about Jerusalem and proclaimed that Jesus son of Joseph was the promised Messiah. These early Jewish Christians were thought to have been called Nazarenes. (Matthew 2:23) It is nearly certain that Matthew belonged to this sect, as both the New Testament and the early Talmud affirm this to be true.

Matthew, for about 15 years, preached the Gospel in Hebrew to the Jewish community in Judea. Later in his ministry he traveled to Gentile nations and spread the Gospel to Macedonians, Persians, and Parthians. Eventually his evangelizing lead him to Ethiopia, where he became associated with Candace the queen of Ethiopia. Outside the Bible there is little known about Matthew, nor even evidence that he really existed. Accounts of his life vary, some reporting that he was martyred, others that he died a natural death either in Ethiopia or in Macedonia.

However, the Christian community since early times has commemorated him as a martyr. One story is that while Matthew was evangelizing in the city of Nadabah, Ethiopia, he was arrested while he stood teaching in his church. He was then nailed to the ground with short spears and beheaded. The Roman Catholic Church says he died a martyr on September 21 and of the Orthodox Church also says he died a martyr but on November 10, circa 70 A.D.

StMatthew2 The Martyrdom of St. Matthew
(Italy 1571 - 1610)

The last notice of Matthew in the New Testament is in Acts 1:13. He is one of the few disciples mentioned by name in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, suggesting he was of more importance in the early church than surviving evidence indicates. The time and manner of his actual death are unknown.

The extent of Matthew’s conversion can, in some ways, be measured by the fact that this prodigal from Israel, who had cooperated with the enemy as a taxing agent, became the author of the only Gospel written in Hebrew with his own people in mind. Matthew remained a son of Abraham. His Gospel is filled with the notes and highlights designed to clarify for the chosen people that their Messiah had come.

When Jesus visited Matthew, He hurt His own reputation. Matthew was cheating his own people as a Tax Collector. But Jesus found him and changed him. We should not be afraid to reach out to people living in sin – God’s message can change anyone.

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