I have heard it stated that the Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as, specifically, the King of the Jews, rather than the Messiah, the Incarnate Word, or anything else.
What is the basis for this assertion?
The Gospel of Matthew is written for a Jewish audience, especially Palestinian Jews who were at the time oppressed by the Romans. One of Matthew's main goals in his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the true Davidic Messiah--the king the Jews were expecting, who will deliver them from oppression.
Jewish scripture foretold that the Messiah will be like a Star out of Jacob and the Scepter that rises out of Israel in Numbers 24:17. He is the One who sits on David’s throne in Isaiah 9:7. He comes with the clouds of heaven to reign over a kingdom where all people, nations, and languages, will serve Him in Daniel 7:13-14. In His kingdom the nations will no longer lift up the sword against one another in Isaiah 2:4, and His reign, we’re promised, will have no end in Isaiah 9:6-7.
And hence Jesus Christ is presented as the “Son of David, the Son of Abraham” in Matthew 1:1 and the “King of the Jews” who wise men seek to worship in Matthew 2:2. Forty times He speaks of the kingdom of heaven and says that the day would come when He would return in the clouds to establish His kingdom on earth in Matthew 26:64.
Even Jesus is presented being asked directly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” to which He replies, “I am” in Matthew 27:11. This infuriated the religious leaders who demanded He be crucified. As He hung on the cross a sign was put over His head that read, “This Is Jesus, The King Of The Jews.”
Matthew proclaims Jesus as King
There are many contextual clues within Matthew geared towards a Jewish audience, hinting continually at Jesus being 'Messiah', or the true anointed King of Israel. As modern western Christians, we can easily miss and mis-read many of these. For us a Christ/Messiah just means a spiritual saviour, and so until we read all clues to Messiah-ship as translating as 'King' to a Jew, we don't quite see Matthew's words in their proper light.
A King from the Beginning
Matthew sets Jesus as 'the son of David', or the true heir to the promise of the Davidic kings as set forth in 2 Samuel 7, that there would always be a king to sit on David's throne. Reading the genealogy that follows, Matthew chooses a different line from Luke, carefully tracing Jesus down the proper line of Davidic kings who actually sat on the throne. He arranges the members of the line in groups of seven, the perfect number, as well as the number of David's name (דָּוִד).
It is good to note that 'Son of God' is also a very common term for Jesus throughout Matthew, but this does link back through the Davidic promises too (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7).
A King in the Middle
For a start, Matthew uses the title Christ no less than Seventeen times (concentrated at beginning and end of the book), compared with twelve occurrences in Luke and eight in Mark. John as a non-synoptic does win with nineteen references, however. But Matthew makes this theme very clear:
A few highlights:
A King at the End
Some of the points above are disputable, but on the whole, especially considering the Jewish connotations of a 'Messiah/Christ' being an anointed King, it is inescapable to see a theme of "Jesus as King" in the gospel of Matthew. This is throughout the text beginning to end, both stated and implied. He does not appear to bring most of these claims from Jesus himself, but rather tends to quote others and explain situations in such a way as to emphasise the kingly credentials and nature of Jesus.
Perhaps Matthew has a theme of Jesus as King of the Jews, but certainly no more so than, for example, John's Gospel. While there are only about 5 actual references to Jesus as King of the Jews in Matthew, I also count 5 in Mark and 3 in Luke, with at least 11 such references in John, including the dramatic account of Pontius Pilate insisting on this being placed on the sign at the crucifixion:
Matthew's genealogy shows Joseph as being descended from King David, but so also does Luke's slightly variant genealogy, with neither portraying Jesus as king because of his descent. The wise men from the east, coming to look for the new-born king of the Jews, provide the strongest support for seeing Matthew as defining Jesus as King of the Jews.
More than anything, Matthew seems to portray Jesus as Son of God beginning with his conception by the Holy Spirit: