He was a tax collector named Levi and lived in Palestine. Tax collectors, or publicans, were one of the most hated professions among the Jews. First, they were working for the Roman Empire that had occupied the land. Second, most publicans profited from their jobs, often taking away from people their last possessions and making them indigent.
Yet, as Christ and his disciples were preaching in Palestine, Matthew invited them to visit his house. They accepted his invitation and had dinner with Matthew. Matthew's friends and acquaintances – many of them publicans – also came to join. Jesus' visit raised the ire of the learned Jews, who saw publicans as traitors and to whom even talking to a publican was disgraceful.
But what they did not understand was that the Lord had “come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mt. 9:13). There came a moment when Matthew heard the voice of Jesus Christ, abandoned his estate and followed the Saviour. Repenting his past sins, he repaid fourfold the means that he had wrongfully taken from others, gave away the remainder of his estate and went with the apostles. He witnessed the torments, death and resurrection of Christ. He was present at His Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
After the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he preached the Gospel among the Jews. Eight years after the Ascension, he completed his Gospel. The original text, in Aramaic, did not survive, but we have its Greek translation, completed by St James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
Eight years later, his ministry of Christ took him to Hierapolis, a city on the River Euphrates in the Middle East. According to one tradition, he departed peacefully there at an old age. According to another, he was martyred on orders from the local Pagan King, who later repented and converted to Christ.