Today we continue our series on Scripture As Story, where we are emphasizing that the Bible is literature, and that we read the Bible better and more faithfully when we keep that in mind.
Last time, we looked at some specific techniques that we see the authors of Scripture using to help them tell their stories and share their teachings about God in a more compelling way. Today, I want to apply that understanding by using a case study to show how reading the Bible as literature and paying attention to the literary techniques that the Biblical authors use can actually help us to better understand the important lessons they are trying to teach us.
Specifically in this post, we are going to look at the connections that the writers of the Gospels (especially Matthew) make between Moses and Jesus, and what we can learn from those connections. In Deuteronomy 18.15-16, Moses says that God was going to “raise up a prophet like me from among” Israel, and the Gospel writers go out of their way to connect Jesus to this prophecy, and claim that Jesus was, indeed, the prophet like Moses.
In John 1.21, 25, John the Baptist is asked if he is this prophet, and he says he’s not, but that he is preparing the way for Someone who is greater than he. In John 1.45, Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, and says that He is the One “of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.”
In Acts, Luke is even more explicit. In Acts 3.19-22:
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”
Matthew doesn’t explicitly connect Jesus back to Deuteronomy 18, but he actually goes to greater lengths than the other Gospel writers to show the connections between Jesus and Moses. It is generally acknowledged that Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience, and that He is concerned with connecting Jesus to the story of Israel, and one of the way’s he is going to do that is by repeatedly making comparisons between Jesus and Moses.
Comparing Jesus and Moses
As we look at the way that Scripture presents the lives of Moses and Jesus, what are some similarities that we notice? I don’t claim that this is an exhaustive list, but take a look at the significant overlap between the way Scripture portrays their lives:
|An evil king (Pharaoh) killed all the male Hebrew babies, but he was saved (Exodus 1.22)||An evil king (Herod) tried to kill all the male babies around Bethlehem, but He was saved (Matthew 2.16)|
|He was hidden from Pharaoh (Exodus 2.2)||An angel said to hide Him from Herod (Matthew 2.13)|
|Fled from Egypt, but later returned (Exodus 2.15; 4.18)||Fled to Egypt, but later return to Israel (Matthew 2.13-23)|
|Gave up the riches and benefits of Egypt (Hebrews 11.24-26)||Gave up the riches and benefits of Heaven (John 1.1-3; Philippians 2.5-8)|
|Became a shepherd (Exodus 3.1)||Described Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10.11)|
|His mission: redeem Israel from slavery to Egypt||His mission: redeem humanity from slavery to sin|
|Often rejected by his own people||Often rejected by His own people|
|Judged the people (Exodus 18.13-23)||Will judge all people (Matthew 7.21-23; 25.31-46)|
|Goes up on a mountain to receive God’s law (Exodus 20-31)||Goes up on a mountain to give God’s law (Matthew 5-7)|
|Fasted for 40 days on the mountain (Exodus 24.18)||Fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4.2)|
|Performed signs/miracles||Performed signs/miracles|
|Mediator of the covenant through the blood of young bulls (Exodus 24.8)||Mediator of the covenant through His own blood (Matthew 26.28)|
|Delivers the five books of the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy)||Delivers five extended sets of teaching/instruction (Matt. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25)|
|Lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21.9)||In a similar way, He Himself was “lifted up” (John 3.14)|
|Commissions Joshua||Commission disciples|
Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “Well, that this is an interesting list, but what does it mean? How does this list of comparisons help us better understand who Jesus is?”
Why It Matters
What all of these comparisons help us to see is that, similar to Moses, Jesus is a multi-faceted character, and we better understand who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish if we can appreciate the many different roles that He fulfilled.
The primary reason that we know about Moses in the first place is that God recruits him to liberate the people of Israel, who are helplessly trapped in the bonds of Egyptian slavery. Moses is a liberator.
Jesus, too, is a liberator, who came to earth on a mission to set people free from slavery, a slavery not from some oppressive foreign government or tyrant, but slavery from sin (Romans 6.6-7, 17-18).
Jesus liberates us from the power of sin.
We actually began our discussion in Deuteronomy, where Moses says that a prophet like himself would come, and that this is Jesus.
Jesus was the ultimate prophet. A lot of times, when we hear the word “prophet” we think of someone who has a crystal ball or something and who can predict the future, but really, that is not a very helpful image when we talk about prophets in the Bible. Sure, at times, they predicted future events, and certainly Jesus did that, but the primary job of a prophet was to deliver a message to the people on behalf of God. Most of the time it wasn’t about the future; it was about what was going on right then that God wanted them to know.
And Jesus was the ultimate prophet; in a way that had never been done before or since, He fully revealed the message of God: who God is, what God is like, and what God wants from His people.
Jesus was the prophet of prophets.
Of course, one of the main things we associate with Moses is the giving of the 10 Commandments. God passed His law on to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and it was Moses’ job to share that with the people.
As we have already discussed, in Matthew 5, Jesus goes “up on a mountain” and there, He delivers teaching/instruction/law to His disciples. He tells them that He did not come to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it, and then He goes on to present Himself as the ultimate Lawgiver: “you have heard that it was said, but I say to you…”
Jesus is the One with authority—final authority—to interpret God’s Law. He is the Lawgiver—the One to whom we must listen.
Certainly Moses was literally a shepherd before God recruited him to lead the people of Israel, but after he became their leader he did so as a shepherd, willing to offer his own life up for them.
Similarly, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He guides us, and provides for us, but also takes care of us and protects us, ultimately offering up Himself on our behalf.
Through the power of God, Moses accomplished great signs and wonders: the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, getting water from the rock. These were miracles that showed the great power of God, proved the identity of Moses as God’s representative, and brought about relief to suffering people.
Jesus, too, is presented as a great worker of miracles. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, stilled storms, and brought people back from the dead. These miracles showed God’s power, they testified to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and Son of God, and they brought about relief to suffering people. They showed people what God’s kingdom was like, and they were a taste of New Creation.
Jesus was a Miracle Worker.
We noted earlier about Moses mediating the covenant through the blood of young bulls. More than that, after the people of Israel sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf and God wanted to wipe them out, Moses directly interceded with God on their behalf, offering to take punishment for them.
Jesus is portrayed as the ultimate intercessor. He mediates the covenant through the sacrifice of Himself and intercedes for us. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23), but Jesus takes that payment for us. As 2 Corinthians 5.21 says, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…”
Jesus is the intercessor.
When I hear the word commissioner I think of the chief official of Major League Baseball or the NBA or NFL because that is the title that they use, but that’s not the idea here. A commissioner is someone who gives a commission—a task to be completed by those who come after.
At the end of his life, Moses commissions Joshua to carry on his mission. He tells Joshua to lead the people into the promised land and take possession of it and to keep the commandments when they are there. Joshua is assured that he can carry out this commission because God will be with him.
Jesus relays the ultimate commission. He tells His disciples to go into all the world—the Christian mission is a great one, it knows no geographical limits or bounds. As Christians, we are not told that we will inherit a small strip of land in Palestine, but rather, that we will inherit the earth. The kingdom of God is to be spread in all parts of the world. Further, Jesus tells them to observe all that He has commanded, and Jesus gives His disciples confidence that they can complete this mission, telling them that He Himself will be with them.
Jesus is the ultimate commissioner.
In Exodus 18, we have the story of Moses judging the people. When the people had a dispute, they would bring it before Moses and he would apply God’s law to these situations. But the task of judging the people is overwhelming for Moses, and his father-in-law Jethro actually advises him to get some help to share the burden.
Jesus is the judge in the ultimate sense—not settling the petty earthly disputes between people, but instead determining their eternal destinations. He says that not all who call Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but rather, they who do the will of God (Matthew 7.21). He further states that the way we treat other people, especially the “least of these”—the poor, the outcast, the oppressed—reflects how we treat Jesus, and affects our eternal destinies.
Jesus is the ultimate judge.
The Gospel writers—especially Matthew—go to great pains to make comparisons between Jesus and Moses. This is not a coincidence; by comparing Jesus to Moses, a man who fulfilled so many different roles in the early days of the history of the people of Israel, the New Testament shows us the many different roles Jesus plays.
There are many, many people in the world today who want to hold Jesus up as a great moral teacher or a man with brilliant insight, maybe even a prophet in some sense, but who want to stop at that point. But the Gospels go to great literary lengths to establish that Jesus is much more than this:
- Jesus is the liberator who sets us free from the slavery of sin.
- Jesus is the prophet who fully revealed the message of God.
- Jesus is the lawgiver who has the final authority to interpret God’s law.
- Jesus is the shepherd who guides us, provides for us, and lays down His life for us.
- Jesus is the miracle worker who shows the power of God and brings relief to those who are suffering, giving them a taste of new creation.
- Jesus is the intercessor who mediates the covenant for us, and receives the punishment that we deserve.
- Jesus is the commissioner who extends to us the mission of expanding the borders of God’s kingdom throughout the world.
- Jesus is the judge who determines the eternal destinies of all people.
In addition to all of these roles, the Bible goes even further: Jesus is God’s Son, God in the flesh Himself. In this sense, Jesus cannot be compared to Moses, nor to anyone else. He is absolutely unique.
In the Story of Scripture, this is the character of Jesus, and His characterization has radical implications for our lives: Jesus is God’s Son, He is the one who interprets God’s law, He died on our behalf, and He is the One who will judge how we have lived our lives and will determine our eternal destinies—how we respond to Jesus makes all the difference.
I am by no means the first person to notice the connections between Jesus and Moses, and in fact, several books have been written on the topic.
Some articles that were helpful to me in the composition of this blog post include Garrett Best, “Jesus As The New Moses,” Ministry of Study, https://ministryofstudy.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/jesus-as-the-new-moses/ (accessed October 9, 2018); Cale Clarke, “Is Jesus a “Second Moses”?,” Catholic Answers, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-jesus-a-second-moses (accessed October 9, 2018); “In what ways was Moses like Jesus?,” Got Questions, https://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-and-Jesus.html (accessed October 9, 2018).
We typically translate the Hebrew word torah as “Law”, but a better translation would probably be something like “teaching” or “instruction.” It feels weird to say that Jesus was delivering “Law” in the Sermon on the Mount, but He was certainly giving teaching and instruction. Like Moses, He was delivering Torah.