Jesus – a Prophet like Moses

Yeshua with torah

 

The Old Testament contains hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah; where He would be born, His lineage, what He would accomplish, how He would die.  We also know that He would be a king like David (Jeremiah 23:5-6), a priest like Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) and a prophet like Moses (Deut 18: 15-19). This article is about what it means for Jesus as ‘Prophet like Moses’.

What did Moses Say about Jesus?

Moses is one of the most revered figures in Judaism as he is the one that God chose to give the Torah (Law) to at Mount Sinai. The “Torah” is the first five books in what Christians call the Old Testament – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

To believe Moses” means to believe what he wrote.

Jesus said to the Jews that did not believe in Him that if they really believed Moses, they would believe Him;

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46).

The Old Testament is so full of references to Jesus that He taught the disciples about Himself from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets on the road to Emmaus;

“He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Moses said that God would send a prophet like himself and that we must listen to him — in fact says that if we don’t listen, God will hold us accountable;


The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. This is what you requested from the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not continue to hear the voice of the Lord our God or see this great fire any longer, so that we will not die!’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name. (Deut 18: 15-19)


Jesus was the Prophet like Moses that God raised up

There were many parallels between Moses and Jesus; as infants both Moses and Jesus were almost killed by ruler’s edicts and both were protected from harm, both spent their early years in Egypt, both cured lepers (Num 12:10-15; Matt. 8:2-3) and both were initially doubted in their roles by their siblings. Moses lifted up the brazen serpent to deliver those that had faith and Jesus was lifted up on the cross to deliver all who would have faith.  Moses appointed 70 elders to rule Israel (Num. 11:16-17); Jesus appointed 70 disciples to teach the nations (Luke 10:1, 17). But the most striking comparison between Jesus and Moses was that they were both prophets that taught the Law of God. 

Yes, Jesus like Moses taught the Law — the true meaning and practice of the Law as given by God.  As a Prophet, He was calling the Jews back to the Law as God gave it, rather than what the Pharisees had made it.  More on that below.

The Standard of the Prophet

As a Prophet, Jesus had to meet the same criteria that God set for all prophets; that is to uphold what God has said or be put to death.

This ought not to be overlooked.  Prophets in the Old Testament were to be put to death if what they said did not come to pass or if what they taught caused the people to stray from the way God had already spoken.

The standard for a prophet is spelled out in the Law of Moses;


“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.” (Deut 13: 1-5)


The Teachings of Jesus and the Law

Some people believe that the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament teach something different than what is taught in the Law of Moses or that He gave them new meaning or disregarded the Law; even breaking some of its commands. Finally, others would say Jesus fulfilled the Law and therefore the Law is no longer relevant. Let’s look at each of those a bit closer;

1.  Some people believe that the teachings of Jesus were very different than what was taught in the Old Testament; that the Old Testament was all about the law and the New Testament is all about grace. This idea is worth an article in itself at very least, but let’s look at this idea in terms of what Deuteronomy 13 says. If Jesus taught something different (e.g. grace) than what God had previously taught (e.g. Law), then He would have been leading us away from keeping God’s commands and this would have made Him a false prophet, deserving of death.

2.  Others say that Jesus gave ‘new meaning‘ to what was taught in the Old Testament but this too would have made Him a false prophet. If Jesus reinterpreted the Law of Moses, He would have been urging us to rebellion against the Lord and His commands and we would have been just to put Him to death.

3.  Still others say that Jesus broke all kinds of commands in the Law of Moses and often cite Him healing on the Sabbath as a common example. Jesus did not follow the “Oral Law” of the Pharisees and thus in their minds would have been viewed as breaking the Sabbath, but no where in Scripture are there any instances of Him violating any of the commands of the (Written) Law, as recorded in the Law of Moses. Furthermore, if Jesus had indeed broken the Law of Moses — the Law given by God, He would have committed a sin and no longer been the Lamb of God without blemish.

4.  Finally, others say Jesus fulfilled the Law and therefore the Law is no longer relevant. Jesus as the Prophet like Moses was calling the Jews back to a true observance of the Law of which He is the goal (Romans 10:4).  Some translations use the word “end” for goal, but the word in Greek [telios] is more clearly understood in the context of Romans 10 as goal.  We will go into this passage more in upcoming blogs, but in this context, Paul is referring to the Jews as disregarding the righteousness from God and attempting to establish their own righteousness.  Again, this refers to the Pharisees insistence that the observance of “Oral Law” (i.e. ‘the traditions of men’) are equivalent in authority to the Written Law — which is the Law of God.  Paul says that they [the Jews] have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness [as embodied in the Law] — of whom Christ is the goal.


Note: In an upcoming article, Daniel and I will elaborate on the role of the Law to reflect the righteousness of God and the justice of God, suffice to say here, Jesus is the goal of the Law in that He is the perfect embodiment of the righteousness and justice of God.


None of the teachings of Jesus recorded anywhere in the New Testament teach something new or different than what is taught in the Law of Moses and at no time does Jesus ever break the commands of the Law, as given by God. In the following examples, we demonstrate that Jesus considered the Law not only relevant to teach, but to exhort believers to practice.

Jesus upholds the Law

Here are four examples as to how Jesus, as the Prophet like Moses, upholds the Law of Moses;

1. Jesus and the Rich Young Man

The synoptic gospels record the conversation between Jesus and the rich young man who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life.

Jesus could have simply replied “follow Me” but He doesn’t.  He reminds the man of the commandments of God in the Law forbidding adultery, murder, stealing, bearing false witness and honouring one’s parents (Mark 10:17-22; Matt 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30).  Jesus upholds the Law.

It was when the young man said that he had kept these commands from the time he was a youth that Jesus said to sell all he had, distribute it to the poor and follow Him (Luke 18:18-23, Mt 19:19-21, Mark 10:17-21).  Jesus continues to uphold the Law in His reply by telling the man to sell all his possessions. He was pointing out that money had become an idol to the man which kept him from keeping the first two commandments; which is to have the Lord as our God and no other gods before Him, and not to make an idol — which money had become to the man.  Jesus upholds the Law all the way through this teaching.

2. Jesus and the Jewish Lawyer 

In the conversation between Jesus and a Jewish lawyer recorded by Mark and Matthew, the issue of which is the greatest of the 613 commandments came up.

A question had arisen among the Jews and was now put to Jesus as to which commandment was ‘the first of all’ (Mark 12:28), or ‘the greatest’ (Matt 22:34) — first and greatest both referring to the same thing.

In Matthew’s and Mark’s account (Mark 12:31, Matt 22:39), Jesus replies to the Jewish lawyer saying that ‘the greatest and first commandment’ was to love God with all your heart, soul and strength (Deut 6:5) and adds  ‘the second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18).  Jesus upholds the Law.


It is important to note that neither of the two greatest commandments are part of the Ten Commandments (outlined in Exodus 20, Deut. 5) but are from other parts of the Law of Moses — which consists of 613 commandments and not just ten! The ten commandments form the functional framework for the other 603 commandments of the Mosaic Law.

The first greatest commandment quoted by Jesus in Mark’s account, includes what is called the “Shema“;

Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One (Deut 6:4)

and in the account in Matthew, Jesus refers only to “the V’Hafta” — a continuation of the Shema, but it is implied in the context that Jesus is including the Shema.  The V’Hafta is:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength (Deut 6:5)

The Shema and the V’Haftah were recited daily by Jews and still are.

The second greatest commandment is also one of the 613 commandments in the Law of Moses and does not, as one might assume, only refer to other Jews as “neighbours“;

You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people but you must love your neighbour as yourself . (Leviticus 19:18)

It is very important to note here, that in this same section of Leviticus 19, ‘foreigners living among you‘ (i.e. Gentiles) are included as “neighbour”;

The foreigner who lives among you [Gentile] must be to you as one of your native born, so you shall love him as yourself because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)


The Law of Moses included Gentiles as “neighbours” and in His teaching on the two greatest commandments, Jesus upholds the Law of Moses.

3. Jesus and the Jewish Lawyer and the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke records a fuller account of the same conversation between Jesus and the Jewish Lawyer.  In this account, the ‘expert in the law‘ stood up to test Jesus asking Him ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Luke 10:25-28).  

Here, Jesus asks the expert in the law what he himself understands the Law of Moses to say on this matter and it is the lawyer who cites the Shema and V’Hafta and the teaching of the Law of Moses in Leviticus 19 about loving our neighbor.  The lawyer replies to Jesus and says that it is the obligation to love God above all and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Luke 10:25-27) — to which Jesus replies, “you have answered correctly” and adds “Do this and you will live”.  Once again, Jesus upholds the law.

It was the lawyer’s next question: ‘But who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:28-37) that leads to Jesus’ teaching of the Parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus refers back to the passages above from Leviticus 19, where the Jews under the Law are commanded in the Law of Moses to love the Gentile as if he were a native-born Jew and to treat them as neighbours.  

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus upholds the law.

3. Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount

The end of Matthew 4 gives the context for Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5. Jesus was speaking to the Jews that followed Him to the mount from “all over Galilee”  in the synagogues (Matt 4:23) and “from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan” (Matt 4: 25).

Contrary to what many assume, the Sermon on the Mount is not a new teaching given to the Church but is an elaboration by Jesus to Jews on the Ten Commandments.

Jesus in the body of the Sermon says “You have heard it was said [in the Old Testament] but I say…“– such references to the Law of Moses which would have had no meaning to Gentiles. The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking heard the Law read each week in the synagogues from where they came and knew exactly what He was referring to when He said;


“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17 – 19


Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them and that until heaven and earth pass away, not even the tiniest part of the smallest letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished — and that hasn’t happened yet.  As covered in another article, God has yet to restore the Jewish people and will do so when “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled“.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus  not only upholds the Law but speaks of the Law’s continued relevance and practice to Jews in the kingdom. Jesus says;


anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:17-19)


Jesus, was exhorting the Jews that had followed him there from all over the region to not to set aside the commands of God but to practice and teach them.

This is what prophets in the Jewish Scriptures did; they called the people back to the ways of God. Jesus, as a Prophet was doing exactly the same thing.

Further, Jesus as the Prophet like Moses, was calling the Jews back to the Law of Moses as it was given by God at Mount Sinai.

Why  was that necessary?

The Pharisees (who Jesus had rather strong words for!) had been burdening the Jews with all kinds of extra observances that are referred to as “Oral Torah” (also called the “Oral Law”).  The Pharisees believed that these interpretations on how to observe the Written Law were given by God Himself to Moses at Mount Sinai along with the “Written Torah” (also called the “Written Law”) and that “Oral Law” was equal in authority to the “Written Law” of Moses.

Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah in context when He said that the Pharisees and scribes were “teaching as doctrines the commands of men” (Matt 15:9).  Looking at the passage in Isaiah 29:32 in Hebrew; Isaiah refers to the “mitzvah of learned men“, rather than the “mitzvah of God“. Jesus is quoting the Law in context; it was the burdensome “Oral Law” that Jesus was equating with the “mitzvah of learned men” that the Pharisees and scribes were teaching, rather than the “mitzvah of God“. It was the Oral Law Jesus was condemning — not the written Law of Moses.

In Mathew 5: 17-19 Jesus as the Prophet like Moses was calling the Jews back to following the Law as given by God and not as it was being practiced under the teachings of the religious leaders, the Pharisees.


anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:17-19)


 

Jesus was not saying that the Jews needed to keep the Law for salvation as He refers to both those who set aside the commands’ and ‘those who “practice” and “teach” the commands’ as being in the ‘kingdom of heaven’.

Jesus is saying to Jews who believe in Him, that if they set aside even the least of the commands of the Law and teaches others to do so, that they will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is also saying to Jews that believe in Him that those who practice (or “do”) His commands and teach others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

As I mentioned above, I will elaborate further in an upcoming article, that the Law reflects the righteousness of God and the justice of God — and was always a Law based on faith not works. Paul picks up this concept in Romans 9;


What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law.  Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. ~ Romans 9:30-32


Paul is saying that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness [were apart from the Law before Jesus came] have obtained righteousness, the righteousness that comes from faith, by believing in the One that was the “goal [Gr. telios] of the Law” (Romans 10:4), that is, Jesus.

But of the Jews [i.e. Israel] , Paul is saying that they pursued keeping the law in order to achieve righteousness but did not achieve righteousness because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works.

Galatians 2:15-16 reinforces the same idea as was outlined in Romans 10 — that the Jews knew the works of the Law never justified anyone;


We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.  And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ  and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.


Getting back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly said to the Jews to whom He was speaking that both those who set aside the commands of the Law and those who practice and teach the commands Law are in the ‘kingdom of heaven’ — so we know that practicing and teaching the commands has nothing to do with salvation.

So why did Jesus say that Jews who practice (or “do”) the commands of the Law and teach others to do so will be called great in the kingdom?

This will be picked up in the next article which will be on God’s call to the Jews and God’s call to the Gentiles — which finds it’s full expression through the ekklesia, the Church,

 

 

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