Jesus as a New Moses

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…” (Matthew 5:1–2).

In Exodus, Moses went up on Mount Sinai and received the Law then taught the Law to God’s people. Like Moses, Jesus is presented as a second Moses who teaches the Law on the Mountain. Matthew intentionally draws a parallel between Moses as the original leader of God’s people and Jesus, the ultimate “lawgiver” and interpreter of God’s Law.

Jesus and Moses

In fact, there are a number things in the Gospel of Matthew which indicate the author wanted to intentionally present Jesus as a “new Moses.” Dale Allison pointed this out in his 1993 monograph, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology and it is now quite commonplace to find this commentaries on Matthew. In fact, drawing parallels between Jesus as Moses goes back at least to the fourth century writer Eusebius in this in his Demonstration of the Gospel. McKnight has a lengthy quote from Eusebius (p. 23), but as he observes, Eusebius’s point is “the noxious fumes of supersecessionism,” the belief the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people.

Just a few examples should be sufficient here. First, when King Herod ordered the execution of children in Bethlehem Jesus and his family escape to Egypt (Matt 2:13-18), just as Moses escaped Pharaoh’s order and was adopted by the Egyptian princess. Second, Jesus passes through the water in his baptism (3:13-17) and goes into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil (4:1-11). Israel passed through the waters at the Red Sea and went into the wilderness and were eventually tested for forty years. It is also significant Jesus answered the devil’s temptations with quotations Moses’s words drawn from the book of Deuteronomy. Third, in Matthew 5 Jesus “went up a mountainside” (ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος) to teach his disciples. The content of this teaching is in many ways an interpretation of the Law of Moses. In Exodus 19:3, Moses “went up to the mountain of God” (ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος τοῦ θεοῦ). Moses “goes up to the mountain” in Exodus 24:18 (when he entered into the glory of God) and 34:4 (when he received the two stone tablets from God). Finally, Scot McKnight points out Jesus’s posture is important: he is sitting down to teach the Law, just as those who teach with legal authority “sit in the seat of Moses” (Matt 23:2).

Why would Matthew use Moses as a model for Jesus in his Gospel? Most commentators want to avoid any hint of supersecessionism and anti-Semitic overtones and (correctly) observe Jesus does not replace Moses (nor does the church replace Israel), but rather Jesus fulfills the Law of Moses (McKnight 24). As we will see as we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a new way of reading the old commands, “do not kill” or “do not commit adultery.” This “new way” is really the original way, to seek the heart of God in his commands and find ways to live out God’s heart in the real world.

I would suggest Jesus is a new Moses in that he demonstrates how the disciple in the new age should understand how to apply God’s word in the new age of the Kingdom. Under the Law, it was entirely possible to do many functions of the Law perfectly, yet still miss the heart of the Law. This is what the prophets constantly condemned Israel for doing. Amos, one of the earliest writing prophets, declared that God hated Israel’s worship, the sacrifices and music was offensive to him because Israel did not practice the justice at the heart of the Law. Amos 5:11 decries abuse of the poor through taxation and 5:15 demands justice prevail in the courts.

Jesus therefore says it does no good to “not murder” if you are going to hate people in your hearts. It does no good to follow the commands on oath making if you are going to find all sorts of ways to bend the rules. As the New Moses, Jesus demands his disciples look deep beneath the surface of religious practice for the heart of God.

If this first sermon in Matthew’s Gospel is intended to recall the original covenant God made with his people, how does that change the way we read the Sermon on the Mount? Is this a “strict moral code” for following Jesus? Or is Jesus offering a pattern for thinking through how the heart of God can be applied to new and different cultural situations as his disciples move out into the world with the message of the Gospel?


14 thoughts on “Jesus as a New Moses

  1. I found this post thought provoking… I do understand the parallels between Moses and Jesus in these passages, however Jesus is not simply the “New Moses”. Moses is highly revered by Messianic Jews, as Moses was a great pillar of the faith. However, Jesus is so much more than simply a pillar of the faith. Moses presented the law to the Israelite. However, Jesus was the original author of the law (Jesus is God, God is Jesus). This is why Jesus was not only able to state the law during his teaching but clearly define and describe the heart and root of the law. Jesus goes far beyond the teaching of Moses, showing the heart of God and how all sin is equal.

    • Hello Sarah,

      After reading the post and your response I will to say that you both did a great job getting your points across. I would like to take the time out to defend Mr. Long claim when it comes to the Moses and Jesus comparison. As read in the McKnight book page 24, “Jesus is not replacing Moses, but by fulfilling the Moses.” McKnight explains that things may look as Jesus is teaching the new law as the new Moses for the new people of God (McKnight, 24) When Jesus is simply completing the story of Israel in the way God has plan for it to go via the ethics of Jesus. Hate to use sports to give an example of what is being said in this section, but we all know Michael Jordan is a fantastic basketball player, and he is even consider the greatest to ever play the sport. At the same time, in this current era LeBron James has surpassed Jordan on the scale of stats per game, but not impact on the game and people claim that LeBron is the new Jordan. When indeed that shouldn’t be the case, they are two totally different type of players and play different position. On the other hand they are pushing the agenda of making basketball a more profitable due to their skill set and impact. LeBron is only finishing what Jordan started. I hope the example I gave is very clear although I used a sport example. Feel free to respond on what you believe is not true about my statement. I would truly appreciate it.

  2. Have you considered that Moses might have “foreshadowed” (was a type of) Jesus as Mediator between God and Man and Law Giver ? I think this is the correct interpretation.

    • Yes, I think this is another way to say more or less the same thing. It is possible to draw analogies between Jesus and a number of key OT characters. The problem (for me?) is which direction the typology runs. Did Exodus intentionally describe Moses in a way which (prophetically) foreshadowed Jesus, or did Matthew model his presentation of Jesus after the well-known story of Moses? Maybe this is a “chicken and the egg” kind of problem, but my preference is Matthew’s use of Moses as model (a literary typology) rather than a prophetic typology.

      • I think the “original” Exodus “foreshadows” (is a type!) of the exodus we make for This Age to the Next Age (New Creation). We leave Egypt (this world and its man-made religions), travel through the wilderness (life in this world/Age) and eventually enter Canaan (a type of New Creation and Eden restored ++). At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah asked Jesus about the “exodus” He was to accomplish.

        Jesus, as the Obedient Son, is True Israel and King of Israel. The OT Nation of Israel foreshadowed the chosen people of God, and believers are True Israel through union with Jesus (which in OT was belief in God and His Coming Messiah!).

        I think Moses foreshadowed Jesus. For example, Exodus 32:31 32 “foreshadows” Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Many of the key historical figures in OT Israel (including Moses), such as King David, were obviously real people with real lives that foreshadowed aspects of Jesus (son of David, King of Israel). “He is the Head and we are the body” is another way of saying He is King of Israel.

        This is the understanding that God works throughout history (“redemptive history”), to progressively unfold the revelation of salvation through belief in His Chosen Son’s sacrifice for us.

  3. I think the similarities between the Moses’s bringing of the ten commandments and Jesus’s sermon on the mount are too obvious to ignore. Matthew seems to be indicating that Jesus has much in common with Moses or that Moses was foreshadowing (because there is none of that throughout the Bible) the coming of Christ. I think it is just important to point out that when Jesus is addressing the Law of the Old Testament that he is not necessary changing it or making it harder, rather He is revealing the true nature behind each law. Jesus is essentially saying that when God (himself) gave Moses the law, it was like giving them a brand-new car to make their lives easier. But instead of using it how it was intended, the Israelites missed the true thinking and nature behind the laws. So, to continue with the car metaphor the Israelites have basically been using this car to carry all their stuff and then pushing it, maybe jumping on top of it riding down a steep hill. Jesus is coming telling them, that although they got use out of the gift he gave them, they misunderstood how to use it. Jesus is telling them that this car was to be driven, not merely used as a wagon. Then He is saying not only did you used the car (law) wrong but now it doesn’t matter, because I have something to offer you that is even better (himself as a eternal sacrifice). So the connection between Moses and Jesus is valid, but Christ is not simply abolishing everything Moses ever provided the Israelites with.

    • That is the exact idea I had when I first read the chapter and seen the title of the blog. As we all know that Jesus is the descendant of many great men within the bible. As professor Long mentioned from McKnight, “observe, Jesus does not replace Moses (nor does the church replace Israel), but rather Jesus fulfills the Law of Moses (McKnight 24). Just like when you think of family heritage and legacies. Matthew was making the comparison between Jesus and Moses an example of the idea of a family heir. If you look into Matthew 1:1, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” ( ESV,2018) Genealogy: -A line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor.
      Does this means the second coming of Jesus may in fact be a person soon to be born, that so happens to be in the same family tree as Jesus, David, Moses, and Abraham? This indeed can make the possibility that this very person can be Hebrew, Hispanic, or even a black man. It may be the case of the second coming being a woman. Well these are just thoughts but indeed Moses was not being compared to our Lord and Savior; but Jesus is indeed our anchor to the very gospel that God our Father is presenting to the world through those who he has appointed to carry the wave of His children coming back to His grace and glory through salvation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  4. I think that for me personally I tend to miss a lot of parallels when it comes to how I retain information and connect things like this. I have been more intentional with how I read the scriptures over the past couple of years so these parallels over time has become more apparent. When I read this and look back in Matthew, I see it kind of as Moses presented the law but Jesus showed everyone how to live it out, just as stated in this post, through his disciples. When Moses gave the law, it was almost like the Israelites saw those laws as a strong suggestion or they did not get the point. From my perspective when I read this, it’s almost like Jesus is showing people how to live this out. It’s easy to follow something that is written but to not have any meaning or heart behind it. Just like you stated above, that is addressed. I Think that in a way, Jesus came and sealed this all or kind of put people into check. Jesus had a bit to add on to really instill into everyone’s mind just what Moses meant. It’s like he is emphasizing the point. I find this in Matthew 5:21-22 — (21) “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. (22) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire”. I think that Jesus comes and (for a lack of better terms) puts the icing on the cake that is the law. Another example is when Jesus said often to the pharisees who were twisting the law and added their own traditions to it, and Jesus clarifies the law beginning with the phrase “you have heard it said before, but I say to you”. He is clarifying, not abolishing. At no point am I saying that Jesus is adding to the law. I believe he is clarifying.

  5. This is really interesting in a way that I never thought about the idea of a new Moses. I can both point of views, but understand that this post, like Derrion said, is that “Jesus does not replace Moses, but rather Jesus fulfills the law of Moses” (McKnight 24). Similar to like a student that might surpass a teacher, as well as it would most likely be everyone’s goal to be the best. Proving the fact Jesus is fulfilling the law of Moses is in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 foreshadowing, where Moses even wrote, that God is going to send a prophet, like himself, among the Israelites.

  6. Reading this article I immediately thought of Matthew 5: 17-20, that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it for us, those who never could. Both Moses and Jesus taught the same law of course, but the significance of our heart posture towards the law is so much more prevalent in Jesus’ teachings than the teachings and attitudes of Moses and the people of Israel. I like how there is a chart in Strauss’ “Four Portraits One Jesus” (P. 221), taken from the studies of B .W. Bacon, that illustrates the way Matthew outlines his book very similar to the Pentateuch. I had never realized that the literal structure of the book followed themes and principles from the Pentatuech. Matthew wanted us to know that no longer will we need to fear where our standing is with God, when we will need to sacrifice and when we are clean enough to worship or be in His presence. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice covered the multitude of sins in our lives and made us righteous before God, so the law no longer makes us righteous, He does.

  7. To say that “Jesus is offering a pattern for thinking through how the heart of God can be applied to new and different cultural situations as his disciples move out into the world with the message of the Gospel” is spot on in my opinion (Phillip Long). Jesus didn’t come into the world to “abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them” according to Matthew 4:21 (ESV). Although, as clarified by McKnight, Jesus doesn’t replace Moses, but he does fulfill him [Moses] by presenting the new law of grace to the new people of God (24). As said by John, though “the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus” (John 1:15, ESV). Throughout this chapter, Jesus presents ideas about the law that had never been thought of before such as someone committing adultery just by looking at someone of the opposite sex lustfully. The Pharisees didn’t understand this because until Jesus, their idea was that in order to get to heaven, they needed to keep the whole law. They felt as if they were being attacked by Jesus because He was saying that the whole law could never be fully kept even though the Pharisees thought it was possible to do so. However, to conclude with the words of Paul, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” not salvation (Romans 3:20b, ESV). We are not saved by the law, but we are saved by faith in Jesus which is what the Pharisees failed to understand.

  8. I think Jesus is offering a pattern for thinking through how the heart of God. I liked the comparisons between Moses story and Jesus story because it highlighted similarity. I like the caption “Jesus as the new Moses” because that’s basically what it probably seemed like especially with the similarities between the two lives and moments they gave. Jesus was better because he could tell the true deep meanings or the “heart” of God’s law. Jesus is God so he only would be the best to give the meaning and know them like the back of his hand to explain them in depth to a level no other prophet can do.

Leave a Reply