Jesus, The Prophet Greater Than Moses

Last week our church, Fellowship Bible Church, began reading in the Gospel of Matthew as we introduced our new series, Way of Life, which will go through Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Because of a great professor in seminary, Chuck Quarles, this passage of Scripture has become one of my favorite and most studied passages. Over the course of the series, I will share some of my study notes for those who might be interested.

The Gospel to the Hebrew People
Matthew's Gospel is often considered to have been written to the Hebrew people, with the aim of demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah, promised in the Hebrew scriptures. Part of Matthew's tactic is to compare Jesus with the greatest prophet in Jewish history: Moses. While all other prophets heard the voice of the Lord through dreams and visions, Moses spoke with God face-to-face. He performed the greatest miracles in the history of the Hebrew people, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, providing food in the desert, and giving them the guidelines that would direct their walking with God for centuries.

A Greater Prophet
In Deuteronomy 18:15-19, as Moses is recounting the law for the Hebrew people, he tells of a greater prophet that would come after him. This prophet would be greater because the people would actually listen to him, and for anyone who did not listen, God would have stiff consequences.

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen--just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire anymore, lest I die.' And the Lord said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.'"

Making the Connection
In the first five chapters of this gospel, Matthew goes to great lengths to show the similarities between Moses and Jesus. While Moses delivered the first Law, Jesus brought the New Law--the Law that would be written on the hearts of believers. Here are a few of the connections that Matthew makes:

  • Both were descendants of Abraham (and therefore Jews)
    • Moses was the son of Amram, son of Kohath, son of Levi, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham (1 Chronicles 23)
    • Jesus genealogy in Matthew 1 shows that He is a descendant of David, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham (see verses 1-6)
  • Both fled their homeland
    • Exodus 2:11-15
    • Matthew 2:13
  • A slaughter of innocent children surrounded their births
    • Exodus 1:16
    • Matthew 2:16
  • Both came out of Egypt
    • Exodus 13:3
    • Matthew 2:15
  • Both went through the water
    • Exodus 15 (the Red Sea crossing was considered a "baptism" in 1 Corinthians 10:2)
    • Matthew 3:13-17 (Jesus was baptized)
  • Both went into the wilderness immediately after going through the water
    • Exodus 15 and following
    • Matthew 4 (Jesus' temptation in the wilderness)
  • Both went "into" the mountain to deliver the Covenant Law
    • Exodus 19:3; 24:18 ("anebe eis to oros" in Greek)
    • Matthew 5:1 ("anebe eis to oros" in Greek)

Into the Mountain
This last point is possibly one of the most significant because it directly equates the authority of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to the authority of the prior Old Testament Law of Moses. This is something that is not readily apparent in the English translations, but it something that happens in the original languages. In Exodus 19:3 and 24:18, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses a curious directional preposition to describe how Moses went up the mountain. It says that "he went into the mountain" ("anebe eis to oros"). This phrasing is only used in the Old Testament when referring to Moses and his receiving of the Law from God. Here, in Matthew 5:1, Matthew writes that Jesus, "seeing the crowds, went into the mountain" ("anebe eis to oros"). This is the only place this peculiar phrasing is used, and it is used for a special purpose. Matthew is telling us and all of his Jewish readers that Jesus is the prophet that Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18. Jesus initiated the New Covenant, and the new "law" that is a part of that covenant. 

The New Law
This new law is the law of the heart, which is impossible for man to fulfill on his own. It can only be accomplished through the inner transformation that God works in us through His Spirit, as we are born again through faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Notice two statements, in particular: Matthew 5:20 and 5:47-48, which bracket Jesus' discussion on the common perspective of the Old Testament Law as compared with His divine perspective on the Law.

Matthew 5:20 - "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds (literally, "is more than") that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 5:47-48 - "And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The scribes and Pharisees stuck to every single letter of the Law. They were so diligent, they even tithed from their spices. Jesus told His disciples that their righteousness must exceed perfection as measured by the letter of the Law. It must be more than that. It must be a righteousness that pervades our being, and that comes from the inside out--the kind of righteousness that comes from love rather than fear.

May we trust Jesus' word. May we hear Him and follow. May we pursue the righteousness that comes from love and not from fear. May our righteousness be more, not for our own sake, but to honor the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us.