Where did Moses write about Jesus? (Part 2)

This post is a part of a series. It continues where Part 1 left off. If you’d like a video version of this post, you can watch/listen to the video recording of the lesson I learned all this from.

In the previous post, we raised a question that stems from John 1:4 and Luke 24:44. Where did Moses write about Jesus? Peter gives us the beginnings of an answer in Acts 3:

Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. Acts 3:17-23

Peter is quoting a passage in Deuteronomy 18:17-20. The wording is slightly different from what you’d most likely see in your Bible since Peter was quoting from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. But the message is the same:

The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites [“brothers” or “brethren”], and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” Deuteronomy 18:17-20, NIV

Through Moses, God says that he will raise up a prophet that the people must listen to. What are the characteristics of this prophet?

First, he will come “from among their brethren/brothers.” The NIV has “their fellow Israelites”, but this is an interpretation. How might we confirm that this interpretation is warranted? In the preceding chapter of Deuteronomy, God gives the people instructions on how to choose a king. He uses the same word. Let’s see how he uses it:

When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Deuteronomy 17:14-15

So when God uses this word for brethren, he means that the person can’t be a foreigner, i.e. not a member of the tribe of Israel.

The second characteristic of this prophet is that he will be like Moses This is how this prophet would be different than the many others who would come. This prophet was someone special. We see that the Jews recognized that there was a distinction being made here–in John 1:44 they don’t ask John the Baptist “are you a prophet?” but “are you the Prophet?” And the way that the people would recognize this prophet is that he would be like Moses.


Who’s the Prophet like Moses?

Excellent question. Peter seems to think Jesus was, based on the passage in Acts 3 that we quoted previously. He’s not the only one, though. Some of the other Jews thought so too after Jesus fed the 5000.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14

And again, when Jesus is speaking during the Festival of Tabernacles:

On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” John 7:40

Incidentally, there are approximately 1.8 billion people in the world who do not think that Jesus was the prophet that Moses was talking about. These people are Muslims, and the reason they don’t think so is that they believe that Muhammad was the prophet like Moses. Typical points made in favor of the similarities between Muhammad and Moses are:

  1. Both had normal births
  2. Both were married and had children
  3. Both had natural (non-violent) deaths
  4. Both instituted a new law and governed over a people
  5. Both were leaders whose leadership was generally accepted by the people
  6. Both were military leaders who were victorious against their enemies
  7. Both left their birthplaces to flee for their lives

This is probably a good time to state something rather obvious. When comparing any two people, it’s possible to draw up a list of similarities between them. The fact that similarities exist between two people isn’t special. What can make them special is that if they are so specific and numerous that they become less a list of similarities and more a portrait that can only fit two people.

With that in mind, let’s see what similarities exist between Moses and Jesus.

Similarities between Jesus and Moses

I’m not providing scripture references for each point, but all of the details of Moses’ life described here are found in Exodus 1-20 and Deuteronomy 30-34.

  1. The baby boys of their region/nation are killed by an evil king, but they are spared.
  2. Both of them spent time in Egypt in their childhood.
  3. Both performed miracles repeatedly. This is actually fairly uncommon throughout the Bible. Other than Moses and Jesus, Elijah and Elisha are the only prophets recorded as having performed multiple (or even any?) miracles.
  4. In addition to the fact that they performed miracles, the miracles they performed were similar
    • Both healed leprosy
    • Both turned water into… something red. For Jesus, the first public sign he performed was turning water into wine, while for Moses the first plague he performed was turning water into blood.
    • Both fed thousands of people with miraculous food
  5. Both brought freedom for the captives out of slavery: Moses, by bringing the people out of Egypt, Jesus, by freeing us from sin.
  6. Both were mediators between God and his people and interceded for the people to God.
  7. Both had their faces transfigured in the presence of God, and a cloud envelops them to give them authority.
  8. After their death, no one can find Moses’ grave and body. Similarly, Jesus’ body can’t be found at his grave.
  9. Both established a new covenant between God and his people.
  10. Both made a pathway to freedom through water: Moses through the Red Sea, Jesus through baptism.
  11. Both instituted the Passover sacrifice (Jesus, through his own death). Consider these aspects of the Passover sacrifice:
    • The sacrifice must be an unblemished lamb
    • It must be a male without defect
    • It was killed on the evening of the Passover
    • Its bones must not be broken
    • After the lamb is sacrificed, all yeast (sin) is thrown out.
    • By its blood, the people are saved from death.
  12. And perhaps my favorite… In Exodus 17, in order to defeat the Amalekites, Moses had to hold up the staff of God in his hands on the top of a hill.

“So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Exodus 17:10

Think about it. 2 men on either side of him. On a hill, Moses is holding his wooden staff. He has to hold it up in order for Joshua (the Hebrew form of the Greek name “Jesus!”) to win the battle against their enemies. This picture might help:

Moses and the Amalekites

What’s the verdict?

I think these similarities are striking. Details about the biographies of their lives, about the miracles and acts they performed, and their role between God and men… When I look at these similarities, I see a definitive portrait of the lives of these two men.

When the apostles saw Jesus, they recognized him as the Prophet promised hundreds of years beforehand by God to Moses. Because of that, they internalized what God had said: “you must listen to everything he tells you.”

What about you? I’d invite you to consider if these similarities are meaningful. If so, then this is a powerful proclamation of who Jesus is: the promised Prophet!