Episode 15: Moses
Moses joins John the Baptizer as a witness to the preeminence of Jesus
The final accolade on the impact of Moses’ life appears in a reflective statement found at the end of the Torah.
As of yet, a prophet has not arisen in Israel like Moses,
who knew the LORD face to face; in all his signs
and marvels, which the LORD sent him to complete
in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh and his servants,
indeed in all his territory, by his greatly marvelous
and powerful hand, which Moses did before all Israel.
Moses held the highest reputation in Israel for the amazing activities God performed through him in Egypt and the Sinai Wilderness during the Exodus, even in the first century AD. Yet in the Gospel of John, Moses takes a second seat to Jesus.
The law was given through the person of Moses,
grace and truth came into existence through
the person of Jesus the Messiah. (John 1:17)
Both Moses and Jesus were able to work mighty signs, yet the Prologue contrasts them; Moses was present at the birth of the Torah, while Jesus is the original source for grace and truth. Since episodes 11 and 12 describe the importance of these two terms our focus may now rest on Moses, who joins John the Baptizer as one providing testimony to the preeminence of Jesus.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of John
Moses is mentioned by name on 13 occasions in this gospel, more than in any other gospel. The harshest comparison between Jesus and Moses is made in the last mention, in Chapter 9. After the healing of the blind man–discussed in Episode 4 on Darkness–the Pharisees intensely question the formerly blind man in order to determine what had happened to him. At one point, the Pharisees verbally attack the man when they say,
“YOU are a follower of that man, WE are followers of
Moses; We know that God has spoken to Moses,
but we don’t even know where this man came from.”
The description from the Prologue is confirmed. The Pharisees know Torah comes from Moses and they rigidly follow Torah. They don’t know where this man, Jesus of Nazareth is from, thus they distrust him and anyone who follows his teachings. Earlier appearances of Moses in the gospel are illuminated more clearly when viewed through this John 9 distinction.
In John 7, Jesus holds a discussion with those in the temple during the Festival of Booths in the fall. But, the crowd is not attentive to Jesus’ teaching, nor fully comprehending it. Some concern remains among those in the crowd regarding Jesus' healing of the man in John 5. Jesus even calls attention to Moses, who gave the Law–again confirming what the Prologue indicated–as evidence that no one in his audience fully carries out this same Law. (7:19-23) But, perhaps most revealing for the identity of Jesus are the words by the crowd, words echoed by the Pharisees yet containing a different meaning in John 9.
We know where this man is from;
yet when the Messiah comes
no one will know where is from. (7:27)
The most noticeable comparison of Jesus with Moses may be found in the twin signs recorded in John 6. Jesus feeds a multitude across the Jordan and then crosses the Sea of Galilee on foot. When the crowd finds him again, the discussion centers around the theme of manna in the wilderness and whether it originated with Moses or from above.
“I speak truthfully to you, Moses has not given you
bread from heaven, rather my Father now gives you
the authentic bread from heaven;” (6:32)
Just as Moses did not give the Law, since it was only given through Moses, Moses also did not give the manna, since it originates from the Word With God at the Beginning. The Pharisees in John 9 are placing their confidence upon what was given through Moses, rather than upon the one where all those things originated.
After healing the man near the pool outside the Temple precinct, Jesus engages in a detailed discussion with the leaders upset that he performed this healing on the Sabbath day.
Don’t even think that I will be the one accusing you
before my Father; Moses, in whom you have been
putting your hope, is your accuser. For if you actually
believed Moses, you would believe me; for Moses wrote
concerning me. If you won’t believe his writings,
how will you ever believe my words. (John 5:45-47)
Based on this teaching of Jesus, one must ask the question whether the Pharisees’ claim in John 9 to be followers of Moses presents a valid statement. Can they be followers of Moses when Moses will be the one who accuses them of misunderstanding and failing to believe the Law, which was given through him?
As we work our way backwards through this gospel with the words of the Pharisees found in John 9 in mind, we come to the story with Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus greets Jesus with some of the most affirming words in the entire gospel.
This man came to Jesus at night and said,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher from God;
for no one can work the signs you accomplish
unless God is with him.” (3:2)
Nicodemus does not call Jesus a prophet, although that term is more fitting given what I indicated at the beginning was said of Moses, “a prophet has not arisen in Israel like Moses, who knew the LORD face to face; in all his signs and marvels.” As the discussion between these two teachers comes to an end, these words recall Moses to mind.
No one ever ascended into Heaven except for the one
who likewise descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
Just as Moses lifted up the image of a snake in the
wilderness, the Son of Man must be lifted up in the same
fashion, in order that every person who believes in him
may possess the life of the ages. (3:13-15)
Moses performed this sign by lifting up the representation of death as the only means for healing when having been bitten by the deadly, poisonous vipers. Only the Son of Man, demonstrated as such by also being lifted up on a pole, can provide the same sign, healing from that which prevents life of the ages.
Moses plays an important role in the Gospel of John. This role is best indicated in the words of Philip to Nathanael in John 1. “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (1:45) If one is to take Moses at his word, then one must place the words of Jesus, presented through his teaching, as the highest authority for following the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Failure to follow Jesus’ teaching represents a failure to follow Moses’ teaching and a failure to understand Moses’ writings.
Take 5 Minutes More
Far too often in life we are persuaded to focus on a single, premier figure, someone like Jesus. In doing so, we become one dimensional in our understanding of a story, an event, a life. The Gospel of John is filled with individuals who help “round out” the story, who help make it three dimensional. Moses is one of those historical figures who provides testimony to Jesus of Nazareth. Were Moses absent from the story, the pre-eminence of Jesus would not be any less, but our own understanding of Jesus would be diminished.
Consider the following two ideas.
• What individuals are helping to “round out” your own life and story? Are they being ignored such that your own life is in danger of becoming flat? Take time to recognize their influence in your own life. Determine a specific action that will communicate your appreciation for their contributions!
• Are you willing to be a figure like Moses in the story of the Gospel? How, and to whom, can you provide testimony to the pre-eminence of Jesus and his teaching?