Jesus as the New Moses
One of the most interesting things about Matthew’s Gospel is it’s Old Testament links. More so than all the other Gospels, Matthew is concerned with tying Jesus together with the story of Israel. Like the Epistle to the Hebrews, in order for Matthew to demonstrate that Israel’s hope is to be found in Jesus- that is to say that the climax of Israel’s history had come- he needed his readers to know that Jesus is superior to the leaders and institutions of the Old Covenant. This isn’t a matter of bad vs good (heaven forbid!). Matthew makes a good-better argument.
One claim that Matthew makes is Jesus is the new Moses, leading a a new Exodus. Often this isn’t picked up by interpreters because Matthew doesn’t come right out and say it. The claim lies under the surface, acting as the substructure of much of what’s said. Commentators have recognized that Matthew organized his Gospel according to a 7 point outline. There’s the beginning (1) and the end (7), and couched in the middle is the substance of Matthew’s account: The Five Books of Jesus (2-6), centered around Christ’s five great discourses or speeches (1: chs. 5–7; 2: ch. 10; 3: ch. 13; 4: ch. 18; 5: chs. 24–25). One outline would look like this:
- The Genealogy and Preparation for Jesus Ministry (chs. 1–4)
- Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (4:12—14:12)
- Jesus’ Withdrawals from Galilee (14:13—17:20)
- Jesus’ Last Ministry in Galilee (17:22—18:35)
- Jesus’ Ministry in Judea and Perea (chs. 19–20)
- Passion Week (chs. 21–27)
- The Resurrection (ch. 28)
The concluding chapters of Deuteronomy (31 -34) contained Moses’ final blessing, he’s going up the mountain to see the land which the people would possess, and his eventual death.
Matthew, I suggest, had the entire scene in mind as he arranged his material into its eventual form. The theme of the whole passage in Deuteronomy is thoroughly germane to the complex scene of [Matthew’s] first chapter: Israel has indeed fallen into the curse of exile because of her sins, and now the story of Abraham’s people is to be brought back on course by a new exodus, by the renewal of the covenant. As a result, Israel is again faced with a choice. Life or death, curse or blessing; the house on the rock or sand; the wise or the foolish maidens; the sheep or goats. Jesus, like Moses, goes to his death with the promises and warnings still ringing in the people’s ears. After his resurrection, Jesus, like Moses, goes up the mountain and departs from his people, leaving them with the commission to go in and possess the land, that is, the entire world (28:16 – 20). And, if my suggestion is correct, Matthew has woven this covenant choice into the very structure of his gospel, portraying it as a choice set before his contemporaries by Jesus, and thereby himself setting the same choice before the church of his own day. There is a way by which Israel can be rescued from her exile, can receive the promised forgiveness of sins rather than the ultimate curse. It is the way of following Jesus. Those who come by this way are not a new Israel, as though created suddenly from nothing. They are the true descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (NTPG, 388)