There are also fascinating parallels with Moses himself in Matthew.
* Both Jesus and Moses were threatened by death as infants from a wicked king.
* Both Jesus and Moses spent their early years in Egypt, although Moses stayed much longer.
* Jesus began his ministry being baptized in the Jordan. Moses began his mission to the Promised Land crossing the Red Sea. (Paul makes the comparison between the Red Sea and baptism explicit in 1Co 8.)
* Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting, where he was tempted by Satan. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness eating only what God provided, leading to many temptations by Satan.
* God introduces himself to Israel at Mt. Sinai, delivering a series of relationship-defining teachings. Jesus introduces himself to Israel at an unnamed mount, delivering a series of relationship-defining teachings.
We can’t help but notice how often Jesus compares and contrasts his teachings to the Torah in the SOTM. He is, of course, more contrasting his own teachings to the interpretations of the Torah made by the rabbis, rather than the true meaning of the words of Moses. In fact, he insists that the Torah remains authoritative in some sense —
(Mat 5:17-20 ESV) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We’ll deal more with this passage when we get there.
Now, in the First Century, the Jews considered Moses as something of a superhero. He was not only the man through whom God had delivered them from slavery, but the greatest of the prophets and judges, the ultimate leader of Israel, a man with whom God spoke “face to face.” He even dared argue with God, once persuading God not to destroy Israel. He was their mediator and advocate before the Lord.
Hence, as Jesus subtly compares himself to Moses, he is making similar claims for himself. He’s not yet ready to announce himself as the Messiah, but he is plainly claiming a position of authority at least equal to that of Moses. And to any good Jew, this would bring to mind this familiar (to them) passage —
(Deu 18:15-19 ESV) “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 — 16 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 any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 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. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”
And many Jews considered this passage to speak of the Messiah.
It’s important to realize that the Jews, like most non-Western people, often thought more in terms of story than logical propositions. In fact, among the Jews, stories were often acted out. (Ezekiel begins with several vivid examples of this.) Hence, it was far more important for Jesus to act like the Messiah than to claim to be the Messiah.
We Westerners don’t pick up on the clues, because we expect to be taught in terms of simple propositions: verbal truth claims. But in the East, messages were more powerfully communicated symbolically. Thus, when John the Baptist chose to dress like Elijah and to minister in areas where Elijah had prophesied, he not only claimed to be like Elijah, but he was charging the powers in place with sin comparable to that of Jezebel and Ahab and the Jews with being as far removed from God as Israel had been in Elijah’s day.
Just so, Jesus, by stepping into the sandals of Moses, was telling the Jews that they were in slavery and in need of a Redeemer. And by re-enacting Mt. Sinai, Jesus was announcing the time for a new covenant with God — because Sinai is where the Mosaic covenant was made.