The Moses connection

Is Jesus “a new Moses”? Would that be a helpful way to describe him?

Should we describe Jesus as “a new Moses” in the Biblical story? In the Old Testament, Moses liberated God’s people and established them as his nation. In the New, Jesus liberated humanity and established us as God’s kingdom.

The similarities are clear, so hundreds of books draw the comparison. Yet the New Testament writers seem reticent to describe Jesus this way. Why?

A kingdom perspective provides the answer.

There’s no shortage of exodus allusions in Matthew:

  • As a child, Jesus had an exodus from Egypt (2:15).
  • He was led into the wilderness to be tested (3:1).
  • The Sermon on the Mount starts with echoes of Sinai: Jesus going up the mountain to deliver God’s instruction (5:1).
  • In the wilderness (14:9), Jesus provided bread (14:29).
  • Jesus’ final Passover becomes a new covenant meal (26:27).

Yet, Matthew never spells out the comparison between Jesus to Moses.

The crowd who received the bread in the wilderness made the Moses connection (John 6:14). But Jesus corrected them, insisting it was not Moses but his Father who gave them bread from heaven (John 6:32). It’s as if his relationship with his Father was so different that the comparison with Moses would be misleading.

Hebrews 3 provides an overt comparison between Jesus and Moses. It’s part of a series of comparisons with Old Testament characters, and the focus is on Jesus’ superiority. Moses was merely a servant in God’s household, whereas Jesus is a son over God’s household (Hebrews 3:5-6).

Moses wasn’t a king; Israel began as a theocracy. Only later did God permit earthly kings to represent his rule on earth. The sons of David were “sons of God” in the sense that they represented the heavenly sovereign. In calling Jesus a son, Hebrews isn’t saying he was second person of the trinity (even though that’s theologically correct). The previous two chapters have already explained the sonship title in kingship terms (e.g. Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5; Psalm 45:6-7 in Hebrews 1:8). The point is the difference in authority: Moses as a servant versus Jesus as the regal son entrusted with all authority over the heavenly sovereign’s earthly realm.

So the NT writers are saying, “Don’t push the comparison between Jesus and Moses too far. If you do, you’ll miss Jesus’ significance. He’s not just like Moses; he’s so much more.”

When Jesus was transfigured, the disciples saw him in the company of Moses and Elijah. They wanted to build shrines to celebrate the three of them, but the one who lives in the cloud redirected their attention away from Moses and Elijah, calling them to listen to his chosen son (17:5).

That’s why the Bible never calls Jesus a “new Moses.” In the early years of Christianity, that term would have been viewed as missing his regal authority. Jesus isn’t merely the prophet of a new covenant. He is king — the one appointed to restore heaven’s rule to earth.

In the twenty-first century, we are very conscious of Jesus’ uniqueness. We know he is God incarnate, and we tend to be less aware of his humanity. It might be helpful for us to be reminded that Jesus lived in continuity with Israel’s story. Calling Jesus “a new Moses” may therefore be helpful: it doesn’t detract from his uniqueness, and it does help us see how the birth of God’s nation through Moses in the Old Testament was a stepping stone towards the restoring of God’s kingdom authority over the whole earth through Jesus in the New.

Moses served as the servant of God to re-establish his reign among the nations; Jesus is the King of Kings who re-establishes God’s reign over the nations (Revelation 15:3; 5:6; 19:16).


What others are saying

W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, ICC (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 2:482:

Readiness to see in Mt 14:13–21 a new Moses motif is natural. In Jn 6:25ff. the same event is represented as the counterpart of and antithesis to the gift of manna under Moses, and we might expect Matthew to reveal the same awareness of the theme, especially in the light of the typology in chapters 1–5 (see on 5:1) and the Mosaic motifs in such key texts as 11:25–30 and 17:1–8: ‘as the first redeemer, so the last’. … Nonetheless, with the possible exception of his work in v. 21, Matthew reveals no accentuation of an exodus motif in this passage.

David L. Turner, Matthew, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 369–370:

It is more likely that Matthew intends this story to remind his readers of the past miraculous feeding of the Israelites with manna in the wilderness. … The story is also intended to anticipate the eschatological messianic banquet alluded to in Matt. 8:11 and 26:29. … In fact, both Moses’s manna and Jesus’s multiplied loaves anticipate the ultimate satisfaction of the needs of God’s people in the future kingdom (Matt. 26:29; 1 Cor. 11:26).

G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 321–322:

Jesus is the greater Moses whom God has delivered from death at the greater exodus, along with his people. And just as the exodus was thought of as a new creation, so it is followed by the even more monumental new exodus and new creation in Jesus’s resurrection. Just as the first exodus was to lead to the establishment of the temporary temple (e.g., Exod. 15:17; Isa. 63:18), so Isa. 63:15 (“Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation”) and 64:1 (“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down”) prophesy that the second, end-time exodus (Isa. 63:11) will also lead to God’s heavenly sanctuary descending to earth and residing permanently. As Hebrews has recounted in earlier chapters, Jesus has led his people to that heavenly mountain-tabernacle (6:19–20; 9:11–12, 23–24; 10:19–22; 12:22–24).

The phrase “new Moses” occurs more than 1000 times in my library (8000 books), though it never occurs in the Bible.


[previous: A tale of two kings]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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