Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?
In many evangelical circles, it is the generally accepted belief that Jesus came to oppose or put an end to Moses — to that body of writings called the “Law of Moses” or the “Mosaic Law.” That law consists of what the Jews call the Torah — the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). In a word, the belief is that Moses and Jesus are contraries — opposites — even at odds with each other.
Invariably, the argument falls back on such scriptures, among several others, as John 1:17 (“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” NKJV throughout) and Galatians 5:4 (“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace.”) or Galatians 2:19, 21 (“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God….I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”). [See: Freed From Bondage, Transgressions Under the First Covenant, The Law of Christ, and Saved for Good Works.]
It is therefore no great wonder that “Moses-bashing” is going on in some evangelical circles. For instance, I heard a revered theological seminary official comment about why, after having met the LORD of the Old Testament, Moses put a veil on his miraculously shining face when he had descended from the holy mountain (Sinai or Horeb). The story is found in Exodus 34:29-35.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul mentions this Old Testament event, with this comment: “But if [Moses’] ministry of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away…Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech — unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away” (2 Corinthians 3:7, 12-13).
This seminary official said that the reason Moses put a veil on his face was that Moses did not want the children of Israel to see the passing away of the glory on his face. The innuendo was that Moses — perhaps from vanity? — did not want the Israelites to see how he was, as it were, going to be “stripped” of the glory on his face.
However, when we go back to the story in Exodus 34, we will see a different motive Moses had for putting a veil on his glorious face. The story tells us: “Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him [the LORD]. So when Aaron [Moses’ elder brother] and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him” (Verses 29-30).
Notice what Moses did to assuage the fear of the Israelites: “And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him [the LORD]” (Exodus 34:35). It was not out of vanity that Moses put a veil on his face! Rather, it was out of love and concern for the feelings of the people.
What Paul was comparing
In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 Paul compared the glory of Moses’ ministry under God’s covenant with Israel (the “old covenant”) and the glory of Christ’s ministry under the “new covenant.” “For if what is passing away [the old covenant ministry of Moses] was glorious, what remains [the new covenant ministry of Christ] is much more glorious” (Verse 11).
Paul called Moses’ ministry “the ministry of death” (Verse 7) and “the ministry of condemnation” (Verse 9) — and it was glorious. But this ministry’s glory was far surpassed by the glory of the ministry of Christ, which Paul called “the ministry of the Spirit” (Verse 8), “the ministry of righteousness” (Verse 9). Paul said that, in comparison, Christ’s ministry “exceeds much more in glory,” that it has a “glory that excels” (Verses 9 and 10). Paul also called the ministry to which he himself was called by Christ, “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
God ordained Moses to proclaim His Law to the people of Israel, who were devoid of a heart that so feared God that they would always keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 5:29). The children of Israel were, on the whole, an obstinate, stubborn people — rebellious, stiff-necked (Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, 13).
Under the strict Mosaic Law, an Israelite (or an alien who lived under Israel’s roof) who committed a sin worthy of death was usually unmercifully executed — mainly by stoning. The fear and dread that Moses’ ministry of condemnation and death thus engendered certainly carried a weight of glory. But Jesus’ ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness had a far greater weight of glory! [See: Freed From Bondage, Transgressions Under the First Covenant, and The Law of Christ.]
Jesus’ ministry brings about reconciliation, forgiveness — liberty from the penalty of death, true righteousness that leads to everlasting life. At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 (“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”), and then He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).
Ministry of the Spirit in the Old Testament
Because the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples, as Acts 2 records, during the Day of Pentecost in the same year that Jesus died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven (A.D. 31), most people have assumed that the Holy Spirit was not made available to mankind at all before then. That is not the case!
1 Peter 1:10-12 shows that the holy prophets of God in the Old Testament had the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Christ — in them. That is how the prophets of old were able to prophesy: “…for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as the were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21; see also 1 Samuel 10:5-12; 19:20-24; Numbers 11:25).
For example, Israel’s King David (whom the apostle Peter called a “prophet,” Acts 2:29-30) had the Holy Spirit in him. In his famous psalm of repentance David prayed to God: “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Psalm 51:11-12). God could not take away from David something that had not already been in him!
And that is why the “ministry of the Spirit,” the “ministry of righteousness,” the “ministry of reconciliation” was applied to David. God had prepared David not just to be king of Israel in his brief lifetime, but (when he is resurrected to immortality at Christ’s return) to be king over a future restored Israel forever (1 Samuel 13:14; Ezekiel 37:24-28)!
Had David been merely under Moses’ ministry of condemnation and death, he would have been, deservedly, stoned to death for his double major sins of adultery and murder as the law dictated (2 Samuel 11:1-12:12; Deuteronomy 22:22; Leviticus 20:10; 24:17). But, being under the “ministry of the Spirit,” David was forgiven of his sins and he did not die (2 Samuel 12:13), nor did his partner in adultery, Bathsheba. And he remained “righteous” all his days.
When the God of the Old Testament [see: The True Christ ] became the Son of Man (Jesus Christ), He made the Holy Spirit available to more people than just the prophets. Thus the Church of God came about on that Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples. Paul called the church brethren those who have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23), as had also the prophets of the Old Testament (some of these men and women are listed in Hebrews 11). [See: Predestination.]
Moses made quite an interesting comment to Joshua, who asked him to forbid certain men on whom the Holy Spirit had rested and who then prophesied, although they were not among the 70 elders of Israel (Numbers 11:24-28). Moses told Joshua: “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them” (Verse 29)!
The “meekest of all men” (Numbers 12:3), Moses did not hang on to God’s Spirit as though it was a gift that God could give only to him and the other prophets. However, the matter of to whom, and when, God gives His Spirit is God’s sole prerogative [see: Predestination, Freed From Bondage and The Divine Prerogatives].
God has imparted His Spirit to a greater number of both Jews and Gentiles since the foundation of the Church of God in the New Testament. God will pour out His Spirit on the children of Israel in the future in order that they can obey His law and truly become His people (Ezekiel 36:26-28). [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Moses’ ministry commanded by God
For all the rest of the Old Testament nation of Israel, the ministry of condemnation and death which God gave to Moses was in effect. And this was not by Moses’ own will and ministration, but by the express will and command of the God of the Old Testament — the God who, later, became Jesus Christ. [See: The True Christ, Peter Knew “The Holy One,“ and The Law of Christ.]
Although he had his failings (Exodus 4:10-18, 24-26; Numbers 20:2-13), for which God forgave him, Moses was, in the end, judged by God as “faithful in all His [God’s] house…as a servant” (Hebrews 3:2, 5). Moses faithfully followed what God had told him to do. God was in charge over Israel, as He has been in charge over the entire universe from the beginning of time — and will be, until forever!
The ministry which God gave to Moses was appropriate for his time, and for the kind of people that the Israelites were: a carnal, stiff-necked and rebellious people, devoid of a heart and spirit that wanted to obey God’s commandments. All except for a few whom God chose to impart His Spirit to: the prophets, both men and women (some of whom are listed in Hebrews 11).
God’s judgments on the carnal people of Israel who continually rebelled against God’s commandments were to send a signal to all nations (including Israel herself): that the God of Israel who spoke through His faithful prophets was true to His Word (Deuteronomy 28:37; 29:20-22; 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 7:20-22). This past and continuing history of the people of Israel highlights the truth that, without the gift of God’s Spirit, even the most favored and best endowed of peoples cannot fulfill God’s law. [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, Is There Ever Any Good in Man? and God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
God’s commandments and statutes, as given through Moses, declare God’s standards of proper worship of God by man and God’s standards of proper relationship between and among men. [See: Transgressions Under the First Covenant, Freed From Bondage, The Law of Christ and True Worship.]
The ordinances concerning animal and other sacrifices were pictures that pointed to the supreme sacrifice of Jesus as the “Lamb of God” that alone effectively takes away the sin of the world. [See: Law Added to Law Transgressed.] Jesus fulfilled these ordinances when He, as the God of the Old Testament, took on the form of human flesh so He could offer His life for the forgiveness of the sins of all mankind.
As a result of this “done deal” by Jesus Christ, Moses’ ministry of condemnation and death has been superseded by Christ’s superior ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness — and reconciliation — for those whom God has elected or appointed to salvation in this age and in the age to come. [See: Predestination.] Instead of death for the sinner, there is forgiveness and peace — and the promise of everlasting life — for those on whom God’s favor rests. Truly, as the apostle James declared: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
However, for those who, unrepentant, remain in sin, the ministry of death — far sterner than that in Moses’ ministry — is and will be in effect (Revelation 11:17-18; 21:8; 22:14-15). Revelation 20:14-15 calls this “the second death” — death in the “lake of fire.” [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience, Saved for Good Works, and Why Is the “Unpardonable Sin” Unpardonable?]
The statute concerning the feasts of God (listed in Leviticus 23 and elsewhere) commands God’s people to observe “memorials” or reminders of the steps in God’s plan of saving sinful mankind. And these feasts all have to do with Jesus Christ — what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will yet do to achieve this plan in full. [See: God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers — or to Be Observed? God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2, and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3.]
The Old Testament — all about Christ!
While the just resurrected Jesus walked, incognito, with two of His disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31), He expounded to them, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets,” “the things concerning Himself,” “in all the Scriptures” (Verse 27). Jesus did the same with His disciples who had gathered in some place [“for fear of the Jews, John 20:19]. He told them: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). Verse 45 continues: “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”
In 2 Corinthians 3:13 Paul says that the children of Israel “could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.” They had their eyes fixed on the veil on Moses’ face and could not see the glory underneath that was fading away. Thus, up to today, the Jews who have refused Christ hold on to the glory of Moses’ ministry. They could not see that Moses’ ministry of condemnation and death was now being superseded by Christ’s more glorious ministry of the Spirit, righteousness, and reconciliation.
As a result, most of the children of Israel (and particularly the Jews) remain spiritually blinded (Verse 4). That is why “…until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the [Jews’] reading of the Old Testament (same verse)…But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart” (Verse 15). Paul explains the remedy for this blindness: “…because the veil is taken away in Christ” and “…when one turns to the Lord [Jesus], the veil is taken away” (same verses).
The Jews who rejected Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah (or Christ) had not really understood, nor obeyed, the Law of Moses, which is all about Jesus. Jesus bluntly told the Jews: “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law” (John 7:19)? That should be a surprise to those who think and presume that the Jews have always kept the Law of Moses!
Jesus told the Jews about their religious leaders: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat [as teachers of the Law of Moses]. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe [according to that law], that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:2-3). Then Jesus addressed the Jewish leaders: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Verses 27-28).
On another occasion, Jesus told these Jewish leaders: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:8-9, 13). [See: Barking up the Wrong Tree, God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2, God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3 and Did Christ Cleanse All Meats?]
No belief in Moses = no belief in Jesus!
Those who believe that Moses and Jesus are contraries should hear — and believe — what Jesus told the Jews: “For if you believed Moses, you would have believed Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will be believe My words” (John 5:46-47)?
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them (Matthew 5:17). The Old Testament Law and prophecies depict the things Jesus did, the things human beings did to Him, what He is doing now, and what He will yet do in the future. [See: The True Christ, and God’s Spirit and Obedience.]
Matthew 17:1-9 tells a story of Christ “transfigured” — shown as what He would look like when He comes in His kingdom (Matthew 16:28) — in the sight and hearing of His three leading disciples (Peter, James and John). In that vision [not an actual, material phenomenon but images of people like what we see in a movie], Moses and Elijah appeared with the actual Jesus, whose “face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2).
Were Moses and Elijah “resurrected” in that vision?
Some people have wondered if Moses and Elijah, who appeared in that vision described in Matthew 17, were shown as resurrected persons. This episode was only a vision, not an actual event where one could touch their bodies somehow. It was very much like our modern movie or video — we see images of people moving and talking on a screen, but we cannot actually touch them.
The transfiguration may have shown Moses and Elijah as they might appear when they are resurrected. However, their actual resurrection will not take place until Christ’s actual, bodily return. This is yet in the future! The apostle Paul assures us: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive [resurrected]. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).
Neither are Moses and Elijah — as well as all the other “saints” (holy ones) of God — now alive and conscious somewhere in heaven. [See: What Happens to Man After Death?]
This vision indicates that, when Jesus comes into His kingdom here on earth, the resurrected Moses, along with the resurrected Elijah, will have a major part in the government that Jesus will establish on earth. This shows that Moses will be working closely in cooperation and harmony with — and not contrary to — Jesus in that kingdom. And that is because, while he lived on earth as a leader of Israel, Moses was faithful in all of God’s house.
Are Moses and Jesus contraries? Far from it!
Rather, Moses and Jesus complement each other! Through Moses’ writings, we understand how God has been progressively fulfilling His plan of saving all of mankind in and through Jesus Christ — beginning with the children of Israel. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.