Matthew 5:1 & Jesus as the Greater Moses

As we begin considering the content of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll quickly notice that every verse is packed with meaning, including the very first one. Matthew 5:1 reads, “Seeing the crowds, he [Jesus]went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” In this verse, Matthew begins to reveal Jesus as the greater Moses. How? By the little phrase, “he went up on the mountain.”[1]

In Exodus 19:3, Moses “went up on the mountain” to receive God’s law and deliver it to the people of Israel. In the Greek Old Testament (The Septuagint), which Matthew was undoubtedly familiar with, the phrase describing Moses’ ascent reads, “ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος.” Even if you can’t read Greek, you can see the identical nature of Matthew 5:1, which reads, “ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος.” This phrase is used only three times in the Septuagint, each referring to Moses’ ascent to Sinai (Ex 19:3, 24:18, 34:4). This limited use makes the argument for Matthew’s intentional quotation compelling. He clearly wants his readers to note the connection and realize that Jesus was ascending the mountain to teach God’s people just like Moses did.

In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses promised that God would raise up “a prophet like me” that the people must listen to. Rabbinic tradition shows that this prophet was also thought to be the Messiah. One Rabbi’s midrash from the ninth century reads, “as the first redeemer [Moses] was, so shall the latter Redeemer [Messiah] be.”[2] Furthermore, many texts in the New Testament refer to this figure as “the Prophet” while also identifying him as the Messiah (John 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:11-26; 7:34).[3]

Why is it important that Jesus be identified as a Moses-like prophet?

First, it is another example of Jesus fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. These are always important. They point to the supernatural inspiration of the scriptures and confirm that Jesus is who he claimed to be- the Messiah sent by God to bring salvation to the world.

Second, it presents Jesus as the greater Moses. He doesn’t go up to the mountain, receive the message, and regurgitate it to the people, He speaks with His own authority. Jesus uses the phrase, “I say to you,” about fifteen times in the sermon. He is the greater Moses.

Third, it helps us understand the nature of the Sermon on the Mount itself. The Law given through Moses prescribed the way of life that was to characterize the Israelites of the Old Covenant. By living in accordance with the Law, they would be a testimony of God’s glory to the nations. The Sermon on the Mount, by comparison, describes the way of life that characterizes the members of the New Covenant. They have been redeemed by Jesus, given new hearts, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Their way of life, too, will bring glory to God. “Let your light shine,” Jesus says, “so that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

As we continue studying, let’s keep this in mind: Jesus is the greater Moses describing the way of life for members of the New Covenant who have had this “law” written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Lives characterized by the precepts of the Sermon should be the natural outflow of trusting, following, and abiding in Jesus. He is a prophet like Moses. He is THE prophet. We must listen to Him!

[1] There are also parallels with “sitting down” and teaching, but the Hebrew verb that can be translated as sitting down is debated. I’ve chosen to leave this potential correlation out in an effort to keep this post succinct.

[2] Qoh. Rab 1:9 in Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, 23.

[3] Ibid.

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