4.6 Moses In The Gospel Of John
The point has been made that internal evidence suggests
that John's Gospel was written some time after the other three Gospels,
and is written with the assumption that readers are familiar with them.
The big problem in the first century was that people were unwilling to
see the supremacy of the place of the Lord Jesus Christ compared to Moses.
Of course, many Jews just could not accept that Jesus of Nazareth was
anything to do with the promised Messiah. Others, including some of the
early converts, evidently held the view that Jesus was the Messiah, but
they failed to see that he was any more important than Moses or David.
One of the themes of John's Gospel is the supremacy of Christ over Moses.
The Spirit through John does this by both direct statement and indirect
allusion, e.g. through framing the records of Christ's miracles in language
and style which highlights their supremacy over the ministry of Moses.
Once we appreciate this, we can gain more insight into the way in which
Moses was a type of Christ, both by contrast and similarity; and thereby
we can enter closer into the mind of both Moses and the Lord Jesus. The
Jews were drawing a contrast between themselves as " Moses' disciples"
, and the disciples of Jesus (Jn. 9:28; 18:17,25); John's Gospel demonstrates
that such a distinction is invalid. Those who followed Moses would follow
Jesus, because the whole of the Law of Moses taught understanding about
Jesus (Jn. 5:46).
Moses : Jesus contrast
" The darkness comprehended
it (the light of Christ) not... the (Jewish) world knew
him not" (John 1:5,10)
Israel " understood not"
the work of Moses (Acts 7:25)
" He came unto his own, and
his own received him not" (John 1:11). Moses in John's
Gospel is an opening theme.
" When he was full forty years
old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren...he supposed
his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand
would deliver them" (Acts 7:23,25). Therefore Moses
in the court of Pharaoh = Jesus working in Nazareth until
age 30. Was Moses's " surprise" at Israel's lack
of response reflected in Christ (cp. Is. 50:2-7; 59:16)
? Despite his own righteousness, did Christ think too highly
of the potential spirituality of Israel (Lk. 13:9; 20:13
cp. his high regard of others' spirituality: Mt. 8:10; 11:11;
15:28)? If the Lord respected others so much- shouldn't
we have deep respect for each other? The pain of
Moses' rejection = Christ's; although he was rich, Moses
had become poor for their sakes.
" The word was made flesh...we
beheld his (Christ's) glory...full of grace and truth"
(1:14). " if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest
see (like Moses) the glory of God" (John 11:40).
Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father” (John 14:8),
and Jesus replies that He is the manifestation of the Father.
Israel had asked that " the
word" be not spoken to them any more; only Moses saw
God's glory. But we are being invited to be equal to Moses,
seeing from the cleft in the rock the awesome majesty of
the perfection of Christ's character; the full glory of
God. But do we appreciate his righteousness? Paul likewise
invites us to behold with unveiled face, as Moses did (2
Cor. 3:18 RV), and thereby, just from appreciating the glory
of Christ's character, be changed into the same glory. Note
too how in Rom. 11 we are each bidden “behold the goodness
and severity of God”- a reference to Moses beholding all
the goodness of Yahweh. We are in essence in his position
right now (Ex. 33:19).
This is the language of Ex. 33:18 LXX, where Moses likewise
asks God “show yourself to me”. The answer was in the theophany
on Sinai, with the Name of Yahweh declared, as full of grace
and truth. This, according to Philip’s allusion to it, is
what we see in Jesus. And this is why Jn. 1 speaks of Jesus
in terms of the theophany of Exodus, that in His personality
the full glory of the Father dwelt.
" The Law was given
by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ"
Blessing from obedience to commands
was replaced by salvation by pure grace in Christ.
" No man hath seen God at
any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the
bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (1:18).
John here makes clear allusion to Moses.
This alludes to Moses being unable
to see God, whereas Christ now is cuddled in the bosom of
the Father- such closeness, such a soft image, even now
in his heavenly glory! Christ declared God's character (alluding
to the Angel declaring God's Name at the same time as Moses
was unable to see God) in his perfect life and above all
on the cross (Jn. 17:26).
" The Lamb of God, which taketh
away the sin of the (Jewish) world" (John 1:29)
Contrast with how Moses tried harder
than any other man to gain forgiveness for Israel, even
to the extent of offering his own salvation for them- only
to be told that this was not possible; all he achieved was
a deferment of their punishment.
" We have found him (Jesus)
of whom Moses in the law...did write" (John 1:45)
They recognised that Moses foresaw
throughout the Law that all its ordinances
pointed forward to one man, Messiah.
" Jesus...manifested forth
his glory" (John 2:11) through his miracles. His miracles
therefore were a demonstration of the character ("
glory" ) of God, not just to relieve human grief as
he came across it. Therefore they are all capable of allegorical
Contrast how the glory of God was
manifested to Moses, who peeped at it from the rock. Yet
Jesus was the glory nof God, higher than the Angel who actually
manifested the glory.
" What sign
shewest thou unto us?" (John 2:18)
Cynical Israel asked
exactly the same of Moses, in effect; superficially,
" the people believed" (Ex. 4:31) after they saw
the signs. The hollowness of Israel's 'belief' in Moses
was matched by the experience of Christ. And yet they still
both loved Israel.
|In John 3:3,5, the Lord
speaks of how a man must be born again in order to see
and enter the Kingdom. He parallels seeing
the Kingdom with entering it.
||Moses saw the
land of the Kingdom of God, but couldn’t enter it.
This is surely behind the Lord’s words here. Given the many
allusions to Moses in John’s Gospel, I submit that the Lord
was surely saying something about Moses’ seeing of the land
before he died (Num. 27:12). It’s as if He felt that Moses’
seeing the land meant that he would ultimately enter it. To
be enabled to see the land, with ‘born again’ special eyesight,
was therefore a guarantee that Moses would enter the Kingdom.
And Is. 33:17 speaks of beholding the King in his beauty and
seeing “the land that is very far off” [an obvious allusion
to Moses seeing the land] as a picture of ultimate salvation.
" No man hath
ascended up to heaven" except Jesus (John 3:13)
" Where I am, thither ye cannot come" (John 7:34)
sounds like Moses ascending the Mount, leaving Israel behind
him. Yet " Where I am" refers to Christ's unity
with God; the heights of his relationship with God connect
with the physical ascension of Moses into the mount to hear
Moses' ascents of
the mountain were seen as representing an ascension to Heaven;
but he had not ascended up to the " heavenly things"
of which Christ spoke. Consider the spiritual loneliness
of rising to heights no other man has reached, as
far as Heaven is above earth. John the Baptist recognised
this (Jn. 3:31).
" I will that they also...be with me where I am; that
they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me"
(17:24) alludes to the 70 elders sharing Moses' experience
in the Mount (Ex.24:70); it is as if Christ is saying
that his disciples really can enter into his relationship
with God, we can be where he was spiritually in his mortal
life (see comments on 3:34 below).
" As Moses lifted up the serpent
in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted
up" (John 3:14)
It was the serpent which gave salvation
to sin-stricken Israel, not Moses; and the serpent
represented Christ in this case. Moses " lifted up"
the serpent in the same way as the Jews " lifted up"
Christ in crucifying him (Jn. 8:28). Moses drew attention
to serpent and it's power to save, in the same way as his
Law drew attention to how sin would be condemned in Christ
as the means of our salvation. The connection between Moses
" lifting up" Christ and Israel doing likewise
is another indicator of how Moses was representative of
Israel (cp. Christ).
" For he whom God hath sent
speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit
by measure unto him" (John 3:34)
" My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me"
(John 7:16) alludes to Moses above all, whose words were
those of God.
This is Moses language- he was
sent by God, and his words were God's words (1).
But Christ spoke all God's words (Jn. 15:15; 17:7,8,14
cp. 5:20), he had God's Spirit without limit, he completely
revealed God, compared to the partial revelation through
Moses. Christ had " all things" revealed to him,
and those " all things" are now revealed unto
us by the Spirit (Jn. 16:14,15; 1 Cor. 2:9-15; Eph. 1:3,8;
Col. 2:2). Because of this, it is possible for us to reach
the same level of knowledge of God which Christ had in his
mortality. This alone should inspire us to more than do
our daily readings. That God gave Christ " all things"
was a sign of His love for him (Jn. 5:20); and so God granting
us progressive understanding of those " all things"
is a reflection of His love for us. Growing in knowledge
is not just for the Bible study enthusiast!
Christ at a well met the Samaritan
woman, and had a highly spiritual conversation with her;
he gave her " living water" , i.e. spring water,
in return for her well water (John 4:7-10)
Surely this contrasts with Moses
meeting his Gentile wife by a well; a relationship in which
he gave her very little, and which was an indicator of a
spiritual weak cycle in his life (2).
The Samaritan woman immediately recognised Jesus as Jewish
(Jn.4:9). Zipporah thought that Moses was an Egyptian (Ex.2:19)-
which is another comforting type of Christ's humanity.
The paralysed man had waited by
the pool 38 years, waiting for someone to cure him. There
was no cure in those 38 years- only in the word of Christ
Israel were actually in the wilderness
for 38 years; the similarity implies Moses' leadership could
not bring salvation, only the word of Christ (3).
“The works…The Son can do nothing
of himself” (Jn. 5:19)
5:19,20 we read that the Son does (poieo) what He sees
the Father doing, and the Father shows Him (deiknumi)
all (panta) that He does.
“All these works…I have not done
them of mine own mind” (Num. 16:28).
referring to Ex. 25:9 LXX, where Moses makes (poieo)
the Tabernacle according all (panta) that God shows him
(deiknuo). The reference of Jn. 5:19,20 is therefore to
the Lord working with His Father in the building up of us the
tabernacle… and all things God planned for us were
revealed to the Son even in His mortality. What great wealth
of understanding was there within His mind, within those brain
cells… and how tragic that the head and body that bore them
was betrayed and ignored and spat upon and tortured by men…
" The Father himself which
hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither
heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape (Gk. form,
view). And ye have not his word abiding in you...I am come
in my Father's Name, and ye receive me not...there is one
that accuseth you, even Moses...for had ye believed Moses,
ye would have believed me" (John 5:37-46)
Nearly all these statements were
true of Moses, but untrue of the Jews. Yet there was one
glaring contrast: Moses earnestly desired to see God's
shape, to view Him, to completely understand Him. This was
denied him- but not Jesus. The similarity and yet difference
between Moses and Jesus is really brought out here. And
again, Moses is shown to be representative of sinful Israel;
as he lifted up the serpent, so they would lift up Christ;
as he failed to see the Father's " shape" , so
they did too.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes
made men see the similarity between Christ and Moses, whom
they perceived to have provided the manna (John 6:32).
Therefore they thought that Jesus must be the prophet like
Moses, of whom Moses wrote (John 6:14).
But Jesus said that he was greater
than Moses, because Moses' bread only gave them temporal
life, whereas if a man ate of him, he would live for ever;
his words would give spiritual life which was part of that
" eternal life" of the Father (6:49,50). The Jews
thought that the prophet like Moses of Dt.18:18 was a prophet
equal or inferior to Moses. John's Gospel records how Christ
was showing that the prophet would be greater than Moses.
Martha understood that when she said that " the Christ...which
should come into the world" (i.e. the prophet of Dt.18:18)
was " the Son of God" , and therefore Jesus of
In this context, " the Jews
then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which
came down from heaven" (John 6:41)
prophet” (Jn. 7:40,52 RV) is clearly a reference to “the
prophet” like Moses, i.e. Messiah. There are many other
allusions by John’s record to the Dt. 18:18 passage: “I will
put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all
that I command him”. References to the Son only speaking what
the Father commanded Him are to be found in Jn. 4:25; 8:28;
theme especially is developed well in T.F. Glasson, Moses
In The Fourth Gospel (London: SCM, 1963) p. 30.
“If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world”
(Jn. 7:4) connects with the other references in John to the
Lord ‘hiding himself’ (Jn. 8:59; 12:36).
Israel continually " murmured"
against Moses (Ex. 15:24; 16:2,7,8; 17:3; Num. 14:2,27,29
cp. Dt. 1:27; Ps. 106:25; 1 Cor. 10:10). Nearly all these
murmurings were related to Israel's disbelief that Moses
really could bring them into the land. Likewise Israel disbelieved
that eating Christ's words (Jn. 6:63) really could lead
them to salvation; and their temptation to murmur in this
way is ours too, especially in the last days (1 Cor.
thought that as Moses hid himself and then re-emerged from
obscurity, so Messiah would. Rabbi Berekiah said: “As the
first deliverer [Moses] was revealed, then hidden and
afterwards appeared again, so will it also be with the last
deliverer [Messiah]”(1). John’s record is clearly
presenting the Lord as Moses in this sense.
Quoted in J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea In Israel
(London: Macmillan, 1956) p. 17.
" Jesus went unto the mount
of Olives...he came again into the temple, and all the people
(i.e. the leaders and the crowd, see context) came unto
him; and he sat down, and taught them" (John 8:1,2)
do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me” (Jn. 8:28).
This is framed to recall Moses
coming down from Sinai: " The Lord came (down) from
Sinai (manifest in Moses)...yea, he (God) loved the people
(in the fact that) all his saints (Israel) are in thy (Moses')
hand (as we are in the hand of Christ, Jn. 10:28-30): and
they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy
words...the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel
(i.e. both leaders and ordinary people) were gathered together
(to Moses)" (Dt. 33:2-5).
hath sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them
of myself” (Num. 16:28 LXX)
shepherd of John 10 enables the sheep to go out and come in.
" I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John
" The bread that I will give is my flesh, which
I will give for the life of the (Jewish) world" (John
6:51). " The world" in John's Gospel is normally
the Jewish world.
" Jesus should die for that nation" (John 11:51)
Many other passages teach that primarily Christ
died for the salvation of Israel (e.g. Gal. 4:5); some Gentiles
have been saved only insofar as we become spiritual Israel
sought for a prophet / successor like unto him, who would lead
out and bring in the sheep of Israel (Num. 27:17,21). The
descriptions of the good shepherd not losing any sheep (Jn.
10:28; 17:12) perhaps allude to the well known Jewish stories
about Moses being such a good shepherd that he never lost a
Ginzberg, Legends Of The Jews has a section on ‘Moses
as faithful shepherd’ (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication
Society, 1910) Vol. 2 pp. 300-316.
Moses was a shepherd for 40 years,
and then for 40 years he put this into practice by leading
Israel as God's shepherd for 40 years in the same wilderness
(Num. 27:17; Ps. 80:1; Is. 63:11). As Moses was willing
to sacrifice his eternal life for the salvation of the sheep
of Israel (Ex. 32:30-32), so Christ gave his life for us.
John's Gospel normally shows the supremacy of Christ over
Moses. In this connection of them both being shepherds willing
to die for the flock, Moses is not framed as being inferior
to Christ- in that in his desire to die for Israel, he truly
reached the fullness of the spirit of Christ. " The
good shepherd" may well have been a Rabbinical title
for Moses; Christ was saying " I am Moses, in his love
for your salvation; not better than him, but exactly like
him in this" . In a sense, Moses' prayer was heard,
in that he was excluded from the land for their sakes
(Dt. 1:37; 3:26; 4:21; Ps. 106:33); they entered after his
death. This was to symbolise how the spirit of his love
for Israel was typical of Christ's for us. The Lord Jesus
likewise died the death of a sinner; he was " forsaken"
in the sense that God forsakes sinners, whilst as God's
Son he was never forsaken by the Father.
" Jesus therefore walked no
more openly among the Jews...(he) did hid himself from them...he
that seeth me seeth him that sent me" (John 11:54;
" The time cometh when I shall no more speak unto
you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father"
he had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not
on him” (Jn. 12:37)
The increasing distancing of Christ
from Israel seems to mimic that of Moses. He spoke to them
through a veil at all times, so that they did not appreciate
the glory of God which shone from his face; they thereby
failed to appreciate the closeness of his relationship with
the Angel, whose glory was transferred to the face of Moses
when they spoke face to face (2 Cor. 3:18-21; Ex. 33:20).
If the Jews had spoken to Moses without the veil, it would
have been as if they were talking directly to the Angel.
But if we see or understand Christ, we see God-
not just an Angel. We therefore simply must give
time to understanding the character of Christ. Otherwise
we can never know God. The time when Christ would shew his
disciples plainly of the Father was when they received the
Comforter. Through the ministry of the word (5),
we too can see " plainly of the Father" , with
identical experience of Moses, described in just the same
language (Num. 14:11).
" If I go..I will come again...A
little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little
while, and ye shall see me, because I go to my father"
(John 14:3; 16:16)
This may refer to Moses going up
and down the mountain, disappearing from Israel's sight,
and then returning with the covenant- to find Israel worshipping
the golden calf.
“Let not your heart be troubled...I
go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1,2).
Jn. 14:16 promised the disciples another ‘Paraclete’ or
comforter / intercessor, implying Jesus was the first
Paraclete [as confirmed in 1 Jn. 2:1].
“Then I said unto you, Dread not,
neither be afraid of them” (Dt. 1:41). Yet the contrast
is with Moses, who fain would have gone ahead into the promised
land to prepare the place, but was unable.
was the foremost intercessor for Israel, and is actually
called ‘the Paraclete’ in the Midrash on Ex. 12:29(1).
Quoted in D. Daube, The New Testament And Rabbinic Judaism
(London: Athlone Press, 1956) p. 11.
" Ye shall weep and lament,
but the (Jewish) world shall rejoice" (John 16:20)
Cp. Israel rejoicing in the works
of their own hands (Acts 7:41), the golden calf, while Moses
was absent- cp. Christ's absence in the grave, with the
Jews rejoicing and the disciples lamenting. In another sense,
the return of Moses from the mountain may look ahead to
Christ's return from Heaven- to find the majority of the
new Israel apostate, although thinking they are being especially
obedient to Yahweh (Ex. 32:5). The peak of selfless love
for Israel which Moses showed at this time therefore points
forward to the zeal of Christ for our forgiveness and salvation
at his return (Ex. 32:32). Moses at his finest hour thus
typifies Christ at his return. And after the golden calf
incident, Israel are encouraged to enter the Kingdom (Ex.
33:1)- as at the second coming.
" The men which thou gavest
me out of the (Jewish) world...they have kept thy word"
Cp. the Levites being " given"
to Aaron / the priesthood out of Israel (Num. 3:9;
8:19; 18:6); at the time of the golden calf they "
observed thy word, and kept thy covenant" (Dt. 33:9),
as did the disciples. The relationship between Moses and
the Levites was therefore that between Christ and the disciples-
a sense of thankfulness that at least a minority were faithful.
" I have given unto them the
words which thou gavest me...I have declared unto them thy
name" (John 17:8, 26)
As Moses gave all God's words to
Israel on his return from the Mount; " every one shall
receive of thy words" (Dt. 33:3). Moses " received
the lively oracles to give unto us" (Acts 7:38).
" I have proclaimed the name of the Lord" (Dt.32:3
LXX) was surely in Christ's mind; and those words are in
the context of Moses' song, which roundly exposed
Israel's future apostacy. The character, the fundamental
personality of God, is declared through appreciating human
weakness and apostacy. Christ's words of Jn.17:26 were likewise
in the context of revealing apostacy and future weakness.
Thus through recognition of sin we come to know God; this
is the fundamental message of Ezekiel and other prophets.
Through knowing our own sinfulness we know the righteousness
of God, and vice versa. Thus properly beholding the righteousness
of God as displayed on the cross ought to convict us of
our sinfulness, as it did the people who saw it in real
life (they " smote upon their breasts" in repentance,
cp. Lk. 18:13).
" I pray not for the (Jewish)
world, but for them (the disciples, cp. the Levites) which
thou hast given me; for they are thine" (John 17:9)
As the Levites were God's (Num.
3:12,13,45; 8:14). The Levites represent us (John 17:6 =
Dt. 33:9); the relationship between Moses and the Levites
represents that between Christ and us. Moses' thankfulness
that they remained faithful during the golden calf crisis,
that sense of being able to rely on them, will be reflected
in the Lord's feelings toward the faithful.
" Sanctify them through (i.e.
through obedience to) thy word" (John 17:17)
lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (Jn. 17:24)
As the Levites were sanctified
(1 Chron. 23:13 Heb.). The Levites were consecrated in God's
eyes by their zeal (motivated by the word) to rid Israel
of apostacy; this is what constituted them Yahweh's "
holy (sanctified) one" (Dt. 33:8,9). Through his allusions
to this, Christ was telling the disciples not to be frightened
to stand alone from the community they knew and respected
(6). Resisting apostacy is
therefore part of our sanctification. It cannot
be ignored, or left to others.
a reference to the description of Moses as having been
prepared in God’s plan from the beginning: “He prepared me
[Moses] before the foundation of the world, that I should be
the mediator of His covenant” (Assumption of Moses
1.14). Once we appreciate this and other such allusions to
popular Jewish belief about Moses, then the passages which
appear to speak of personal pre-existence are easier to
understand. The Jews didn’t believe that Moses personally
pre-existed, but rather that he was there in the plan /
purpose of God, and with the major role in that purpose, from
before creation. The Lord was applying those beliefs and that
language to Himself, showing that He was greater than Moses.
But by doing so, He wasn’t implying that He personally
Consider Num. 16:28
LXX: “Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent
me to do all these works; for I have not done them of myself”.
The ideas of know, sent me, do these works, not of myself are so
frequent in John: Jn. 13:35; 8:28,42; 7:3,28; 5:30,36; 10:25,37; 14:10;
It has also been demonstrated by Pauline Clementson that there is “a
remarkable correlation between the signs recorded in John, and the plagues
Moses brought upon Egypt. There cannot be a complete match as the numbers
are unequal, but the differing types of miraculous signs all find their
counterpart in the plagues”. The purpose of all these allusions to the
time of Moses' return from Sinai was surely to make the following point:
As Moses disappeared into Sinai to attain the old covenant, so Christ
died for three days to attain the new covenant. The majority of Israel,
egged on by their high priest, turned to apostacy. On Moses' return, only
the Levites were faithful; they sacrificed all their natural relationships
in order to defend the Faith (Dt. 33:9). Likewise, the majority of Israel
turned to apostacy in the first century, mixing the desires of the flesh
with their keeping of the Law of Moses, just as they did with the golden
calf. The 'little of both' syndrome is one of our most common enemies.
Moses' return was like Christ's resurrection. The Levites represent the
disciples who went on to become the teachers of Israel, a new priesthood.
Those Levites represent us (1 Pet. 2:5), a minority who stand alone, both
in the world and perhaps also among the covenant people, motivated by
the word, yet like the disciples at the time of Christ's resurrection-
rather unsure, struggling within their own faith, yet going on to be the
teachers of the world.
(1) See God Manifestation In Moses.
(2) See Moses In Weakness.
(3) The symbolism of this incident
is worked out further in H.A.Whittaker, Studies in the Gospels.
(4) This point is developed in
" Why hast thou forsaken me?" .
(5) Proof that the ministry of
the word in our times is parallel with the promised Comforter is
provided in Bible Basics Digression 7.
(6) It seems the disciples respected
the Jewish religious system far too much. Throughout the Gospels
we see the Lord Jesus trying to educate them as to the extent of
the apostacy which was there.