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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). 

John's Gospel

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" (John 1:17).

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 interpretation.

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 God's words.

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 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 (John 5:5)

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)

In Jn. 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).

This is 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 Nazareth (11:27).

In this context, " the Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:41)





“The 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; 12:49(1)

(1) This 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.  10:10-12).









The Jews 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.

(1) 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)





 “I 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).

“The Lord hath sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of myself” (Num. 16:28 LXX)

The good 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 10:11)

" 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  (4).

Moses 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 sheep(1)

(1) L. 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; 12:36,45).

" The time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father" (John16:25).









“Though 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 unveiled face.

This was the 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.

Yet Moses was the foremost intercessor for Israel, and is actually called ‘the Paraclete’ in the Midrash on Ex. 12:29(1)

(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" (John 17:6)

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)








“Thou 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.

This 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 pre-existed.

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; 15:24; 17:4.

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.