By Whitney Woollard
Words have no meaning apart from structure. Thus, the way in which we arrange our words are just as important as the words we use. The Gospel of Matthew illustrates this perfectly. The life and teachings of Jesus are intentionally pieced together in such a way that you are forced to consider who Jesus is and how He has come in fulfillment of Old Testament expectations.
You immediately recognize that Jesus is the Son of David who will sit on the eternal throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16), He is the promised offspring of Abraham who will bless the nations (Gen. 12:1-3), and He is the prophet greater than Moses who will speak the words of God (Deut. 18:15-19). The first two are clearly stated in Matthew 1, but the latter is only evident when you pay attention to meticulous structuring of Matthew’s book. As you examine the narrative structure, you soon discover that Jesus is the figure prophesied about by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—”
Matthew wants you to understand that Jesus is indeed the prophet like Moses sent by God to speak the truth, enact a new exodus, and set you free. By writing in the manner that he does Matthew leaves no ambiguity as to what the implication of this is for your life— you must listen to Jesus.
The Same Moses . . .
Consider the similarities presented between Moses and Jesus. Jesus is sent by God to deliver his people (Matt. 1:21), pursued as an infant by a murderous serpent-like king (Matt. 2:16), and spared in Egypt through providential means (Matt. 2:13). Next Jesus comes out of Egypt, enters the wilderness for forty days of testing (Matt. 4:1-11), and then goes up on a mountain to deliver a new law (Matt. 5:1-7:27). Matthew also tells us that Jesus is known to miraculously feed large crowds of people in desolate, wilderness-like places (Matt. 14:13-21) and is spotted by His disciples on a mountain with His face shining like the sun (Matt. 17:1-8). Sound familiar?
If you’ve read the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures) you know this echoes Moses’ story almost exactly. Matthew, in the way he structures his narrative, is going to great lengths to show you that Jesus has come as the new Moses. Like Moses, Jesus came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters of baptism, entered the wilderness, and went up onto a mountain to give a new, authoritative teaching. As you note the parallels you realize that Jesus could be none other than the long-anticipated prophet.
. . . But Different Than Moses
Yet, as you read Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus is a new and greater Moses. There’s a different quality to His person and work which supersedes that of Moses’:
- Whereas Moses was sent to deliver the nation of Israel out of physical slavery in Egypt, Jesus was sent to deliver people from all nations out of spiritual slavery to sin in their hearts ( 1:21).
- Whereas Moses only spoke the words he received from God, Jesus came as the very Word of God who declared, “I say to you” ( 5:21-22ff) and it simply was God’s words.
- Whereas Moses came as a recipient of the Law, Jesus came to fulfill the Law ( 5:17).
- Whereas Moses’ face shone with the reflection of the heavenly glory he had seen, Jesus’ shone like the sun with His own divine glory ( 17:2).
- Whereas Moses mediated temporarily between God and man by the Law, Jesus mediates eternally between God and man by the shedding of His own blood ( 27:51).
Jesus is truly the prophet greater than Moses. He is the new authoritative teacher who came to give us divine teaching, save us from our sins, enact a new exodus out of spiritual bondage, and establish a new and superior covenant between God and His people. The Gospel of Matthew is written in such a way to say, “Behold, your long-awaited prophet has arrived!” What are we supposed to do when that prophet comes? “You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you” (Acts 3:22).
Listening to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew
Matthew immediately establishes who Jesus is through the structure of his book because he is going to fill the remainder of it with Jesus’ teachings and call you to unequivocally listen to him. “Listen” here isn’t merely hearing his words. It’s the kind of listening which hears, receives, and obeys the words spoken. It’s the quality of listening that transforms Jesus’ hearers into obedient disciples.
It’s imperative we understand the Moses-Jesus relationship and the command to listen to that prophet (Deut. 18:15; Matt. 17:5; Acts 3:22) because Jesus is going to say some radical words in the book of Matthew. He’s going to say the kind of things that “get all up in your business.” As a matter of fact, when Jesus arrives on the scene, He is going to give such countercultural and counterintuitive teachings that any would-be disciple might think twice about following him:
He’s going to teach that lust is the same as adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). He’s going to tell you not to be anxious about what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear (Matt. 6:25). He’s going to say that whoever loves father or mother or son or daughter more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37). He’s going to tell you that you must deny yourself and take up your cross if you desire to follow Him (Matt. 16:24). He’s going to affirm that God designed marriage between one male and one female (Matt. 19:4-6). He’s even going to command you to join His mission by making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
Now would be a good time to honestly ask yourself, “Am I listening to Jesus?” Are you listening to His teachings with a soft heart that seeks the understanding of the Spirit and calls upon His power to help you obey? Or, perhaps more importantly, ask yourself, “Do I actually want to receive His words?” This is no small matter. You either accept the words from the prophet greater than Moses and experience life in them through His Spirit or reject Him and His words and suffer eternal punishment.
Because of this, as we read Matthew (along with the rest of Scripture) we should invite the Spirit of God and the community of Christ to help us hear and obey the teachings of Jesus in such a way that His Word transforms us. May our time in Scripture strengthen our commitment to the prophet greater than Moses who has the authority to speak the Word of God into our lives and possesses the power to set our hearts free.