Moses and Setting up the Sermon
While the entire first discourse (the Sermon on the Mount) could be looked at from the perspective of Jesus as the new Moses, I will focus mainly on the set up to the sermon. Four things point to Matthew describing Jesus as the new Moses as he goes up to give the new law.
First, Matthew puts the sermon in the larger context of the coming of a new prophet. Just prior to the sermon in Matthew 4:12–17, Jesus hears John the Baptist has been thrown into prison. The significance of John’s imprisonment can hardly be overestimated. Matthew 3 portrays John as an Old Testament prophet, yet John himself prophecies one greater than he is about to come (Matt 3:11–12). Matthew immediately identifies Jesus, through the account of his baptism, as the one who is greater than John (Matt 3:13–17).
Readers should then be attuned to the sequence of Matthew 4 into Matthew 5: John, the Old Testament prophet, is arrested, and his ministry ends, and only at that point does Jesus begin his own ministry. Something very important has ended, and something even more important has begun. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matt 11:13–14), and when he passes from the scene, an eschatologically new era commences. Now the prophet has come, and he is about to give his first teaching.
Second, the first words of Matthew’s prologue to the sermon also recall Mosaic imagery. The words “he went up on the mountain” are a verbatim quotation of Exodus 19:3. In Exodus 19, the description is of Moses ascending Sinai to receive the law. As others have noted, this particular phrase occurs only three times in the Greek Old Testament. Each of the three times it is in reference to Moses’ ascent to Sinai (Ex 19:3, 24:18, 34:4).
Third, Matthew describes the mountain as “the mountain.” Matthew usually does not use a definite article when referring to a mountain unless a mountain is mentioned in the preceding context (Matt 8:1, 17:9). This would be called the anaphoric use of the article. But in Matthew 5:1, there is no immediately preceding mountain mentioned. This indicates it might point to a par excellence use of the article. Matthew is inviting a comparison with the most prominent mount in the Old Testament.
Finally, Matthew describes Jesus as sitting down to teach. This recalls Moses’ stance when he received God’s law on Mount Sinai. Although the verb in the Hebrew is debated, references in the Talmud show that Jewish interpreters regarded Deuteronomy 9:9 as meaning Moses sat down on the mountain. All three of these details place the sermon under the lens of Sinai. Unfortunately, many note these opening Mosaic parallels and then stop. But the parallels continue throughout the sermon. Matthew’s point seems to be to connect law of the Torah with the law of the new covenant. Jesus delivers the new covenant teaching as the new Moses.