When I teach on Matthew, I tell my students that the book can be summarized with one word: fulfillment. The first evangelist presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the long-awaited hopes and dreams of Israel. Although Matthew compares Jesus to many figures, Moses takes a prominent position. Some are surprised to learn that Jesus is never directly given a title such as, “the prophet like Moses” or even “the new Moses.” Some even question whether the Mosaic imagery in Matthew exists.
But to build a case on the explicit references to Moses doesn’t respect the more storied, and sometimes elusive, nature of Matthew’s narrative. Matthew is not giving an argument like Paul; he is telling a story, so he might not come out and explicitly say what he is trying to communicate. In the words of one scholar, there is a difference between “direct definition” and “indirect presentation” within a narrative.
Matthew can give a more indirect presentation because careful readers of the Jewish Scriptures would have already been waiting for the new Moses. There are two foundational passages in the Scriptures that support this. First, in Deuteronomy 18:15–19, God promised the coming of a prophet like Moses.
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— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. –– Deuteronomy 18:15–18.
Matthew is about fulfillment. More specifically, Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses. He does this by presenting Jesus as the teacher of Israel through five discourses. These discourses mirror in some ways the five books of the Pentateuch. Then when Jesus begins his first discourse, there are four pointers to Jesus as the new Moses. He begins his ministry after the last Old Testament prophet (John the Baptist), he goes up on the mountain, it is the mountain, and finally he sits down to teach.
Although Matthew never comes out and explicitly says that Jesus is the new Moses, the imagery he uses is clear. Jesus is the new prophet who establishes the new covenant not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with his own blood.
Adapted from Matthew: Disciple and Scribe by Patrick Schreiner, (to be published in 2019). Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group.