Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
At the end of post 3, I said that in post 4 I would look at some of the passages about the Prophet-like-Moses pointed out by other writers. I was thinking particularly of Doug Gwyn’s Apocalypse of the Word, pp. 105 and 108. I am going to focus this time on the references in the book of John and throw in some Doug did not list.
The first is in John chapter 1. In verses 19-28, the writer summarizes a conversation in which representatives of the Jewish leadership are trying to sort out with John the Baptist where he fits in the prophetic promises. After a couple of rounds, they ask him in verse 21, “Are you the Prophet?” John says “No”. Bible commentators generally regard this as a reference to Deut 18, but seem to have little to say about it, or regard it as insignificant. In the account, it appears that the Jews had a short list of figures they were anticipating in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. John chooses his own from outside their list in Isaiah 40.
Note that is the conversation his questioners treat “the Prophet” as someone distinct from the Messiah. But later in the chapter, Philip tells Nathaniel in verse 45, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and about who the Prophets also wrote.” My conclusion is that even in these initial conversations with the disciples, Jesus was teaching and demonstrating that Messiah was also the Prophet-like-Moses.
I used to regard these passages in John 1 as rather disjoint with random references, including those to “the Prophet” and “the One Moses wrote about”. I have now come to believe that there is nothing random about this. The writer of the book of John has Jesus connecting back to this prophesy again and again. And John portrays the Jewish leadership (and probably many others) of having disconnected this expectation from the Messianic hope. I believe this is fundamental to the conflict between them in the book.
The next passage Doug Gwyn cites is that in chapter 4. This is the wonderful account of Jesus with the Samaritan woman and her community. There is much in the account, but the specific part I will highlight is in verses 25 and 26, “’I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he.’” And in verses 41 and 42, “And because of his words many more became believers. The said to the woman, ‘we no longer believe just because of what you said. Now we have heard for ourselves and we know that this man really is the savior of the world.’” The Samaritan community had only their own version of the Pentateuch as their Scriptures. Their expectation of who the Messiah would be was more limited, more focused, than that of the Jews. They knew that they were to hear the one who was sent.
There is no record of any miracle in the encounter with the Samaritans. Except for the woman’s checkered history, the whole incident is remarkably positive. But then Jesus and the disciples return to Galilee. The account of this begins with this comment by the writer (verse 44) that puzzled me for many years, “Now Jesus himself pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.” Why was this comment inserted when the next sentence says that Galileans welcomed him? Jesus berates them for only being impressed by outward signs. The Samaritans by contrast believed what they heard.
Doug does not mention John chapter 5 in relation to the Prophet-like-Moses, but I see another important reference there. The situation begins with the healing of the cripple by the pool-on a Sabbath. The conflict with the Jewish leadership spills into the open. Jesus concludes the argument in verses 46 and 47, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” Jesus bases his claim to judge what is right on the foundation of being sent by God, hearing and seeing what God does. And his work is to speak a word that gives life to the dead who hear. In this passage Jesus solidly links his claim to be the Son of God with the “prophet like me” from Deuteronomy. And there are other allusions to Moses. The right to judge comes from the One who speaks to, explains His work and shows Jesus his form (cf. Numbers 12:7 and 8).
The next passage Doug does list is in john 6, particularly verse 14. The situation is the feeding of the 5000. The crowd is amazed at what has happened. “After the people saw the miraculous sign Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the World!’ Jesus hides himself to keep the people from making him king by force. Later when they catch up with him the dialog reveals that they are still looking for outward signs. Jesus emphasizes that, “the work of God is to believe (Hear, hearken to) the one he sent” (v. 29). The discussion becomes heated at the crowd continues to look for outward signs (their own expectation of the prophet like Moses). Jesus is adamant that what is required is to take in, to drink deeply of the words he speaks. Many turn away. What came readily to Samaritans who were ready with just this expectation causes those who look outward to trip and turn away.
I would Include the Shepherd of the Sheep passage in chapter 10 for sure and I believe that the prophet-like-Moses expectation as Jesus explains it underlies the dialog in chapters 7 (see 7:40) and 8 also. And in chapter 9 (one of my favorites in all the Scripture), it is powerfully portrayed in the final dialog (9:35 – 41). The man born blind hears, sees and believes. The Pharisees fail to hearken and their hearts are darkened.
Doug also lists 14:26 and 15:15. These are important because they reassure the disciples and believers that the possibility to hear and the injunction to hearken still apply after Jesus’ physical death. Jesus sends his Spirit to continue the work described in John 5 and following.
In the whole sweep of these passages a contrast to Moses is painted as well. The prologue (1:18) says that the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth come through Jesus. And John the Baptist’s testimony is that the Spirit has come to rest on Jesus (1:32 and 33). And John (in 3:34) also says that “the one God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives him the Spirit without limit.” Contrast this to the account of God’s sharing the spirit on Moses with the 70 elders (cf Number 11:24 -30). Moses’ regret was that not all of the people were prophets. Jesus has been given the Spirit without limit and his work makes that Spirit available to all. The possibility of hearkening, of hearing and obeying continues.
So, in summary, I have made the contention that the expectation of the Prophet-like-Moses, particularly as Jesus explains it provides a template for understanding the whole book of John. I believe that this can be extended to John’s epistles and the Revelation without a stretch. It only requires reading afresh.
In the next post, I will focus on the Transfiguration accounts as a special case.
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From Ellis Hein:
Thanks Dan for this post. If I may, I would like to contribute the following.
In John 8:31 ff. Jesus tells the Jews who had believed him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth shall make you free… Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever, the son continues forever. So if the son makes you free, you are free indeed."
This is exactly what is portrayed in Deuteronomy concerning the prophet like Moses. If you would be of the household of God, you must hear and walk according to the word of this prophet. Else you are destroyed from among the people of God. (Acts 3:23)
In the John 8 passage, Jesus states that his words are from God, that he has been sent by God, and if anyone keeps his word, he will never taste death. This again lines up with God's stated purpose for the prophet like Moses. Peter in Acts 4 states, "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [than the name of Jesus]." He couches his statement in terms of the cornerstone, the prophet like Moses that was to be the foundation of the people of God, rejected by the master builders.
On this one point, Fox, his critics, and modern Christianity agree. "This is not an option for followers of Christ." But in their "agreement" they mean opposite things. For Fox's critics and for modern Christianity this is not an option because it is "an impossibility." For Fox and the early Quaker preachers, this experience of continuing in the word of Christ, of hearing the prophet like Moses was an absolute necessity. It is the foundation upon which the church in God is built, as distinguished from the church which man has gatherd and man has built.