Christ: the second Moses

An introduction to typology

In his commentary on the Hebrew Bible, St. Augustine once said, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.” Can this be demonstrated? In biblical scholarship, the term “typology” is often used to designate the study of recurring signs and symbols we see in Scripture. This study of patterns, present in both the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, can help us demonstrate the interdependence of the two. A simple example of typology can be found in the writings of the Church Father Irenaeus, who in speaking of Mary as the “new Eve” says this:

“For just as the former [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should bear God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.” 
— Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 19), 180 AD

St. Irenaeus in this way draws certain connections between Eve, from the Old Testament, and the Blessed Virgin, from the New Testament. Both encounter an angel (Eve meets Lucifer, Mary meets Gabriel). One encounter goes sour, the other is sweet. Through the disobedience of a virgin, the fall of the human race into sin and death occurs; through the obedience of a virgin, salvation is brought to the entire human race (by virtue of Christ’s incarnation). It is also interesting to note how Genesis 3 refers to Eve as the physical “mother of all living.” Mary, however, through giving birth to the body of Christ, is the spiritual mother of all living. Since Mary gives birth to the body of Christ, and believers are incorporated into Christ’s body through baptism (Rom. 6:3), she is truly our Blessed Mother.

One could write a full article on Marian typology, but the goal of this piece is to demonstrate, through the use of typology, that the entirety of the Scriptures revolve completely around Christ, who is the key to unlocking the treasures of the Torah. 

In recent months, I have taken an interest in reading the writings of early Christian saints such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome. There is a unique richness to biblical interpretation within this early tradition, and I would like to share what I’ve learned. For thousands of years, Christians have proclaimed that Christ is the prophetic culmination of the writings we read in the Old Testament; today, we will be putting that to the test by taking a look at Mosaic typology and how the New Testament definitively portrays Jesus as the new Moses.

Apostolic Evangelism Contextualized

If you were to go ask a Jew in first-century Palestine what the most important event in their biblical tradition is, they would most likely say the exodus, and then go on to describe how Moses led their people out of Egyptian bondage to Mount Sinai to renew Israel’s covenant with God. Accordingly, I am going to make the case that the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) had the exodus very much in mind while writing their gospel accounts, and Matthew specifically goes to great lengths to depict a “new exodus.”

Matthew was held by many early witnesses to have been the first Gospel written. According to the third-century historian Eusebius, St. Matthew’s apostolic mission was directed primarily to the Jews. He wrote his Gospel most likely in Hebrew or Aramaic, the common languages of first-century Palestine, and addressed it to Jewish converts to Christianity who lived in the region. He mentions Jewish customs often without elaboration, evidently because his audience was already familiar with them. He also quotes or refers to the Old Testament frequently in order to corroborate details of Christ’s life and teachings, thus underlining how the Gospel and the saving mission of Christ fulfill the narratives of the Pentateuch.

The new Moses

The Gospel of Matthew begins by attributing to Jesus a messianic title—Son of David—in its opening verse, indicating that the long-awaited deliverer has come to save His people. Ironically, however, we see that immediately at His birth, the Savior needed to be saved due to the tyrannical decree of King Herod, ordering the slaughter of Hebrew male children in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16).

Wait a minute, this sounds all too familiar. 

Let’s return to the book of Exodus. God sends a savior named Moses to deliver his people out of bondage, but Moses is born during a time when all the Hebrew male infants are targeted by Pharaoh (Exod. 2:22). Again, we see an instance where the deliverer needed to be delivered!

In Matthew, we see that God saves Jesus through a man named Joseph (Matt. 2:13) who takes the Holy Family to Egypt; however, if we again return to the Old Testament, we see a man in the book of Genesis named Joseph, who, like St. Joseph, is the son of a man named Jacob (Gen. 37:2 cf. Matt. 1:16), brings a Holy Family (Israel) into Egypt (Gen. 46), is given revelatory dreams (Gen. 37:5 cf. Matt. 1:20), and is misperceived as being unchaste (Gen. 39 cf. John 8:41).

We’ve barely scratched the surface, yet the Church Fathers are just getting started. One thing I realized in my study of patristic sources was that these parallels were so obvious to them. These saints of old truly scrutinized Scripture in a revolutionary way.

Coming back to Moses, we see that he is placed in a basket set adrift on the Nile River. Eventually, the infant is found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian prince (Exodus 2). At the appointed time, Moses comes out of Egypt (Ex. 14), passes through the waters (splitting the Red Sea), and goes into the desert (Ex. 16). You read Matthew 2-4, and what do you see? Jesus, like Moses, comes out of Egypt, passes through the waters (in his baptism), and goes into the desert. What did Moses do in the desert? He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Ex. 34). What did Jesus do in the desert? Fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. I hope by now you’ve caught on to a pattern here.

Let us examine these two periods of fasting. Israel is tested by God while Moses is away, and they fail the test, abandoning God and committing idolatry (Ex. 32). Israel also undergoes a general period of testing while wandering in the wilderness for 40 years (Ex. 16:35). In Matthew 4, what happens to Jesus? He too is tested, only He passes with flying colors. Moreover, He quotes from Scripture while being tempted by Satan—and where does he quote from? Deuteronomy 6-8, directly from Moses, all three times! This is precisely where Moses corrects the foolish Israelites for having failed their trials, because man does not live by bread alone, not even the miraculous manna which came from heaven in the wilderness (Ex. 16:4); man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3). And Jesus also quotes the idea that one must worship God and Him alone (Deut. 6:13), not that golden calf the Israelites made while Moses was away (Ex. 32:4)! Finally, Jesus states ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ (Deut. 6:16); this is viewed as a response to Exodus 17 where the Israelites “tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” From this, we can see that in the wilderness, Jesus prevails in trials and temptations where Israel fails. 

After Moses finishes his fast, he receives the Law on Mount Sinai (the Ten Commandments) to deliver to God’s chosen nation Israel (Ex. 34:29). Likewise, Jesus, upon finishing His 40 days of fasting, ascends a mountain, and having received the “law” of the New Covenant—the Sermon on the Mount—delivers it to the people of God (Matt. 5). Thus, we can see a new Mount Sinai because there is a new Moses. Jesus says of himself in Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Here, we see Jesus being the new lawgiver, instituting a law of grace

In the Old Covenant, people were rebellious, so curses were often attached to the end of the laws (Deut. 21:23, Deut. 27:26). In the New Covenant, Christ desires to give us the Holy Spirit, so the Beatitudes are how the Sermon on the Mount begins (Matt. 5:3-11), with blessings that are promised to those who serve this new law.

“For the Law [referring to the Old Covenant] made nothing perfect, and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” 
— Hebrews 7:19

The New Covenant (a continued tour of Old and New Testament parallels)

Moses, following the administration of the Sinaitic Law, realizes he can’t govern Israel alone, so he appoints twelve chiefs over Israel’s twelve tribes (Num. 1). Jesus, following the Sermon on the Mount, appoints his twelve disciples (Matt. 10), and in Matthew 19:28, he promises his disciples that they will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the future world. 

Moses, even with the twelve princes, couldn’t effectively govern Israel, so he anoints seventy elders with the Holy Spirit (Num. 11:24-25). In Luke 10, Jesus notes that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” and appoints seventy more to preach the Gospel in various locales, anointing them with the Holy Spirit. This number seventy represents the seventy nations mentioned in Genesis 10, signifying that the Gospel and its message of salvation would be preached not only among the Israelites but also to all nations.

As we have already discussed, Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to spend time with God (Ex. 24). It is said that God speaks with him “face to face” (Ex. 33:11); as a result, when Moses comes down the mountain, the Israelites observe that his face is transfigured, shining radiantly (Ex. 34:30). Let’s go to Luke 9. Jesus goes up a mountain to spend time in prayer with God, and His countenance becomes transfigured (v. 29). Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear (v. 30). Why them? 

Well, for one, Elijah and Moses are the only two people in the Old Testament to survive a forty-day fast (1 Kings 19). On top of that, this scene affirms Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and prophets by displaying him with Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. 

In Luke 9:31, we read that during the Transfiguration, Jesus was discussing with Moses his “departure” which was soon to take place in Jerusalem. That’s an interesting choice of vocabulary. Let’s take a look at the Greek:


The Greek word for “departure” literally means exodus! Here is Jesus talking about his “exodus” with Moses, who is none other than Mr. Exodus himself. 

One can only speculate how this conversation went. If they bothered to compare notes, Moses could have pointed out that his exodus was accompanied by a series of signs, the first of which was turning water into blood. Jesus could then point out that the first of his signs was turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (Jn. 2). It’s also interesting to note that the term “stone jars” (where Jesus’ miracle takes place) in John 2:6 is the same term used in Exodus 7:19, where water is turned into blood by Moses, along with the Nile River. 

Moses could still say, “Well, I turned the water into blood!” to which Jesus would reply, “You keep your eyes on that wine, I’m not through with it yet!” This, of course, is an allusion to the Lord’s Supper, for which wine is used:

“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” 
— Matthew 26:27-28 

The last of Moses’ signs before the Exodus was the Passover, where the blood of the sacrificial lamb protected the firstborn of Israel (Ex. 12). What about the last of Jesus’ signs before his departure? It’s the Holy Eucharist. Jesus, the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29), establishes a new Passover, in which the New Covenant is instituted and the Old Covenant is fulfilled. This also explains why Jesus was crucified during Passover (Jn. 19:14).

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” 
—1 Corinthians 5:7

Here, St. Paul alludes to the Passover tradition that finds its ultimate meaning in the Redemption of Christ and His Eucharistic Sacrifice. At Passover, which celebrated the liberation of Israel from enslavement by Egypt, the Jewish people offered and feasted on a lamb and on unleavened bread as God had directed them at the first Passover. Paul refers to Christ as the “Passover lamb” because He, like the Paschal lamb, was sacrificed and shed blood for our redemption. Just as the Jews consumed the lamb at Passover, the faithful consume the body of Christ through the Eucharist (in the accidents of unleavened bread and wine). Just as the Jews removed yeast from their houses for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Christians are to remove all sin from their midst. 

“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” 
—St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 151 AD

The Road to Emmaus

Following Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to two of His disciples, who were traveling to the village Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem. Luke recounts Jesus’ words:

“‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
 — Luke 24:26

Perhaps if we had a tape recorder on the road to Emmaus, the “new exodus” discussed in this article may have been the topic expounded upon by our Lord. And the two disciples which heard this passed it on to the Apostles, who passed it on to the early Church Fathers, and it has been maintained to this day through their writings. Moses came to free his people from physical bondage; Christ came to free His people from spiritual bondage. Typology truly illuminates and brings Scripture to life.

“This is the Son of the carpenter, Who skillfully made His cross a bridge over Sheol that swallows up all, and brought over mankind into the dwelling of life. And because it was through the tree that mankind had fallen into Sheol, so upon the tree they passed over into the dwelling of life. Through the tree then wherein bitterness was tasted, through it also sweetness was tasted; that we might learn of Him that among the creatures nothing resists Him. Glory be to You, Who laid Your cross as a bridge over death, that souls might pass over upon it from the dwelling of the dead to the dwelling of life!” 
—St. Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord

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