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Different Kind of Glory: Jesus Is More than a New Moses

“Who is Jesus?”

Early Christians hammered out several statements about the identity of Jesus and affirmed we mustn’t merely say one thing about him but two things: Jesus is truly man and truly God. Even well-intentioned approaches can emphasize one of the truths and implicitly downplay the other.

For example, biblical theology helps us see Christ in the whole storyline of Scripture. Many characters from the Old Testament serve as types that help us understand the Messiah that was to come. Jesus is the new and better Adam, the new and better David, and the new and better Moses. But if we aren’t careful, we can fail to recognize the fundamental distinctions between those men and the much greater man their lives pointed toward.

In some ways, Jesus is a new Moses—there are parallel aspects in their lives. For example, in the transfiguration Jesus, like Moses, goes up a mountain after six days, a cloud descends, his face shines, and a voice speaks from the cloud. However, to see Jesus as merely the new Moses misses something important. The transfiguration narrative (Matt. 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–13; Luke 9:28–35) reveals three key differences that help us see the radical distinctions between Moses and Jesus.

1. Their Shining Faces

Both Moses and Jesus ascend a mountain and have their faces shine. After Moses met with the Lord, he had to veil his radiant face because it was too bright for the Israelites to bear (Ex. 34:35). The light of the glory of God was so powerful it altered his appearance. Similarly, when Jesus goes up on the mountain, Matthew says Jesus’s face shone like the sun (Matt. 17:2).

However, Jesus’s glory is of a different nature than Moses’s. Moses’s face shone because he was reflecting another’s glory; Jesus’s face shone because of his own glory. Moses’s face was radiant because of his proximity to Yahweh; Jesus’s face was radiant because he is Yahweh. Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God” (Heb. 1:3).

To put this in other terms, Moses is transfigured when he ascends Mount Sinai. And while Jesus as a human is transfigured, Jesus as God doesn’t receive anything, nor is he changed in any way. This glory was and always is his. Jesus is like Moses. But he’s also unlike him. Moses ascended to meet with Yahweh; Jesus is Yahweh not only ascended on the mountain but descended to the mountain.

2. This Is My Son

Moses ascended to meet with Yahweh; Jesus is Yahweh not only ascended on the mountain but descended to the mountain.

The allusions to Moses are confirmed in the transfiguration when Moses himself appears (Matt. 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30). Peter responds by suggesting he should build three tents: one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. However, Luke says Peter didn’t know what he was saying (Luke 9:33) and Mark says the disciples were terrified (Mark 9:6). Peter was mistaken.

The narrative makes this clear when the Father’s voice speaks out of the cloud to interrupt Peter and correct him. Peter’s blunder begins with the number of tents he offers to make. When Moses and Elijah are removed, the voice points out that Jesus is the one and only: “This is my beloved Son.”

The Father’s voice thus asserts Jesus isn’t in a triumvirate of equals with Moses and Elijah. He’s exclusive. Even Peter’s earlier recognition of Jesus as the Messiah doesn’t go far enough (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29). Peter misunderstands the relationship between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. He attempts to put Jesus on the same level as men. God won’t allow it. The voice from heaven makes it plain: Jesus isn’t equal to Moses and Elijah; he’s far superior. He’s the singular Son. Moses was a servant, but Jesus deserves more glory because he’s the Son.

3. Listen to Him

There’s only one imperative in the transfiguration narrative. The voice from the heavens tells the disciples, “Listen to him” (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). As many have rightly pointed out, this alludes to something told to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (CSB).

The transfiguration account affirms a new prophet like Moses has arisen. It shows that Jesus mediates the new covenant and faithfully delivers God’s Word.

Under the old covenant, the people couldn’t hear the Father’s voice or see his great fire, but under the new covenant, they behold God in the face of Jesus Christ. On Sinai, God’s Word was written on tablets of stone; on Tabor, they see the glorious Word on the tablet of flesh. As Richard Hays describes it, the new covenant is “enfleshed rather than inscribed.”

The transfiguration account affirms a new prophet like Moses has arisen. It shows that Jesus mediates the new covenant and faithfully delivers God’s Word.

However, this command also hearkens back to another call for the Israelites to listen: the Shema. The title “Shema” is based on the first Hebrew word of the text, which means “listen,” “hear,” or “obey”: “Listen [shema], Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4–5, CSB).

The transfiguration is the new covenant Shema. Because of the oneness of the Father and Son––because of the identity of the Son––the disciples are called, like Israel of old, to heed his voice. If they listened to Yahweh in the Old Testament, now they must listen to Yahweh in the New Testament through the Son. The command is grounded in Jesus’s divine identity.

Truly God and Man

The transfiguration narrative is a revealing text because it affirms two things about Jesus: (1) he’s the new Moses, as man, but (2) he’s greater than Moses for he’s the eternally begotten Son. The narrative affirms two things at once because Jesus has two natures existing in one person. These natures aren’t confused but are indivisible and inseparable. The distinction of the two natures isn’t taken away by the union; the property of each is preserved.

“Who is Jesus?” The transfiguration account helps us answer that most important question of life by affirming Jesus is both like Moses and unlike Moses. Jesus has a much greater glory, which is something we must never forget.

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