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“On the other hand, the author argues, Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. It is difficult to appreciate just how powerfully radical a statement that would have been to first-century Jewish ears. The author provides perspective, explaining that the builder of the house is necessarily greater than the house he builds. While Moses belonged to the house of Israel, the chosen family of faith, that household had been built by the Messiah. His faithfulness proved flawless.”
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You’ll notice the fresh details and the easy-to-follow style that can be so helpful in researching a Bible passage or creating a sermon or lesson. Keep reading the excerpt from the commentary on Hebrews to learn more about how Jesus is superior to Moses in person and purpose, the priesthood, and the old covenant..
“Moses. Deuteronomy 18:15-18 contains the significant prophecy of the prophet like unto Moses. It is seen that the Messiah would also be the greatest of the Jewish prophets, Moses’ successor. As a result of the Israelites having deferred any further direct communication with God (Exod. 20:18-19), Moses promised that the Lord would elevate a prophet like himself from among the people of Israel. The passage goes on to stress that obedience to the prophet like Moses would be so crucial, of such utmost importance to God, that those who neither recognize this prophet nor obey him will suffer the severest penalty. God’s harshest judgment will fall on those who willingly disregard this singular prophet. Jesus’ fulfillment of this prophecy was an established association that had been made by the Jewish people throughout Jesus’ ministry (John 1:21, 25, 45; 5:46; 6:14; 7:40) and was powerfully contended for in the early days of the church (Acts 3:22-26; 7:37).
The nascent church viewed the Messiah’s identification with Moses as a key thread in the messianic fabric. Jesus’ ministry shared certain unique features with Moses. First, the quality that made Moses distinct from all other Jewish prophets was his intimate relationship with the Lord, speaking together with Him “face to face” (Deut. 34:10) and “mouth to mouth” (Num. 12:8). As the exact representation of God’s nature (1:3), the Son of God exhibited similar, although superior, intimacy with the One He called “My Father.”
Second, Moses’ relationship with the Jewish people was unique for a prophet in that he played two primary roles. He was both Israel’s deliverer (Exod. 3:10), bringing the nation forth from the shackles of Egypt, and an intercessor between Israel and God (Exod. 20:19). However, just as Jesus’ intimate relationship with God reflects and surpasses that of Moses, so, too, the deliverance Jesus wrested for His people from the slavery of sin reflects and surpasses the ministry of Moses. Regarding his superior intercessory function, Jesus represented God to the people of Israel with an authority greater than even that of Moses as he descended from Sinai cradling two stone tablets in his arms. Moses was a magnificent intercessor, but his humanity created built-in limitations. Our exalted Messiah knows no such restrictions in His continual ministry in the heavenlies.
Third, Moses had the honor to present the old covenant, but Jesus, as the quintessence, the fulfillment, the personification, and the application of every regulation, statute, and commandment recorded by Moses, presented the new covenant. He is the living, breathing, resurrected embodiment of God’s Word (John 1:1).
The recipient Hebrews community is addressed with a double reference to the authenticity of their messianic faith. They are “holy brethren,” sacred through their status as metachoi, “partakers,” or “partners” of a heavenly calling. They are resolutely cautioned to “consider” Jesus, to carefully consider and study the One whom they have confessed as Messiah. The word translated “confession,”homologia, conveys the idea of a binding obligation, a public expression of commitment and profession of allegiance, and likely references the act of baptism (4:14; 10:23). Decisions arrived at concerning the community’s continued allegiance to Christianity or their reversion to Levitical Judaism would prove determinative regarding their immediate destiny.
Jesus also receives a double designation. He is both the Apostle and High Priest of the believers’ confession. Both titles are used to better illustrate the connection between Jesus and Moses. While Moses was never officially Israel’s high priest, he did perform the priestly installation of his brother, Aaron, and preside over the inauguration of the Levitical priesthood (Lev. 8:1-36). Furthermore, he was a Levite, he provided the blueprints for and supervised the construction of the tabernacle, he occasionally performed priestly functions (Exod. 24:4-8), and he is actually referred to one time in the Old Testament as a priest (Ps. 99:6). Jewish philosopher Philo’s Life of Moses provides precedent from first-century literature for the notion of Moses’ priesthood.
Priesthood. The Levitical priests were the classification of Israelites who both belonged to the tribe of Levi and were descendants of the original high priest, Aaron. They were the servants of the Lord who were commissioned for ministry to the chosen people. Their primary responsibility was to administrate the many and varied tabernacle/temple sacrifices that comprised the core of Israel’s daily worship. They served as God’s physical representatives to his holy nation, teaching the responsibilities of God’s Torah to the people, making intercessory prayer on their behalf, examining the ill, adjudicating matters of law, and arbitrating matters related to the practical lifestyle of holiness demanded by God. Just as God demanded that sacrifices offered to Him be without blemish, so too did major physical imperfections disqualify priests from serving in the holy sanctuary.
In first century, New Testament era Jerusalem, many priests lived in proximity to the temple and comprised the city’s wealthy aristocracy. Thousands of additional priests, of somewhat humbler means than their Jerusalem brethren, resided throughout various other cities of Israel.
Due to the elevated number of priests coupled with a limited roster of priestly temple duties, a rotational schedule was followed by all priests throughout the year. Josephus estimates that the population of the first-century priesthood was over twenty thousand. Therefore, the priests were divided into twenty-four divisions, with each priest serving for one week twice each year (1 Chron. 24:7-19). Accordingly, on any given week, hundreds of priests might be serving in the temple.
In addition to this semiannual rotation, every priest served in the temple during the three weeks of the great annual pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Consequently, each priest spent approximately five weeks every year in temple service. As a means of support during the remainder of the year, most priests engaged in either a trade or the teaching of Torah.
While on the topic of priests, a word about the Levites is in order. Levites, like priests, derived from the tribe of Levi, without, however, the specificity of being direct descendants of Aaron. Levite males, like priests, also served in the temple, but in a supportive capacity. They functioned as temple musicians, maintenance workers, and temple guards. There were even more Levites than priests, so most of them served in the temple only briefly during the course of a year, if at all, supporting themselves as craftsmen or scribes.
High Priest. Every responsibility and requirement for priesthood also pertained to this priest of priests. In addition, once a year the high priest bore the awesome responsibility of making atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel. As president of the Sanhedrin and the leading religious figure, he was the most powerful man in first-century, New Testament era Israel next to the king and the Roman procurator. According to the Levitical legislation, the high priest inherited this critical position for a lifetime appointment. In the first century, however, the high priest was appointed by Rome. Serving at the pleasure of Rome, the high priest’s function had become more political than theological. Not only did he serve as intermediary between Israel and God, but he also was to represent Rome’s interests toward Israel.
To ensure political survival, the high priest had to become a wily politician, possessing both exceptional political skills and diplomatic ability in managing his dual constituencies of Israel and Rome. Under Roman rule, the position had become a revolving door. High priests were frequently appointed and routinely demoted according to the whims and moods of the procurators. Josephus records twenty-eight appointments in the century between 37 b.c. and a.d. 70.
The singular designation of Jesus as ton apostolon is, at first glance, a head scratcher, that is, until one focuses on the author’s painstaking connection of Jesus with Moses. As previously discussed in the treatment of the opening verses of chapter 2, an apostle was a commissioned individual sent forth to proclaim a particular message. Moses was, in effect, God’s apostle, commissioned to present a specific message to Pharaoh (Exod. 3:l-6ff.). Just so, Jesus was also divinely commissioned to present a specific message, like Moses, of liberation.
Both Jesus and Moses faithfully discharged their divine commissions. The “house” in which Moses proved faithful was the nation of Israel. This is a direct allusion to God’s affirmation that “My servant Moses… is faithful in all My household” (Num. 12:7). No mention is made or indicated of Moses’ failures in ministry. His faithfulness was marred only by his possession of flawed humanity.
On the other hand, the author argues, Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. It is difficult to appreciate just how powerfully radical a statement that would have been to first-century Jewish ears. The author provides perspective, explaining that the builder of the house is necessarily greater than the house he builds. While Moses belonged to the house of Israel, the chosen family of faith, that household had been built by the Messiah. His faithfulness proved flawless.”