The Son Surpasses Moses

SYNOPSIS Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the Son over even Moses – A Son is of higher rank than the chief servant of a household – Hebrews 3:1-6.

mountain photography

The epistle to the Hebrews is a “word of exhortation” to a Christian congregation facing pressure from pagan neighbors; consequently, some members are considering withdrawal from the assembly. Remarks in the letter suggest this congregation includes many Jewish Christians. If so, some likely are contemplating a return to the synagogue to escape persecution (Hebrews 2:1510:32-3412:413:22).

The focus of the letter is pastoral, not theological.  Its goal is to prevent members from apostatizing.  It urges them to faithfulness rather than a relapse to non-Christian Judaism. Perseverance is the only proper response to persecution. It warns repeatedly of the dire consequences of faithlessness (Hebrews 2:1-43:12-134:14:116:4-810:26-3012:25).

The letter employs a series of comparisons to demonstrate the superiority of the Son, his word, ministry, priesthood, and sacrifice over their counterparts in the Levitical legislation. This includes his superiority over angels, Moses and Aaron, his priesthood over the Levitical priesthood, his “better” sacrifice over the repeated animal sacrifices in the Tabernacle, his New Covenant over the old covenant given at Mount Sinai, and the surpassing glory of the New Zion over the fearsome display of Yahweh’s power on Mount Sinai when the old covenant was given.

The opening paragraph presents the main proposition:  The word of God spoken in His Son is final and complete, surpassing all previous revelations given to Israel. The earlier “word” was true but incomplete, promissory, and preparatory. And the Son, “having achieved the purification of sins,” inherited a name more excellent name; namely, “Son.” As such, he is superior even to the angels.

(Hebrews 2:1-4) – “For this cause, it behoveth us with unwonted firmness to be holding fast unto the things that have been heard, lest at any time we drift away. For if the word through messengers spoken became firm, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if so great a salvation as this we have neglected,—which, indeed, having received a beginning of being spoken through the Lord by them who heard, unto us was confirmed, God jointly witnessing also, both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with distributions of Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The demonstration of the Son’s superiority to angels leads into the letter’s first warning. The need to “heed” the Word spoken in the Son and the dire consequences of failure to do so.  Both themes are reiterated throughout the epistle (Hebrews 4:1-116:4-810:26-3112:25-26).

The first warning begins, “for this cause” (Hebrews 2:1-4). This connects it to the preceding discussion about the superiority of the Son over angels. “The word spoken through angels.” The comparison of the “word” of the Son to angels stems from a Jewish tradition that the Law was given to Moses by angels (Deuteronomy 33:2Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).

Moses with the Law
Moses with the Law

But that Law was also the word of God.  Regardless of the use of angelic intermediaries, the word “became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense.”  Since terrible retribution fell on all who failed to heed this partial word, how shall Christians escape far greater punishment if they abandon the vastly superior Word spoken in the Son? With the arrival of God’s final revelatory Word, returning to the earlier but partial Word is not an option.

The next section begins with a proposition:  God has not subjected the coming habitable world to angels but to man.  Though the Son is now highly exalted, the Author presents him as one who is fully human and participated in all the frailties of man’s mortality (Hebrews 2:5-18).

Jesus rules at God’s side, but his exaltation was the result of his suffering and humiliation. Abasement was the necessary prelude and demonstrated his solidarity with humanity. In order to “bring many sons to glory,” he was “made complete through sufferings.”

In the next section, the letter presents two more themes worked out in subsequent sections:  first, Jesus is our “pioneer” who blazed our trail (Hebrews 2:1012:2). Second, he is our “faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:173:1, 4:15-16).  The motif of Jesus as “high priest” becomes dominant in chapters 5-7.

(Hebrews 3:1-6) – “Whence, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, attentively consider the Apostle and High—priest of our confession—Jesus, As one faithful to him who made him: as Moses also in [all] his house. For of more glory than Moses hath this one been counted worthy—by as much as more honour than the house hath he that prepared it; For every house is prepared by someone,—but he that hath prepared all things is God. Even Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house as an attendant, for a witness of the things which were to be spoken; But Christ as a Son over his house,—whose house are we,—if the freedom of speech and boast of the hope [throughout firm] we hold fast.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The Author now compares Jesus to Moses, demonstrating the superiority of the former to the latter. Implicit is the superiority of the word of the Son to the Mosaic legislation. The comparison is appropriate.

In the letter’s opening paragraph, the Author compared the Word spoken in the Son to the earlier revelations given in the prophets of Israel. Although Moses was the chief representative of this illustrious group, he was also more honored than all the other prophets. God spoke to him face-to-face, not through visions and riddles. The greater rank of Moses emphasizes how vastly superior the Son is to all the men of God that preceded him (Numbers 12:8).

As our “apostle,” Jesus is the one sent from God to deliver His final and revelatory Word.  As our “high Priest,” he represents us to His Father and makes intercession on our behalf.

The description of Jesus as “one faithful,” along with the reference to Moses as “also in all his house,” alludes to a passage from the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (Numbers 12:7 – “My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house”).

Moses was the only one in Israel to whom Yahweh spoke face-to-face and not via intermediaries.  Hence, initially, Jesus is set on a par with Moses; God also spoke face-to-face with the Son. In Jewish tradition, the verse from Numbers demonstrated that Moses received greater honor and rank than even angels.  Since the Son is superior to the angels, and since the letter already warned that disobedience to the Son’s Word required a far greater degree of punishment, it is natural now to show the superiority of the Son over Moses, the great Lawgiver.

The keywords, “faithful,” “priest” and “house.” All allude to the prophecy when God promised to one day “raise me up a faithful priest; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore, will I build for him an assured house.” Jesus is now presented as the promised “faithful priest” set over God’s “house” (1 Samuel 2:35Hebrews 10:1-14).

But there is a difference.  Jesus has been found worthy of far more honor than Moses, just as the one who prepares a house is worthy of more honor than the house.  Jesus is closely associated with the builder, God. Christ has been set over His house, whereas, Moses was a servant in it. The Greek verb kataskeuazō in Verse 3 means “to prepare, equip,” not to “build” (Strong’s #2680). It was used for supplying vessels and furnishings to prepare a household for habitation.

In Verse 5, Moses is described as an “attendant” in God’s house “for a testimony” of the word that “would be spoken.”  The Greek clause uses a future tense participle in the passive voice, one that is difficult to translate word-for-word into English. However, the intended sense is clear.  As God’s faithful attendant, Moses served as a witness or testimony to the word that would come later.  Put another way, this is another picture of the preparatory function of the Old Covenant revelation.  It was penultimate, not ultimate.

In this paragraph, “house” refers not to the Tabernacle or Temple but, metaphorically, to the living community of God’s people.  Jesus is “over His house whose house are we” (Verse 6). Believers “are” (present tense) his household as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.”  Repeated here is a key warning of the letter:  The necessity to hold firmly to our confession and persevere to the end.

Nowhere in this paragraph does the Author denigrate Moses. He takes a view based on Salvation History, the historical progress of God’s revelation, and His redemptive plan. As great as he was, Moses was part of an era now in the past that is eclipsed by Jesus.

This comparison with Moses has prepared the reader for the next section – a presentation on the generation of Israel that received God’s Word through Moses but, nonetheless, failed “to hold fast to their confidence and hope” (Hebrews 3:7-4:13).  To abandon the final revelation “spoken” in the Son for the older and incomplete “word” will result in the payment of a horrific price.

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