I am positive that I did not truly understood the implications of John 5:46 the first few times that I read it. Indeed, most days I am still not sure that I have fully recognized the scope of Jesus’ claim at that moment. As Jesus faced conflict from the Pharisees, He answered them by defining Himself as the message of Moses’ book:
If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. (John 5:46 ESV)
He did not claim in this verse merely to be a footnote or a hidden portion of Moses’ book, the Torah (Gen-Exod-Lev-Num-Deut). No, he claimed that He was the message of the book because to believe what the book said was to believe in Jesus: If you believed Moses, you would believe me. He said, in other words, “If you read Moses rightly, you will know me because Moses designed his book to teach his readers about me.” This not only was a shocking notion then but also problematic to those of us who read the Torah today because it overturns so much of what we have been told about the beginning portion of the Bible.
Here’s the question paraphrased from my former mentor, John Sailhamer: “If you had to put a category over Moses’ book, would it be law or gospel?” While many Christians in the Protestant tradition would quickly chisel “Law” over Moses’ book, Jesus’ words suggest that “Gospel” would be a better answer.
Note carefully what the Lord did say at this key moment. Amongst men who had probably memorized every word of the Torah, He boldly claimed that the source of their hope was truly to become the source of their despair. Why? This judgment would come not because of a lack of devotion to God but a wrongly guided devotion because they had misunderstood the Scriptures. Their fathers had passed to them an understanding of the Torah that was foreign to both God and Moses: he wrote of me. That is, Jesus was not offering them a new perception of Moses’ book but an old one, the original interpretation … even Moses’ understanding of this same book.
Could it be possible that Moses intentionally and thoughtfully wrote his book with the aim of giving hope in Jesus as its message?
Yes, it is more than possible; it is more than probable. It is a certainty that can be traced on the very pages of Scripture itself. Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles turn their readers back to meditating upon a hope that is grounded in God’s work in the past as a picture of God’s work in the future.
Moses’ book itself uses the dark background of man’s past failures to then point the reader to the hope of God coming to man in the end of the days. While the laws that fill up much of the Torah are good, Moses never proposed these laws as the solution to the Torah’s dilemma. In Deuteronomy’s third speech, Moses explained the need for a new heart from God (Deut 29) and the promised hope of a new heart (Deut 30) that would come from Him. Moses does offer a solution to man’s heart problem, but it is a solution for whom the reader and the Prophets must wait.
While the Pharisees thought they had understood Moses’ book, they had in fact totally misunderstood it. They had used the Torah, but the Torah had yet to use them … at least to use them as God intentioned. This misunderstanding of God’s Word hardened their hearts from seeing life. How ironic it is that those who should have responded to God’s presence with joy and life instead sought God’s death and suffering.
My concern today is not with the Pharisees’ understanding of the Torah but with those of us who read the Torah today and might be tempted to a misguided zealousness that will also produce death. As Joshua was called to meditate upon the Torah, we must do the same.
I hope over the coming weeks to point my readers to the Jesus that is found in the very pages of the Old Testament, especially the Torah. If Jesus spoke of His presence in Moses’ message, perhaps we should take Him at His word. We should humbly begin to re-read the Torah and ask where the author spoke of Him and how. While we do not want to add Jesus to the Old Testament, we do want to find what Moses and the Prophets actually said of Him.
This is the hope of why I write to you today: I want you to know that Moses wrote to us and that he wrote to us about Jesus. Do we believe Moses? We must, and in Christ we will.