Moses, Eternal Life & the Old Testament Christians (Yes, Christians!)

Despite Moses’ greatness, he wasn’t separate from the people of Israel. Although he led them, he was one of them. Moses was an Israelite. Moses was an heir of the covenant the LORD had made with Abraham. Although God spoke His law and covenant through Moses, it wasn’t Moses’ word to the other Israelites, but God’s Word to them all, including Moses. 

Why am I making this point? Because I want us to realise that Moses wasn’t some sort of super-saint who had a different sort of salvation to everyone else in Israel. Moses’ salvation was the exact same salvation as the salvation of all who believed in believing Israel. Moses was saved in the same way as all who believed in Israel. And that’s important because it helps us see that all who believed in Old Testament Israel were Christians – their salvation was found in Christ alone and received by faith in Christ alone.

What?! How did I suddenly leap from Moses and the other believing Israelites sharing in the same salvation to saying that they were all Christians? Well, because Moses was a Christian. Now, I know that the disciples weren’t called Christians until Acts 11:26 in Antioch, so the word Christian wasn’t used in Moses’ day, but that doesn’t make Moses any less a Christian. For what is a Christian? A Christian is one who trusts in Jesus Christ. A Christian is one who knows salvation in Jesus Christ. A Christian is one who inherits eternal life in Jesus Christ. And what is this eternal life? Jesus told us the answer to that: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing the Father and knowing Jesus, His Son. So if Moses knew the Father and the Son, then he was every bit as much a Christian as we are. And if Moses’ salvation was the same salvation as the rest of believing Israel, then they were every bit as much Christians as we are too.

So, did Moses know that Father and the Son? The answer to that question, of course, is a resounding yes, but just humour me for a few moments as we look at the evidence together. (Well, I suppose I should say ‘some of the evidence’, as if we wanted to look at all the evidence that Moses knew Jesus and was saved by Jesus, we’d be here for quite some time!)

1) Moses knew Jesus

In Exodus 3, Moses had a dramatic encounter with God at the burning bush. But who was it that Moses met there? Ex. 3:2 tells us that it was ‘the Angel of the LORD’ – so it was one sent from God to speak for God. Yet, not only does the Angel speak for God, He actually speaks as God: ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Ex. 3:6; see also verse 7, ‘And the LORD said’, verse 14 ‘and God said’). Moses himself realises that this Angel is God, and so hides his face, ‘for he was afraid to look upon God’ (Ex. 3:6). 

So, at the burning bush, Moses meets the Angel of the LORD who is God sent from God to speak as God. And this Angel of the LORD, this God sent from God who reveals God, is the One who will deliver Israel from her bondage in Egypt (Ex. 3:17), just as we read in Jude 5, He is ‘Jesus, who saved a people out of Egypt.’

Let’s skip on the Exodus 33. There we read that Moses used to meet with the LORD face to face in a tent outside the camp (Ex. 33:7-11). Yet verse 20 tells us that Moses cannot see the LORD’s face and live. At first that might seem a bit strange, but if we zoom out a bit and see the whole chapter in its context it might become a bit more clear. For when we do that, we quickly see that verses 7-11 happen at a different time from everything else in this chapter and the surrounding chapters. Verses 7-11, where Moses meets with the LORD face to face are something that happens at a later time, but Moses tells us about it now deliberately before we read about not being able to see God’s face and live in verse 20. Moses is pointing out to us that the LORD of vv. 7-11 is the LORD, and the LORD of v.20 is the LORD, and yet they are two different persons. (You see, Moses does sound like a Christian after all!)

So whose face does Moses see? Well, when Moses goes out to this tent outside the camp to speak with the LORD face to face, ‘the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses’ (Ex. 33:9). How does that help us? Because back in Exodus 14 we read about who was leading Israel in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night – it was the Angel of the LORD (Ex. 14:19), the LORD sent from the LORD – it was Jesus.

So Moses met Jesus in the burning bush. Jesus delivered the children of Israel from Egypt and led them in the pillar of cloud. And Jesus met with Moses face to face and spoke with him in the tent outside the camp. With that evidence, I think we can quite confidently say that Moses knew Jesus.

2) Moses knew the Father

Yet Moses also knew the LORD whose face could not be seen (Ex. 33:20). Let’s go back to Exodus 3 a moment. The Angel of the LORD says something peculiar to Moses. The Angel has already told Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 3:6), and we’ve been told already that Moses speaks to the Angel as God (‘But Moses said to God’ –v.11). Yet, then the Angel says: ‘I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain’ (Ex. 3:12). So the Angel is God (He’s just about to reveal His name as YHWH, Ex. 3:14), yet He’s going to bring the Israelites to that mountain to serve God. The Angel who is God speaks about God in the third person, when He has just spoken about Himself as God in the first person and is just about to speak about Himself as God in the first person again. Interesting.

So what happens when the children of Israel get to that mountain? When they get to the mountain we read one of the most astonishing chapters in the Bible (well, astonishing if you forget that God is and always has been the Triune God) – the chapter with the two LORDs! In Exodus 19 the LORD (who is on the mountain) tells Moses to prepare the people because the LORD is going to descend upon the mountain (Ex. 19:10-11). Then, on the third day when the LORD came down, the LORD called Moses up the mountain, ‘And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the LORD, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.”’ (Ex. 19:21-22). The LORD speaks to Moses about the LORD in the third person. Then in verse 24, the LORD says: ‘But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them.’ (Ex. 19:24). See that – the LORD calls the LORD ‘He’ – not ‘I’, but ‘He’. There are very clearly two LORDs here on Mount Sinai!

So now the LORD whose face can be seen and the LORD whose face can’t be seen in Exodus 33 starts to make more sense, because it’s not the first time we encounter the two LORDs. They’re both there on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, and, in fact, it’s only because of the two LORDs that the identity of the Angel of the LORD in Exodus 3 makes sense – that’s the only way He could be the LORD sent from the LORD to reveal the LORD.

We’ve already seen that the Angel is Jesus, and that it’s Jesus with whom Moses speaks face to face. So the other LORD on Sinai, the One whom the Angel reveals, must be the One whom Jesus reveals. And who is that? ‘No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him’ (John 1:18). ‘Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6). Jesus is the LORD sent from the LORD who reveals the LORD who is the Father.

So that means that the one with whom Moses speaks in Ex. 33, whose face Moses cannot see, but whom Moses knows, whose goodness Moses sees, and who declares His name to Moses, is God the Father.

That means Moses knew the Father and Moses knew Jesus Christ whom the Father sent. And that’s what it is to have eternal life (John 17:3). Moses shared in the same eternal life that we have today. Moses was a Christian. And, since his salvation was the same salvation shared in by all believers in Old Testament Israel, they were Christians too. Eternal life has always been to know Jesus, and through Jesus to know the Father. Our great salvation is the same salvation in Christ, whether in Old Testament or in New.