Moses Preached the Gospel of Jesus to the Israelites

One of the most relied upon passages for evangelism is Romans 10:9.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The Resurrection of Christ, Noel Coypel 1700 (Wikimedia)

Declaring for all to hear what is truly in your heart is a mark of sincere faith. But this concept goes back over 1000 years before Jesus was born.

Old Testament Gospel

Consider Moses. He gave an interesting sermon to the Israelites shortly before he died. He spoke at length of the ways of God and that all they needed to do was follow those ways in order to prosper as God’s people in their new land. The interesting part comes when he spoke of how they could know God’s ways in their own lives.

It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:12-14.)

Moses Receiving the Law, William Blake 1780 (Wikimedia)

Moses Receiving the Law, William Blake 1780 (Wikimedia)

This was radical thinking for people used to religions with gods who kept their distance. Moses said that God’s word was given to them not only in their mouths so they could repeat it as if it were a memorized school lesson, but also in their hearts as if it were a sustainer of life. And in a very real way it is, since the word of God is produced by the Word himself, Jesus.

Moses’ sermon led to the letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, the one that contains that line above about believing and declaring.

But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:6-11.)

Paul told the people in Rome that Moses was speaking of more than merely following the laws God gave the ancient Israelites. Moses was speaking of relationship with God for everyone, whether Jewish and under the Mosaic covenant or non-Jewish and not under the laws Israel was required to follow in order to receive blessings as the earthly nation of God’s people.

The New Testament Gospel for Jews and Non-Jews Alike

In essence, Paul said to those who came from Jewish homes and those who were not Jewish that this promise of God’s word and righteousness living in them was for both of them, and receiving God’s blessing was not dependent on following the laws God gave the Israelites. Paul concluded this passage with the assurance:

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13.)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (Wikipedia)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)

What does this lack of difference mean? It means that Jews and Gentiles both come to Christ the same way, through Jesus’ righteousness. This is clearly seen if you back up in Romans 10 a bit. Paul begins this passage by pointing out the mistake of continuing to try to have a relationship with God by following the laws given to Moses and the nation of Israel.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4.)

When Paul said “Christ is the culmination of the law” he left no room for anyone to say “Yes, but I still need to follow the Jewish laws because I was born Jewish” or “Yes, but I still have to follow some of the Old Testament laws now that I’m a Christian.” Rather:

  • Righteousness is found in Jesus and this righteousness belongs to everyone who believes in him.
  • Salvation is not found in Old Testament laws but in Jesus.

Christ the Culmination of the Law

Paul’s point in referring to Moses’ sermon is to show that this is nothing new. Rather, Moses told the Israelites long ago that righteousness is a gift God gives them in their hearts that they can declare with their mouths. And this is the way for non-Jews as well. Whether Jew or Gentile, believing in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead and declaring with words that Jesus is Lord is the sign of Jesus’ righteousness in you, that you belong to Jesus and have received his salvation.

Moses sure could preach the gospel of Christ, couldn’t he?


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10 Responses to Moses Preached the Gospel of Jesus to the Israelites

  1. Jeannie says:

    This is only tangential to your point here, Tim, but it strikes me that this connection between Moses’ words and Paul’s shows that there is no difference between “the God of the Old Testament” and “the God of the New Testament.” It always bugs me when people talk about God this way, as if He used to be mean and punitive but now He’s kind and merciful. Grace has always been a gift that He gives us out of love and not something we have to earn.

    • Tim says:

      I think that’s right on point, Jeannie. God’s grace is – and always has been – offered to people because of who God is, not because of anything we’ve done.

    • joepote01 says:

      Yes, God is God. He has not changed. His relationship with us has changed through the New Covenant, but His love for us has not changed. Even the New Covenant may be seen as an extension of the Old Covenant…or to put it another way…the Old Covenant may be seen as a precursor to the New Covenant. Because the Old Covenant so clearly points to the coming of the Messiah who would redeem us. In a sense the Old Covenant was based on faith in a future event (Christ’s death, burial and resurrection) whereas the New Covenant is based on the same event having occurred in the past.

  2. I struggle with the idea of “Christ as consummation of the law.” Not in believing it so much, but in the idea that we no longer have to follow any of the law. I know it’s a bit hyperbolic, but does it mean we’re free to hate, murder, commit adultery, steal, etc? My answer to that would be no. How does that not look like following the law though? While I know that we’re not saved by these actions and only by the grace of Christ, I still struggle with this tension. I like your post, but I just struggle with that element.

    • Tim says:

      The law we follow now is what James called the Royal Law, the Law of Love. Paul said the same, that if we love (action, not emotion love) others we are fulfilling the law. Jesus said the same in the two great commandments.

      When people ask me if I am throwing out the law I tell them I am no more antinomian than Paul is. I wrote on it here: The Goodness of the Law – an answer to legalistic doctrine.

      • I follow what you’re saying. My struggle isn’t so much a critique of your position, but rather how to hold to it without presenting an anything goes or a legalistic earn your salvation mentality. It is also a struggle of what to do with the connection between the Old and New Testaments. Even with Jesus’ greatest commandment of loving God and loving our neighbors it is found within the Old Testament Law, it isn’t compiled as neatly as Jesus does in the Gospels and as it is picked up by Paul and others, but still has its origins there.

        If Jesus’s great commandment is connected to the Old Testament, is there to some degree that how we love God and love others is also found within that context? What exactly does the Law of Love look like when lived out? I see people who take very different stances on a variety of issues who both say their position is the “loving” way and disagree that the other person is truly acting out of love. It just is a tension I have a hard time diffusing. Does that make any sense? I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job explaining it.

        • Tim says:

          The difficulty you describe is the same thing I think Paul is trying to get at in Romans 6-8. If you ever distill those chapters to a short and clear summary, I’ll hand over my blog for the day and run it as a guest post, Jeremy!

        • I think that would be no small task, but I do think he is getting at a similar difficulty. If I ever manage to distill those chapters into anything remotely short and clear I’ll let you know.

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