Jesus as Liberation from Systemic Injustice (Part 2 of 3)

Jesus as Liberation from Systemic Injustice (Part 2 of 3) February 15, 2023

Jesus as Liberation from Systemic Injustice


As we continue our consideration of Jesus as liberation from systemic injustice, let’s talk about how the various transfiguration stories in the gospels emphasize Moses and Elijah differently. Mark’s gospel states, “There appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:4). Mathew reverses the order, placing Moses first: “Then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

For Mark’s intended audience, it was important to emphasis Elijah. Shortly afterward, he characterized John the Baptist’s renewal movement as a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy: See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:5-6).

The prophet Elijah called out the apostasy of elites who he felt were leading the people away into harm. Elijah paralleled how Mark’s audience interpreted John the Baptist. In the spirit of Elijah, John called out the elite of his era, their complicity with the Roman Empire, and the destructive effects of that complicity on the small rural farming communities of Judea, Galilee, and surrounding regions, as well as the poor in more urban areas.

So I understand why Mark places Elijah first.

But our passage this week is from Matthew, and Matthew switches the order to emphasize Moses. There are so many parallels between the story of Moses on the mountain and Matthew’s story of Jesus on this mountain. Again, it is much more intrinsically life-giving to see Jesus’ and Moses’ liberation work as the primary parallel. The often repeated replacement theory is that, as Moses once gave commandments, so too Jesus gave commandments that we are to follow instead.

But Matthew’s intended audience would have interpreted Jesus’ teachings in harmony with the laws of Moses (see Matthew 5:17). Moses as lawgiver is not the primary parallel we should emphasize here. Rather we should recognize Moses as the one who stood for the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery. Moses the liberator from foreign oppression was the parallel to Jesus that Matthew’s gospel tried bring to mind for its audience of Jewish poor and rural farmers who desperately longed to be liberated from Roman oppression.

So Jesus doesn’t replace Moses. Jesus is another Moses. Jesus stood in relation to Roman oppression the way Moses stood in relation to Egyptian oppression in the Hebrew folklore.

Next we’ll consider parallels that Matthew creates to call to mind liberation images of Moses:

(Read Part 3)





About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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