Moses Accuses You: The Willful Rejection of Jesus as Messiah In John's Gospel
I love to answer questions about Scripture, and sometimes the questions I receive require a response that I’d like to share with others. Early this week, someone asked a question about John 5:45-46, which reads,
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.
Two questions arose from this passage. First, who was Jesus speaking to? Second, what did Jesus mean in verse 45 when He said that Moses would accuse them?
Who Was Jesus Speaking To?
John 5:18-19 identifies the audience as “the Jews.” Jesus was not speaking to the Jewish people at large, however. As the context makes clear, Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders, and John often uses “The Jews” as a reference to the religious leaders.
What Did Jesus Mean?
As for Jesus’ statement about Moses, Jesus condemned them in the most offensive way possible. He said that they did not believe Moses. First-century Jews often referred to the first five books of the Bible simply as “Moses,” and Moses, though the Law, was their highest authority. There was nothing more serious to a first-century Jewish religious leader than breaking the Law of Moses.
Jesus’ statement indicates that although the Torah/Pentateuch (First Five Books, aka Moses) pointed to Him, the religious leaders did not believe their witness about Jesus because if they did, they would also believe Jesus and His words. This is an incredible statement for two reasons. First, Jesus places the authority of His words on the same level as the words of the Torah. Second, Jesus’ indictment is not that the religious leaders do not understand the statements in the Torah/Pentateuch that point to Jesus but that they do not believe them. While it’s only hinted in this passage, the theme is developed in other places in John. The scribes, Pharisees, priests, and other religious leaders of Israel knew that Jesus was the Messiah but willfully chose to reject Him.
For instance, compare John chapter 9. In that passage, Jesus heals a man who was born blind. His physical blindness represents spiritual blindness. As the unidentified man is healed, the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders is exposed. The leaders refuse to “see” Jesus as the Messiah, and they make a willful and conscious decision to reject Jesus despite clear signs pointing to Him as the Messiah. In 9:39-41, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for choosing not to see what they know to be true—that Jesus is the Messiah. Because of that, Jesus says, they will face judgment.
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
Notice also that right after the incident in John 5, John records the feeding of the 5,000. When in Israel’s history did God feed a large group of people miraculously? It was in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. Later in John 6, Jesus will connect the feeding of the 5,000 to the miraculous provision of manna. So, as Jesus feeds the 5,000, He demonstrates the power to provide food—His power is even greater than Moses’ power. Moses simply served as a spokesperson for God. It was God who provided the manna in the wilderness. Jesus, however, actually provides the food.
In response to this event, the crowd says in John 6:14,
“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
The crowd is referring to a prophecy of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15,
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
Even the uneducated crowds can see that Jesus is the Messiah, but the religious leaders refuse to see it. They know it, but they choose to reject Jesus. The words of Moses, the Torah, both testify to Jesus as the Messiah and command the people to listen to Him. The religious leaders chose to reject both truths from Moses. Jesus’ response to their rejection is a further allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15 as Jesus says,
“If you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Jesus is condemning their lack of faithfulness to Moses’ command, “it is to him you shall listen.” The religious leaders’ rejection of Jesus is also a rejection of Moses’ command, “It is to him you shall listen.”
Consider one more passage: John 12:42-43. The passage tells us that many of the authorities (religious leaders) believed in Jesus but did not confess Him as the Messiah.
“Many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”
Why did they fail to confess Jesus as Messiah? Because they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God. This is the same indictment given by Jesus in John 5:44, which reads,
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
It was not a lack of understanding which kept them from believing or confessing—it was an idolatrous love of the glory that comes from people and the willful rejection of the glory of God.
There is much more to say about the connection to Moses, willing unbelief, and Jesus’ interaction with the religious leaders. Time and space do not allow us to explore the connection between Jesus’ rejection and Isaiah 6 or the use of Nicodemus as a model for this kind of rejection, and then eventual acceptance, of Jesus as Messiah.
The rejection of Jesus eventually led to His crucifixion. Isn't it ironic that Jesus' rejection led to the event that opens the way for our acceptance into the family of God? It's not really ironic--it's the gospel. Jesus receives what we deserve so that God can give us what Jesus deserved.
May Jesus’ words challenge and encourage us. May they challenge us to search our hearts. Do we love the glory of other people more than the glory that comes from God? Have we rejected the truth God has revealed to us out of willful rebellion?
May they encourage us to recognize and enjoy the unsearchable riches of God’s Word. More is contained within the gospel of John, a simple fishermen turned disciple of Jesus, than can be searched out in a lifetime. And the gospel of John is one of 66 books which compose the Scriptures. Enjoy your quest into God’s Word. You will never be disappointed, and you will never reach the end.