By Joseph Tuttle, Benedictine College
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were waiting for a messiah. This messiah would usher in what the Jews called a New Exodus. This messiah was not meant to be merely a political messiah, he was meant to be a spiritual leader as well. “It was hoped that when the age of salvation finally dawned, God would recapitulate (“or recap”) the events that had transpired during the flight from Egypt.” (Pitre 29) The Jewish people were waiting for four specific things to be fulfilled, so that they would recognize this New Exodus.
The first thing that they expected was a new Moses. In the Old Testament, Moses led his people out of slavery to Egypt, to bring them to the promised land. God sent plagues to Egypt, because Pharaoh would not let God’s people leave. In the end though, the Hebrews left Egypt, guided by Moses. Sadly, Moses died before reaching the promised land, but is still considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. When the Hebrew people are in the promised land, two major events happened. “First in 722 B.C., the ten northern tribes of Israel were taken into exile by the Assyrian empire…” (Pitre 26) The second event was “over a century later, in 587 B.C., the two remaining southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin were likewise taken into exile…by the Babylonian empire.” (Pitre 26) Thus the people of Israel and Judah, were hoping God would send them a deliverer. Moses had actually predicted that God would raise up another prophet like himself. Also according to Jewish tradition, mainly from Rabbi Berekiah, the new prophet would also redeem his people: “As the first redeemer [Moses] was, so shall the latter Redeemer [the Messiah] be.” (Pitre 27) This idea of redemption is fulfilled by Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross. This redemption was a spiritual one, not a physical one.
The second thing the Jews expected was a new covenant. Contrary to popular belief, the real reason for the Exodus, that is the original reason, was not to free the Hebrew people from slavery. It was “…about worship. In the end, it was about establishing a sacred family relationship between God and the people by means of a covenant.” (Pitre 29) It was about spiritual freedom. In fact, as soon as Moses and the people arrived at Mount Sinai, he built an altar, and offered sacrifice, which “…sealed their covenant relationship with God…” (Pitre 29) When establishing the covenant, it did not end with the sacrifice, but it ended with a meal. Unfortunately the people sinned by worshiping the golden calf, and thereafter continued to break the Mosaic covenant with God. “Almost a thousand years after the time of Moses, the prophet Jeremiah would proclaim that God was going to make a new covenant, one that would be even greater than the covenant with Moses…” (Pitre 30)
The third thing that was expected was the building of a new Temple. The first “temple” was in fact a tabernacle, that is, a tent. Moses was given specific instructions for making this tabernacle, which housed the Holy of Holies which was considered God’s presence on earth. Hundreds of years later, King Solomon built a permanent Temple in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, “In 587 B.C., when the Babylonians invaded the promised land, they not only captured the southern tribes of Judah, they also burned the city of Jerusalem, razing the Temple to the ground.” (Pitre 34-35) Later, after the Babylonian exile, the Jews returned to the promised land, and rebuilt the Temple. “Over the course of Israel’s tragic history, the Old Testament prophets had spoken with greater and greater frequency of a future Temple, a new Temple…” (Pitre 35) Also, it must be noted that the new Temple the Jews were expecting, “…would not only recapture the lost glory of Solomon’s Temple but even exceed it.” (Pitre 36)
The fourth element that the Jews expected was the journey to a new promised land. The promised land, also known as the land of Canaan, was originally given to Abraham and his descendants. During a plague though, Joseph a son of Jacob, invited his family to live in Egypt where he was second only to Pharaoh. Eventually, after living in Egypt for about four hundred years, and having been enslaved, the people cry to God, and he ushers in the Exodus. Thus, Moses led the people out of Egypt to the promised land. Joshua finished the job Moses had started and finally brought the Hebrew people back to the promised land. The people then of course underwent the Assyrian, and Babylonian deportations. “…The Old Testament prophets foretold that, there would be a final ‘return to the land,’ a new exodus to a new promised land.” (Pitre 38) This promised land would be even greater than the original promised land. It was also considered to be a new creation. The new exodus “…would involve a journey to a new promised land, and a new Jerusalem.” (Pitre 41) A new heavens, and a new earth. (See Revelation 21)
In the end, the conclusion is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the new exodus. Jesus is the new Moses. He begins His ministry by fasting for forty days; Moses spent forty days on Mt. Sinai. Jesus turned water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana; Moses transformed water into blood as one of the first signs given to pharaoh. Also, as Dr. Pitre points out, Jesus made a new covenant with us at the Last Supper: “On the night before he died, he takes a cup of wine and says, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). (Pitre 45) Thus, Jesus fulfills the new covenant. Jesus is the new Temple, and refers to Himself as even the new Temple, in the Gospel of John: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (RSV John 2:19) John tells us that Jesus was referring to His own Body, which would be “destroyed” (crucified) on Calvary. The Temple was God’s dwelling place on earth; Jesus is God incarnate, He is God’s presence on earth. Finally, Jesus leads us to the new promised land, that is heaven, to union with God, which far exceeds any earthly creation.
Pitre, B., & Hahn, S. (2016). Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (Reprint ed.). Image.
Edited by Noah Torres