Three 40s: Comparing Moses and Jesus


John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John writes that Moses and Jesus had different ministries. Moses had the ministry of the law. Jesus had the ministry of grace and truth.

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says that Moses was the minister of the old covenant, the letter. Paul says that “the letter kills.” Therefore, he called Moses’ ministry “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone” and “the ministry of condemnation.”

While the law came through Moses, Paul says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us.” Paul says that God made him sufficient to be a minister of a new covenant that didn’t come from himself. Paul participated in the ministry of Jesus, which is of the Spirit and not the letter. The ministry of the Spirit gives life, while the letter kills. The ministry of the Spirit is one of righteousness and not condemnation.

So, there is quite a difference between the ministry of Moses and the ministry of Jesus. But, there were some interesting parallels in the lives of Moses and Jesus that help draw out their distinctive ministries.

Let’s look at three periods of 40 years in the life of Moses, who stands for the law, and compare it with three 40 day periods in the life of Jesus, who is grace and truth.


God did not allow Moses to take the people into the promised land. That’s because Moses represents the law, the letter. And, as we saw above, the letter kills.

Because the law could not lead Israel into life, God told Moses to summon, or call, Joshua in the sight of all Israel. In Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Moses called Joshua and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Joshua, who is a type of Jesus, was to lead the people into the promised land. The promised land is a picture of the life of God, eternal life, that we can have now. Jesus, not the law, leads us into the life of God.

Then, Moses and Joshua presented themselves before the tent of meeting, the tabernacle. At the tent of meeting, God commissioned Joshua. That is, God sent Joshua to lead Israel into the promised life. When God commissioned Joshua, he said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:23)

It’s interesting that God commissioned, or sent, Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land just before Moses died. I believe this is a picture of God sending Jesus to Israel just before the law was coming to an end so that Jesus could lead Israel, and us, into eternal life.

Notice that Deuteronomy 31:3 says that “Joshua will go over at your head.” Paul says that “the head of every man is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) Ephesians 1:22 says God “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” And, Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church.”

Joshua the son of Nun, which means the son of life, would lead Israel into the promised land as the head. What does it mean that Joshua, the son of Life, was the head of the people as they entered the land? It means he was the source of what Israel would need to enter the land. Therefore, Jesus is the source of what we need to enter life. In Colossians 2:19, Paul says that it is the head “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”


Deuteronomy 32:48-49 says, “That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain of Abraim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan.” It was on this mountain that Moses was to die.

This is an interesting spot for Moses, the law, to die.

Abarim can mean men and women. Nebo most likely means a prophet. Moab possibly means who is your father, what is your father. If we put all of that together, then Moses died in the place that is the prophet of the people asking who and what is your father.

This calls to mind Galatians 3:23-26, which says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

Israel was held captive under Moses, the law, until Joshua, the son of Life, a type of Jesus, was sent to take them into the promised land. Moses, the law, was a guardian or schoolmaster,. Under Moses, the law, we ask who or what is our Father?

But, Joshua was made the head to lead Israel into the promised land. And, it was Jesus that made us all sons of God. Jesus, not the law, answers our question of who and what the Father is. We come to know this through faith.

Also, it’s interesting that Moses died opposite Jericho. Jericho means a place of fragrance or his sweet smell. Joshua won his first battle at Jericho. On the cross, the place of Jesus’ victory, Jesus offered up a pleasing aroma to the Lord as the burnt offering.

That Moses, the law, the ministry of death, stood opposite Jericho when he died brings to mind what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:14-16. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Those under the law are perishing. To them the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ, the sweet smell of Jericho, is a fragrance from death to death. Those perishing under the law say, “Who wants that?” The law stands opposite, or against, that sweet smell of Christ’s offering. But, for those that are saved, that are in Christ, the fragrance of Christ, the sweet smell of Jericho, is a fragrance from life to life.


What is the significance that Moses died at 120 years old?

The number 120 is 10 times 12.

The number 10 represents several concepts in the Bible – testimony, law, and completeness of order. Everyone knows there are 10 commandments. Also, God created the heavens and the earth with 10 statements. In Genesis 1, “God said” appears 10 times.

Also, the number 12 represents several concepts in the Bible – God’s power, authority, government, and people. Gates are the seat of a city’s government in the Bible. There are 12 gates in the New Jerusalem. There are 12 sons of Jacob, which became the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus chose 12 disciples. And, Jesus’ first recorded words were spoke at the age of 12.

Because Moses stands for the law, I think we should see the number 120 as the law (10) over Israel (12). Moses death at 120 years of age symbolizes the end of the law over Israel. For Moses, the law, dies and Joshua, the son of Life, leads the people into the promised land.

When Jesus was on the cross he completed the law and brought it to an end. From the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) And, it was after his death and resurrection that Jesus was made the head of the church, his body, to lead us into eternal life.

What’s even more interesting about Moses dying at 120 years of age is that his life was broken up into three 40 year periods. And, Jesus’ life contains three 40 day periods. Let’s compare them.


Moses was born under a sentence of death (Exodus 1:16). Pharaoh had commanded that all the male children born to Israel should be drowned in the river. Moses’ parents saved him by putting him in an ark in the Nile for Pharaoh’s daughter to find.

We are told about Moses’ first 40 years in Acts 7:20-22. “At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.”

Moses was separated from Israel, from God’s people, and grew up under the instruction and wisdom of the Egyptians. Egypt represents the system and ways of the world in the Bible. Could it be that because Moses was instructed in the ways of the world and that is why the law came through him?

At 40 years of age, Moses saw an Israelite being oppressed by an Egyptian. Moses killed the Egyptian, hoping that the Israelites would know that he was going to deliver them. Moses thought he could bring Israel out of Egypt through violence. But, the next day, Moses saw two Israelites quarreling with each other. He asked them why they were quarreling since they were brothers. The two men asked who had made Moses a ruler over them and if he wanted to kill them like the Egyptian. So, Moses fled into exile to the land of Midian.

Let’s compare that with the first 40 day period of Jesus’ life.

Shortly after Jesus was born, Herod put all the male children of Israel under a sentence of death (Matthew 2:16). Like Moses’ parents but with a twist, Jesus’ parents saved their son by taking him to Egypt (Matthew 2:13).

But, Jesus’ first 40 days took place before the sentence of death was handed down by Herod. We read about his 40 days in Luke 2:1-35. Unlike Moses, whose first 40 years ended with him murdering a man in an attempt to lead Israel out of Egypt, Jesus’ first 40 days were marked by peace and sacrifice.

When Jesus was born there was “with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14) Jesus’ birth was marked by a declaration of peace from the angels.

Then, “at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21) Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day according to the law. And, he was given the name Jesus, which means the Lord saves. Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. Jesus would be the one to lead the people into eternal life and peace with God.

The next thing we are told about in Luke is the end of the first 40 days of Jesus. Luke 2:22-24 says, “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Note that Moses was not the first male to open the womb of his mother as he had an older brother Aaron. But, Jesus was the first male child of Mary. Therefore, Moses was not called holy to the Lord, but Jesus was.

Luke is referring to the law of purification for a woman after giving birth. When we were reading through Leviticus, I wrote a post about this law – Why is the Purification for a Woman Twice as Long for a Daughter than a Son? You can read all the details of the law in the post, but the basic idea is that the woman was to be cleansed for the shedding of blood by consecrating the son. Mary and Jesus literally fulfilled this law. But, the greater fulfillment was by Israel and Jesus. Israel was the woman that gave birth to a son but killed the son and needed to be cleansed from her shedding of blood.

Moses spent his first 40 years in Egypt. He was separated from Israel and given to Egypt to be instructed in the wisdom of the the Egyptians, or the world. But, at the end of his first 40 days, Jesus was taken to Jerusalem, to the temple, to be separated from the world for Israel.

So, while Moses first 40 years ended with him shedding the blood of another, Jesus’ first 40 days ended with his symbolic consecration, in reality his death, to cleanse Israel for the shedding of its blood.

So, we see that Moses’ first 40 years was the ministry of death and Jesus’s first 40 days was the ministry of life.


At the end of his first 40 years, Moses fled in exile to Midian because it had been found out that he killed an Egyptian. Interestingly, Midian means strife or place of judgment. Moses fled Egypt because of the strife that he caused. He fled to Midian to be judged for his attempt to set Israel free from Egypt by violence.

Moses was in exile in Midian for the next 40 years. What was he doing in Midian all that time? Exodus 3:1 tells us that Moses was tending the flock of sheep of his father-in-law.

That’s quite a contrast, considering Moses had been a prince in Egypt. He had access to all the wealth and pleasures of the world. Hebrews 11:25 says that he refused to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Therefore, the second 40 years of Moses was for the purpose of humbling him so that he would trust God as God used him to lead Israel out of Egypt. While Moses learned humility and became known as the man more meek (more humble) than any other man on the face of the earth, he didn’t lead as God would lead.

When the burden of leadership got too hard for Moses, he turned to his father-in-law, Jethro, a pagan priest, for advice. Jethro’s advice is recorded Exodus 18:21-23. “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they decide themselves. So, it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

Do you see what Jethro told Moses to do? He told Moses to share the burden of leading by setting up a hierarchy. Exodus 18:24 says, “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all the he had said.” It’s generally not a good thing in scripture when someone listens to a voice other than God’s. That is true here.

Moses, as the law, ruled over Israel in a hierarchy at the word of man. This is how the Gentiles rule, lording it over each other. Pride leads the Gentiles to do this. In Exodus 33:7-11, we see how Moses would set the tent of meeting far outside the camp so that when it came time for him to talk with God Moses could proudly strut in front of everyone. It’s an interesting read to note all the times that Moses was walking in pride.

And, remember what Paul said about the law in Galatians 3:23 – “we were held captive under the law, imprisoned.” In addition to lording it over us, the law condemns. Romans 5:18 says, that “one trespass led to condemnation for all men.”

Let’s compare that to the second 40 day period of Jesus’ life.

In his second 40-day period, Jesus was in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). What was Jesus doing during this 40-day period? He was learning the cost of obedience to do his Father’s will. That is just what Moses was learning tending sheep in Midian. But, the result for Jesus was very different.

Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Moses created a hierarchy that he sat at the top of to share the burden of leadership. Jesus became a servant, a slave, to bear our sins on the cross alone.

Jesus said there would be no hierarchies in his kingdom. In Luke 22:25-27, Jesus says, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

And, the night before he was crucified, Jesus gave the disciples and us a living example of what he meant when he took a towel, tied it around his waist, and washed the feet of the disciples. In John 13:13-15 says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

So, we see that Moses’ second 40 years was the ministry of condemnation and Jesus’s second 40 days was the ministry of righteousness.


Moses’ third 40 years is spent wandering in the wilderness with Israel. It’s during this time that Moses teaches Israel the law. Everything about the law was related to external requirements, actions that Israel should not do. But, as we saw above, the law was not able to lead Israel into the promised land. Moses, the law, the old covenant of the letter, died in the wilderness.

Moses’ ministry of letters written on tablets of stone was an external ministry. Deuteronomy 31:25-26 says, “Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.” The law was outside the ark, the dwelling place of God’s presence.

Jesus’ third 40 days was after he was resurrected. Acts 1:3 says, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” In Luke 24, Jesus was translating all the scriptures – the law, the prophets, and the psalms – for the disciples so that they would know grace and truth, for they came through him. Jesus was showing the disciples how the external realities of the old covenant were translated into internal truths in the new covenant.

At the end of this 40 day period, Jesus ascended to the Father and became the head of the church, his body. Christ became the head of every man. Jesus became the only mediator between God and man. No more hierarchies.

And, just after this 40 day period, Jesus sent the promised Holy Spirit to dwell inside the hearts of all men. This is why Paul says to the believers in 1 Corinthians 3:3, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone  but on the tablets of human hearts.” “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

So, we see that Moses’ third 40 years was the ministry of the letter that kills and Jesus’s third 40 days was the ministry of the Spirit that gives life.


Moses, the law, died at 120 years of age just before Israel entered into the promised land. But, when the Spirit fell, there were 120 disciples waiting to be filled by the life of God.

What an ironic twist!

Now, instead of 120 representing the law over the people that died, the 120 disciples represent God’s power and authority through Jesus in his people (12) to complete his order (10) of the new creation. Isn’t that what the book of Acts is all about?

Therefore, the kingdom would be established not through a ministry of death, condemnation, and the letter that kills. Rather, it would be established through a ministry of life and righteousness from Jesus Christ by the Spirit.

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