This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” – Acts 7:37 (ESV)
The person speaking in this verse is Stephen, who is historically recorded as the first Christian martyr, though the first martyr, in terms of the laying down of a life for the sake of the message of the Gospel, was Jesus Himself. Stephen was one of the first “deacons” or “servants” of the church, and was said to be “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:5b). This Stephen, who was also said to be “full of grace and power,” and by this grace and power “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (5:8), found himself in a dispute with some people of a particular synagogue that disagreed with the message that he was preaching. That message, naturally, was the root of the message of the Gospel, which was that Jesus was the Messiah. The author reports that, finding themselves unable to “withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (5:10), “they secretly instigated men who said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God” (5:11). Due to that accusation, Stephen was brought before the council.
The verse above is taken from the speech that Stephen made, in his own defense, before the council. This man that was accused of uttering blasphemies against Moses and God, interestingly enough, spent a great deal of time talking about Moses, culminating in quoting Moses saying “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” So this begs the question: Did this happen? Was this an accurate statement on the part of Moses (or, at least, on the part of the biographer of Moses)? Obviously, this is what Stephen is said to have believed, which informs us that this was a belief held by the earliest of believers. Concordantly, it can also be reasonably believed to be so.
Thus, believers in Jesus as the Messiah hold that this statement was brought about in the person of Jesus, and that He is ultimately the referent of Moses’ statement. Thus, in ascertaining the full scope of Stephen’s mindset (and therefore that of the earliest believers and the author of the text, who was Luke), it is quite worthwhile to take a look into what Stephen said as a precursor to the statement of our Scriptural text.
Stephen says that when Moses “was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel” (7:23). Moses made this decision from his position as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, having been raised in the house of the ruler of Egypt. Essentially, Moses divests himself of his position. Jesus also, at a certain time (and as was said of Him very early in the history of Christianity) “made Himself nothing,” took “the form of a servant” and was “born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). The one known as the Son of God left His eternal throne to visit the people of God’s covenant, which was Israel. In addition to that, we know that Jesus began His ministry at a specific age (around the age of thirty); and in that ministry, as He traveled throughout the length and breadth of Israel, He most certainly visited His brothers, the children of Israel.
Stephen continues on about Moses and says, “And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian” (7:24). Can we not see this, in a manner of speaking, in the life of Jesus as well? Though Jesus did not strike down any individual, just as Moses struck down an oppressor of His people, seeing his brother being wronged, whenever Jesus encountered sickness, disease, demon possession, and sometimes even death, He sprung into compassionate action on behalf of the one being wronged, and struck down the oppressive affliction.