34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40 ESV
In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do the things He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn’t believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handled their question.
Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees were quickly followed by the Pharisees, who once again posed a controversial question to Jesus. This time it concerned the Mosaic Law – their area of expertise.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” – Matthew 22:34-36 NLT
This was a common topic of debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, many of which were man-made addendums to the law given to Moses by God. And the people of Israel were expected to keep this staggering list of 615 rules and precepts.
With that many laws, it wasn’t long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, “Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). Yet, over in Exodus, it declares, “…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath” (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So, if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, what were you to do? Take action or rest?
This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear violation of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than they did. And they seriously doubted that He did.
The answer Jesus gave them revealed His authority over the Scriptures.
“’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 NLT
He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV
This is just the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But Jesus points out that there is a second part to the command.
“A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:39 NLT
Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.
What Jesus presented was not new to them, but He instilled these commands with new emphasis and meaning. While love for God is to be supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God will be our love for others. The apostle John reminds us:
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT
Why was this have been so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but actually hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them.
“For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matthew 23:4 NLT
In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves were divided into these two areas. There was to be a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other. They are meant to be reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.
Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT
But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT
Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT
Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.
Fast-forward to Matthew 25:37-40. In this passage, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He used the picture of a shepherd dividing his flock between the sheep and the goats. This is an image of what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith during that time. And their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. These “sheep” will stand before God and receive recognition for their efforts. And they will ask:
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:37-40 NLT
Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will provide evidence that their hearts have been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. Yet all those who failed to do the same were condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It gives evidence that we understand His love for us.
So, how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Since you can’t put your arms around God and show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him by loving those He has made.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. – John 13:35 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.