THE TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS
Matt 22:34-40 But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Also See Mark 12:28-34)
No doubt these Pharisees received some enjoyment when Jesus had put the Sadducees to silence for their disbelief in the resurrection (See Matt. 22:23-33). However, this interlude allowed them to collect their thoughts and continue their own fault-seeking questioning of Jesus' knowledge of the Law of Moses. In doing so, they were tempting Him; trying Him, to find sufficient reason to place Him on trial, convict Him of blasphemy, and have Him slain by governmental authorities. Desiring to present the most difficult and perplexing question before Jesus, they sought out the assistance of one of their own religious scholars, which was a lawyer. The term "lawyer," as it is used here, does not mean one that practices criminal or civil law in courts of justice as we know them. This person was one that had studied under the best instructors of the Law of Moses, had gain great skill in its interpretation, and was constantly sought to mediate and solve disputes among those involved in religious debates. In the corresponding passage, according to Mark, this lawyer was said to be one of the scribes (Mark 12:28). These titles carry the same meaning - they are not two different professional people, but one and the same.
In his attempt to ridicule Jesus, ruin His reputation, and convince the Jewish nation that He was not the promised Messiah, this lawyer posed this question to Jesus: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? In the recording of this event, Mark wrote that the question was, Which is the first commandment of all? The manner in which the question was phrased is not significant because it elicited the same reply from Jesus. No doubt this question caused much debate among the Jewish scholars. Why? Because of the numerous religious laws in the Old Testament, many lawyers/scribes gave many different interpretations of their spiritual meaning. We are told that there are 248 positive laws and 365 that are negative, for a total of 613 laws recorded by Moses that were binding on the Jewish nation, many having meanings over which these scholars disagreed. With so many laws to be obeyed, it seems natural for someone to ask which of these commanded laws was the greatest. However, as we study the lesson text we must keep in mind that their reason for asking this question was not to gain knowledge, but to find a reason to have Jesus put to death, destroy the influence He was gaining among the Jewish people, and restore their self-righteous power of leadership.
When asked which is the great commandment in the law, Jesus answered: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. In Mark's account, the greatest command of God is prefaced with this acknowledgement: Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord (Mark 12:29). This denouncement of all other pagan gods and idol worship was commonly practiced in devotions to God among Jewish religious leaders. In this instance, it should have led these lawyers/scribes to accept this commandment, which teaches the necessity of pure, devoted love for God. This was not a new command but one originally given to the nation of Israel while they were encamped in the Plains of Moab prior to entering the land of Canaan. Looking back at all the laws given to the Jewish nation we find Moses saying that they were designed to honor God by the awesome fear instilled in them by the omnipotent power of God. That message from Moses stated that thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (See Deut. 6:1-9). It was the same teaching as the great commandment recited by Jesus in the lesson text.
Of all of God's 613 laws given to His chosen people through His servant Moses, this one, Jesus told these Jewish lawyers, was the first and great commandment. God is to be loved with a greater, more supreme devotion and adoration than anything or any other being that is known to mankind either in this world or the one to come. All human desires, knowledge, and wisdom are to be sacrificed where they are not in complete agreement with the will of God. It is by this humble act that we are required to demonstrate our completely devoted love for God.
The lawyer requested only the greatest commandment of God, but Jesus adds another of equal importance. He told him, And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. It was not possible for Jesus to recite every deed of necessity and kindness that one owes to his or her fellow man. But when this obligation for others is fulfilled in willing love, the need of others, whatever it may be, will be satisfied by obedience to this second law of God. Every follower of Christ must possess and demonstrate an unconditional, devoted love toward our Heavenly Father, and, likewise, that same love and concern, for their welfare, is required to be demonstrated toward our fellow human beings, referred to here as our neighbors.
Again Mark gives added strength and meaning to these two laws of God when he adds this Holy Spirit-inspired thought: There is none other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:31b). Indeed, this is true because Jesus told this lawyer, as well as us today, that On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Every law written in the Old Testament, all 613 of them, and every law established by Christ Jesus and His inspired apostles and disciples in the Christian era, are founded on, have their roots within, and can be summed up in these two commandments. Indeed, we must unconditionally love God and love our neighbors. How wonderful and joyous it would be if every member of the church of Christ understood and obeyed these two commandments of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. And what a wonderful world it would be if obedience to these two laws was universally true.