The Second Great Commandment

We are looking at the last question from the Jewish leaders for our Lord on “Passion Tuesday,” the Tuesday before Christ’s crucifixion.  This is the second part, and seemed a fitting post for today, this year’s “Passion Tuesday.”

If you missed it, you’d better start with The Greatest Commandment from yesterday.  We looked at the question Jesus was asked, and the first half of His answer, the command to love God “with heart and soul and mind and strength.”  I wrote, “This was good, safe, powerful, something any rabbi could approve!”  But now we come to the second part of His answer.

The Second Commandment

Matthew 22:39

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Mark 12:31

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself….

Leviticus 19:18

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

The Pharisees and other religious leaders claimed to love God, with many religious things to cite as proof.  But Jesus said there was a second commandment, one “like” the first — of the same kind, so like the first that they belong together.  Love for one’s neighbour is linked inextricably with love for God.

This was neither so safe nor comfortable for the Pharisees.  Everyone knew of their pride, their harshness towards others, their lack of compassion.  To make this command so central, so vital, to say it was like the first commandment was to condemn Pharisaism as surely as Christ had just crushed Sadduceeism.

When Jesus cited the first commandment, He taught that mental assent to truth needs to be followed by true religion.  Knowing that God is the one true God is good, but if it does not lead to loving Him, you have nothing.  Jesus, with this second command, takes it a step further, teaching that true religion produces right action towards others.  Love for God means love for those around you.

It was true.  Condemning them or not, they had to know it was true.  It also condemned the Sadducees, who were just as arrogant.  Neither group had any place to hide — both commandments were in the Torah, the five books of Moses.  This second commandment destroyed all Jewish religious pride.

The Law and the Prophets

And yet, even now Jesus was not done.

Matthew 22:40

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Mark 12:31

…There is none other commandment greater than these.

Jesus apparently made both of these two closing statements, with Matthew recording one and Mark the other.

The Pharisees derived their lists of commandments from all of Scripture AND traditions, while the Sadducees only gave authority to that which could be demonstrated from the Law.  One added authorities other than Scripture, the other diminished the full authority of Scripture.  Jesus validated all of Scripture (not just the Law) — and only Scripture.

There was thus a dual challenge here to the religious leaders, Sadducee and Pharisee alike.  This second challenge was on authority.  The Scriptures, all of the Scriptures and nothing but the Scriptures, were the authority to which Jesus pointed.

But the first challenge, the great challenge of the greatest commandments, was to love, not just with religious observances, but real love to your neighbour, to those near at hand.  This was not a theoretical command, but a “where-the-rubber-hits-the-road” instruction, hitting them right at the weakest point of their whole theology and practice.

It still hits us today.  Jesus taught what John later made even more direct:

I John 4:19-20

19 We love him, because he first loved us.
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

The Response

Mark 12:32-34

32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

After all the hypocrisy, the flattery, the absurd attempts to score intellectual “points,” we have a wonderful response!  The scribe acknowledged the obvious truth of what Jesus said and applied it beautifully — for Jesus had not mentioned burnt offerings.  A Jewish scribe saw that love for God and love for neighbour is more than all sacrifices.  He showed spiritual discernment that, in shining light, reveals all the darkness and pettiness of the earlier questions, all the absurdity of the rabbinical disputings.

And on this day, when Jesus rebuked, refuted, and confounded the religious leaders, this man alone receives a commendation — and yet, still a challenge.  “Thou art not far….”  For though this man discerned the essence of the Law, such discernment saves no one, bring none into the kingdom of God.  That is something the Law could not do, for no one perfectly keeps those two great commandments.

To see the essence of the Law is only to learn of one’s sin, to see it for what it is, to strip away all our excuses and follies and come down to this — we don’t love God, we don’t love our neighbours.  But to see the essence of the Law does not solve the problem.  Once you learn your disease, if it is curable, “Thou art not far” from health.

This disease, that of the scribe, that of all of us, is indeed curable.  But the cure requires a Saviour — which will bring us to the next question of Crucifixion Tuesday, this time asked not by a Jewish religious leader but instead by the great Son of David.

In answering this question, in responding to this “tempting” scribe who found himself moved to an honest response, Jesus is looking towards the Cross.  The Law, in all its truth and justice, in its very essence, has passed judgment, declaring majestically over all Judaism and all mankind, “Guilty — you have to love, and you don’t.”  The only thing left, the only Hope, is a Saviour, a Cross.

And yet, before we leave this last question which they asked of our Lord, there is a great sadness to be noted here.  “No man after that durst ask Him any questions.”

He’d answered them from the Word of God, every time.  He answered with piercing truth, truth that had laid bare their deceptions and follies, truth that gave the essence of the Law, that showed from the Scriptures they claimed as their own exactly who He was.  They didn’t want that truth.  His answer to this last question stripped away their last pretences.  They didn’t love God, they didn’t obey the most essential commands of His Law, and they didn’t want anything to do with His Son.

They also looked to the Cross.  Jesus looked to the Cross in love — a Saviour was needed, and He must die.  They looked in hatred — they did not believe, and He must die.

Series Summary with links to further articles: “Passion Tuesday” / Crucifixion Tuesday

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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