Understanding the Red Letters Part 6
“One of them, a lawyer [i.e. an expert in the Mosaic law], asked Jesus a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ 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.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’ “ (Matthew 22:35-40).
Please look at this passage carefully. Please keep in mind exactly what this lawyer is asking, “Teacher, which is the great commandment IN THE LAW?” This is an Old Testament Law question. This is an old covenant question. And Jesus delivers an old covenant response. How do we know these two commandments are an old covenant answer?
Not only is the question law-focused, but look at the end of Jesus’ answer. “On these two commandments depend THE WHOLE LAW AND THE PROPHETS” (Matthew 22:40). Remember, the “Law and the Prophets” is Jesus-speak for the old covenant. Jesus made this clear in Luke 16:16, “The Law and the Prophets (the old covenant) were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God (the new covenant) has been preached (by Me, Jesus).” The Law and the Prophets refers to the old covenant.
As we have been seeing in this series, not everything Jesus said is new covenant. And here is an example. Jesus answered a Law question with a Law answer. Jesus answered a Law question with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 for commandment one and from Leviticus 19:18 for the second.
So why do we hear over and over that these are the greatest commandments in the New Testament and as such should be the greatest commandments for New Testament saints to follow? Remember, the New Testament is for the most part describing the new covenant. But some of the New Testament is introductory material to the coming new covenant and as such is not all meant for us to follow. And this is one of those places.
I think these two commandments are held up as standards for us today because they sound like a good idea and preachers are not reading the gospels carefully. We like to parse the words of Jesus to fit our thinking, rather than just let Jesus say what He said. Jesus identified these two commandments as old covenant; a covenant, by the way, that has disappeared (II Corinthians 3:11) and is now obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
Yes, these two commandments are located in what we call the New Testament, but they are not new covenant commands as Jesus made clear. They do not apply to you and I, new covenant saints. Wait, wait, wait, are we saying loving God is not part of our new covenant walk? We will explore this with an answer that may surprise you next time.