Which is the Greatest Commandment?: Jesus’ unique answer

Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ Preaching, called La Petite Tombe; Etching, engraving, and drypoint; 1657.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

“Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” This was a common question in Jesus’ day, as well as before and after. It was understood as one of the most important questions to be answered and would tell all who were listening where Jesus stood on what mattered most.

Many answers to this question were given over the history of rabbinical interpretation, seeing summaries of God’s law in:

  • Psalm 15, which begins “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?”
  • Isaiah 33:15-16 – which outlines six characteristics of the life lived well
  • Micah 6:8, which speaks of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God
  • Isaiah 56:1, which calls people to “Maintain justice and do what is right”
  • Amos 5:4, “Seek me and live”
  • Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness,” or “by faith”

Jesus’ response is interesting for many reasons. First, unlike any other proposed response listed above, Jesus draws His answer directly from the Torah, the literal law of Moses, and not elsewhere. Second, Jesus summarizes both tables of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, which speak of responsibility to God and responsibility to neighbor. Third, Jesus makes love the central active force of response to God, and not just legal obligation or certain activities. Fourth, Jesus’ answer is apparently unique. We do not have any record of other rabbis or teachers before Jesus’ time bringing these two commandments together. It may exist, but we do not have any record of it.

Jesus’ teaching is full of wisdom and insight. It’s hard not to long for more of what He says. As Paul the Apostle tells us, in Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Questioning Jesus

This past weekend at Eastbrook, as we continues our preaching series during Lent entitled “Scandalous Jesus,” we looked at the final two in a series of questions-answer exchanges Jesus has in Jerusalem. Found in Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus first responds to a question about the greatest commandment from a Pharisee (22:34-40) and then poses His own question from Psalm 110 about whose son the Messiah is (22:41-45).

These questions bring us to an encounter with the question of Jesus we all must answer: “Who do you say I am?”

This message is from the ninth part of our longer journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” “Stories of the Kingdom,” “Who Do You Say I Am?“, “‘Tis the Reason,” and “Jesus Said What?!

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’” (Matthew 22:35-36)

Questions and Jesus

The context of the questions: “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15)

Question 1: Pharisees – “should we pay the Roman poll tax?” (22:16-22)

Question 2: Sadducees – “how does marriage work in the resurrection?” (22:23-33)

Question 3: Pharisees – “which is the greatest commandment?” (22:34-40)

Question 4: Jesus – “whose son is the Messiah?” (22:41-45)

The end of the questions: “from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions” (22:46)

Which is the Greatest Commandment? (22:34-40)

The nature of the question

  • This was a common question
  • Other answers given

Jesus’ response

  • The centrality of love (not just certain activities)
  • Drawn from the Torah (not elsewhere)
  • Summarizing two tables of the Decalogue (relationship to God and others)
  • The uniqueness of Jesus’ answer (no clear parallels)

Responding to Jesus’ teaching on the Greatest Commandment

Whose Son is the Messiah? (22:41-45)

The question Jesus brings

The context of Psalm 110 (echoes in the book of Hebrews)

The typical answer that Jesus sets aside

The redefining of the Messiah in Jesus

Responding to the identity of Jesus


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Matthew 22:37-40
  • Dig deeper into this theme of love for God and love for others by reading 1 Corinthians 13 or 1 John (the entire book). What do these portions of Scripture tell you about God’s love and the calling to love others?
  • Read Psalm 110 or the epistle of Hebrews to more deeply understand how Jesus comes as the answer to all Israel’s messianic longings.
  • Consider reading Scot McKnight’s book The Jesus Creed for a deeper dive into Jesus’ distinctive teaching on the greatest commandment.

Pictures of the Kingdom

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continues our preaching series entitled “Scandalous Jesus,” that parallels our journey of Lent. This week, I turned our attention to three parables of Jesus in Matthew 21:28-22:14:

  • The Father and His Two Sons
  • The Vineyard and the Tenants
  • The Wedding Banquet

Each of these parables echo two major themes:

  • Jesus brings a great reversal in God’s kingdom
  • Jesus reveals the risks of religious apathy and blind reassurance

This message is from the ninth part of our longer journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” “Stories of the Kingdom,” “Who Do You Say I Am?“, “‘Tis the Reason,” and “Jesus Said What?!

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you….I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21:31, 43)

Introduction

A group of three enacted parables (21:1-22)

A group of three spoken parables (21:28-22:14)

Two themes:

  • Jesus brings a great reversal in God’s kingdom
  • Jesus reveals the risks of religious apathy and blind reassurance

A Father and Two Sons (21:28-32)

Characters: The Father, Son #1, Son #2 and the Vineyard 

Great reversal: Prostitutes and tax collectors are entering God’s Kingdom ahead of the apparently religious

Risk: Failure to repent and believe risks exclusion.

 Response: Letting our need lead us to Christ.

The Vineyard (21:33-44)

Characters: Landowner, the tenants, two groups of servants, the son of the landowner

Great reversal: The fruitless tenants will be destroyed and the land given to someone else

Risk: Rejecting Jesus and God’s fruit leads to rejection by God

 Response: Opening ourselves fully to Christ.

The Wedding Banquet (22:1-14)

Characters: King, the servants, those invited, those gathered (including the poorly dressed guest)

Great reversal: The invited will be rejected and replaced with unlikely others

Risk: rejecting God’s summons leads to rejection; responding without what’s due is costly

 Response: Hearing God’s summons and responding fully.


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Matthew 21:42 or 21:43 or 22:9-10
  • Draw, ink, or paint one or more of the parables in this section of Scripture. As you depict these scenes or episodes in your own way, take time to talk with God about what He is speaking to you. 
  • Consider watching the Bible Project video “How to Read the Parables of Jesus” 

Scandalous Jesus – a new series at Eastbrook Church

This coming Sunday at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Scandalous Jesus.” This series traces the journey of Jesus in Jerusalem from His triumphal entry through His crucifixion.

This series also parallels the season of Lent and you are welcome to join in with the Lenten devotional we pull together every year written by the Eastbrook community. You can access the devotional online, as a downloadable PDF, via the Eastbrook app, or through a limited-run of paper copies.

This is the ninth part of our long series on Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” “Stories of the Kingdom: parables of Jesus,” “Who Do You Say I Am?“, “‘Tis the Reason,” and “Jesus Said What?!

Join us each weekend of this series in-person or via Eastbrook at Home.

Here are the weekly topics for this six-part series:

March 6 – “Unlikely King” – text: Matthew 20:17-19; 21:1-11

March 13 – “The Withering of the Old Ways” – text: Matthew 21:12-27

March 20 – “Pictures of the Kingdom” – text: Matthew 21:28-22:14

March 27 – “Questioning Jesus” – text: Matthew 22:15-46, focusing on 34-46

April 3 – “The Woes of the Religiously Misguided” – text: Matthew 23:1-38

April 10 [Palm Sunday] – “And So It Begins” – text: Matthew 26:1-16

Jesus on Divorce and Marriage

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our preaching series entitled “Jesus Said What?!” by turning to another tough topic: divorce and marriage. But is that really the only point of these passages? We look at two important passages on these topics in Matthew 19:1-12 and Matthew 22:23-33.

This message is from the eighth part of our longer journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” “Stories of the Kingdom,” “Who Do You Say I Am?“, and “‘Tis the Reason.”

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)

The First Test (Matthew 19:1-12)

The hostile question from the Pharisees (19:3)

Background on divorce in Jesus’ day

Starting in the right place:

  • First principles: Genesis 1:27; 2:24 (19:4-6)
  • Second principles: Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (19:7-9)

The disciples’ shock and the invitation to celibacy for the kingdom (19:10-12)

Key points:

  • The issue of divorce
  • The approach to questions
  • The deeper issue of hard hearts

The Second Test (Matthew 22:23-33)

The hostile question and parable from the Sadducees (22:23-28)

Background on levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

Jesus’ first response (22:29-30)

Jesus’ second response (22:31-32)

Key points:

  • The issue of remarriage and resurrection
  • The approach to questions/debates
  • The deeper issue of disregard for Scripture and God’s power

Responding to Jesus

God and Our Relationships

Questions and MotivationsHearts and Minds


Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Matthew 19:6 or 22:32
  • Take time alone with God this week to let God search your heart and mind. Like the Pharisees, have you become hard-hearted? Like the Sadducees, are you disregarding God’s Word or power?
  • Pray about relationships this week. If married, pray for God’s grace and power in your marriage. If single, pray you might live for God’s glory in your singleness. If desiring marriage, pray the Lord would provide a spouse who honors Him but also for true contentment. If divorced, pray for healing from the wounds and scars of divorce. Regardless, ask God to minister to our church so that in all our relationships we would seek Him first.