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The Greatest Commandment
34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
43He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls Him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.”’ 45If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can He be his son?” 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Jesus has had a busy day, answering questions meant to trap Him. This continues: “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’” This question, again, seems to have been one that the Pharisees disputed among each other. Undoubtedly, there were some who preferred one law, and others who preferred others. So again, the asker was certain that Jesus would offend someone with His answer. “The design was to try Him, or tempt Him; to try, not so much His knowledge as His judgment. It was a question disputed among the critics in the law. Some would have the law of circumcision to be the great commandment, others the law of the Sabbath, others the law of sacrifices, according as they severally stood affected, and spent their zeal; now they would try what Christ said to this question, hoping to incense the people against Him” [Henry].
Now, the Pharisees were correct in one thing: there are greater and lesser commandments. However, their discernment as to which are which was faulty. In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus chides them for this: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). It is good for us that they asked this question, no matter how wrong their motives, for now we have the answer. “It drew from our Lord an answer full of precious instruction. Thus we see how good may come out of evil” [Ryle, 292].
Jesus answers the question: “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’” (vss. 37–40). What better answer could there be to this question? “Love is the grand secret of true obedience to God” [Ryle, 293]. Jesus not only answers the question, He gives us a guideline for interpreting the whole law: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Do you have a question about the law of God? Test it using these two commandments. They will point you toward the correct interpretation of the law. You can’t go too far wrong when love for God and your neighbor guides your steps. “Anyone who loves God and people wholeheartedly is not going to come short in religious observances, nor in doing what is proper to other people. In short, when anyone loves in the way Jesus says, there is no need for a host of hair-splitting definitions of when an obligation has been discharged and when it has not” [Morris, 564].
“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?’” (vs. 41–42). After fielding questions from His opposition, Jesus took His turn to ask questions. Jesus’ purpose, though, in asking His questions was different than theirs. He had no desire to trick them, or humiliate them, or show them up. Rather, He asked in order to instruct. “His purpose is not to win a debate but to elicit from them what the Scriptures themselves teach about the Messiah, thus helping people to recognize who He really is” [Carson, 466].
The questions Jesus asked are crucially important for all of us to ponder. The first question, “What do you think about the Christ?”, is so important, that the eternal destiny of each person on earth depends upon his answer to it. Do you consider Christ your Savior and Lord? If so, then you will dwell in heaven forever in the presence of the Lord of the Universe. It is quite an important question, and one that we all must reflect on.
The second question, “Whose son is He?”, is intimately related to the first, and its full and correct answer will steer one to the correct answer to the first. The Pharisees give a partially correct answer: “‘The son of David,’ they replied.” To steer the Pharisees to a fully correct answer to this question, Jesus cites Psalm 110: “He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls Him “Lord”? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’” If then David calls Him “Lord”, how can He be his son?’” Jesus wanted to make clear to the Pharisees (and to us) that He is more than just the son of David. He is the son of God. If the Messiah was merely the son of David, David himself (especially in that culture) would not have called Him “Lord”. “It could only be explained by conceding the pre-existence and divinity of the Messiah” [Ryle, 295]. “Jesus’ question is not a denial of the Messiah’s Davidic sonship but a demand for recognizing how Scripture itself teaches that the Messiah is more than David’s son” [Carson, 468].
Notice also, that in the verse that Jesus cited, the exaltation of the Messiah is noted: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’” The Pharisees were looking to have Jesus the Messiah arrested, and put to death. In the prophecy by David, God will exalt the Messiah to sit at His right hand and put “His enemies under His feet.” By citing this verse, Jesus, it seems, was warning the Pharisees against what they were about to do, letting them know that they, as His enemies, will be put “under His feet.”
Finally note, Jesus affirmed that David was “speaking by the Spirit”. The Bible is more than just human authors spouting opinions. The Bible writers “spoke” by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God directed the writings in the Bible. As Paul told us: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16, AV).