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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 17: Matthew 22:1-40, by Kevin M. Williams

But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36).

It is well to remember that the Pharisees expected an ally in the Messiah—whomever that might be (from their perspective). Yeshua agreed with them, at least in principle, in the last debate about the poll-tax. He also disagreed with their enemies, the Sadducees. No doubt, He had piqued their interest anew.

Their question, “which is the great commandment?” was a typical question for rabbis in that day. As for rabbis, they were often challenged to boil the Torah down to a summary statement. Rabbi Paul does it in Galatians 5:14, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” James does so as well in James 2:8, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” Their question was not necessarily so much a challenge to Yeshua’s authority as it was a means of understanding his position—particularly since he had ruffled the feathers of the Sadducees.

Whether discussing Paul, James, or Yeshua, the relevance of the Law—the Torah—is not commuted in any way here, but rather, reinforced (fulfilled) for all time.

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 22:27-40).

Yeshua’s answer comes from part of the most sacred prayer in all Israel, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 in its entirety). Interestingly enough, the second person “You” in this verse is the collective “you,” not the singular. The commandment is for all those listening among the Hebrews and the mixed multitude in their midst, not merely individuals. This was and is what forms the foundation for a Bible-based community.

This Shema remains the most significant prayer in Judaism and is recited daily, at almost all worship services, at prayers and funerals. Yeshua’s answer was an extremely Jewish response, taught to Israelite children as one of the first verses they memorize and last verses they utter before death.

Yeshua was not only establishing a truth for us today, but he was taking a very popular position and establishing himself as a strong, authoritative rabbi. To say, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,” in no way abrogates their importance (as some today teach that the Torah is non-essential), but rather says, “When you apply the Torah and the Prophets to your life and faith, first run your interpretation through this filter: loving God and neighbor. If your conclusion on the Scripture does not satisfy those two requirements, then you have missed the truth and need to go back and re-evaluate your thinking.”

___

The leaders have had their chance to question Yeshua. In part 18 of The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Yeshua asks his examiners a question, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?”

 

Notes

1 Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern, © 1992, Jewish New Testament Publications, p. 16, parenthesis mine.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2005

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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