Mark 12:28–34 (ESV)
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The scribes and Pharisees were (however bad otherwise) enemies to the Sadducees; now one would have expected that, when they heard Christ argue so well against the Sadducees, they would have countenanced him, as they did Paul when he appeared against the Sadducees (Acts 23:9); but it had not the effect: because he did not fall in with them in the ceremonials of religion, he agreeing with them in the essentials, gained him no manner of respect with them. Only we have here an account of one of them, a scribe, who had so much civility in him as to take notice of Christ’s answer to the Sadducees, and to own that he had answered well, and much to the purpose (v. 28); and we have reason to hope that he did not join with the other scribes in persecuting Christ; for here we have his application to Christ for instruction, and it was such as became him; not tempting Christ, but desiring to improve his acquaintance with him.
I. He enquired, Which is the first commandment of all? v. 28.
He doth not mean the first in order, but the first in weight and dignity; “Which is that command which we ought to have in a special manner an eye to, and our obedience to which will lay a foundation for our obedience to all the rest?” Not that any commandment of God is little (they are all the commands of a great God), but some are greater than others, moral precepts than rituals, and of some we may say, They are the greatest of all.
II. Christ gave him a direct answer to this enquiry, v. 29–31.
Those that sincerely desire to be instructed concerning their duty, Christ will guide in judgment, and teach his way. He tells him,
1. That the great commandment of all, which is indeed inclusive of all, is, that of loving God with all our hearts.
(1.) Where there is a commanding principle in the soul, there is a disposition to every other duty.
Love is the leading affection of the soul; the love of God is the leading grace in the renewed soul.
(2.) Where this is not, nothing else that is good is done, or done aright, or accepted, or done long.
Loving God with all our heart, will effectually take us off from, and arm us against, all those things that are rivals with him for the throne in our souls, and will engage us to everything by which he may be honoured, and with which he will be pleased; and no commandment will be grievous where this principle commands, and has the ascendant.
Now here in, Mark, our Saviour prefixes to this command the great doctrinal truth upon which it is built (v. 29); Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; if we firmly believe this, it will follow, that we shall love him with all our heart. He is Jehovah, who has all amiable perfections in himself; he is our God, to whom we stand related and obliged; and therefore we ought to love him, to set our affections on him, let out own desire toward him, and take a delight in him; and he is one Lord, therefore he must be loved with our whole heart; he has the sole right to us, and therefore ought to have the sole possession of us. If he be one, our hearts must be one with him, and since there is no God besides, no rival must be admitted with him upon the throne.
2. That the second great commandment is, to love our neighbour as ourselves (v. 31),
As truly and sincerely as we love ourselves, and in the same instances, and we must show it by doing as we would be done by. As we must therefore love God better than ourselves, because he is Jehovah, a being infinitely better than we are, and must love him with all our heart, because he is one Lord, and there is no other like him; so we must love our neighbour as ourselves, because he is of the same nature with ourselves; our hearts are fashioned alike, and my neighbour and myself are of one body, of one society, that of the world of mankind; and if a fellow-Christian, and of the same sacred society, the obligation is the stronger.
Hath not one God created us? Mal. 2:10. Has not one Christ redeemed us? Well might Christ say, There is no other commandment greater than these; for in these all the law is fulfilled, and if we make conscience of obedience to these, all other instances of obedience will follow of course.
III. The scribe consented to what Christ said, and descanted upon it, v. 32, 33.
1. He commends Christ’s decision of this question;
Well, Master, thou hast said the truth. Christ’s assertions needed not the scribe’s attestations; but this scribe, being a man in authority, thought it would put some reputation upon what Christ said, to have it commended by him; and it shall be brought in evidence against those who persecuted Christ, as a deceiver, that one of themselves, even a scribe of their own, confessed that he said the truth, and said it well. And thus must we subscribe to Christ’s sayings, must set to our seal that they are true.
2. He comments upon it.
Christ had quoted that great doctrine, that the Lord our God is one Lord; and this he not only assented to, but added, “There is none other but he; and therefore we must have no other God besides.” This excludes all rivals with him, and secures the throne in the heart entire for him. Christ had laid down that great law, of loving God with all our hearts; and this also he explains—that it is loving him with the understanding, as those that know what abundant reason we have to love him.
Our love to God, as it must be an entire, so it must be an intelligent, love; we must love him with all the understanding, ex holēs tēs syneseōs—out of the whole understanding; our rational powers and faculties must all be set on work to lead out the affections of our souls toward God.
Christ has said, “To love God and our neighbour is the greatest commandment of all;” “Yea,” saith the scribe, “it is better, it is more than all whole-burnt-offerings and sacrifices, more acceptable to God, and will turn to a better account to ourselves.”
There were those who held, that the law of sacrifices was the greatest commandment of all; but this scribe readily agreed with our Saviour in this—that the law of love to God and our neighbour is greater than that of sacrifice, even than that of whole-burnt-offerings, which were intended purely for the honour of God.
IV. Christ approved of what he said, and encouraged him to proceed in his enquiries of him, v. 34.
1. He owned that he understood well, as far as he went; so far, so good.
Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, and was the more pleased with it, because he had of late met with so many even of the scribes, men of letters, that answered indiscreetly, as those that had no understanding, nor desired to have any. He answered nounechōs—as one that had a mind; as a rational intelligent man, as one that had his wits about him; as one whose reason was not blinded, whose judgment was not biassed, and whose forethought was not fettered, by the prejudices which other scribes were so much under the power of. He answered as one that allowed himself liberty and leisure to consider, as one that had considered.
2. He owned that he stood fair for a further advance;
“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God, the kingdom of grace and glory; thou art in a likely way to be a Christian, a disciple of Christ. For the doctrine of Christ insists most upon these things, and is designed, and has a tendency direct, to bring thee to this.”
Note, There is hope of those who make a good use of the light they have, and go as far as that will carry them, that by the grace of God they will be led further, by the clearer discoveries God has to make to them.
What became of this scribe we are not told, but would willingly hope that he took the hint Christ hereby gave him, and that, having been told by him, so much to his satisfaction, what was the great commandment of the law, he proceeded to enquire of him, or his apostles, what was the great commandment of the gospel too. Yet, if he did not, but took, up here, and went no further, we are not to think it strange; for there are many who are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet never come thither.
Now, one would think, this should have invited many to consult him: but it had a contrary effect; No man, after that, durst ask him any question; everything he said, was spoken with such authority and majesty, that everyone stood in awe of him; those that desired to learn, were ashamed to ask, and those that designed to cavil, were afraid to ask.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible