Matthew 22:37–40: On These Two Hang . . .
But let’s go back to our text in Matthew 22:37–40. Here Jesus DOES mention both love for God and love for neighbor; and he explicitly says (in v. 40), “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”Why? I want to suggest that he is saying something different here than in those other texts (Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8, 10). Here he does not say that these two commandments “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets, or that they “are”the Law and the Prophets. He says that the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. Verse 40:
On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
Now this is a window into heaven, if you have eyes to see. When he says here that the Law and the Prophets depend (literally: “hang,” like a stone around the neck, or a snake on the hand, or a man on a cross) on love, this is the reverse of what those other texts were saying. They were saying that the Law and Prophets lead to and find expression and fulfillment in love. But here in Matthew 22:40 Jesus is saying the reverse: love leads to and finds expression in the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets are hanging on—depending on—something before them, namely, God’s passion that this world, this history of humankind, be a world of love to God and radical, other-oriented love to each other.
Let me see if I can put this in a picture, so that you can see it more plainly. It is so important, if we are going to grasp the magnitude of the significance of love in our midst, as we move forward into the practical expressions of it in our preaching and in our life together at Bethlehem.
Let’s picture the inspired history of redemption from creation to consummation as a scroll like the one John saw in Revelation 5. This is the Law and the Prophets (and the New Testament). The story of God’s acts and purposes in history are told in this scroll, along with God’s commandments and promises. Matthew 7:12 and Romans 13:8–10 tell us that, when the people of God love their neighbor as they love themselves, the purpose of this scroll is being fulfilled. Its aim is being expressed visibly, manifested practically so “that people can see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So the scroll is leading to love. Love is flowing from the scroll.
But then Jesus gives us an incredible perspective. He lifts us out of history and out of the world for a moment and shows us the scroll from a distance. Now we can see it whole—the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament, the story of redemption, the purposes and acts of God in history. And what we see is that the scroll is hanging by two golden chains, one fastened to each end of the scroll handles. And Jesus lifts our eyes to heaven, and we see the chains run up and disappear into heaven.
Then he takes us up to heaven. And he shows us the ends of the chains. They are fastened to the throne of God. One chain is fastened to the right arm of the throne where the words are inscribed: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.” And the other chain is fastened to the left arm of the throne where the words are inscribed, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And Jesus turns to us and says, “The whole scroll, the whole Law and the Prophets, the whole history of redemption and all my Father’s plans and acts hang on these two great sovereign purposes of God—that he be loved by his people, and that his people love each other.”
I believe it would not be too much to say that all of creation, all of redemption, all of history hang on these two great purposes—that humans love God with all our heart, and that from the overflow of that love we love each other.
Which means that love is the origin (Matthew 22:40) and the goal (Romans 13:8, 10) of the Law and the Prophets. It is the beginning and the end of why God inspired the Bible. It’s the fountainhead and spring at the one end, and the shoreless ocean at the other end of the river of redemptive history—remembered and promised in the Word of God.