A New Commandment

During His farewell discourse, recorded only in the Gospel of John, Yeshua gave His disciples a new commandment.

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "Many Mansions". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

In the Messianic Era, men will live peaceably with one another. Even the animals will dwell in peace.

All of humanity will live in common fraternity. As the Messiah prepared to depart, He bequeathed the peace and love of the Messianic Era to His disciples. The Gospel of John reports that He gave them a “new commandment” that, if obeyed, would preserve the spirit of His presence among them: “Love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). The new commandment forms one of the topics of the farewell discourse (John 13-17) and appears again at John 15:12 and 15:17.

How can Yeshua give a “new commandment” when the Torah forbids adding and subtracting from the commandments? Moses said, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).

The commandment was new inasmuch as Yeshua Himself bound it upon His disciples, but the commandment was not a new commandment. Rather, it expanded on Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Elsewhere, Yeshua taught His disciples that the other commandments of the Torah hung upon that central command. He considered the commandment of loving one’s neighbor second only to the command to love God.

The new commandment expands upon Leviticus 19:18. Rather than loving one’s “neighbor” (which Yeshua defined broadly as one’s fellow human being), the new commandment refers to loving “one another,” that is, “the brethren,” specifically the other disciples of Yeshua. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Yeshua interpreted Leviticus 19:18 with a universal scope that embraced all of humanity. The love He called for in John 13:34, however, had a narrower focus—an intense devotion and affection for fellow believers.

Leviticus 19:18 calls upon us to love our fellow man as we love ourselves. Rather than loving others merely “as yourself,” the new commandment calls upon the disciple of Yeshua to love his fellow disciple as the Master loved him. In other words, Yeshua calls upon us to love other believers with a love that transcends the basic rules of empathy that are supposed to govern our love for fellow man. We are to love other disciples within the school of Yeshua’s disciples as Yeshua loved us—sacrificially. He demonstrated His love for His disciples in service; setting aside His prestige, He took on the role of a servant, washed their feet, and offered His life in exchange for theirs. The Master’s type of love does not swim in sentimentality, nor does it demand internal, emotional affection; it calls for service, humility, deference, and self-sacrifice:

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

The “new commandment” was not an addition to the Torah. Lichtenstein explains that the commandment can be considered a “new commandment” in that it goes further than Leviticus 19:18 as it calls upon a man to love his neighbor more than his own life:

By this it is a new commandment, for Moses only said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” meaning, “and not more than this.” Therefore R. Akiva ruled in the Talmud: “Your life has precedence over your friend’s life,” but in the view of the Master and as shown in his deeds, the life of your friend has precedence … As Paul says in Romans 5:7, “Even for a righteous person it is difficult for someone to die.” (Commentary on the New Testament)

Yeshua called upon His disciples to love one another as He loved them—sacrificially and impartially. He desired His disciples to distinguish themselves from other schools of discipleship and movements in Judaism by their profound and unshakable love for one another: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Levertoff considers love the defining mark of Yeshua’s followers:

Love was the essential and characteristic keynote of the Messianic fellowship. The Messiah is the personification of divine love. He showed what real love is. Therefore, to imitate Him means to love as He did … Christ’s love is not only an example for the fellowship, but is the power which awakens love in it. His love is powerful because it is God’s Love. (Love and the Messianic Age)

The Master’s “new commandment” made a strong impression on young John the son of Zebedee as he reclined next to the Master. More than half a century after that seder, he still pondered those words, telling his students, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). He reminded his readers that this commandment came from the Master: “Love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23). Even at the end of his life, John continued to admonish his disciples with the words, “Little children, love one another”:

The blessed evangelist John, when he delayed at Ephesus up to the highest old age and could scarcely be carried to church in the hands of his disciples and was not able to put together a statement of several words, used to offer in different sayings nothing but: “Little children, love one another.” At last the disciples and brethren who were present, tired of the fact that they always heard the same thing, said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” John made a worthy response: “Because it was the Master’s command, and if it alone is done, it is enough.” (Jerome, Commentary on Galatians)

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