New Commandment: Why Did Jesus Give It?

Jesus Christ gave His commandment-keeping disciples “a new commandment.” What element of it was new? Has it replaced God’s 10 Commandments?

What is the “new commandment”?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). The command to love others was not new, but Jesus magnified it by adding the spirit of the law, that we be motivated to love each other with the self-sacrificing godly love that Jesus showed.

Context of the “new commandment”

On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus Christ used the expression little children to lovingly refer to His disciples as He prepared them for His imminent departure.

He was aware that His work on earth was rapidly coming to an end. He was very much conscious of His imminent suffering, death and resurrection, and His eventual departure to His Father in heaven. His affection for them is clear in the following verses, which He also used to teach them—and His Church down the ages—a lesson in Christian love.

“Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you” (John 13:33).

Then Jesus made this profoundly important, but sometimes misunderstood statement:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (verse 34).

The kind of love described in this new commandment was so essential, Jesus used it as a sign of His true disciples: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (verse 35).

What was new about the “new commandment”?

The fact is, the command “that you love one another” was nothing new in New Testament times. The Old Testament used similar words in the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This was an ancient commandment even at the time of Jesus Christ. It says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).

In Jesus Christ’s new command, the significant words are “as I have loved you.” Christ’s command to love “as I have loved you” is the “new commandment.”

This depth of love takes the Christian to a whole new way of expressing love for others. The love that Jesus Christ had and continues to have for His followers is infinitely more profound than the love expressed in “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Christians express love toward others, it should not be just as we love ourselves, but as Christ loves us.

Putting into practice His “as I have loved you” kind of love, Jesus Christ willingly paid the price for our sins. As He explained, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The great cost of our sin was His suffering, torture and horrific death. That is the self-sacrificial love He showed for all mankind. Without that love, we would have no hope and no opportunity to live forever.

That is the kind of love that Christ has for His Church and, through His new commandment, it is the love He expects Christians to have. In love for us He suffered and died so that we could, like Him, be resurrected and live for all eternity. He pioneered our salvation.

Are the 10 Commandments still relevant today?

There is a widespread claim within traditional Christianity that in John 13:33-34 Christ also sanctioned an end to the need to keep the 10 Commandments. The claim is that He was replacing them with His new commandment because the 10 Commandments were too burdensome for Christians. All Christians would have to do from then on is “love one another” (verse 34).

Jesus’ new commandment does not contradict or replace the 10 Commandments; it only magnifies and shows the spiritual depth and intent of God’s law.But this interpretation cannot be correct, as it contradicts clear statements like this one: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

Is the claim logical?

Believing the 10 Commandments were done away just because a new one was given is somewhat like believing a country must get rid of all its older laws each time a new law is made. Or like parents disowning all their older children just because they had a new baby. That is not logical or necessary.

So why would a new commandment replace the 10 Commandments our Creator gave us for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13)?

As we saw earlier, what the “new commandment” did supersede for Christians was the concept of “love your neighbor as yourself” (which was not one of the 10 Commandments anyway) with the even more challenging command to love “as I have loved you.”

Spirit of the law and the law of love

Jesus’ new commandment does not contradict or replace the 10 Commandments; it only magnifies and shows the spiritual depth and intent of God’s law.

All of God’s laws demonstrate God’s love. God’s law, including the two great commandments and all of the 10 Commandments, are a law of love.

When asked about the “great commandment in the law,” Jesus said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus quoted these from the Law of Moses and explained that they summarized the other laws. (For more, see our articles “The Great Commandment” and “What Is the Law of Moses?”)

The apostle Paul also noted that love is at the core of all of God’s commandments. By obeying not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law, we show the love God intended.

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

Few would question the validity of the commandments against murder, stealing and lying, for example. Yet some denominations claim all 10 Commandments are “nailed to the cross” to support mainstream Christianity’s rejection of the weekly Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment. (See more about this in our free booklet The Sabbath: A Neglected Gift From God.)

What did Jesus say about the 10 Commandments?

In the New Testament we read of a rich young ruler coming to Jesus asking how he could gain eternal life.

“Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments’” (Matthew 19:16-17).

If Jesus Christ had come to scrap the 10 Commandments and adopt a new commandment in their place, then these verses were just one of many opportunities He had to say so. But He didn’t say that. In fact, He said the direct opposite: “If you want to enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments.”

The people of God always have been, and always will be, commandment keepers (Revelation 12:17; 22:14). In addition, since the time of Jesus Christ, we have been taught the new commandment—to achieve the full spiritual intent of His law by loving others as He loves us.

For further study, read the articles “The 10 Commandments for Today” and “Jesus and the Law.”

About the Author

Eddie Johnson

Eddie and Sandra Johnson serve the membership in the Tonbridge, England, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He is an ordained elder.

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