Jesus’ talk of the kingdom, His triumphal entry, and His dramatic and judging words and actions in the Temple that fit within Israel’s narrative history, are rooted in hopes concerning the Creator God’s promise to His people and the covenant faithfulness of that God. Occupation and possession of that land, in which their God would build His temple and in which He would dwell amongst His people, was always the evidence of their God’s power and of the fulfillment of His promises to His people. So when Jesus speaks in the way that He does when challenged by the expert in the law, He is not simply offering up aphorisms on how the people of the covenant God are to live. Rather, He is building upon the edifice that is already in place, and He must be heard to be speaking in the context of promise, land, Temple, and kingdom.
So even though it does not appear, on the surface, that this particular exchange is linked to His Temple concerns, one can affirm that it most certainly is linked to Jesus’ opinions concerning the Temple and that it continues in the narrative flow. It is not an isolated statement or encounter, but one that absolutely demands to be understood in connection to the Temple, as has all that has been examined to this point of this study, and it builds to a conclusion concerning Jesus’ insistence that no man can know the day or the hour.
If the quotation from Deuteronomy conjures up a wider context, does Jesus other statement about loving one’s neighbor as one loves self, which is taken from Leviticus, do the same? Based upon what has been learned to this point, it would be a surprise if it did not. Just as there was no disappointment when turning to Deuteronomy, turning to Leviticus again disparages disappointment. When Jesus speaks these words about the love of God and the law, He is quoting from the eighteenth verse of the nineteenth chapter. As one examines what is to be found in the preceding verses, it is almost possible to be stunned at what can be found.
Beginning in the eleventh verse and quoting extensively (always remembering that calling to mind a larger section of Scripture, understood within Israel’s history, is the function of an isolated quotation), the Levitical text insists that “You must not steal, you must not tell lies, and you must not deal falsely with your fellow citizen. You must not swear falsely in My name, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. You must not oppress your neighbor or commit robbery against him. You must not withhold the wages of the hired laborer overnight until morning” (19:11-13). This last part, concerning the laborers, is of even greater interest if this entire section is being called to mind, taking on a more interesting dimension and revealing Jesus’ and Matthew’s theological genius, as Matthew, just before Jesus’ triumphal entry, records Jesus’ telling of the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which begins with “For the kingdom of heaven is like...” (Matthew 20:1a). Once again the reader is reminded that land, Temple, and kingdom are inseparably bound.
Continuing in Leviticus: “You must not curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of a blind person. You must fear your God; I am the Lord. You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly. You must not go about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the Lord. You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself” (19:14-18).
Now, it is rather simple to agree that this does in fact delineate the way in which the people of the Creator God should strive to live, and it would be wonderful to insist that Jesus was speaking in such a way so as to encourage His people (then and now) to live in such a way. Certainly that is part of what He is doing, but considering the setting, it is obvious that it reaches beyond that. Would this not remind the reader or listener of something that Jesus has already said? Does this not provide a reminder of a narrative that has been called to mind by what Jesus said? It should.