Maundy Thursday: What’s “New” About the New Commandment?

Chris —  April 1, 2015 — Leave a comment

Maundy Thursday IllustrationGiven the Old Testament’s explicit instruction to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18), what’s new about the New Commandment?

Churches celebrate Maundy Thursday on the Holy Week in commemoration of the Last Supper and Jesus’ issuance of a new commandment.

“Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum” and references the word “commandment” in John 13:34.[1]

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35.

Jesus illustrated his new commandment, prior to giving it, by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20). Christ’s example in servant love amazes us for at least four reasons:

  • The washing of feet was a menial task yet Christ, who is God, was willing to do it.
  • Christ washed the disciples feet fully conscious of the fact that his redemptive task would require him to go to the Cross.
  • Jesus washed Peter’s feet, and those of the other disciples, knowing that Peter would deny him and that all the disciples would scatter (John 13:36-38k, Matthew 26:31).
  • Jesus washed Judas’s feet even though Judas was going to betray him. In the Gospel of John, John makes sure that we do not miss that Jesus washed Judas’s feet.  Judas is mentioned at the beginning (John 13:2) and at the end of the passage (John 13:21-30).

Christ’s followers are to be known by their servant love. Jesus assured his disciples that their love for one another would distinctively identify them as followers of Christ.

The student of the Old Testament may wonder what is “new” about Jesus’s new commandment given that Leviticus 19:18 explicitly commands:

 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18.

 One of my seminary professors, Dr. Carl Hoch, whose life work was studying the New Testament use of the word “new” (καινός / kainos), identified five major ways that the new commandment is “new.”[2]

  • The New Model – Jesus himself set the example.
  • The New Motive – Jesus love for lost people is now explicitly stated.
  • The New Motivator – Jesus soon encourages his disciples that it is to our advantage that he is leaving because this means he will send the Holy Spirit.
  • The New Mission – The new commandment is the central feature of the mission of making disciples of Christ (John 13:35, Matthew 28:18-20).
  • The New Milieu – Dr. Hoch was stretching a bit for “m’s” when he got to this one, but his point is that our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection inaugurated a new age. Dr. Hoch wrote, “The new situation created by the sacrifice of Christ anticipates in the present the condition of the age to come. The mutual love of the disciples is therefore the rule of the new era.”[3]

Hoch concluded:

The new commandment is the sine qua non of the Christian life. “It is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice. Can any more be said?[4]

See also:

Kevin DeYoung on Maundy Thursday[5]

John Piper on Thursday of the Commandment[6]

What Happened Each Day of Holy Week : This post gives a summary of what happened each day of Holy Week.

The people involved in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ: Have problems keeping track of all the Marys and the other people involved in Holy Week? Here’s a summary.

Places Associated with Holy Week: Calvary is the same as Golgotha and other helpful facts about Holy Week places.

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[1] In the original language, the word “commandment” is first in John 13:34. The word order is literally, Ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν, ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἠγάπησα ὑμᾶς ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους / commandment new I give to you, in order that you love one another, even as I have loved you so that and you love one another.”

[2] Carl B. Hoch, All Things New: The Significance of Newness for Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 142–145.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 145.

[5] Kevin DeYoung, “Maundy Thursday,” The Gospel Coalition, April 1, 2010, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/04/01/maundy-thursday-2/.

[6] John Piper, “Thursday of the Commandment,” Desiring God, March 20, 2008, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/thursday-of-the-commandment.

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