In Mark 12:28–34, Jesus has an interaction with a scribe who asked Him what the most important commandment in the Old Testament was. Jesus responded by telling him that the most important commandments were to love God and love one’s neighbor (see Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and Leviticus 19:18). The scribe discerned the core of Jesus’ teaching and recognized that loving God and loving others were far more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Upon hearing his response, Jesus commends the scribe for his wisdom and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).
One reason Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” is that the scribe faithfully interpreted Jesus’ words regarding the most important commandment in the law. After hearing Jesus’ answer to his question, the scribe didn’t correct Jesus or even challenge Him more. He simply acknowledged that what Jesus said what right and good. When Jesus heard this response from the scribe, He knew that the man was “not far from the kingdom of God” because his heart reflected God’s.
Another key reason why Jesus said to the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” is found in the last part of the scribe’s response to Jesus. The scribe said that loving God and loving one’s neighbor are “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33b). The scribe here understood that God is more concerned with whether people are loving Him and others than with how well they follow the law’s other requirements. After all, it is possible for someone bringing a burnt offering to have hatred in his heart toward his brother. Such a heart condition is not pleasing to God, no matter how many sacrifices one offers.
By acknowledging the importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbor, the scribe proved that he was “not far from the kingdom of God.” The only thing he needed to officially enter the kingdom of God was to follow Jesus. Then he would come to truly understand what it means to love God and love one’s neighbor, for the secret of the kingdom of God is embodied in Jesus Himself. Given the scribe’s response to Jesus, it is entirely possible that the scribe ultimately believed in Jesus after the Lord’s death and resurrection.
Today, many people talk about the importance of loving others. Some will say things like “Love is love” or “Love is all you need” to convey this message. Such beliefs and sayings show that many people understand the importance of loving others. However, until one chooses to follow Jesus—the One who performed the greatest act of love (John 15:13)—he or she will not be able understand what it means to truly love. More importantly, our love for other people is rooted in our love for God, as Jesus taught by putting these two commands together in Mark 12:30–31.
There may be many people in this world who are “not far from the kingdom of God.” But until believers preach the gospel to them and help such people place their faith in Jesus, these individuals cannot be a part of the kingdom of God.