Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
33. And his father and mother were wondering about those things which were spoken of him. 34. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, Lo, this (child) has been set for the ruin, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign, which is spoken against. 35. But also a sword shall pierce thy own soul: that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. 36. And there was Anna, a prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she had advanced to a great age, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. 37. And she was a widow of about eighty-four years, who departed not from the temple worshipping (God) with fastings and prayer day and night. 38. And she, coming in at that hour, made acknowledgments also to God, 199 and spake of him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. 39. And when they had completed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
33. And his father and mother were wondering Luke does not say, that they were astonished at it as a new thing, but that they contemplated with reverence, and embraced with becoming admiration, this prediction of the Spirit uttered by the lips of Simeon, so that they continued to make progress in the knowledge of Christ. We learn from this example that, when we have once come to possess a right faith, we ought to collect, on every hand, whatever may aid in giving to it additional strength. That man has made great proficiency in the word of God, who does not fail to admire whatever he reads or hears every day, that contributes to his unceasing progress in faith.
34. And Simeon blessed them If you confine this to Joseph and Mary, there will be no difficulty. But, as Luke appears to include Christ at the same time, it might be asked, What right had Simeon to take upon him the office of blessing Christ? “Without all contradiction,” says Paul, “the less is blessed of the greater,” (Heb 7:7.) Besides, it has the appearance of absurdity, that any mortal man should offer prayers in behalf of the Son of God. I answer: The Apostle does not speak there of every kind of blessing, but only of the priestly blessing: for, in other respects, it is highly proper in men to pray for each other. Now, it is more probable that Simeon blessed them, as a private man and as one of the people, than that he did so in a public character: for, as we have already said, we nowhere read that he was a priest. But there would be no absurdity in saying, that he prayed for the prosperity and advancement of Christ’s kingdom: for in the book of Psalms the Spirit prescribes such a εὐλογία,—a blessing of this nature to all the godly.
“Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord;
we have blessed you in the name of the Lords”
Lo, this has been set This discourse was, no doubt, directly addressed by Simeon to Mary; but it has a general reference to all the godly. The holy virgin needed this admonition, that she might not (as usually happens) be lifted up by prosperous beginnings, so as to be less prepared for enduring afflictive events. But she needed it on another account, that she might not expect Christ to be received by the people with universal applause, but that her mind, on the contrary, might be fortified by unshaken courage against all hostile attacks. It was the design, at the same time, of the Spirit of God, to lay down a general instruction for all the godly. When they see the world opposing Christ with wicked obstinacy, they must be prepared to meet that opposition, and to contend against it undismayed. The unbelief of the world is—we know it—a great and serious hinderance; but it must be conquered, if we wish to believe in Christ. There never was a state of human society so happily constituted, that the greater part followed Christ. Those who will enlist in the cause of Christ must learn this as one of their earliest lessons, and must “put on” this “armor,” (Eph 6:11,) that they may be steadfast in believing on him.
It was by far the heaviest temptation, that Christ was not acknowledged by his own countrymen, and was even ignominiously rejected by that nation, which boasted that it was the Church of God; and, particularly, that the priests and scribes, who held in their hands the government of the Church, were his most determined enemies. For who would have thought, that he was the King of those, who not only rejected him, but treated him with such contempt and outrage?
We see, then, that a good purpose was served by Simeon’s prediction, that Christ was set for the ruin of many in Israel The meaning is, that he was divinely appointed to cast down and destroy many. But it must be observed, that the ruin of unbelievers results from their striking against him. This is immediately afterwards expressed, when Simeon says that Christ is a sign, which is spoken against Because unbelievers are rebels against Christ, they clash themselves against him, and hence comes their ruin This metaphor is taken from a mark shot at by archers, 200 as if Simeon had said, Hence we perceive the malice of men, and even the depravity of the whole human race, that all, as if they had made a conspiracy, rise in murmurs and rebellion against the Son of God. The world would not display such harmony in opposing the Gospel, if there were not a natural enmity between the Son of God and those men. The ambition or fury of the enemies of the Gospel carries them in various directions, faction splits them into various sects, and a wide variety of superstitions distinguishes idolaters from each other. But while they thus differ among themselves, they all agree in this, to oppose the Son of God. It has been justly observed, that the opposition everywhere made to Christ is too plain an evidence of human depravity. That the world should thus rise against its Creator is a monstrous sight. But Scripture predicted that this would happen, and the reason is very apparent, that men who have once been alienated from God by sin, always fly from him. Instances of this kind, therefore, ought not to take us by surprise; but, on the contrary, our faith, provided with this armor, ought to be prepared to fight with the contradiction of the world.
As God has now gathered an Israel to himself from the whole world, and there is no longer a distinction between the Jew and the Greek, the same thing must now happen as, we learn, happened before. Isaiah had said of his own age,
“The Lord will be for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense, to both the houses of Israel,” (Isa 8:14.)
From that time, the Jews hardly ever ceased to dash themselves against God, but the rudest shock was against Christ. The same madness is now imitated by those who call themselves Christians; and even those, who lay haughty claims to the first rank in the Church, frequently employ all the power which they possess in oppressing Christ. But let us remember, all that they gain is, to be at length crushed and “broken in pieces,” (Isa 8:9.)
Under the word ruin the Spirit denounces the punishment of unbelievers, and thus warns us to keep at the greatest possible distance from them; lest, by associating with them, we become involved in the same destruction. And Christ is not the less worthy of esteem, because, when he appears, many are ruined: for the “savor” of the Gospel is not less “sweet” and delightful to God, (2 Cor. 2:15, 16,) though it is destructive to the ungodly world. Does any one inquire, how Christ occasions the ruin of unbelievers, who without him were already lost? The reply is easy. Those who voluntarily deprive themselves of the salvation which God has offered to them, perish twice. Ruin implies the double punishment which awaits all unbelievers, after that they have knowingly and wilfully opposed the Son of God.
And for the resurrection This consolation is presented as a contrast with the former clause, to make it less painful to our feelings: for, if nothing else were added, it would be melancholy to hear, that Christ is “a stone of stumbling,” which will break and crush, by its hardness, a great part of men. Scripture therefore reminds us of his office, which is entirely different: for the salvation of men, which is founded on it, is secure; as Isaiah also says, “Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread; and he shall be for a sanctuary,” or fortress of defense, (Isa. 8:13, 14.) And Peter speaks more clearly:
“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house. Wherefore also it is contained in Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion the head-stone of the corner, elect, precious, and he that believeth in him shall not be confounded. Unto you, therefore, which believe, he is precious: but unto them who are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,” (1Pe 2:4-7; Isa 28:16.)
That we may not be terrified by the designation bestowed on Christ, “a stone of stumbling,” let it be instantly recollected, on the other hand, that he is likewise called the “corner-stone,” on which rests the salvation of all the godly. 201
Let it be also taken into account, that the former is accidental, while the latter is properly and strictly his office. Besides, it deserves our notice, that Christ is not only called the support, but the resurrection of the godly: for the condition of men is not one in which it is safe for them to remain. They must rise from death, before they begin to live.
35. But also a sword shall pierce thy own soul This warning must have contributed greatly to fortify the mind of the holy virgin, and to prevent her from being overwhelmed with grief, when she came to those distressing struggles, which she had to undergo. Though her faith was agitated and tormented by various temptations, yet her sorest battle was with the cross: for Christ might appear to be utterly destroyed. She was not overwhelmed with grief; but it would have required a heart of stone not to be deeply wounded: for the patience of the saints differs widely from stupidity.
That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed There are some who connect this clause with a part of the former verse, that Christ is set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel; and who include in a parenthesis what we have just now explained about the sword: but it is better, I think, to refer it to the whole passage. The particle that, ὅπως ἄν, in this passage, does not strictly denote a cause, but merely a consequence. When the light of the Gospel arises, and persecutions immediately spring up, there is, at the same time, a disclosure of affections of the heart, which had been hitherto concealed: for the lurking-places of human dissimulation are so deep, that they easily remain hidden till Christ comes. 202 But Christ, by his light, discloses every artifice, and unmasks hypocrisy; and to him is properly ascribed the office of laying open the secrets of the heart. But when the cross is added to doctrine it tries the hearts more to the quick. For those who have embraced Christ by outward profession, often shrink from bearing the cross, and, when they see the Church exposed to numerous calamities, easily desert their post.
36. And there was Anna, a prophetess Luke mentions not more than two persons who received Christ; and this is intended to teach us, that whatever belongs to God, however small it may be, ought to be preferred by us to the whole world. The scribes and priests, no doubt, were then surrounded by great splendor; but, as the Spirit of God, whose presence was not at all enjoyed by those rulers, 203 dwelt in Simeon and Anna, those two persons are entitled to greater reverence than an immense multitude of those whose pride is swelled by nothing but empty titles. For this reason, the historian mentions Anna’s age, gives her the designation of prophetess, and, thirdly, bears a remarkable testimony to her piety, and to the holiness and chastity of her life. These are the qualities that justly give to men weight and estimation. And certainly none are led astray by the dazzling and empty magnificence of outward show, but those who are drawn, by the vanity of their own minds, to take pleasure in being deceived.
She had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity This is intended to inform us, that she was a widow in the very prime of life. She had married young, and shortly afterwards lost her husband; and the circumstance of her not entering into a second marriage while she was in the rigor of her bodily frame, 204 is mentioned with the view of heightening the commendation of her chastity. What follows, that she was a widow of about eighty-four years, may be explained in two ways. Either that time had passed in her unmarried state, 205 or it was the whole period of her life. If you reckon the eighty-four years as the time of her widowhood, it will follow that she was more than a hundred years old: but I leave that matter doubtful. The Spirit of prophecy still shone in a very few, who served as tokens to attest the doctrine of the Law and the Jewish religion, till the coming of Christ. In a state of society so dissolute, the elect of God needed such aids to prevent them from being carried away.
37. She departed not from the temple This is a hyperbolical expression; but the meaning is plain, that Anna was almost constantly in the temple. Luke adds, that she worshipped God with fastings and prayers day and night Hence we infer, that she did not visit the temple for the mere purpose of performing the outward service, but that she added to it the other exercises of piety. It deserves our attention, that the same rule is not enjoined on all, and that all ought not to be led indiscriminately to copy those performances, which are here commended in a widow. Each person ought to make a judicious inquiry, what belongs to his own calling. Silly ambition has filled the world with apes, from superstitious persons seizing, with more “zeal” than “knowledges” (Ro 10:2,) every thing that they hear praised in the saints: as if the distinction of rank did not render a selection of employments necessary, that each person may answer to his own calling. What is here related of Anna, Paul applies in a particular manner to widows, (1Ti 5:5;) so that married people act a foolish part, if they regulate their life by an unsuitable model.
But there still remains another doubt. Luke appears to make fastings a part of divine worship But we must observe, that of the acts which relate to worship, some are simply required, and, as we are accustomed to say, are in themselves necessary; while others are accessory, and have no other design than to aid the former class. Prayers belong strictly to the worship of God. Fasting is a subordinate aid, which is pleasing to God no farther than as it aids the earnestness and fervency of prayer. We must hold by this rule, that the duties of men are to be judged according as they are directed to a proper and lawful end. We must hold, also, by this distinction, that prayers are a direct worship of God; while fastings are a part of worship only on account of their consequences. Nor is there any reason to doubt, that the holy woman employed fastings as an excitement to bewail those calamities of the Church which then existed.
38. Made acknowledgment also to God 206 The holy melody, which proceeded from the lips of Simeon and Anna, is praised by Luke, in order that believers may exhort each other to sing with one mouth the praises of God, and may give mutual replies. When he says, that Anna spake of him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, he again points out the small number of the godly. For the substance of faith lay in this expectation; and it is evident, that there were few who actually cherished it in their minds.
39. They returned to Galilee The departure to Egypt, I readily acknowledge, came between those events; and the fact mentioned by Luke, that they dwelt in their own city Nazareth, is later, in point of time, than the flight into Egypt, which Matthew relates, (Mt 2:14.) But if there was no impropriety in one Evangelist leaving out what is related by another, there was nothing to prevent Luke from overleaping the period which he did not intend to mention, and passing at once to the following history. I am very far from agreeing with those who imagine that Joseph and Mary, after having finished the sacrifice of purification, returned to Bethlehem, to live there. Those persons are foolish enough to believe, that Joseph had a settled abode in a place where he was so little known, that he was unable to find a temporary lodging. Nor is it without a good reason that Luke says, with respect both to Joseph and Mary, that Nazareth was their own city We infer from it, that he never was an inhabitant of Bethlehem, though it was the place of his extraction. 207 As to the order of time, I shall presently give a more full explanation.
“Louoit aussi le Seigneur;” — “praised also the Lord.”
“Ceste facon de parler contient une metaphore prise des arbalestiers, ou autres qui visent au blanc.” — “This way of speaking contains a metaphor, taken from archers, or others who aim at a mark.”
“La maitresse Pierre du coin, sur laquelle est fonde le salut de tous les enfans de Dieu.” — “The head-stone of the corner, on which is founded the salvation of all the children of God.”
“Extra Christum;” — “jusqu'a ce que Jesus Christ viene.”
The word rulers (principes) appears to be here used sarcastically; for his own translation is,” duquel estoyent du tout destituez les autres, combien que ce fussent les gouverneurs;” — “of which the others were entirely destitute, though they were rulers.”
“Quum adhuc vegeto esset corpore.”
“Il y avoit tant de temps que son mari estoit mort;” — “it was so long since her husband died.”
“Louoit aussi le Seigneur;” — “praised also the Lord.”
“Combien que ce fust le pays de ses ancestres;” — “though it was the country of his ancestors.”