Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 11:7-15; LUKE 7:24-28
7. And as they were departing, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John, What went you out into the wilderness to see? A reed, which is shaken by the wind? 8. But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? 8 Lo, they who wear soft clothing are in the houses of kings. 9. But what went you out to see? A Prophet? Yea, I say to you, and higher than a Prophet. 10. For this is he of whom it is written, Lo, I send my messenger before thy face, who will prepare the way before thee. 11. Verily, I say to you, Among those who are born of women, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist: yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12. And from the days of John the Baptist to this day, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. 13. For all the Prophets and the Law itself prophesied until John. 14. And if you are willing to receive it, 9 he is Elijah, who was to come. 15. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
24. And when the messengers of John had departed, he began to say to the multitude concerning John, What went you out into the wilderness to see? A reed, which is shaken by the wind? 25. But what went you out to see? A man clothed with soft garments? 10 Lo, they that live in magnificent attire, and in delicacies, are in the courts of kings. 26. But what went you out to see? A Prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a Prophet. 27. It is he of whom it is written, Lo, I send my messenger 11 before my face, who will prepare the way before thee. 28. For I say to you, Among those who are born of women, there is not a great Prophet than John the Baptist; yet he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
16. The Law and the Prophets (were) till John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and all press violently into it.
Matthew 11:7. And while they were departing Christ praises John before the people, in order that they may state from recollection what they have heard from him, and may give credit to his testimony. For his name was widely celebrated, and men spoke of him in lofty terms: but his doctrine was held in less estimation, and there were even few that waited on his ministrations. Christ reminds them, that those who went out to see him in the wilderness lost their pains, if they did not devoutly apply their minds and faculties to his doctrine. The meaning of the words, you went out into the wilderness, is this: “Your journey would have been an act of foolish and ridiculous levity, if you had not a fixed object in view. But it was neither worldly splendor nor any sort of amusement 12 that you were in quest of: your design was, to hear the voice of God from the mouth of the Prophet. If therefore you would reap advantage from your undertaking, it is necessary that what he spoke should remain fixed in your memory.”
8. Clothed with soft garments Those who think that Christ here condemns the extravagance of a court are mistaken. There are many other passages in which luxury of dress, and excessive attention to outward appearance, are censured. But this passage simply means, that there was nothing in the wilderness to attract the people from every quarter; that every thing there was rude and unpolished, and fitted only to inspire disgust; and that such elegance of dress as delights the eyes is rather to be looked for in the courts of kings. 13
11. Verily I say to you These words not only maintain the authority of John, but elevate his doctrine above the ancient prophets, that the people may keep in view the right end of his ministry; for they mistook the design of his mission, and, in consequence of this, derived almost no advantage from his discourses. Accordingly, Christ extols and places him above the rank of the prophets, and gives the people to understand that he had received a special and more excellent commission. When he elsewhere says respecting himself that he was not a Prophet, (Joh 1:21,) this is not inconsistent with the designation here bestowed upon him by Christ. He was, no doubt, a Prophet, like others whom God had appointed in his Church to be expounders of the Law, and messengers of his will; but he was more excellent than the Prophets in this respect, that he did not, like them, make known redemption at a distance and obscurely under shadows, but proclaimed that the time of redemption was now manifest and at hand. Such too is the import of Malachi’s prediction, (Mal 3:1,) which is immediately added, that the pre-eminence of John consisted in his being the herald and forerunner of Christ; 14 for although the ancient Prophets spoke of his kingdom, they were not, like John, placed before his face, to point him out as present. As to the other parts of the passage, the reader may consult what has been said on the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. 15
There hath not arisen Our Lord proceeds farther, and declares that the ministers of the Gospel will be as far superior to John as John was superior to the Prophets. Those who think that Christ draws a comparison between himself and John have fallen into a strange blunder; for nothing is said here about personal rank, but commendation is bestowed on the pre-eminence of office. This appears more clearly from the words employed by Luke, there is not a greater Prophet; for they expressly restrict his eminence to the office of teaching. In a word, this magnificent eulogium is bestowed on John, that the Jews may observe more attentively the commission which he bore. Again, the teachers who were afterwards to follow are placed above him, to show the surpassing majesty of the Gospel above the Law, and above that preaching which came between them. Now, as Christ intended to prepare the Jews for receiving the Gospel, we ought also, in the present day, to be aroused to listen with reverence to Christ speaking to us from the lofty throne of his heavenly glory; lest he take revenge for our contempt of him by that fearful curse which he pronounces on unbelievers by Malachi in the same passage.
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God denote the new condition of the Church, as in other passages which have already occurred; for it was promised that at the coming of Christ all things would be restored. He that is least in the kingdom. The Greek word μικρότερος, which I have rendered least, is in the comparative degree, and signifies less; but the meaning is more clearly brought out, that all the ministers of the Gospel are included. Many of them undoubtedly have received a small portion of faith, and are therefore greatly inferior to John; but this does not prevent their preaching from being superior to his, because it holds out Christ as having rendered complete and eternal satisfaction by his one sacrifice, as the conqueror of death and the Lord of life, and because it withdraws the vail, and elevates believers to the heavenly sanctuary.
12. Since the days of John I have no doubt that Christ speaks honorably of the majesty of the Gospel on this ground, that many sought after it with warm affection; for as God had raised up John to be the herald of the kingdom of his Son, so the Spirit infused such efficacy into his doctrine, that it entered deeply into the hearts of men and kindled that zeal. It appears, therefore, that the Gospel, which comes forward in a manner so sudden and extraordinary, 16 and awakens powerful emotions, must have proceeded from God. But in the second clause is added this restriction, that the violent take it by force The greater part of men were no more excited than if the Prophets had never uttered a word about Christ, or if John had never appeared as his witness; and therefore Christ reminds them, that the violence, of which he had spoken, existed only in men of a particular class. The meaning therefore is, A vast assembly of men is now collected, as if men were rushing violently forward to seize the kingdom of God; for, aroused by the voice of one man, they come together in crowds, and receive, not only with eagerness, but with vehement impetuosity, the grace which is offered to them. Although very many are asleep, and are no more affected than if John in the wilderness were acting a play which had no reference to them, yet many flock to him with ardent zeal. The tendency of our Lord’s statement is to show, that those who pass by in a contemptuous manner, and as it were with closed eyes, the power of God, which manifestly appears both in the teacher and in the hearers, are inexcusable. Let us also learn from these words, what is the true nature and operation of faith. It leads men not only to give, cold and indifferent assent when God speaks, but to cherish warm affection towards Him, and to rush forward as it were with a violent struggle.
Luke 16:16. The Law and the Prophets were till John Our Lord had said that the earnestness of the people was a prelude to those things which the Prophets had foretold as to the future renovation of the Church. He now compares the ministry of John to the Law and the Prophets “It is not wonderful,” he tells us, “that God should now act so powerfully on the minds of men; for he is not as formerly, seen at a distance under dark shadows, but appears openly and at hand for the establishment of his kingdom.” Hence it follows, that those who obstinately reject John’s doctrine are less excusable than those who despised the Law and the Prophets
Matthew 11:13. All the Prophets and the Law itself Prophesied. The word prophesied is emphatic; for the Law and the Prophets did not present God before the eyes of men, but represented him under figures and shadows as absent. The comparison, we now perceive, is intended to show, that it is highly criminal in men to remain indifferent, when they have obtained a manifestation of the presence of God, who held his ancient people in suspense by predictions. Christ does not class John with the ministers of the Gospel, though he formerly assigned to him an intermediate station between them and the Prophets. But there is no inconsistency here: for although John’s preaching was a part of the Gospel, it was little more than a first lesson.
14. And if you are willing to receive it He now explains more clearly in what manner John began to preach the kingdom of God It was in the character of that Elijah, who was to be sent before the face of God, (Mal 4:5.) Our Lord’s meaning therefore is, that the great and dreadful day of the Lord, which Malachi described, is now beheld by the Jews, when Elijah, who was there promised, discharges his office as a herald. Again, by this exception, if you are willing to receive it, he glances at their hardened obstinacy, in maliciously shutting their eyes against the clearest light. But will he cease to be Elijah, if he shall not be received? Christ does not mean that John’s official character 17 depends on their approbation; but having declared that he is Elijah, he charges them with carelessness and ingratitude, if he does not obtain that respect to which he is entitled.
15. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. We know that it is customary with Christ to introduce this sentence, whenever he treats of subjects which are highly important, and which deserve no ordinary attention. 18 He reminds us, at the same time, of the reason why the mysteries of which he speaks are not received by all. It is because many of his hearers are deaf, or at least have their ears closed. But now, as every man is hindered not only by his own unbelief, but by the mutual influence which men exercise on each other, Christ here exhorts the elect of God, whose ears have been pierced, to consider attentively this remarkable secret of God, and not to remain deaf with unbelievers.
“Un homme vestu de precieux vestemens?” — “A man clothed with costly garments?”
“Si vous le voulez recevoir, ou, et si vous voulez recevoir mon dire;” — “if you are willing to receive it, or, and if you are willing to receive my saying.”
“Vestu de precieux vestemens?” — “clothed with costly garments?”
“Mon messager, ou, Angel;” — “my messenger, or, Angel.”
“Ni autre passe-temps et amusement vain;” — “nor other pastime nor vain amusement.”
“Que pour voir de beaux vestemens et autres choses agencees bien proprement il faut plustost aller es Cours des Rois;” — “that in order to see fine dresses, and other things very neatly arranged, we must rather go to the courts of kings.”
“Pource qu’il est le Heraut marchant devant Christ pour luy faire honneur;” — “because he is the Herald marching before Christ to do him honor.”
Harmony, volume 1. p.20.
”Laquelle tant soudainement gaigne les coeurs des hommes d’une facon non accoustumee, et y cause des mouvemens merveilleux;” — “which so suddenly gains the hearts of men in an unusual manner, and excites in them wonderful emotions.”
“L’estat et la commission de Iean;” — “John’s rank and commission.”
“Et qui ne doit pas estre escoutee par acquit;” — “and which ought not to be listened to in an indifferent manner.”