Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 16:20-28; Mark 8:30-38, 9:1;
20. Then he charged his disciples 451 not to tell any one that he was Jesus the Christ. 21. From that time Jesus began to make known to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day. 22. And Peter, taking him aside, 452 began to rebuke him, saying, Lord, spare thyself; 453 this shall not happen to thee. 23. But he turning said to Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offense to me; for thou relishest not those things which are of God, but those which are of men. 24. Then Jesus said to his disciples, If any man chooses to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and on the other hand, whosoever shall lose his life on my account shall find it. 26. For what doth it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give, that, in exchange for it, he may redeem his soul? 27. For the Son of man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every one according to his actions. 28. Verily I say to you, There are some standing here, who will not taste death till they have seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
30. And he threatened, and forbade them to tell any one concerning him. 454 31. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32. And he spoke that saying openly, and Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33. But he turning and looking upon his disciples, rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou relishest not the things that are of God, but those that are of men. 34. And when he had called the multitude to him along with his disciples, he said to them, Whosoever would follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, shall save it, 36. For what will it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? 37. Or what shall a man give as a ransom for his soul? 38. For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him likewise will the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
1. And he said to them, Verily, I say to you, There are some among those who stand here 455 that will not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.
21. And he threatening charged them not to tell this to any one, 456 22. Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and rise again on the third day. 23. And he said to all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up hi cross daily, 457 and follow me. 24. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life on my account shall save it. 25. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and be ruined and lost? 26. For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my saying, of him likewise will the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own majesty, and in the majesty of his Father, and of the holy angels. 27. And I say to you, There truly are some standing here who will not taste death, till they see the kingdom of God. 458
Having given a proof of his future glory, Christ reminds his disciples of what he must suffer, that they also may be prepared to bear the cross; for the time was at hand when they must enter into the contest, to which he knew them to be altogether unequal, if they had not been fortified by fresh courage. And first of all, it was necessary to inform them that Christ must commence his reign, not with gaudy display, not with the magnificence of riches, not with the loud applause of the world, but with an ignominious death. But nothing was harder than to rise superior to such an offense; particularly if we consider the opinion which they firmly entertained respecting their Master; for they imagined that he would procure for them earthly happiness. This unfounded expectation held them in suspense, and they eagerly looked forward to the hour when Christ would suddenly reveal the glory of his reign. So far were they from having ever adverted to the ignominy of the cross, that they considered it to be utterly unsuitable that he should be placed in any circumstances from which he did not receive honor. 459 To them it was a distressing occurrence that he should be rejected by the elders and the scribes, who held the government of the Church; and hence we may readily conclude that this admonition was highly necessary. But as the bare mention of the cross must, of necessity, have occasioned heavy distress to their weak minds, he presently heals the wound by saying, that on the third day he will rise again from the dead. And certainly, as there is nothing to be seen in the cross but the weakness of the flesh, till we come to his resurrection, in which the power of the Spirit shines brightly, our faith will find no encouragement or support. In like manner, all ministers of the Word, who desire that their preaching may be profitable, ought to be exceedingly careful that the glory of his resurrection should be always exhibited by them in connection with the ignominy of his death.
But we naturally wonder why Christ refuses to accept as witnesses the Apostles, whom he had already appointed to that office; for why were they sent but to be the heralds of that redemption which depended on the coming of Christ? The answer is not difficult, if we keep in mind the explanations which I have given on this subject: first, that they were not appointed teachers for the purpose of bearing full and certain testimony to Christ, but only to procure disciples for their Master; that is, to induce those who were too much the victims of sloth to become teachable and attentive; and; secondly, that their commission was temporary, for it ended when Christ himself began to preach. As the time of his death was now at hand, and as they were not yet fully prepared to testify their faith, but, on the contrary, were so weak in faith, that their confession of it would have exposed them to ridicule, the Lord enjoins them to remain silent till others shall have acknowledged him to be the conqueror of death, and till he shall have endued them with increased firmness.
Matthew 16:22. And Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. It is a proof of the excessive zeal of Peter, that he reproves his Master; though it would appear that the respect he entertained for him was his reason for taking him aside, because he did not venture to reprove him in presence of others. Still, it was highly presumptuous in Peter to advise our Lord to spare himself, as if he had been deficient in prudence or self-command. But so completely are men hurried on and driven headlong by inconsiderate zeal, that they do not hesitate to pass judgment on God himself, according to their own fancy. Peter views it as absurd, that the Son of God, who was to be the Redeemer of the nation, should be crucified by the elders, and that he who was the Author of life should be condemned to die. He therefore endeavors to restrain Christ from exposing himself to death. The reasoning is plausible; but we ought without hesitation to yield greater deference to the opinion of Christ than to the zeal of Peter, whatever excuse he may plead.
And here we learn what estimation in the sight of God belongs to what are called good intentions. So deeply is pride rooted in the hearts of men, that they think wrong is done them, and complain, if God does not comply with every thing that they consider to be right. With what obstinacy do we see the Papists boasting of their devotions! But while they applaud themselves in this daring manner, God not only rejects what they believe to be worthy of the highest praise, but even pronounces a severe censure on its folly and wickedness. Certainly, if the feeling and judgment of the flesh be admitted, Peter’s intention was pious, or at least it looked well. And yet Christ could not have conveyed his censure in harsher or more disdainful language. Tell me, what is the meaning of that stern reply? How comes it that he who so mildly on all occasions guarded against breaking even a bruised reed, (Isa 42:3,) thunders so dismally against a chosen disciple? The reason is obvious, that in the person of one man he intended to restrain all from gratifying their own passions. Though the lusts of the flesh, as they resemble wild beasts, are difficult to be restrained, yet there is no beast more furious than the wisdom of the flesh. It is on this account that Christ reproves it so sharply, and bruises it, as it were, with an iron hammer, to teach us that it is only from the word of God that we ought to be wise.
23. Get thee behind me, Satan. It is idle to speculate, as some have done, about the word (ὀπίσω) behind; as if Peter were ordered to follow, and not to go before; for, in a passage which we have already considered, Luke (Lu 4:8) informs us that our Lord used those very words in repelling the attacks of Satan, and the verb ὕπαγε (from which the Latin word Apage is derived) signifies to withdraw 460 Christ therefore throws his disciple to a distance from him, because, in his inconsiderate zeal, he acted the part of Satan; for he does not simply call him adversary, but gives him the name of the devil, as an expression of the greatest abhorrence.
Thou art an offense to me; for thou relishest not those things which are of God, but those which are of men. We must attend to this as the reason assigned by our Lord for sending Peter away from him. Peter was an offense to Christ, so long as he opposed his calling; for, when Peter attempted to stop the course of his Master, it was not owing to him that he did not deprive himself and all mankind of eternal salvation. This single word, therefore, shows with what care we ought to avoid every thing that withdraws us from obedience to God. And Christ opens up the original source of the whole evil, when he says that Peter relishes those things which are of men. 461 Lest we and our intentions should be sent away by our heavenly Judge to the devil, 462 let us learn not to be too much attached to our own views, but submissively to embrace whatever the Lord approves. Let the Papists now go and extol their notions to the skies. They will one day learn, when they appear before the judgment-seat of God, what is the value of their boasting, which Christ declares to be from Satan And with regard to ourselves, if we do not, of our own accord, resolve to shut ourselves out from the way of salvation by deadly obstacles, let us not desire to be wise in any other manner than from the mouth of God.
24. Then Jesus said to his disciples. As Christ saw that Peter had a dread of the cross, and that all the rest were affected in the same way, he enters into a general discourse about bearing the cross, and does not limit his address to the twelve apostles, but lays down the same law for all the godly. 463 We have already met with a statement nearly similar, (Mt 10:38.) 464 But in that passage the apostles were only reminded of the persecution which awaited them, as soon as they should begin to discharge their office; while a general instruction is here conveyed, and the initiatory lessons, so to speak, inculcated on all who profess to believe the Gospel.
If any man will come after me. These words are used for the express purpose of refuting the false views of Peter 465 Presenting himself to every one as an example of self-denial and of patience, he first shows that it was necessary for him to endure what Peter reckoned to be inconsistent with his character, and next invites every member of his body to imitate him. The words must be explained in this manner: “If any man would be my disciple, let him follow me by denying himself and taking up his cross, or, let him conform himself to my example.” The meaning is, that none can be reckoned to be the disciples of Christ unless they are true imitators of him, and are willing to pursue the same course.
He lays down a brief rule for our imitation, in order to make us acquainted with the chief points in which he wishes us to resemble him. It consists of two parts, self-denial and a voluntary bearing of the cross. Let him deny himself. This self-denial is very extensive, and implies that we ought to give up our natural inclinations, and part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us. We know with what blind love men naturally regard themselves, how much they are devoted to themselves, how highly they estimate themselves. But if we desire to enter into the school of Christ, we must begin with that folly to which Paul (1Co 3:18) exhorts us, becoming fools, that we may be wise; and next we must control and subdue all our affections.
And let him take up his cross. He lays down this injunction, because, though there are common miseries to which the life of men is indiscriminately subjected, yet as God trains his people in a peculiar manner, in order that they may be conformed to the image of his Son, we need not wonder that this rule is strictly addressed to them. It may be added that, though God lays both on good and bad men the burden of the cross, yet unless they willingly bend their shoulders to it, they are not said to bear the cross; for a wild and refractory horse cannot be said to admit his rider, though he carries him. The patience of the saints, therefore, consists in bearing willingly the cross which has been laid on them. 466 Luke adds the word daily — let him take up his cross Daily — which is very emphatic; for Christ’s meaning is, that there will be no end to our warfare till we leave the world. Let it be the uninterrupted exercise of the godly, that when many afflictions have run their course, they may be prepared to endure fresh afflictions.
25. For he that would save his life shall lose it. It is a most appropriate consolation, that they who willingly suffer death for the sake of Christ 467 do actually obtain life; for Mark expressly states this as the motive to believers in dying — for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel — and in the words of Matthew the same thing must be understood. It frequently happens that irreligious men are prompted by ambition or despair to despise life; and to such persons it will be no advantage that they are courageous in meeting death. The threatening, which is contrasted with the promise, has also a powerful tendency to shake off carnal sloth, when he reminds men who are desirous of the present life, that the only advantage which they reap is, to lose life. There is a contrast intended here between temporal and eternal death, as we have explained under Mt 10:39, where the reader will find the rest of this subject. 468
26. For what doth it profit a man? The word soul is here used in the strictest sense. Christ reminds them that the soul of man was not created merely to enjoy the world for a few days, but to obtain at length its immortality in heaven. What carelessness and what brutal stupidity is this, that men are so strongly attached to the world, and so much occupied with its affairs, as not to consider why they were born, and that God gave them an immortal soul, in order that, when the course of the earthly life was finished, they might live eternally in heaven! And, indeed, it is universally acknowledged, that the soul is of higher value than all the riches and enjoyments of the world; but yet men are so blinded by carnal views, that they knowingly and willfully abandon their souls to destruction. That the world may not fascinate us by its allurements, let us remember the surpassing worth of our soul; for if this be seriously considered, it will easily dispel the vain imaginations of earthly happiness.
27. For the Son of man will come. That the doctrine which has just been laid down may more deeply affect our minds, Christ places before our eyes the future judgment; for if we would perceive the worthlessness of this fading life, we must be deeply affected by the view of the heavenly life. So tardy and sluggish is our mind, that it needs to be aided by looking towards heaven. Christ summons believers to his judgment-seat, to lead them to reflect at all times that they lived for no other object than to long after that blessed redemption, which will be revealed at the proper time. The admonition is intended to inform us, that they do not strive in vain who set a higher value on the confession of faith than on their own life. “Place your lives fearlessly,” says he, “in my hand, and under my protection; for I will at length appear as your avenger, and will fully restore you, though for the time you may seem to have perished.”
In the glory of the Father, with his angels. These are mentioned to guard his disciples against judging of his kingdom from present appearances; for hitherto he was unknown and despised, being concealed under the form and condition of a servant. He assures them that it will be far otherwise when he shall appear as the Judge of the world. As to the remaining part of the passage in Mark and Luke, the reader will find it explained under the tenth chapter of Matthew. 469
And then will he render to every one according to his actions. The reward of works has been treated by me as fully as was necessary under another passage. 470 It amounts to this: When a reward is promised to good works, their merit is not contrasted with the justification which is freely bestowed on us through faith; nor is it pointed out as the cause of our salvation, but is only held out to excite believers to aim at doing what is right, 471 by assuring them that their labor will not be lost. There is a perfect agreement, therefore, between these two statements, that we are justified freely, (Ro 3:24,) because we are received into God’s favor without any merit; 472 and yet that God, of his own good pleasure, bestows on our works a reward which we did not deserve.
28. Verily, I say to you. As the disciples might still hesitate and inquire when that day would be, our Lord animates them by the immediate assurance, that he will presently give them a proof of his future glory. We know the truth of the common proverb, that to one who is in expectation even speed looks like delay; but never does it hold more true, than when we are told to wait for our salvation till the coming of Christ. To support his disciples in the meantime, our Lord holds out to them, for confirmation, an intermediate period; as much as to say, “If it seem too long to wait for the day of my coming, I will provide against this in good time; for before you come to die, you will see with your eyes that kingdom of God, of which I bid you entertain a confident hope.” This is the natural import of the words; for the notion adopted by some, that they were intended to apply to John, is ridiculous.
Coming in his kingdom. By the coming of the kingdom of God we are to understand the manifestation of heavenly glory, which Christ began to make at his resurrection, and which he afterwards made more fully by sending the Holy Spirit, and by the performance of miracles; for by those beginnings he gave his people a taste of the newness of the heavenly life, when they perceived, by certain and undoubted proofs, that he was sitting at the right hand of the Father.
“Lors il commanda expressement a ses disciples;” — “then he expressly commanded his disciples.”
“L’ayant prins a part;” — “have taken him aside.”
“Seigneur, aye pitie de toy;” — “Lord, have pity on thyself.”
“Et il leur defendit avec menace qu’ils ne dissent [cela] de luy a personne;” — “and he forbade them with threatening to tell [this] concerning him to any one.”
“Il y en d’aucuns de ceux qui sont ici presens;” — “there are some of those who are here present.”
“Adonc usant de menaces il leur commanda qu’ils ne le dissent a personne;” — “Then employing threatenings, he commanded them not to tell it to any one.”
“De iour en iour;” — “day by day.”
“Iusqu’a taut qu’ils ayent veu le regne de Dieu;” — “till they have seen the kingdom of God.”
“Que rien luy peust advenir qui ne fust honorable et magnifique;” — “that any thing should happen to him which was not honorable and magnificent.”
“Le mot Grec signifie simplement se reculer et s’en aller;” — “the Greek word simply means to withdraw and go away.”
“Que Pierre s’arreste a la sagesse de l’homme;” — “that Peter rests satisfied with the wisdom of man.”
“Et pourtant de peur que le Iuge celeste ne nous renvoye au diable avec nos bonnes affections et intentions;” — “and then lest our heavenly Judge should send us away to the devil with our good feelings and intentions.”
“A tous fideles;” — “to all believers.”
Harmony, vol. 1 p. 472.
“Pour refuter l’imagination que Pierre avoit en son corveau;” — “to refute the imagination which Peter had in his brain.”
“A porter la croix qua Dieu leur met sur les epaules;” — “in bearing the cross which God lays on their shoulders.”
“Ceux qui meurent alaigrement pour Christ;” — “those who die cheerfully for Christ.”
Harmony, vol. 1 p. 472.
Harmony, vol. 1 p. 466.
“Alibi is a general reference, but en un autre passage is more specific; and the passage to which he probably refers the reader for a distinct exhibition of his views, and in which, so far as I remember, he handles this subject more fully than in any other part of the Gospels, is Joh 4:36.” — Ed.
“A faire bonnes oeuvres;” — “to do good works.”
“Sans que nous en soyons dignes, ou l’ayons meritd;” — “without being worthy of it, or having deserved it.”