Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34;
17. And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said to them, 18. Lo, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes; and they will condemn him to death. 19. And they will deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him; 647 and on the third day he will rise again.
32. And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and, while they followed him, where afraid. And having again taken aside the twelve, he began to tell them what things would happen to him: 33. Lo, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes; and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him to the Gentiles: 34. And will mock him, and scourge him, and spit upon him, and kill him; and on the third day he will rise again.
31. And Jesus took the twelve, and said to them, Lo, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things which have been written by the prophets concerning the Son of man will be accomplished. 32. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and mocked, and insulted, and spat on; 33. And after having scourged, they will kill him; and on the third day he will rise again. 34. And they understood none of these things; and this saying was hidden from them, and they understood not the things which were spoken. 648
Though the apostles had been previously informed what kind of death awaited our Lord, yet as they had not sufficiently profited by it, he now repeats anew what he had frequently said. He sees that the day of his death is at hand; nay more, he is already in a state of readiness to offer himself to be sacrificed; and, on the other hand, he sees the disciples not only afraid, but overwhelmed by blind alarm. He therefore exhorts them to steadiness, that they may not immediately yield to temptation. Now there are two methods by which he confirms them; for, by foretelling what would happen, he not only fortifies them, that they may not give way, when a calamity, which has arisen suddenly and contrary to expectation, takes them by surprise, but meets the offense of the cross by a proof of his Divinity, that they may not lose courage at beholding his short abasement, when they are convinced that he is the Son of God, and therefore will be victorious over death. The second method of confirmation is taken from his approaching resurrection.
But it will be proper to look more closely at the words. Mark states — what is omitted by the other two Evangelists — that, before our Lord explained to his disciples in private that he was going straight to the sacrifice of death, not only they, but also the rest of his followers, were sorrowful and trembling. Now why they were seized with this fear it is not easy to say, if it was not because they had already learned that they had dangerous adversaries at Jerusalem, and would therefore have wished that Christ should remain in some quiet retreat beyond the reach of the darts, rather than voluntarily expose himself to such inveterate enemies. Although this fear was in many respects improper, yet the circumstance of their following Christ is a proof of no ordinary respect and obedience. It would indeed have been far better to hasten cheerfully and without regret, wheresoever the Son of God chose to lead them; but commendation is due to their reverence for his person, which appears in choosing to do violence to their own feelings rather than to forsake him.
Matthew 20:17. Took the twelve disciples apart in the way It may appear surprising that he makes the twelve alone acquainted with his secret, since all have need of consolation, for all had been alike seized with fear. I consider the reason why he did not publish his death to have been, that the report might not spread too widely before the time. Besides, as he did not expect that the warning would be of immediate advantage, he reckoned it enough to entrust it to a few, who were afterwards to be his witnesses. For, as the seed thrown into the earth does not immediately spring up, so we know that Christ said many things to the apostles which did not immediately yield fruit. And if he had admitted all indiscriminately to this discourse, it was possible that many persons, seized with alarm, might flee, and fill the ears of the public with this report; and thus the death of Christ would have lost its glory, because he would have appeared to have rashly brought it on himself. Secretly, therefore, he addresses the apostles, and does not even select them as qualified to receive profit by it, but, as I lately hinted, that they may afterwards be witnesses.
On this subject Luke is more full than the others; for he relates not only that Christ predicted the events which were near at hand, but also that he added the doctrine, that those things which had been written by the prophets would be accomplished in the Son of man. It was an excellent remedy for overcoming temptation, to perceive in the very ignominy of the cross the marks by which the Prophets had pointed out the promised Author of salvation. There can be no doubt that our Lord pointed out also from the Prophets what kind of fruit they ought to expect from his death; for the Prophets do not only teach that Christ must suffer, but add the reason, that he may reconcile the world to God.
18. Lo, we go up to Jerusalem. Hence we perceive that Christ was endued with divine fortitude for overcoming the terrors of death, for he knowingly and willingly hastens to undergo it. 649 For why does he, without any constraint, march forward to suffer a shocking murder, but because the invincible power of the Spirit enabled him to subdue fear, and raised him above all human feelings? By a minute detail of the circumstances, he gives a still more evident proof of his Divinity. For he could not — as man — have foreseen that, after having been condemned by the chief priests and scribes, he would be delivered up to the Gentiles, and spat on, and mocked in various ways, and scourged, and at length dragged to the punishment of the cross Yet it must be observed that, though our Lord was fully acquainted with the weakness of his disciples, he does not conceal from them a very grievous offense. For — as we have said on a former occasion 650 — nothing could at that time have happened more powerfully calculated to shake the minds of the godly, than to see the whole of the sacred order of the Church opposed to Christ.
And yet he does not spare their weakness by deceiving them, but, candidly declaring the whole matter, points out the way to overcome temptation; namely, by looking forward with certainty to his resurrection. But as it was necessary that His death should go before, he makes their triumph, in the meantime, to consist in hope.
Luke 18:34. And they understood none of these things. What stupidity was this, not to understand what Christ said to them in a plain and familiar manner, on a subject not too lofty or intricate, but of which they had, at their own suggestion, entertained some suspicion! But it is proper also to bear in mind — what I have formerly observed — the reason why they were held in such gross ignorance, which was, that they had formed the expectation of a joyful and prosperous advancement, and therefore reckoned it to be in the highest degree absurd, that Christ should be ignominiously crucified. Hence we infer with what madness the minds of men are seized through a false imagination; and therefore we ought to be the more careful not to yield to any foolish thoughts, and shut our eyes against the light.
“Pour estre mocque, et flagelle, et crucifie;” — “to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified.”
“Et ne pouvoyent entendre ce qu’il leur disoit;” — “and they could not understand what he said to them.”
“Veu qu’il se haste pour s’y presenter de son bon gre, et seachant bien ce qu’il avoit a endurer;” — “since he hastens to present himself to it of his own accord, and knowing well what he had to endure.”
See p. 301 of this volume.