Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 24:9-14; MARK 13:9-13; LUKE 21:12-19
9. Then will they deliver you up to be afflicted, and will kill you; and you will be hated by all nations on account of my name. 10. And then will many be offended, and will deliver up one another, and will hate one another. 11. And many false prophets will arise, and will deceive many. 12. And because iniquity will abound, the love of many will be cooled. 13. But he who shall persevere to the end will be saved. 14. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world for a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
9. But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils and synagogues; you will be scourged and will be brought before rulers and kings on my account, for a testimony to them. 10. And the gospel must first be preached among all nations. 11. And when they shall lead you away to deliver you up, do not think beforehand what you shall say, nor premeditate, but whatever shall be given to you at that hour, speak; for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost. 12. And the brother will deliver up the brother to death, and the father the son; and the children will rise up against their parents and will cause them to be put to death. 13. And you will be hated by all men on account of my name. But he that still endures to the end will be saved.
12. But before all these things they will lay hands upon you, and will persecute you, delivering you up to synagogues and prisons, and dragging you before kings and rulers on account of my name. 13. But it will happen 128 to you for a testimony. 14. Settle it therefore in your hearts, that you must not premeditate your defense. 129 15. For will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all who oppose you will not be a le to contradict or oppose. 16. And you will also be delivered up by parents, and brothers, and relatives, and friends; and some of you they will put to death. 17. And you will be hated by all on account of my name. 18. And not a hair of your head will be lost. 19. In patience possess your souls. 130
Matthew 24:9. Then will they deliver you up to be afflicted. Christ now foretells to the disciples another kind of temptation, by which, in addition to ordinary afflictions, their faith must be tried; and that is, that they will be hated and detested by the whole world. It is painful and distressing enough in itself that the children of God should be afflicted in such a manner as not to be distinguished from the reprobate and the despisers of God, and should be subjected to the same punishments which those men endure on account of their crimes; and it appears to be still more unjust that they should be severely oppressed by grievous calamities from which the ungodly are exempted. But as wheat, after having been beaten by the flail along with the chaff, is pressed down and bruised by the millstone, so God not only afflicts his children in common with the ungodly, but subdues them by the cross even beyond others, so that we might be apt to think them more unhappy than the rest of mankind.
But Christ treats here strictly of the afflictions which the disciples had to endure on account of the gospel. For, though what Paul stays is true, that those whom God hath elected are likewise appointed by him to bear the cross,
that they may be conformed to the image of his Son,
yet he does not distinguish all by this special Mark of enduring persecution from the enemies of the gospel. It is of this species of the cross that Christ now speaks, when it becomes necessary that believers should incur the hatred, meet the reproaches, and provoke the fury, of the ungodly for the testimony of the gospel. For he intended to warn his disciples that the doctrine of the gospel, of which they were to be witnesses and messengers, would never be pleasant or agreeable to the world, as he had formerly explained to them. He foretells not only that they will have to contend with a few enemies, but that, wherever they come, all nations will oppose them.
But it was monstrous and incredible, and was fitted to astonish and shake even the strongest minds, that the name of the Son of God should be so infamous and hateful, that all who professed it would be everywhere disliked. Accordingly, the words of Mark are, take heed to yourselves. By this expression he points out the end and use of the warning, which is, that they ought to be prepared for endurance, lest, through want of caution, they might be overwhelmed by temptation. The same Mark adds, that this will be for a testimony to kings and rulers, when the disciples of Christ shall be brought before their tribunal. Luke expresses it a little differently, this will happen to you for a testimony, but the sense is quite the same; for Christ means that his gospel will be so much the more fully attested, when they have defended it at the risk of their lives.
If the apostles had only given their attention to preaching the gospel, and had not stood so firmly in defending it against the furious attacks of enemies, the confirmation of it would not have been so complete. But when they did not hesitate to expose their lives, and were not driven from their purpose by any terrors of death, their unshaken constancy made it manifest, how firmly they were convinced of the goodness of their cause. It was therefore an authentic seal of the gospel, when the apostles advanced without terror to the tribunals of kings, and there made an open profession of the name of Christ. Accordingly, Peter calls himself
a witness of the sufferings of Christ, (1Pe 5:1,)
whose badges he wore; and Paul boasts that he was
placed for the defense of the gospel, (Php 1:17.)
This is eminently worthy of attention, that those on whom God bestows so great an honor as to make them defenders of his truth, may not through base treachery fall from the faith.
Mark 13:11. Neither premeditate. This sentence, as well as the one which immediately follows, we have explained 131 under Mt 10:19 Our Lord’s design in these words is, to relieve the disciples from that anxiety which interferes with the cheerful discharge of our duty, when we doubt our inability to sustain the burden. Not that he wishes us to fall asleep in indolent security, for nothing is more advantageous than to have such a consciousness of our weakness as produces humility and excites to prayer. But Christ advises us to cast all our cares into the bosom of our Father, so that, relying on his promised aid, we may pursue our course with cheerfulness. The promise is stated in different words by Luke; not that Christ will deliver his people from death, (for this must not always be expected,) but that he will give them a mouth and wisdom, to confound their adversaries. Now though Christ supplies them both with presence of mind and with ability to speak, yet I look upon these two words as connected by that figure of speech which is called hypallage; as if Christ had promised that he would guide their tongues, so as to enable them to make a wise and suitable reply.
He adds, that this wisdom will be victorious against all their enemies, because they will not be able to contradict, or to oppose it. Not that their impudence will yield the palm to truth, but because that truth, which they in vain strive to oppose, will triumph over their mad presumption. Would that all who are called upon to make a confession of their faith would rely on that assurance; for the power and majesty of the Spirit would be displayed in a different manner for overthrowing the ministers of Satan. Now that we are partly carried away by our own feelings, and, swelled with pride, rush on heedlessly, or advance farther than is proper, and partly confine ourselves within the limits of improper timidity, sad experience shows that we are deprived of the grace of God and the assistance of the Spirit. As Christ affirms, according to Matthew and Mark, that it is the Spirit of the Father that speaketh in us, (Mt 10:10; Mr 13:11,) and here declares that he will give a mouth, we infer that it is His prerogative to fortify us by the Spirit.
Luke 21:19. In your patience. Here Christ enjoins on his followers a different method of defending their life from what is dictated by carnal reason. For naturally every man desires to place his life in safety; we collect from every quarter those aids which we think will be best, and avoid all danger; and, in short, we do not think that we are alive, if we are not properly defended. But Christ prescribes to us this defense of our life, that we should be always exposed to death, and walk
through fire, and water, and sword, (Ps 66:12.)
And, indeed, no man will commit his soul into the hands of God in a right manner, unless he have learned to live from day to day constantly prepared to die. 132 In a word, Christ orders us to possess our life both under the cross, and amidst the constant terrors of death.
Matthew 24:10. Then will many be offended. He now enumerates the temptations which will arise from bad examples. Now this is an exceedingly violent temptation, and difficult to overcome; for Christ is to many a stone of offense, (1Pe 2:8,) on which some dash themselves, or by meeting which some are thrown back, and others fall away. In this expression Christ appears to me to include many kinds of troubles; for not only do they that had entered into the right course fall away, but many are exasperated against Christ; others, forgetful of moderation and justice, break out into rage; others grow profane, and lose every feeling of piety; and others, amidst the confusion which prevails, take upon themselves a liberty to commit crimes.
11. And many false prophets will arise. This warning differs from the former, in which Christ foretold that many would come in his name. For there he spoke only of impostors, who, shortly after the commencement of the Gospel, gave out that they were the Christ; but now he threatens that in all ages false teachers will arise, to corrupt sound doctrine, as Peter tells us (2Pe 2:1) that the Church will be no less exposed to this evil under the Gospel than it anciently was under the Law. There is therefore no reason why error, and certain impostures of the devil and corruptions of piety, should strike pious minds with dismay; since no man is properly founded on Christ, who has not learned that we must stand firm against such attacks; for this is the undoubted trial of our faith, when it is in no degree shaken by the false doctrines which arise, or does he only say that false prophets will come, but likewise that they will be so crafty as to deceive and draw away sects after them. 133 No ordinary caution is necessary here; for the multitude of those who are going astray is like a violent tempest, which compels us to leave the course, if we are not firmly fixed on God. On this subject something was said but lately.
12 Because iniquity will abound. How far and wide this evil extends every person ought to know, but there are very few who observe it. For in consequence of the superior clearness with which the light of the gospel discovers the malice of men, even good and properly regulated minds grow cool, and almost lose the desire to exercise benevolence. Each of them reasons thus with himself, that the duties which they perform to one person, or to another, are thrown away, because experience and daily practice show that almost all are ungrateful, or treacherous, or wicked. This is unquestionably a weighty and dangerous temptation; for what could be more unreasonable than to approve of a doctrine, by which the desire of doing good, and the rigor of charity, appear to be diminished? And yet when the gospel makes its appearance, charity, which ought to kindle the hearts of all men with its warmth, rather grows cool. But we must observe the source of this evil, which Christ points out, namely, that many lose courage, because through their weakness they are unable to stem the flood of iniquity which flows on every hand. Christ requires from his followers, on the other hand, such courage as to persist in striving against it; as Paul also enjoins us not to be weary of performing deeds of kindness and beneficence, (2Th 3:13.) Although, then, the charity of many, overwhelmed by the mass of iniquities, should give way, Christ warns believers that they must surmount this obstacle, lest, overcome by bad examples, they apostatize. And therefore he repeats the statement, that no man can be saved, unless he strive lawfully, (2Ti 2:5,) so as to persevere to the end
14. And the gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world. Our Lord, having delivered a discourse which gave no small occasion for sorrow, seasonably adds this consolation, to raise up minds that were cast down, or to uphold those which were falling. Whatever may be the contrivances of Satan, and how numerous soever may be the multitudes which he carries away, yet the gospel will maintain its ground till it be spread through the whole world. This might indeed appear to be incredible; but it was the duty of the apostles, relying on this testimony of their Master, to cherish hope against hope, and, in the meantime, to strive vigorously to discharge their office. As to the objection brought by some, that to this day not even the slightest report concerning Christ has reached the Antipodes and other very distant nations, this difficulty may be speedily resolved; for Christ does not absolutely refer to every portion of the world, and does not fix a particular time, but only affirms that the gospel—which, all would have thought, was immediately to be banished from Judea, its native habitation would be spread to the farthest bounds of the world before the day of his last coming.
For a testimony to all nations. He describes this to be the end of preaching; for although
God has never left himself (ἀμάρτυρον) without witness,
and although in special manner he testified to the Jews concerning himself, yet it was a testimony remarkable beyond all others when he revealed himself in Christ; and therefore Paul says, that he was manifested in due time, (1Ti 2:6,) because this was the proper season for calling the whole world to God. Let us, therefore, learn that, wherever the gospel is preached, it is as if God himself came into the midst of us, and solemnly and expressly besought us, that we may not wander in darkness, as if we knew not where to go, and that those who refuse to obey may be rendered inexcusable.
And then will the end come. This is improperly restricted by some to the destruction of the temple, and the abolition of the service of the Law; for it ought to be understood as referring to the end and renovation of the world. Those two things having been blended by the disciples, as if the temple could not be overthrown without the destruction of the whole world, Christ, in replying to the whole question which had been put to him, reminded them that a long and melancholy succession of calamities was at hand, and that they must not hasten to seize the prize, before they had passed through many contests and dangers. In this manner, therefore, we ought to explain this latter clause: “The end of the world will not come before I have tried my Church, for a long period, by severe and painful temptations,” for it is contrasted with the false imagination which the apostles had formed in their minds. Hence, too, we ought to learn that no particular time is here fixed, as if the last day were to follow in immediate succession those events which were just now foretold; for the believers long ago experienced the fulfillment of those predictions which we have now examined, and yet Christ did not immediately appear. But Christ had no other design than to restrain the apostles, who were disposed to fly with excessive eagerness to the possession of the heavenly glory, and to show them the necessity of patience; as if he had said, that redemption was not so close at hand as they had imagined it to be, but that they must pass through long windings.
“Et cela vous adviendra en (ou, servira pour) tesmoignage;” — “and this will happen to you as a testimony, or, will serve for a testimony.”
“Mettez donc en vos cœurs de ne premediter comment vous respondrez;” — “settle then in your hearts not to premeditate how you shall answer.”
“Possedez vos ames par vostre patience;” — “possess your souls by your patience.”
Harmony, vol. 1, p.453.
“Sinon qu’estant tousjours prest a mourir, il ait apprins de vivre comme le jour vient, sans faire son conte de demeurer jusques au lendemain;” — “except that, being always ready to die, he has learned to live, as the day comes, without reckoning on being alive till tomorrow.”
“En sorte qu’ils auront des disciples, et feront des sectes;” — “so that they will have disciples, and will form sects.”