Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 24:37-42; MARK 13:33;
LUKE 17:26-37; 21:34-36
37. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38. For as in the days that came before the deluge, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, till the day when Noah entered into the ark, 39. And knew not until the deluge came, 160 and took them all away: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40. Two men shall then be in the field; one is taken, and the other is left. 41. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and the other is left. 42. Watch therefore, for you know not at what hour your Lord will come.
33. Take heed, watch and pray; for you know not when the time is.
26. And as it happened in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27. They ate, they drank, they married wives, and were given in marriage, till that day when Noah entered into the ark; and the deluge came, and destroyed them all. 28. In like manner also, as it happened in the days of Lot, they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29. But on the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30. In all these respects shall the day be when the Son of man shall be revealed. 31. In that day, let not him who shall be on the housetop, and his furniture in the house, go down to take them away; and in like manner, let not him who shall be in the field return to what he hath left behind. 32. Remember Lot’s wife. 33. Whosoever shall seek to save his soul, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose it, will beget it to life. 161 34. I tell you, in that night two men shall be in one bed; one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35. Two women shall be grinding together; one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 36. Two men shall be in the field; one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 37. Then they answering say to him, Where, Lord? And he said to them, Wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles also be gathered together.
34. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly. 35. For as a snare shall it come 162 on all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36. Watch therefore, praying at all times that you may be permitted to escape all those things which shall happen, and to stand before the Son of man.
Matthew 24:37. But as the days of Noah were. Although Christ lately expressed his desire to keep the minds of his followers in suspense, that they might not inquire too anxiously about the last day; yet, lest the indifference arising out of the enjoyments of the world should lull them to sleep, he now exhorts them to solicitude. He wished them to be uncertain as to his coming, but yet to be prepared to expect him every day, or rather every moment. 163 To shake off their sloth, and to excite them more powerfully to be on their guard, he foretells that the end will come, while the world is sunk in brutal indifference; just as in the days of Noah all the nations were swallowed up by the deluge, when they had no expectation of it, but rioted in gluttony and voluptuousness, and shortly afterwards, the inhabitants of Sodom, while they were abandoning themselves without fear to sensuality, were consumed by fire from heaven. Since indifference of this sort will exist about the time of the last day, believers ought not to indulge themselves after the example of the multitude.
We have now ascertained the design of Christ, which was, to inform believers that, in order to prevent themselves from being suddenly overtaken, they ought always to keep watch, because the day of the last judgment will come when it is not expected. Luke alone mentions Sodom, and that in the seventeenth chapter, where he takes occasion, without attending to the order of time, to relate this discourse of Christ. But it would not have been improper that the two Evangelists should have satisfied themselves with a single example, though Christ mentioned two, more especially when those examples perfectly agreed with each other in this respect, that at one time the whole human race, in the midst of unbroken indolence and pleasure, was suddenly swallowed up, 164 with the exception of a few individuals. When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change. And though we shall immediately find him commanding the disciples to guard against surfeiting and earthly cares, yet in this passage he does not directly condemn the intemperance, but rather the obstinacy, of those times, in consequence of which, they despised the threatenings of God, and awaited with indifference their awful destruction. Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not scruple to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And in itself it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not with gross stupidity opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven. So now Christ declares that the last age of the world will be in a state of stupid indifference, so that men will think of nothing but the present life, and will extend their cares to a long period, pursuing their ordinary course of life, as if the world were always to remain in the same condition. The comparisons are highly appropriate; for if we consider what then happened, we shall no longer be deceived by the belief that the uniform order of events which we see in the world will always continue. For within three days of the time, when every man was conducting his affairs in the utmost tranquillity, the world was swallowed up by a deluge, and five cities were consumed by fire.
39. And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Heb 11:7.) And here Christ compares Noah with the rest of the world, and Lot with the inhabitants of Sodom, that believers may learn to withdraw, lest they wander and be cut off along with others. But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a salutary warning to beware in proper time. Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation. Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails. For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this ground, that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Pet. 3:20, 21.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.
40. Two men shall then be in the field. Before mentioning this, Luke inserts some sentences; the first of which is presented by Matthew as belonging to the destruction of Jerusalem, Let not him who shall be on the house-top go down into his house to carry away his furniture. But it is possible that Christ applied the same words to various subjects. Luke states also a warning, that the disciples should remember Lot’s wife; that is, that they should forget those things which are behind, (Php 3:13) and advance towards the end of the heavenly calling. For Lot’s wife was changed into a pillar of salt, (Ge 19:26,) because, hesitating whether there were good reasons for departing from the city, she looked behind her, by which she gave the lie to the heavenly oracle. Perhaps, too, regret at leaving her nest, in which she had dwelt with comfort, induced her to turn her head. Since, therefore, God intended that she should remain as an everlasting demonstration, our minds ought to be strengthened by the constancy of faith, that they may not hesitate and give way in the middle of the course; and they ought also to be trained to perseverance, in order that, bidding adieu to the fascinations of a transitory life, they may rise cheerfully and willingly towards heaven.
Luke adds a third sentence, whosoever shall seek to save his soul will lose it, that the desire of an earthly life may not prevent believers from passing rapidly through the midst of death, to the salvation laid up for them in heaven. And Christ employs a strong expression to denote the frailty of the present life, when he says that souls (Ζωογονοῦνται), — that is, are begotten into life — when they are lost. His meaning is the same as if he had declared that inch do not live in the world, because the commencement of that life which is real, and which is worthy of the name, is, to leave the world. Luke afterwards adds what we find also in Matthew, that husbands and wives will then be separated, that the tics by which human beings are bound to each other in the world may not hinder or retard the godly; for it frequently happens that, while men are paying attention to each other, not one of them advances a step. In order, therefor that every man in his own department, freed from every bond and impediment, may run with cheerfulness, Christ informs us that, out of a single couple, one partner will be taken, while the other is left. Not that all who are united must of necessity be thus separated; for the sacred bond of piety will cause a believing wife to cleave to a believing husband, and will cause children to accompany their father. But Christ only intended, in order to cut off every occasion of delay, to enjoin every one to make haste, that those who already prepared may not waste their time in waiting for their companions. Immediately afterwards Luke adds, where the carcass is, there will the eagles also be gathered together; which must not, however, be restricted to the last day, but as the disciples had asked, Where, Lord? that is, “How shall we stand erect amidst so great shaking? and how shall we remain safe amidst such dangerous storms? and to what places of concealment shall we resort for protection, when we are united?” Christ declares, as we find in Matthew—that he is the banner of solid union, and in which all the children of God must be gathered.
42. Watch therefore. In Luke the exhortation is more pointed, or, at least, more special, Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life. And certainly he who, by living in intemperance, has his senses overloaded with food and wine, will never elevate his mind to meditation on the heavenly life. But as there is no desire of the flesh that does not intoxicate a man, they ought to take care, in all these respects, not to satiate themselves with the world, if they wish to advance with speed to the kingdom of Christ. The single word watch — which we find in Matthew — denotes that uninterrupted attention which keeps our minds in full activity, and makes us pass through the world like pilgrims.
In the account given by Mark, the disciples are first enjoined to take heed lest, through carelessness or indolence, ruin overtake them; and next are commanded to watch, because various allurements of the flesh are continually creeping upon us, and lulling our minds to sleep. Next follows an exhortation to prayer, because it is necessary to seek elsewhere the supplies that are necessary for supporting our weakness. Luke dictates the very form of prayer; first, that God may be pleased to rescue us from so deep and intricate a labyrinth; and next, that he may present us safe and sound in presence of his Son; for we shall never be able to reach it but by miraculously escaping innumerable deaths. And as it was not enough to pass through the course of the present life by rising superior to all dangers, Christ places this as the most important, that we may be permitted to stand before his tribunal.
For you know not at what hour your Lord will come. It ought to be observed, that the uncertainty as to the time of Christ’s coming — which almost all treat as an encouragement to sloth — ought to be felt by us to be an excitement to attention and watchfulness. God intended that it should be hidden from us, for the express purpose that we may keep diligent watch without the relaxation of a single hour. For what would be the trial of faith and patience, if believers, after spending their whole life in ease, and indolence, and pleasure, were to prepare themselves within the space of three days for meeting Christ?
“Et ne cognurent le deluge, jusqu’à ce qu’il fust venu;” — “and were not aware of the deluge, until it was come.”
“Il l’engendrera en vic, ou, la vivifera, ou luy fera avoir vie;” — “he will beget it to life, or, will quicken it, or, will cause it to have life.”
“Car il surprendra comme un laqs;” — “for it will come unawares at a snare.”
“De jour en jour, ou plustost d’heure en heure;” — “from day to day, or rather from hour to hour.”
“Avoit esté soudainement destruit par les eaux;” — “was suddenly destroyed by the waters.”