Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 26:31-35; MARK 14:27-31;
31. Then Jesus saith to them, You will all be offended at me this night; for it is written, I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. 32. But after that I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee. 33. And Peter answering said to him, Though all should be offended at thee, yet I will never be offended. 34. Jesus said to him, Verily I tell thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou wilt thrice deny me. 35. Peter saith to him, Though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee. In like manner also all the disciples spoke.
27. And Jesus saith to them, You will all be offended at me this night; for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. 28. But after I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee. 29. And Peter saith to him, Though all should be offended, yet I will not. 30. Then Jesus said to him, Verily I tell thee, that today, this night, before the cock crow twice, thou wilt thrice deny me. 31. But he spoke still more strongly, Though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee. In like manner also they all spoke.
31. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, lo, Satan has asked that he may sift you as wheat. 32. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. 33. And he said to him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both to prison and to death. 34. But he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock will not crow today, before thou thrice deny that you knowest me.
Matthew 26:31. You will all be offended at me. What Matthew and Mark extend to all the disciples alike is related by Luke as having been spoken to Peter only. But though the statement was equally addressed to all, yet it is probable that Christ spoke to them in the person of one man, who was to be admonished more than all the rest, and who needed extraordinary consolation, that, after having denied Christ, he might not be altogether overwhelmed with despair.
Luke 22:31. Lo, Satan hath desired. The other two Evangelists relate more briefly and simply, that our Lord foretold to his disciples their fall. But the words of Luke contain more abundant instruction; for Christ does not speak of the future trouble in the way of narrative, but expressly declares, that they will have a contest with Satan, and, at the same time, promises to them victory. It is a highly useful admonition, whenever we meet with any thing that gives us offense, to have always before our eyes the snares of Satan; as Paul also teaches, that
we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual armies,
The meaning of the words therefore is: “When, a short time hence, you shall see me oppressed, know that Satan employs these arms to fight against you, and that this is a convenient opportunity for destroying your faith.” I have said that this is a useful doctrine, because it frequently happens that, from want of consideration, we are overcome by disregarding temptations, which we would regard as formidable, if we reflected that they are the fiery darts (Eph 6:16) of a vigorous and powerful enemy. And though he now speaks of that singularly fierce attack, by which the disciples, at one time, received dreadful shocks, so that their faith was well nigh extinguished, yet he manifestly conveys a more extensive doctrine, that Satan continually goes about, roaring for his prey. As he is impelled by such furious madness to destroy us, nothing is more unreasonable than that we should give ourselves up to drowsiness. Before there is apparent necessity for fighting, let us already prepare ourselves; for we know that Satan desires our destruction, and with great skill and assiduity seizes on every method of injuring us. And when we come to the conflict, let us know that all temptations, from whatever quarter they come, were forged in the workshop of that enemy.
That he may sift you as wheat. The metaphor of sifting is not in every respect applicable; for we have elsewhere seen that the Gospel is compared to a winnowing-fan or sieve, by which the wheat is purified from the chaff (Mt 3:12;) but here it simply means to toss up and down, or to shake with violence, because the apostles were driven about with unusual severity by the death of Christ. This ought to be understood, because there is nothing in which Satan takes less delight than the purification of believers. Yet though it be for a different purpose that he shakes them, it is nevertheless true, that they are driven and tossed about in every direction, just as the wheat is shaken by the winnowing-fan. But we shall shortly afterwards see that a still more disastrous fulfillment of these words was experienced by the disciples. And this is what is meant by the words of our Lord, as related by Matthew and Mark: you will all be offended at me. They mean that the disciples will not only be attacked, but will nearly give way; because the ignominious treatment of Christ will quite overpower their minds. For whereas it was their duty to advance steadily with their Master to the cross, fear kept them back. Their infirmity is thus exhibited to them, that by prayers and groans they may betake themselves to God’s holy protection.
Matthew 26:31. For it is written. By this prediction he encourages them to rise above the offense, because God does not cease to recognize as his sheep those who are driven out and scattered in every direction for a time. After having treated of the restoration of the Church, the prophet, in order to prevent the minds of the godly from being overwhelmed with despair by the extreme distresses which were already at hand, declares, that when the government has been brought into a state of confusion, or even completely overturned, there will be a sad and miserable dispersion, but yet the grace of God will be victorious. And though almost all commentators confine the passage in Zec 13:7 to the person of Christ alone, yet I extend it farther, as meaning that a government, on which the salvation of the people depends, will no longer exist, because the shepherds will be driven from the midst of them. I have no doubt that the Lord intended to include that whole period during which, after the tyranny of Antiochus, the Church was deprived of good shepherds, and reduced to a state of desolation; for at that time God permitted the sword to commit fearful devastation, and, by slaying the shepherds, to throw the people into a state of wretched confusion. And yet this scattering did not prevent the Lord from gathering his sheep at length, by stretching out his hand towards them.
But though the prophet utters a general threatening that the Church will be deprived of shepherds, still this is justly and properly applied to Christ. For since he was the prince of all the shepherds, on whom alone the salvation of the Church depended, when he was dead, it might be thought that all hope was utterly gone. And, indeed, it was an extremity of temptation, when the Redeemer, who was the breath and life of his people, after having begun to collect the flock of God, was suddenly dragged to death. But so much the more strikingly was the grace of God displayed, when out of dispersion and death the remaining flock was again assembled in a wonderful manner.
Thus we see, that Christ quoted this passage appropriately, that the disciples might not be too much alarmed by the future dispersion, and yet that, aware of their own weakness, they might rely on their Shepherd. The meaning therefore is: “Not having yet felt your weakness, you imagine that you are sufficiently vigorous and powerful; but it will soon be apparent that the prediction of Zechariah is true, that, when the shepherd is slain, the flock will be scattered. But yet let the promise which is added exhilarate and support you, that God will stretch out his hand, to bring back to Him the scattered sheep.” We are here taught, that there is no unity that brings salvation but that which keeps the sheep united under Christ’s crook.
32 But after I have risen. He now expresses more clearly — what I lately hinted — that the disciples, struck with dread, will resemble for a short time scattered and wandering sheep, but will at length be brought back to the fold. For Christ does not simply say that he will rise again, but promises to be their leader, and takes them for his companions, as if they had never swerved from their allegiance to him; and, to impart to them greater confidence, he mentions the place where they will again meet; as if he had said, “You, who are scattered at Jerusalem, will be again assembled by me in Galilee.”
33. Peter answering. Though Peter uses no hypocrisy, but speaks with sincere affection, yet as a false confidence in his virtue carries him away into foolish boasting, he is justly reproved by Christ, and shortly afterwards is severely punished for his rashness. Thus the event showed, that Peter promised more for himself than he was able to accomplish, because he had not been sufficiently careful to examine himself. Hence too we see more clearly, how stupid is the intoxication of human presumption, that, when he is again reminded of his weakness by the Son of God, and that with the solemnity of an oath, he is so far from yielding, or even from making any abatement of his foolish confidence, that he goes on to show those lofty pretensions with more fierceness than ever.
But it is asked, Had not Peter a right to hope what he promises for himself? and was he not even bound, relying on the promise of Christ, to make this promise for himself? I answer, When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet endued with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith. He erred in two respects. First, by anticipating the time he made a rash engagement, and did not rely on the promise of the Lord. Secondly, shutting his eyes on his own weakness, and under the influence of thoughtlessness rather than of courage, he undertook more than the case, warranted.
This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. Believers ought, indeed, to be prepared for the contest in such a manner that, entertaining no doubt or uncertainty about the result and the victory, they may resist fear; for trembling and excessive anxiety are marks of distrust. But, on the other hand, they ought to guard against that stupidity which shakes off all anxiety, and fills their minds with pride, and extinguishes the desire to pray. This middle course between two faulty extremes 199 is very beautifully expressed by Paul, when he enjoins us to
work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that worketh in us to will and perform,
(Phil. 2:12, 13.)
For, on the one hand, having humbled us, he entreats us to seek supplies elsewhere; and, on the other hand, lest anxiety should induce sloth, he exhorts us to strenuous exertions. And, therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere what we need; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt. For those who, forgetting their weakness, and not calling on God, feel assured that they are strong, act entirely like drunken soldiers, who throw themselves rashly into the field, but, as soon as the effects of strong drink are worn off, think of nothing else than flight.
It is wonderful that the other disciples, after Peter had been reproved, still break out into the same rashness; and hence it is evident how little they knew themselves. We are taught by this example, that we ought to attempt nothing, except so far as God stretches out his hand; for nothing is more fading or transitory than inconsiderate zeal. The disciples perceive that nothing is more base or unreasonable than to forsake their Master; and, therefore, they justly detest so infamous an action: but, having no reliance on the promise, and neglecting prayer, they advance with inconsiderate haste to boast of a constancy which they did not possess.
“Entre ces deux extremitez vicieuses.”