Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 28:1-7; MARK 16:1-7; LUKE 24:1-8
1. Now in the evening of the Sabbaths, 298 which began to dawn towards the first of the Sabbaths, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulcher. 2. And lo, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and approached, and rolled away the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3. And his countenance was like lightning, and his raiment was white as snow. 4. And through fear of him the guards trembled, and became as dead men. 5. But the angel answering, said to the women, Fear not; for I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. 6. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay: 7. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, lo, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall you see him: lo, I have told you.
1. And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the wife of James, and Salome, bought spices to come and anoint him. 2. And very early in the morning of the first day of the Sabaths, 299 They come to the tomb at the rising of the sun. 300 3. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb? 4. And having looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was very great. 5. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe; and they were afraid. 6. But he saith to them, Be not terrified: you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he is risen, he is not here: lo, the place where they laid him. 7. But go away, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall you see him, as he said to you.
1. And on the first day of the Sabbaths, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, carrying the spices which they had prepared, and some women with them. 2. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3. And having entered, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4. And it happened, while they were in consternation on this account, lo, two men stood near them in shining garments. 5. And when the women were terrified, and bowed their face to the earth, they said to them, Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6. He is not here, but is risen: remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7. Saying, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of the wicked men, and be crucified and rise again on the third day. 8. And they remembered his words.
We now come to the closing scene of our redemption. For the lively assurance of our reconciliation with God arises from Christ having come from hell as the conqueror of death, in order to show that he had the power of a new life at his disposal. Justly, therefore, does Paul say that there will be no gospel, and that the hope of salvation will be vain and fruitless, unless we believe that Christ is risen from the dead, (1Co 15:14.) For then did Christ obtain righteousness for us, and open up our entrance into heaven; and, in short, then was our adoption ratified, when Christ, by rising from the dead, exerted the power of his Spirit, and proved himself to be the Son of God. No though he manifested his resurrection in a different manner from what the sense of our flesh would have desired, still the method of which he approved ought to be regarded by us also as the best. he went out of the grave without a witness, that the emptiness of the place might be the earliest indication; next, he chose to have it announced to the women by the angels that he was alive; and shortly afterwards he appeared to the women, and, finally, to the apostles, and on various occasions.
Thus he gradually brought his followers, according to their capacity, to a larger measure of knowledge. He began with the women, and not only presented himself to be seen by them, but even gave them a commission to announce the gospel to the apostles, so as to become their instructors. This was intended, first, to chastise the indifference of the apostles, who were like persons half-dead with fear, while the women ran with alacrity to the sepulcher, and likewise obtained no ordinary reward. For though their design to anoint Christ, as if Ire were still dead, was not free from blame, still he forgave their weakness, and bestowed on them distinguished honor, by taking away from men the apostolic office, and committing it to them for a short time. In this manner also he exhibited an instance of what Paul tells us, that he chooses those things which are foolish and weak in the world to abase the loftiness of the flesh. And never shall we be duly prepared to learn this article of our faith in any other manner than by laying aside all pride, and submitting to receive the testimony of the women. Not that our faith ought to be confined within such narrow limits, but because the Lord, in order to make trial of our faith, determines that we shall become fools, before he admits us to a more ample knowledge of his mysteries.
So far as regards the narrative, Matthew says only that the two Marys came to see the sepulcher; Mark adds a third, Salome, and says that they bought spices to anoint the body; and from Luke we infer, that not two or three only, but many women came. But we know that it is customary with the sacred writers, when speaking of a great number, to name but a few of them. It may also be conjectured with probability, that Mary Magdalene, with another companion—whether she was sent before, or ran forward of her own accord arrived at the grave before the rest of the women. And this appears to be conveyed by the words of Matthew, that those two women came for the purpose of seeing; for without seeing Christ:, they had no means of anointing him. He says nothing, in the meantime, about the purpose which they had formed of doing honor to him; for the principal object which he had in view was, to testify of the resurrection.
But it may be asked, how could this zeal of the women, which was mixed with superstition, be acceptable to God? I have no doubt, that the custom of anointing the dead, which they had borrowed from the Fathers, was applied by them to its proper object, which was, to draw consolation, amidst the mourning of death, from the hope of the life to come. I readily acknowledge that they sinned in not immediately raising their minds to that prediction which they had heard from the lips of their Master, when he foretold that he would rise again on the third day. 301 But as they retain the general principle of the final resurrection, that defect is forgiven, which would justly have vitiated, as the phrase is, the whole of the action. Thus God frequently accepts, with fatherly kindness, the works of the saints, which, without pardon, not only would not have pleased him, but would even have been justly rejected with shame and punishment. It is, therefore, an astonishing display of the goodness of Christ, that he kindly and generously presents himself alive to the women, who did him wrong in seeking him among the dead. Now if he did not permit them to come in vain to his grave, we may conclude with certainty, that those who now aspire to him by faith will not be disappointed; for the distance of places does not prevent believers from enjoying him who fills heaven and earth by the power of his Spirit.
Mark 16:1. And when the Sabbath was past. The meaning is the same as in Matthew, In the evening, which began to dawn towards the first day of the Sabbaths, and in Luke, on the first day of the Sabbaths. For while we know that the Jews began to reckon their day from the commencement of the preceding night, everybody understands, that when the Sabbath was past, the women resolved among themselves to visit the sepulcher, so as to come there before the dawn of day. The two Evangelists give the name of the first day of the Sabbaths, to that which came first in order between two Sabbaths. Some of the Latin translators 302 have rendered it one, and many have been led into this blunder through ignorance of the Hebrew language; for though (אחד) sometimes means one, and sometimes first, the Evangelists, as in many other passages, have followed the Hebrew idiom, and used the word μίαν, one. 303 But that no one may be led astray by the ambiguity, I have stated their meaning more clearly. As to the purchase of the spices, Luke’s narrative differs, in some respects, from the words of Mark; for Luke says that they returned into the city, and procured spices, and then rested one day, according to the commandment of the law before pursuing their journey. But Mark, in introducing into the same part of the narrative two different events, at—tends less accurately than Luke to the distinction of dates; for he blends with their setting out on the journey what had been previously done. In the substance of the fact they perfectly agree, that the women, after having observed the holy rest, left home during the darkness of the night, that they might reach the sepulcher about the break of day.
We ought also to recollect what I have formerly suggested, that the custom of anointing the dead, though it was common, among many heathen nations, was applied to a lawful use by the Jews alone, to whom it had been handed down by the Fathers, to confirm them in the faith of the resurrection. For without having this object in view, to embalm a dead body, which has no feeling, would be an idle and empty solace, as we know that the Egyptians bestowed great labor and anxiety on this point, without looking for any advantage. But by this sacred symbol, God represented to the Jews the image of life in death, to lead them to expect that out of putrefaction and dust they would one day acquire new vigor. Now as the resurrection of Christ, by its quickening vigor, penetrated every sepulcher, so as to breathe life into the dead, so it abolished those outward ceremonies. For himself, he needed not those aids, but they were owing to the ignorance of the women, who were not yet fully aware that he was free from corruption.
3. And they said among themselves. Mark alone expresses this doubt; but as the other Evangelists relate that the stone was rolled away by the angel, it may easily be inferred, that they remained in perplexity and doubt as to what they should do, until the entrance was opened up by the hand of God. But let us learn from this, that in consequence of having been carried away by their zeal, they came there without due consideration. They had seen a stone placed before the sepulcher, to hinder any one from entering. Why did not this occur to them, when they were at home and at leisure, but because they were seized with such fear and astonishment, that thought and recollection failed them? But as it is a holy zeal that blinds them, God does not charge them with this fault.
Matthew 28:2. And, lo, a great earthquake. By many signs the Lord showed the presence of his glory, that he might more fully prepare the hearts of the holy women to reverence the mystery. 304 For since it was not a matter of little consequence to know that the Son of God had obtained a victory over death, (on which the principal point of our salvation is founded,) it was necessary to remove all doubts, that the divine majesty might be openly and manifestly presented to the eyes of the women. Matthew says, therefore, that there was an earthquake, by which the divine power which I have mentioned might be perceived. And by this prodigy, it was proper that the women should be allowed to expect nothing human or earthly, but to raise their minds to a work of God which was new, and surpassed the expectations of men.
The raiment and the countenance of the angel, too, might be said to be rays by which the splendor of Godhead was diffused, so as to enable them to perceive that it was not a mortal man that stood near them, having the face of a man. For though dazzling light, or the whiteness of snow, is nothing in comparison of the boundless glory of God, but rather, if we wish to know him aright, we ought not to imagine to ourselves any color; yet when he makes known by outward signs that he is present, he invites us to him, as far as our weakness can endure. Still we ought to know that the visible signs of his presence are exhibited to us, that our minds may conceive of him as invisible; and that, under bodily forms, we obtain a taste of his spiritual essence, that we may seek him spiritually. Yet it cannot be doubted that, together with outward signs, there was an inward power, which engraved on the hearts of the women an impression of Deity. For though at first they were struck with amazement, yet it will appear, from what follows, that they gathered courage, and were gradually instructed in such a manner, that they perceived the hand of God to be present.
Our three Evangelists, from a desire of brevity, leave out what is more fully related by John, (Joh 20:1-12) which, we know, is not unusual with them. There is also this difference, that Matthew and Mark mention but one angel, while John and Luke speak of two. But this apparent contradiction also is easily removed; for we know how frequently in Scripture instances occur of that figure of speech by which a part is taken for the whole. There were two angels, therefore, who appeared first to Mary, and afterwards to her other companions; but as the attention of the women was chiefly directed to the angel who spoke, Matthew and Mark have satisfied themselves with relating his message. Besides, when Matthew says that the angel sat on a stone, there is in his words (ὕστερον πρότερον), an inversion of the order of events; or, at least, that order was disregarded by him; for the angel did not immediately appear, but while the women were held in suspense and anxiety by an event so strange and astonishing.
4. Through fear the guards trembled. The Lord struck the guards with terror, as if he had engraved their consciences with a hot iron, so as to constrain them reluctantly to feel his divine power. The terror had, at least, the effect of hindering them from treating with careless mockery the report of the resurrection which was to be spread abroad shortly afterwards. For though they were not ashamed of prostituting their tongues for him, still they were compelled, whether they would or not, to acknowledge inwardly what they wickedly denied before men. Nor can it be doubted that, when they were at liberty to talk freely among their acquaintances, they frankly admitted what they dare not openly avow, in consequence of having been gained over by money.
We must attend to the distinction between the two kinds of terror, between which Matthew draws a comparison. The soldiers, who were accustomed to tumults, were terrified, and were so completely overwhelmed by alarm, that they fell down like men who were almost dead; but no power was exerted to raise them from that condition. A similar terror seized the women; but their minds, which had nearly given way, were restored by the consolation which immediately followed, so as to begin, at least, to entertain some better hope. And, certainly, it is proper that the majesty of God should strike both terror and fear indiscriminately into the godly, as well as the reprobate, that all flesh may be silent before his face. But when the Lord has humbled and subdued his elect, he immediately mitigates their dread, that they may not sink under its oppressive influence; and not only so, but by the sweetness of his grace heals the wound which he had inflicted. The reprobate, on the other hand, he either overwhelms by sudden dread, or suffers to languish in slow torments. As to the soldiers themselves, they were, no doubt, like dead men, but without any serious impression. Like men in a state of insensibility, they tremble, indeed, for a moment, but presently forget that they were afraid; not that the remembrance of their terror was wholly obliterated, but because that lively and powerful apprehension of the power of God, to which they were compelled to yield, soon passed away from them. But we ought chiefly to attend to this point, that though they, as well as the women, were afraid, no medicine was applied to soothe their terror; for to the women only did the angel say, Fear not. He held out to them a ground of joy and assurance in the resurrection of Christ. Luke adds a reproof, Why do you seek the living among the dead? as if the angel pulled their ear, that they might no longer remain in sluggishness and despair.
7. And go quickly, and tell his disciples. Here God, by the angel, confers extraordinary honor on the women, by enjoining them to proclaim to the apostles themselves the chief point of our salvation. In Mark’s account of it, they are expressly enjoined to carry this message to Peter; not because he was at that time higher in rank than the others, but because his crime, which was so disgraceful, needed peculiar consolation to assure him that Christ had not cast him off, though he had basely and wickedly fallen. He had already entered into the sepulcher, and beheld the traces of the resurrection of Christ; but God denied him the honor, which he shortly afterwards conferred on the women, of hearing from the lips of the angel that Christ was risen. And, indeed, the great insensibility under which he still labored is evident from the fact that he again fled trembling to conceal himself, as if he had seen nothing, while Mary sat down to weep at the grave. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that she and her companions, in beholding the angel, obtained the reward of their patience.
And, lo, He goeth before you into Galilee. When the angel sent the disciples into Galilee, he did so, I think, in order that Christ might make himself known to a great number of persons; for we know that he had lived a long time in Galilee. He intended also to give his followers greater liberty, that by the very circumstance of their retirement they might gradually acquire courage. Besides, by being accustomed to the places, they were aided in recognizing their Master with greater certainty; for it was proper to adopt every method of confirming them, that nothing might be wanting to complete the certainty of their faith.
Lo, I have told you. By this manner of speaking the angel earnestly assures them that what is said is true. He states this, not as from himself, as if he had been the first to suggest it, but gives his signature to the promise of Christ; and, therefore, in Mark’s account of it, he merely recalls to their remembrance the very words of Christ. Luke carries out the address still farther, by saying that the disciples were informed by Christ that he must be crucified, and rise again on the third day. But the meaning is the same; for along with his resurrection he had foretold his death. He then adds, —
Luke 24:8. And they remembered his words; by which we are taught that, though they had made little proficiency in the doctrine of Christ, still it was not lost, but was choked up, until in due time it yielded fruit.
“Ou, au bout du Sabbaths, comme le jour apparoissoit pour luire pour le premier de la semaine;” — “or, at the end of the Sabbath, as the day began to dawn for the first of the week.”
“Le premier des Sabbaths; ou, jour de la semaine;”—the first of the Sabbaths, or day of the week.”
“Le soleil estant ja levé; ou, commençant à se lever, ou, n’estant encore levé;” — “the sun having already risen; or beginning to rise, or not having yet risen.”
“Quand il avoit predit qu’il ressusciteroit le troisieme jour.”
“Aucuns En la translation Latine.”
“Et ont ici mis le mot Grec qui signifie Un;” — “and have put here the Greek word which means One.”
“A Une reverence du mystere.”