Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MARK 16:12; LUKE 24:13-30
12. And after these things he appeared in another form to two of them who were walking, and were going into the country.
13. And lo, two of them were going, on the same day, to a village which was about sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, called Emmaus; 14. And they conversed with each other about all things that had taken place. 15. And it happened, while they were talking and reasoning, Jesus himself approached, and went with them. 16. But their eyes were held that they did not know him. 17. And he said to them, What are those discourses which you hold with each other, while you talk? and why 310 are you sad? 18. And one, whose name was Cleopas, answering said to him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and knowest thou not those things which have happened there in these days? 19. And he said to them, What things? And they said to him, About Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and in word before God and all the people: 20. And how our chief priests delivered him to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21. But we hoped that he would be the person who should redeem Israel; and besides all these things, today is the third day since these things happened. 22. But also some women of our company made us astonished, who went early in the morning to the tomb; 23. And not having found his body, came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24. And some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it to be as the women said; but him they saw not. 25. And he said to them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all things which the prophets have spoken! 26. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to have entered into his glory? 27. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures those things which related to himself. 28. And they approached the village to which they constrained him, saying, Remain with us; for it is towards evening, and the day is spent. And he went in to remain with them. 30. And it happened while he sat at table with them, he took bread and blessed, 311 and broke it, and gave it to them.
Luke 24:13. And lo, two of them. Although Mark touches slightly and briefly on this narrative, and Matthew and John say not a single word respecting it; yet as it is highly useful to be known and worthy of being remembered, it is not without reason that Luke treats it with so much exactness. But I have already mentioned on various occasions, that each of the Evangelists had his portion so appropriately assigned to him by the Spirit of God, that what is not to be found in one or two of them may be learned from the others. For there are also many appearances 312 which are mentioned by John, but are passed over in silence by our three Evangelists.
Before I come to the minute details, it will be proper to begin with stating briefly, that those were two chosen witnesses, by whom the Lord intended, not to convince the apostles that he was risen, but to reprove their slowness; for though at first; they were of no service, yet their testimony, strengthened by other aids, had at length its due weight with the apostles. Who they were is uncertain, except that from the name of one of them, whom we shah find that Luke shortly afterwards calls Cleopas, we may conjecture that they did not belong; to the eleven. Emmaus was an ancient, and by no means inconsiderable, town, which the Romans afterwards called Nicopolis and was not at a great distance from Jerusalem, for sixty furlongs are not more than seven thousand and four hundred paces. 313 But the place is named by Luke, not so much on account of its celebrity, as to add certainty to the narrative.
14. And they were conversing with each other. It was a proof of godliness that they endeavored to cherish their faith in Christ: though small and weak; for their conversation had no other object than to employ their reverence for their Master as a shield against the offense of the cross. Now though their questions and disputes showed an ignorance which was worthy of reproof — since, after having been informed that the resurrection of Christ would take place, they were astonished at hearing it mentioned—still their docility afforded Christ an opportunity of removing their error. For many persons intentionally put questions, because they have resolved obstinately to reject the truth; but when men are desirous to embrace the truth submissively, though they may waver on account of very small objections, and stop at slight difficulties, their holy desire to obey God finds favor in his sight, so that he stretches out his hand to them, brings them to full conviction, and does not permit them to remain irresolute. We ought, at least, to hold it as certain, that when we inquire about Christ, if this be done from a modest desire to learn, the door is opened for him to assist us; nay, we may almost say that we then call for himself to be our Teacher; as irreligious men, by their unholy speeches, drive him to a distance from them.
16. But their eyes were restrained. The Evangelist expressly states this, lest any one should think that the aspect of Christ’s body was changed, and that the features of his countenance were different from what they had formerly been. 314 For though Christ remained like himself, he was not recognized, because the eyes of beholders were held; and this takes away all suspicion of a phantom or false imagination. But hence we learn how great is the weakness of all our senses, since neither eyes nor ears discharge their office, unless so far as power is incessantly communicated to them from heaven. Our members do indeed possess their natural properties; but to make us more fully sensible that they are held by us at the will of another, God retains in his own hand the use of them, so that we ought ever to reckon it to be one of his daily favors, that our ears hear and our eyes see; for if he does not every hour quicken our senses, all their power will immediately give way. I readily acknowledge that our senses are not frequently held in the same manner as happened at that time, so as to make so gross a mistake about an object presented to us; but by a single example God shows that it is in his power to direct the faculties which he has. bestowed, so as to assure us that nature is subject to his will. Now if the bodily eyes, to which peculiarly belongs the power of seeing, are held, whenever it pleases the Lord, so as not to perceive the objects presented to them, our understandings would possess no greater acuteness, even though their original condition remained unimpaired; but no in this wretched corruption, after having been deprived of their light, they are liable to innumerable deceptions, and are sunk into such gross stupidity, that they can do nothing but commit mistakes, as happens to us incessantly. The proper discrimination between truth and falsehood, therefore, does not arise from the sagacity of our own mind, but comes to us from the Spirit of wisdom. But it is chiefly in the contemplation of heavenly things that our stupidity is discovered; for not only do we imagine false appearances to be true, but we turn the clear light into darkness.
17. What are those discourses which you hold with each other? What was at that time, as we perceive, done openly by Christ, we daily feel to be accomplished in ourselves in a secret manner; which is, that of his own accord he approaches us unperceived for the purpose of instructing us. Now from the reply of Cleopas it is still more evident that, as I have lately mentioned, though they were in doubt and uncertainty about the resurrection of Christ, yet they had in their hearts a reverence for his doctrine, so that they were far from having any inclination to revolt. For they do not expect that Christ will anticipate them by making himself known, or that this fellow-traveler, whoever he may be, will speak of him respectfully; but, on the contrary, having but a small and obscure light, Cleopas throws out a few sparks on an unknown man, which were intended to enlighten his mind, if he were ignorant and uninformed. The name of Christ was, at that time, so generally held in hatred and detestation, that it was not safe to speak of him respectfully; but spurning from him suspicion, he calls Christ a prophet of God, and declares that he is one of his disciples. And though this designation falls greatly below the Divine Majesty of Christ, yet the commendation which he bestows, though moderate, is laudable; for Cleopas had no other intention than to procure for Christ disciples who would submit to his Gospel. It is uncertain, however, if it was through ignorance that Cleopas spoke of Christ in terms less magnificent than the case required, or if he intended to begin with first principles, which were better known, and to rise higher by degrees. Certain it is, that a little afterwards, he does not simply place Christ in the ordinary rank of prophets, but says that he and others believed him to be the redeemer.
19. Powerful in deed and in word. Luke has employed nearly the same form of expression in reference to the person of Stephen, (Ac 7:22,) where he says of Moses, by way of commendation, that he was powerful in words and in actions. But in this passage it is uncertain if it is on account of miracles that Christ is said to be powerful in actions, (as if it had been said that he was endued with divine virtues which proved that he was sent from heaven;) or if the phrase is more extensive, and means that he excelled both in ability to teach, and in holiness of life and other remarkable endowments. I prefer the latter of these views.
Before God and all the people. The addition of these words ought not to be reckoned superfluous; for they mean that the high excellence of Christ was so well known, and was demonstrated by such undoubted proofs, that he had no hypocrisy or vain ostentation. And hence we may obtain a brief definition of a true Prophet, namely, that to what he speaks he will likewise add power in actions, and will not only endeavor to appear excellent before men, but to act with sincerity as under the eyes of God.
21. But we hoped. From what follows it is evident that the hope which they had entertained respecting Christ was not broken off, though at first sight such might appear to be the import of their words. But as a person who had received no previous instruction in the Gospel might be apt to be prejudiced by the narrative which he was about to give respecting the condemnation of Christ, that he was condemned by the rulers of the Church, Cleopas meets this offense by the hope of redemption. And though he afterwards shows that it is with trembling and hesitation that he continues in this hope, yet he industriously collects all that can contribute to its support. For it is probable that he mentions the third day for no other reason than that the Lord had promised that after three days he would rise again. When he afterwards relates that the women had not fouled the body, and that they tad seen a vision of angels, and that what the women had said about the empty grave was likewise confirmed by the testimony of the men, the whole amounts to this, that Christ had risen. Thus the holy man, hesitating between faith and fear, employs what is adapted to nourish faith, and struggles against fear to the utmost of his power.
25. And he said to them. This reproof appears to be too harsh and severe for a weak man such as this was; but whoever attends to all the circumstances will have no difficulty in perceiving that our Lord had good reason for rebuking so sharply those on whom he had long bestowed labor to little purpose, and almost without any fruit. For it ought to be observed, that; what is here said was not confined to these two persons, but, as a reproof of a common fault, was intended to be conveyed by their lips to the rest of their companions. So frequently had Christ forewarned them of his death — so frequently had he even discoursed about a new and spiritual life, and confirmed his doctrine by the inspired statements of the prophets — that he would seem to have spoken to the deaf, or rather to blocks and stones; for they are struck with such horror at his death, that they know not to what hand to turn. This hesitation, therefore, he justly attributes to folly, and assigns as the reason of it their carelessness in not having been more ready to believe. Nor does he only reprove them because, while they had the best Teacher, they were dull and slow to learn, but because they had not attended to the instructions of the Prophets; as if he had said, that their insensibility admitted of no excuse, because it was owing to themselves alone, since the doctrine of the Prophets was abundantly clear, and had been fully expounded to them. In like manner, the greater part of men, at the present day, remain in ignorance through their own fault, because they are obstinate, and refuse to be instructed. But let us observe that Christ, perceiving that his disciples are excessively sluggish; commences with reproof, in order to arouse them; for this is the way in which we must subdue those whom we have found to be hardened or indolent.
26. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things? There is no room to doubt that our Lord discoursed to them about the office of Messiah, as it is described by the Prophets, that they might not take offense at his death; and a journey of three or four hours afforded abundance of time for a full explanation of those matters. Christ did not, therefore, assert in three words, that Christ ought to have suffered, but explained at great length that he had been sent in order that he might expiate, by the sacrifice of his death, the sins of the world, — that he might become a curse in order to remove the curse, — that by having guilt imputed to him he might wash away the pollutions of others. Luke has put this sentence in the form of a question, in order to present it with greater force; from which it may be inferred, that he employed arguments for showing the necessity of his death. The sum of what is stated is, that the disciples are wrong in distressing their minds about their Master’s death, (without which he could not discharge what belonged to Christ; because his sacrifice was the most important part of redemption;) for in this way they shut the gate, that he might not enter into his kingdom. This ought to be carefully observed; for since Christ is deprived of the honor due to him, if he is not reckoned to be a sacrifice for sins, the only way by which he could enter into his glory was that humiliation or emptying, (Php 2:7,) out of which the Redeemer had arisen. But we see that no trivial offense is committed among at the present day, by the inversion of this order; for among the multitude of those who declare, in magnificent language, that Christ is King, and who extol him by divine titles, hardly one person in ten thinks of the grace which has been brought to us by his death.
27. And beginning at Moses. This passage shows us in what manner Christ is made known to us through the Gospel. It is when light is thrown on the knowledge of him by the Law and the Prophets. For never was there a more able or skillful teacher of the Gospel than our Lord himself; and we see that he borrows from the Law and the Prophets the proof of his doctrine. If it be objected that he began with easy lessons, that the disciples might gradually dismiss the Prophets, and pass on to the perfect Gospel, this conjecture is easily refuted; for we shall afterwards find it stated, that all the apostles had their understanding opened, not to be wise without the assistance of the Law, but to understand the Scriptures. In order that Christ may be made known to us through the Gospel, it is therefore necessary that Moses and the Prophets should go before as guides, to show us the way. It is necessary to remind readers of this, that they may not lend an ear to fanatics, who, by suppressing the Law and the Prophets, wickedly mutilate the Gospel; as if God intended that any testimony which he has ever given respecting his Son should become useless.
In what manner we must apply to Christ those passages respecting him which are to be found in every part of the Law and the Prophets, we have not now leisure to explain. 315 Let it suffice to state briefly, that there are good reasons why Christ is called the end of the law, (Ro 10:4.) For however obscurely and at a distance Moses may exhibit Christ in shadows, rather than in a full portrait, (Heb 10:1,) this, at least, is beyond dispute, that unless there be in the family of Abraham one exalted Head, under whom the people may be united in one body, the covenant which God made with the holy fathers will be nullified and revoked. Besides, since God commanded that the tabernacle and the ceremonies of the law should be adjusted to a heavenly pattern, (Ex 25:40; Heb 8:5,) it follows that the sacrifices and the other parts of the service of the temple, if the reality of them is to be found nowhere else, would be an idle and useless sport. 316 This very argument is copiously illustrated by the apostle, (Heb 9:1;) for, assuming this principle, that the visible ceremonies of the law are shadows of spiritual things, he shows that in the whole of the legal priesthood, in the sacrifices, and in the form of the sanctuary, we ought to seek Christ.
Bucer, too, somewhere throws out a judicious conjecture, that, amidst this obscurity, the Jews were accustomed to pursue a certain method of interpreting Scripture which had been handed down to them by tradition from the fathers. But that I may not involve my inquiries in any uncertainty, I shall satisfy myself with that natural and simple method which is found universally in all the prophets, who were eminently skilled in the exposition of the Law. From the Law, therefore, we may properly learn Christ, if we consider that the covenant which God made with the fathers was founded on the Mediator; that the sanctuary, by which God manifested the presence of his grace, was consecrated by his blood; that the Law itself, with its promises, was sanctioned by the shedding of blood; that a single priest was chosen out of the whole people, to appear in the presence of God, in the name of all, not as an ordinary mortal, but clothed in sacred garments; and that no hope of reconciliation with God was held out to men but through the offering of sacrifice. Besides, there is a remarkable prediction, that the kingdom would be perpetuated in the tribe of Judah, (Ge 49:10.) The prophets themselves, as we have hinted, drew far more striking portraits of the Mediator, though they had derived their earliest acquaintance with him from Moses; for no other office was assigned to them than to renew the remembrance of the covenant, to point out more clearly the spiritual worship of God, to found on the Mediator the hope of salvation, and to show more clearly the method of reconciliation. Yet since it had pleased God to delay the full revelation till the coming of his Son, the interpretation of them was not superfluous.
28. And they drew near to the village. There is no reason for supposing, as some commentators have done, that this was a different place from Emmaus; for the journey was not so long as to make it necessary for them to take rest for the night at a nearer lodging. We know that seven thousand paces—even though a person were to walk slowly for his own gratification—would be accomplished in four hours at the utmost; and, therefore, I have no doubt that Christ had now reached Emmaus.
And he seemed as if he would go farther. Now as to the question, Can insincerity apply to him who is the eternal truth of God? I answer, that the Son of God was under no obligation to make all his designs known. Still, as insincerity of any kind is a sort of falsehood, the difficulty is not yet removed; more especially as this example is adduced by many to prove that they are at liberty to tell lies. But I reply, that Christ might without falsehood have pretended what is here mentioned, in the same manner that he gave himself out to be a stranger passing along the road; for there was the same reason for both. A somewhat more ingenious solution is given by Augustine, (in his work addressed To Consentius, Book II., chap. 13, and in the book of Questions on the Gospels, chap. 51,) for he chooses to enumerate this kind of feigning among tropes and figures, and afterwards among parables and fables. For my own part, I am satisfied with this single consideration, that as Christ for the time threw a veil over the eyes of those with whom he was conversing, so that he had assumed a different character, and was regarded by them as all ordinary stranger, so, when he appeared for the time to intend to go farther, it was not through pretending any thing else than what he had resolved to do, but because he wished to conceal the manner of his departure; for none will deny that he did go farther, since he had then withdrawn from human society. So then by this feigning he did not deceive his disciples, but held them for a little in suspense, till the proper time should arrive for making himself known. It is, therefore, highly improper to attempt to make Christ an advocate of falsehood; and we are no more at liberty to plead his example for feigning any thing, than to endeavor to equal his divine power in shutting the eyes of men. Our safest course is to adhere to the rule which has been laid down to us, to speak with truth and simplicity; not that our Lord himself ever departed from the law of his Father, but because, without confining himself to the letter of the commandments, he kept by the true meaning of the law; but we, on account of the weakness of our senses, need to be restrained in a different manner.
30. He took bread. Augustine, and the greater part of other commentators along with him, have thought that Christ gave the bread, not as an ordinary meal, but as the sacred symbol of his body. And, indeed, it might be said with some plausibility, that the Lord was at length recognized in the spiritual mirror of the Lord’s Supper; for the disciples did not know him, when they beheld him with the bodily eyes. But as this conjecture rests on no probable grounds, I choose rather to view the words of Luke as meaning that Christ, in taking the bread, gave thanks according to his custom. But it appears that he employed his peculiar and ordinary form of prayer, to which he knew that the disciples had been habitually accustomed, that, warned by this sign, they might arouse their senses. In the meantime, let us learn by the example of our Master, whenever we eat bread, to offer thanksgiving to the Author of life, — an action which will distinguish us from irreligious men.
“Rendit graces;” — “gave thanks.”
“Car aussi bien il y a pluieurs recits de diverses fois que Christ s’est monstré;” — “for there are also many narratives of various times that Christ showed himself.”
“Sept mille et quatre cens paas d’Italie, qui font quatre lieues et demie ou environ;” — “seven thousand and four hundred Italian paces, which are equal to four leagues and a half, or thereabouts.”
“Et qu’il y eut autres traits de visage qu’auparavant.”
“Cela passeroit la mesure de ce present oeuvre;” — “that would exceed the limits of the present work.”
“Un jeu d’enfans;” — “a game for children.”