Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 11:1-6; LUKE 7:18-23
1. And it happened that when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, 4 he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. 2. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, 3. And said to him, Art thou he who was to come, or do we look for another? 4. And Jesus answering said to them, Go and relate to John those things which you hear and see. 5. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor receive the message of the Gospel. 5 6. And blessed is he who shall not be offended at me.
18. And the disciples of John informed him of all these things; 19. And John called to him two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he who was to come, or do we look for another? (Shortly afterwards.) 21. And in the same hour he cured many of diseases and plagues, and evil spirits, and to many who were blind he gave sight. 22. And he answering said to them, Go and relate to John those things which you have heard and seen, that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, to the poor the Gospel is preached. 23. And blessed is he who shall not be offended at me. 6
Matthew 11:1. And it happened that when Jesus had made an end In this passage Matthew means nothing more than that Christ did not desist from the exercise of his office, while the Apostles were laboring in another direction. As soon, therefore, as he sent them away, with the necessary instructions, to perambulate Judea, he performed the duties of a teacher in Galilee. The word commanding, which Matthew employs, is emphatic; for he means that they did not receive a commission to do what they pleased, but were restricted and enjoined as to the statements which they should make, and the manner in which they should conduct themselves.
2. Now when John had heard. The Evangelists do not mean that John was excited by the miracles to acknowledge Christ at that time as Mediator; but, perceiving that Christ had acquired great reputation, and concluding that this was a fit and seasonable time for putting to the test his own declaration concerning him, he sent to him his disciples. The opinion entertained by some, that he sent them partly on his own account, is exceedingly foolish; as if he had not been fully convinced, or obtained distinct information, that Jesus is the Christ. Equally absurd is the speculation of those who imagine that the Baptist was near death, and therefore inquired what message he should carry, from Christ’s mouth as it were, to the deceased fathers. It is very evident that the holy herald of Christ, perceiving that he was not far from the end of his journey, and that his disciples, though he had bestowed great pains in instructing them, still remained in a state of hesitation, resorted to this last expedient for curing their weakness. He had faithfully labored, as I have said, that his disciples should embrace Christ without delay. His continued entreaties had produced so little effect, that he had good reason for dreading that, after his death, they would entirely fall away; and therefore he earnestly attempted to arouse them from their sloth by sending them to Christ. Besides, the pastors of the Church are here reminded of their duty. They ought not to endeavor to bind and attach disciples to themselves, but to direct them to Christ, who is the only Teacher. From the beginning, John had openly avowed that he was not the bridegroom, (Joh 3:29.) As the faithful friend of the bridegroom he presents the bride chaste and uncontaminated to Christ, who alone is the bridegroom of the Church. Paul tells us that he kept the same object in view, (2Co 11:2,) and the example of both is held out for imitation to all the ministers of the Gospel.
3. Art thou he who was to come? John takes for granted what the disciples had known from their childhood; for it was the first lesson of religion, and common among all the Jews, that Christ was to come, bringing salvation and perfect happiness. On this point, accordingly, he does not raise a doubt, but only inquires if Jesus be that promised Redeemer; for, having been persuaded of the redemption promised in the Law and the Prophets, they were bound to receive it when exhibited in the person of Christ. He adds, Do we look for another? By this expression, he indirectly glances at their sloth, which allowed them, after having been distinctly informed, to remain so long in doubt and hesitation. At the same time, he shows what is the nature and power of faith. Resting on the truth of God, it does not gaze on all sides, does not vary, but is satisfied with Christ alone, and will not be turned to another.
4. Go and relate to John As John had assumed for the time a new character, so Christ enjoins them to carry to him that message, which more properly ought to have been addressed to his disciples. He gives an indirect reply, and for two reasons: first, because it was better that the thing should speak for itself; and, secondly, because he thus afforded to his herald a larger subject of instruction. Nor does he merely supply him with bare and rough materials in the miracles, but adapts the miracles to his purpose by quotations from the Prophets. He notices more particularly one passage from the 35th, and another from the 61st, chapter of Isaiah, for the purpose of informing John’s disciples, that what the Prophets declared respecting the reign of Christ was accomplished and fulfilled. The former passage contains a description of Christ’s reign, under which God promises that he will be so kind and gracious as to grant relief and assistance for every kind of disease. He speaks, no doubt, of spiritual deliverance from all diseases and remedies; but under outward symbols, as has been already mentioned, Christ shows that he came as a spiritual physician to cure souls. The disciples would consequently go away without any hesitation, having obtained a reply which was clear and free from all ambiguity.
The latter passage resembles the former in this respect. It shows that the treasures of the grace of God would be exhibited to the world in Christ, and declares that Christ is expressly set apart for the poor and afflicted. This passage is purposely quoted by Christ, partly to teach all his followers the first lesson of humility, and partly to remove the offense which the flesh and sense might be apt to raise against his despicable flock. We are by nature proud, and scarcely anything is much valued by us, if it is not attended by a great degree of outward show. But the Church of Christ is composed of poor men, and nothing could be farther removed from dazzling or imposing ornament. Hence many are led to despise the Gospel, because it is not embraced by many persons of eminent station and exalted rank. How perverse and unjust that opinion is, Christ shows from the very nature of the Gospel, since it was designed only for the poor and despised. Hence it follows, that it is no new occurrence, or one that ought to disturb our minds, if the Gospel is despised by all the great, who, puffed up with their wealth, have no room to spare for the grace of God. Nay, if it is rejected by the greater part of men, there is no reason to wonder; for there is scarcely one person in a hundred who does not swell with wicked confidence. As Christ here guards his Gospel against contempt, he likewise reminds us who they are that are qualified to appreciate the grace of salvation which it offers to them; and in this manner, kindly inviting wretched sinners to the hope of salvation, raises them to full confidence.
5. The poor receive the message of the Gospel By the poor are undoubtedly meant those whose condition is wretched and despicable, and who are held in no estimation. However mean any person may be, his poverty is so far from being a ground of despair, that it ought rather to animate him with courage to seek Christ. But let us remember that none are accounted poor but those who are really such, or, in other words, who lie low and overwhelmed by a conviction of their poverty.
6. And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me. By this concluding statement Christ intended to remind them, that he who would adhere firmly and steadfastly to the faith of the Gospel must encounter offenses, which will tend to interrupt the progress of faith. This is said by way of anticipation, to fortify us against offenses; for we shall never want reasons for rejecting it, until our minds are raised above every offense. The first lesson, therefore, to be learned is, that we must contend with offenses, if we would continue in the faith of Christ; for Christ himself is justly denominated a
rock of offense and stone of stumbling, by which many fall,
This happens, no doubt, through our own fault, but that very fault is remedied, when he pronounces those to be blessed who shall not be offended in him; from which too we infer, that unbelievers have no excuse, though they plead the existence of innumerable offenses. For what hinders them from coming to Christ? Or what drives them to revolt from Christ? It is because he appears with his cross, disfigured and despised, and exposed to the reproaches of the world; because he calls us to share in his afflictions; because his glory and majesty, being spiritual, are despised by the world; and in a word, because his doctrine is totally at variance with our senses. Again, it is because, through the stratagems of Satan, many disturbances arise, with the view of slandering and rendering hateful the name of Christ and the Gospel; and because every one, as if on purpose, rears up a mass of offenses, being instigated by not less malignity than zeal to withdraw from Christ. 7
“Quand Iesus eut acheve de donner mandemens a ses douze disciples;” — “when Jesus had finished giving injunctions to his twelve disciples.”
“Et l’Evangile est annonce aux poures;” — “and the Gospel is preached to the poor.”
“Qui ne sera point scandalize, ou offense, en moy;” — “who shall not be scandalized, or offended, at me.”
“Pource que tous non seulement sont bien aises de se retirer de Christ, mais aussi tachent malicieusement d’entrouver les moyens;” — “because not only are all strongly disposed to withdraw from Christ, but they even endeavor maliciously to discover the means of doing so.”