Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 12:14-21; Mark 3:6-12; Luke 6:11
14. Then the Pharisees went out, and took counsel against him, how they might destroy him. 86 15. But when Jesus knew this, he withdrew from that place; and great multitudes followed him, and he cured them all. 16. And he threatened them, 87 that they should not make him known: 17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the Prophet, who says, 18. Lo, my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim judgment to the Gentiles. 19. He shall not strive, nor cry, nor shall any man hear his voice in the streets. 20. The bruised reed he will not break, and the smoking flax he will not quench, till he send forth judgment into victory. 21. And in his name the Gentiles will trust.
6. And the Pharisees went out, and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him, to destroy him. 7. And Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a vast multitude followed him from Galilee, and from Judea. 8. And from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and from beyond Jordan; and a great multitude (of men) who dwelt around Tyre and Sidon, who, when they had heard what he was doing, came to him. 9. And he commanded his disciples, that a small ship should wait upon him on account of the multitude, that they might not press upon him. 10. For he had cured many; so that as many as were afflicted pressed upon him to touch him. 11. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried out, saying, Thou art the Son of God. 12. And he vehemently threatened the that they should not make him known
11. And they were filled with madness, and talked with each other what they should do to Jesus.
Matthew 12:14. Then the Pharisees took counsel. How obstinate is the rage which drives the wicked to oppose God! Even after having been convinced, they pour out their venom more and more. It is truly monstrous and shocking, that the most distinguished teachers of the Law, who were entrusted with the government of the Church, are engaged, like robbers, in contriving murder. But this must happen, whenever the malice of men reaches such a height, that they wish to destroy every thing that is opposed to their fancy, even though it may be from God.
The circumstance of Christ’s making his escape by flight must not be ascribed to fear; for he did not become more courageous by the lapse of time, but was endued with the same fortitude of the Spirit at the time when he fled, as when, at a later period, he voluntarily presented himself to die. And this was a part of that emptying of himself which Paul mentions, (Php 2:7,) that when he could easily have protected his life by a miracle, he chose rather to submit to our weakness by taking flight. The only reason why he delayed to die was, that the seasonable time, which had been appointed by the Father, was not yet come, (John 7:30, John 8:20.) And yet it is manifest, that he was preserved by heavenly power rather than by flight; for it would not have been difficult for his enemies to find out the place to which he had retired, and so far was he from shrouding himself in darkness, that he carried a great company along with him, and rendered that place illustrious by his miracles. He withdrew from their presence for the sole purpose of not aggravating their rage.
Mark 3:6. The Pharisees took counsel with the Herodians. Now they regarded the Herodians with the fiercest hatred; for their eagerness to be considered the guardians and protectors of public liberty made it necessary for them to make an open profession of mortal hatred to the ministers of that tyrant. And yet this aversion is counteracted by their hatred and fury against Christ, 88 which makes them not only enter into a conspiracy with foreigners, but insinuate themselves into the good graces of those with whom, on other occasions, they would have shrunk from intercourse. While ungodliness hurries men in various directions, and drives them to different courses, it engages them, with one consent, in a contest with God. No hostilities prevent them from giving their hand to each other for opposing the truth of God.
Matthew 12:16. And he threatened them. The expression used by Mark conveys, in a still more pointed manner, that he restrained the unclean spirits, 89 who were exclaiming, Thou art the Son of God. We have formerly explained the reason why he did not choose to have such witnesses. 90 And yet there is no room to doubt, that divine power extorted from the devils this confession; but having made it evident that they were subject to his dominion, Christ properly rejected their testimony. But Matthew goes farther, and states, that Christ discharged them from spreading the fame of the miracles which he was performing. Not that he wished that fame to be wholly repressed, (as we have pointed out on other occasions, 91 but to allow it to strike root, that it might bring forth abundant fruit at the proper season. We know that Christ did not perform miracles for the purpose of amusement, but had a distinct object in view, which was to prove that he was the Son of God, and the appointed Redeemer of the world. But he was manifested gradually, and by regular steps, and was not revealed in his true character
“until the time appointed by the Father,”
At the same time, it deserves our attention, that when wicked men do their utmost to extinguish the glory of God, they are so far from gaining their wish, that, on the contrary, God turns their rebellious designs in an opposite direction. Though Christ withdrew from a populous district, yet in this very concealment 92 his glory continues to shine, and even bursts forth magnificently into its full splendor.
17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken Matthew does not mean that this prediction was entirely fulfilled by Christ’s prohibiting loud and general reports to be circulated respecting his power 93 , but that this was an exhibition of that mildness which Isaiah describes in the person of the Messiah. Those wonderful works which Christ performed in presence of a few, and which he did not wish to be announced in pompous terms, were fitted to shake heaven and earth, (Heb 12:26.) It was, therefore, no ordinary proof, how widely he was removed from the pomp and ostentation of the world.
But it will be proper for us to examine more closely the design of Matthew. By this circumstance he intended to show, that the glory of Christ’s divinity ought not to be the less admired, because it appeared under a vail of infirmity. This is unquestionably the very object to which the Holy Spirit directed the eyes of the prophet. The flesh is constantly longing for outward display, and to guard believers against seeking any thing of this description in the Messiah, the Spirit of God declared that he would be totally different from earthly kings, who, in order to draw admiration upon themselves, produce great noises wherever they go, and fill cities and towns with commotion. 94 We now perceive how appropriately Matthew applies the prediction of the prophet to the case in hand. God appointed for his Son a low and mean appearance, and that ignorant persons may not take offense at an aspect which has no attraction, and is fitted to awaken contempt, both the prophet and Matthew come forward to declare, that it is not by accident, but in consequence of a decree of Heaven, that he assumes such a character. 95 Hence it follows, that deep blame attaches to all who despise Christ, because his outward condition does not correspond to the wishes of the flesh. We are not at liberty to imagine to ourselves a Christ that corresponds to our fancy, but ought simply to embrace him as he is offered by the Father. He who is offended by the low condition of Christ, which God declares to be agreeable to his will, is unworthy of salvation. I now come to examine the words of the prophet, (Isa 42:1.)
18. Lo, my servant, whom I have chosen. To fix our attention more closely on his will, God points out by the finger, as it were, the person whom he is about to send; and this is the design of the exclamation, Lo! A similar reason may be assigned for the epithets that follow, when God calls him his servant, his elect in whom his soul is well pleased. For whence comes it, that men venture to measure Christ by their own sense, but because they do not consider that their redemption depends exclusively on the grace of God? When God offers to us an invaluable treasure, it is excessive and wicked presumption to regulate our estimation of it by the disdainful views of our flesh. He is called a servant, not as if he were of the ordinary rank, but by way of eminence, and as the person to whom God has committed the charge and office of redeeming his Church. As:
no man taketh this honor to himself, but he who is called of God
is justly entitled to this rank, God declares that he who comes forward in this character was elected by his decree. 96 Hence it follows, that men are not at liberty to reject him; because, by doing so, they would be guilty of contempt and rebellion against God. And, indeed, it were the height of absurdity that our choice or our pride should set aside that calling of God which ought to be regarded as sacred and inviolable.
My beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased. There is a still wider import in this statement, which God next makes by the prophet, that the delight of his soul dwells in Christ; for though the calling of each of us proceeds from the free favor of God as its only source, yet in Christ there is this remarkable peculiarity, that in his person God the Father embraces in his love the whole Church. As we are all by nature enemies of God, his love will never come to us till it first begin with the Head; which we have seen on a former occasion, and will see again under another passage, (Mt 17:5.)
He will proclaim judgment to the Gentiles. The prophet gives a brief description of Christ’s office, when he foretells that he will proclaim judgment to the Gentiles By the word judgment the Jews understand a government which is correctly and properly arranged, in which order and justice prevail. The design of the prophet is to inform us, that a person will come who will restore justice that had fallen, who will be the governor not of one nation only, but will also bring under subjection to God the Gentiles, among whom dreadful confusion formerly prevailed. And this is the import of the word bring forth, which the prophet employs; for it was the office of Christ to spread throughout the whole world the kingdom of God, which was at that time confined to the corner of Judea; 97 as it is said in another passage,
The Lord will send forth the scepter of thy power out of Zion,
I will put my Spirit upon him. This explains the manner in which judgment shall be brought forth. It is no doubt true, that there never was any portion whatever of righteousness in the world that did not proceed from the Spirit of God, and that was not maintained by his heavenly power; as none of the kings of the earth can frame or defend good order, except so far as he shall be assisted by the same Spirit. But in bringing forth judgment Christ is greatly superior to all others, for he has received the Spirit from the Father, that he may pour it out on all his people; for not only does he by word or writing prescribe what is proper, but inwardly forms the hearts of men, by the grace of his Spirit, to preserve the rule of righteousness.
19. He will not strive The general meaning is, that the coming of Christ will not be attended by noise, will have nothing of royal splendor and magnificence. He presently adds, that this will turn to the advantage of men, by inducing them to love that mildness which the world everywhere despises. And certainly it is an astonishing display of the folly of men, that their sentiments with regard to Christ are less respectful, because he mildly and voluntarily accommodates himself to their capacity. Were Christ to appear in his glory, what else could be expected, but that it would altogether swallow us up? What wickedness then is it to be less willing to receive him, when on our account he descends from his elevation?
That the gentleness of Christ may awaken reverence in believers, Isaiah reminds them how advantageous, and even how necessary that gentleness must be. Each of us is conscious of his own weakness; and therefore we ought to consider of what importance it is that Christ should treat us with kindness. I speak not of unbelievers, who are entirely destitute of all the graces of the Spirit; but with respect to those whom God has already called, are they not like a half-broken reed and a smoking lamp, till God kindle them to full brightness, and supply them with perfect strength? When Christ is thus pleased to condescend to our weakness, let his unspeakable goodness be embraced by us with joy. Meanwhile, let none flatter himself in his vices, but let each of us labor to make greater proficiency, that we may not be tossed about (Eph 4:14) through our whole life, or bend, like reeds, to the slightest gale. Let us grow to the stature of perfect men, that we may remain firm against the diversified attacks of Satan, that our faith may not only emit slight sparks encompassed by thick smoke, but may send out bright rays.
The example of Christ instructs all his ministers in what manner they ought to conduct themselves. But as there are some who falsely and absurdly maintain that mildness ought to be exercised indiscriminately towards all, we must attend to the distinction which the prophet expressly makes between weak and wicked persons. Those who are too stubborn need to have their hardness beaten violently with a hammer; and those who endeavor to spread darkness in every direction, or who act as torches to kindle conflagrations, must have their smoke dispelled and their flame extinguished. While the faithful ministers of the Word ought to endeavor to spare the weak, and thus to cherish and increase that portion of the grace of God, however small, which they possess, they must also exercise prudent caution, lest they encourage the obstinate malice of those who have no resemblance to the smoking lamp or bruised reed.
20. Till he send out judgment into victory. The words of the prophet are a little different, he will bring forth the judgment unto truth. But the term employed by Matthew is very emphatic, and is intended to inform us, that justice is not established in the world without a great struggle and exertion. The devil throws all possible difficulties in the way, which cannot be removed without violent opposition. This is confirmed by the word victory, for victory is not obtained in any other way than by fighting.
21. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust Instead of these words the prophet has, The isles shall wait for his law. But though Matthew has changed the words, the meaning is the same, that the grace of Christ will be shared by the Gentiles.
“Comment ils le mettroyent a mort;” — “how they should put him to death.”
”Et aveques menaces leur defendit;” — “and with threatenings prohibited them.”
“Toutesfois la haine enragee qu’ils ont contre Christ, surmonte toutes leurs autres meschantes affections;” — “and yet the enraged hatred which they have against Christ rises above all their other wicked dispositions.”
“A scavoir qu’il menacoit et faisoit taire les esprits immondes;”— “namely, that he threatened and silenced the unclean spirits.”
Harmony, volume 1 p. 246.
Harmony, volume 1, pp. 374, 418.
“Toutesfois mesmes en ceste cachete, (par maniere de dire;”)—”yet even in this hiding place, (so to speak.”)
“Les miracles et signes qu’il faisoit par sa vertu Divine;” — “the miracles and signs which he performed by his Divine power.”
“Ils font faire de grans bruits: il semble que les villes et citez doyvent tourner ce que dessus dessous, tant y a grande esmotion;” — “they cause great noises to be made; and so great is the commotion, that it would seem as if towns and cities were to be turned upside down.”
“Quand Christ vient au monde sans pompe exterieure;” — “when Christ comes into the world without external pomp.”
“Dieu prononce que par son ordonnance il a eleu celuy qu’on verra venir ayant les marques qu’il met la;” — “God declares that, by his decree, he hath elected him who will be seen coming, attended by the marks which he there describes.”
“Qui estoit pour lors comme enclos en un anglet au pays de Iudee;” —”which was then shut up, as it were in a corner, in the country of Judea.”