Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 24:29-31; MARK 13:24-27;
29. And immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. 30. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and glory. 31. And he shall send his angels with a loud sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one extremity of heaven to the other.
24. But in those days, after that tribulation, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light. 25. And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers which are in heaven shall be shaken. 26. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27. And then shall he send his angels, and gather together his elect from the four winds, from the extremity of the earth to the extremity of heaven.
25. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and on the earth the anguish of nations in despair, the sea and the waves roaring: 26. Men fainting through fear, 152 and expectation of those things which shall come on the world; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. 27. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with great power and glory. 28. But when these things begin to take place, look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption is at hand.
Matthew 24:29. And immediately after the tribulation of those days. Christ comes now to speak of the full manifestation of his kingdom, about which he was at first interrogated by the disciples, and promises that, after they have been tried by so many distressing events, the redemption will arrive in due time. The principal object of his reply was, to confirm his disciples in good hope, that they might not be dismayed on account of the troubles and confusion that would arise. For this reason, he does not speak of his coming in simple terms, but employs those modes of expression which were common among the prophets, by which, the more attentively they were considered, so much the more severe would be the contest of temptation experienced by the reader, in consequence of the opposite character of the event. For what could be more strange than to see the kingdom of Christ not only despised, but oppressed by the cross, loaded with many reproaches, and overwhelmed by every kind of tribulation, that kingdom which the prophets had frequently described in such magnificent language? Might it not be asked, where was that majesty which would darken the sun, and moon, and stars, shake the whole frame of the world, and change the ordinary course of nature? Our Lord now meets these temptations, declaring that, though these predictions are not immediately fulfilled, they will at length be fully justified by the event. The meaning therefore is, that the predictions which had been formerly made about the miraculous shaking of heaven and earth, ought not to be restricted to the commencement of redemption, because the prophets had embraced the whole course of it, till it should arrive at perfection.
Having now ascertained Christ’s intention, we shall have no difficulty in perceiving the meaning of the words to be, that heaven will not be darkened immediately, but after that the Church shall have passed through the whole course of its tribulations. Not that the glory and majesty of the kingdom of Christ will not appear till his last coming, but because till that time is delayed the accomplishment of those things which began to take place after his resurrection, and of which God gave to his people nothing more than a taste, that he might lead them farther on in the path of hope and patience. According to this argument, Christ keeps the minds of believers in a state of suspense till the last day, that they may not imagine those declarations which the prophets made, about the future restoration, to have failed of their accomplishment, because they lie buried for a long period under the thick darkness of tribulations.
The tribulation of those days is improperly interpreted by some commentators to mean the destruction of Jerusalem; for, on the contrary, it is a general recapitulation (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις) of all the evils of which Christ had previously spoken. To encourage his followers to patience, he employs this argument, that the tribulations will at length have a happy and joyful result. As if he had said, “So long as the Church shall continue its pilgrimage in the world, there will be dark and cloudy weather; but as soon as an end shall have been put to those distresses, a day will arrive when the majesty of the Church shall be illustriously displayed.” In what manner the sun will be darkened we cannot now conjecture, but the event will show. He does not indeed mean that the stars will actually fall, but according to the apprehension of men; and accordingly Luke only predicts that there will be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars. The meaning therefore is, that there will be such a violent commotion of the firmament of heaven, that the stars themselves will be supposed to fall. Luke also adds that there will be a dreadful commotion of the sea, the sea and the waves roaring, so that men will faint through fear and alarm. In a word, all the creatures above and below will be, as it were, heralds to summon men to that tribunal, which they will continue to treat with ungodly and wanton contempt till the last day.
30. Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man. By this term Christ points out more clearly the difference between the present condition of his kingdom and its future glory; for it is a sort of admission that, amidst the darkness of tribulations, the majesty of Christ will not fully appear, and men will not perceive the redemption which he has brought. The confused mixture of things which we now perceive does certainly, on the one hand, darken our minds, and, on the other hand, bury the grace of Christ, and make it almost vanish from our sight, so that the salvation obtained by him, so far as relates to the perception of the flesh, is not comprehended. And therefore he declares that he will appear openly at his last coming and, surrounded by the heavenly power, which will be a sign erected on an elevated spot, he will turn the eyes of the whole world upon himself. 153
Perceiving that the greater part of men would despise his doctrine and oppose his reign, he threatens also against all nations mourning and lamentation; because it is proper, that by his presence he should crush and destroy the rebels, who, while he was absent, despised his authority. He says this, partly to bring the haughty and refractory to repentance, by striking them with terror; and partly to confirm the minds of his followers amidst so great obstinacy existing in the world. For it is no slight ground of offense to see the ungodly living without concern, because they think that their mockery of God will remain unpunished; and again, there is nothing to which we are more prone than to be captivated by the allurements of the prosperity which they enjoy, so as to lose the fear of God. That the joy by which they are intoxicated may not excite the envy of believers, Christ declares that it will at length be turned into mourning and gnashing of teeth.
He alludes, I think, to Zec 12:11-14, where God, informing them that a striking display of his judgment will soon be made, declares that there will be lamentation in every family, such as is not usually seen at the funeral of a first-born son. There is no reason, therefore, why any person should expect the conversion of the world, for at length—when it will be too late, and will yield them no advantage—
they shall look on him whom they pierced,
Next follows the explanation of that sin, that they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds, who at that time was living on earth in the garb of a despised servant. And thus he warns them that the glory of his kingdom will be heavenly, and not earthly, as the disciples had falsely imagined.
And he shall send his angels. He describes the effect of his power, that he will send his angels to gather his elect from the most distant parts of the world; for by the extremity of heaven is meant the most distant region. But Christ speaks hyperbolically, in order to show that the elect, even though they were carried away from the earth and scattered in the air, will again be gathered, so to be united in the enjoyment of eternal life under Him as their head, and enjoy the expected inheritance; for Christ intended to console his disciples, that they might not be altogether discouraged by the lamentable dispersion of the Church. Whenever, therefore, we perceive the Church scattered by the wiles of Satan, or torn in pieces by the cruelty of the ungodly, or disturbed by false doctrines, or tossed about by storms, let us learn to turn our eyes to this gathering of the elect. And if it appear to us a thing difficult to be believed, let us call to remembrance the power of the angels, which Christ holds out to us for the express purpose of raising our views above human means. For, though the Church be now tormented by the malice of men, or even broken by the violence of the billows, and miserably torn in pieces, so as to have no stability in the world, yet we ought always to cherish confident hope, because it will not be by human means, but by heavenly power, which will be far superior to every obstacle, that the Lord will gather his Church.
Luke 21:28. And when these things begin to take place. Luke expresses more clearly the consolation by which Christ animates the minds of his followers; for, though this sentence contains nothing different from the words of Matthew, which we have just now explained, yet it shows better for what purpose the angels will come, as we are told, to gather the elect. For it was necessary to contrast the joy of the godly with the general sorrow and distress of the world, and to point out the difference between them and the reprobate, that they might not view with horror the coming of Christ. We know that Scripture, when it speaks not only of the last judgment, but of all the judgments which God executes every day, describes them in a variety of ways, according as the discourse is addressed to believers or to unbelievers.
To what purpose is the day of the Lord to you?
says the prophet Amos, (Am 5:18.)
It is a day of darkness and gloominess, 154 not of light; of sorrow, not of joy; of destruction, not of salvation. On the other hand, Zechariah (Zec 9:9) bids the daughter of Zion rejoice on account of the coming of her King; and justly, for—as Isaiah (Isa 35:4) tells us—the same day which brings wrath and vengeance to the reprobate brings good-will and redemption to believers.
Christ therefore shows that, at his coming, the light of joy will arise on his disciples, that they may rejoice in the approaching salvation, while the wicked are overwhelmed with terror. Accordingly, Paul distinguishes them by this mark, that they wait for the day or coming of the Lord, (1Co 1:7) for that which is their crown, and perfect happiness, and solace, is delayed till that day, (2Ti 4:8.) It is therefore called here (as in Ro 8:23) redemption; because we shall then obtain truly and perfectly the consequences of the deliverance obtained through Christ. Let our ears therefore be awake to the sound of the angel’s trumpet, which will then sound, not only to strike the reprobate with the dread of death, but to arouse the elect to a second life; that is, to call to the enjoyment of life those whom the Lord now quickens by the voice of his Gospel; for it is a sign of infidelity, to be afraid when the Son of God comes in person for our salvation.
“Tellement que les hommes seront comme morts de peur;” — “so that men will be as if dead through fear.”
“La puissance celeste, de laquelle il sera environné, servira comme d’une enseigne desployee pour contreindre tout le monde à le regarder;” — “the heavenly power, by which he shall be surrounded, will serve as a standard displayed to compel the whole world to look at him.”
Our author — quoting from memory, as he frequently does — appears to have incorporated the words of the prophet Amos, (Am 5:18,) To what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light, with a parallel passage in Joel, (Joel 2:1, 2) for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness. — Ed.