Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 24:32-36; MARK 13:28-32;
32. Now learn a similitude from the fig-tree. When its branch is already tender, and putteth forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh. 33. In like manner, when you shall see all these things, know you that it is nigh, at the door. 34. Verily I say to you, This generation shall not pass away till all these things be done. 35. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 36. But of that day and hour no man knoweth, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father alone.
28. Now learn a similitude from the fig-tree. When its branch is still tender, and putteth forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh. 29. In like manner, when you shall see these things happen, know you that it is nigh at the door. 30. Verily I say to you, That this generation shall not pass till all those things be done. 31. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 32. But of that day and hour no man knoweth, not even the angels which are in heaven, nor the Son himself, but the Father alone.
29. And he addressed to them a similitude. Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. 30. When they are already putting forth buds, you perceive of yourselves and know that the summer is already at hand. 31. In like manner, when you shall see these things happen know you that the kingdom of God is at hand. 32. Verily I say to you, This generation shall not pass before all these things are done. 33. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Matthew 24:32. Now learn a similitude from the fig-tree. I do not suppose the meaning of this to be merely that, during the state of confusion which has been mentioned, there will be as evident a sign that the coming of Christ is nigh, as that by which we know with certainty that the summer is at hand, when the trees begin to grow green; but, in my opinion, Christ expresses something else. For as in winter the trees, contracted by the severity of the cold, show greater vigor, but in spring lose their toughness, and appear more feeble, and are even cleft asunder to open up passage for fresh twigs, so the afflictions by which, according to the perception of the flesh, the Church is softened, do not in any way impair its vigor. As the inward sap diffused through the whole tree, after having produced this softness, collects strength to throw itself out for renovating what was dead, so the Lord draws from the corruption of the outward man the perfect restoration of his people. The general instruction conveyed is, that the weak and frail condition of the Church ought not to lead us to conclude that it is dying, but rather to expect the immortal glory for which the Lord prepares his people by the cross and by afflictions; for what Paul maintains in reference to each of the members must be fulfilled in the whole body, that
if the outward man is decayed the inward man is renewed day by day, (2Co 4:16.)
What Matthew and Mark had stated more obscurely, know you that it is nigh at the door, is more fully explained by Luke, know you that the kingdom of God is at hand; and in this passage the kingdom of God is not represented—as in many other passages—at its commencement, but at its perfection, and that according to the views of those whom Christ was teaching. For they did not view the kingdom of God in the Gospel as consisting in the peace and joy of faith and in spiritual righteousness, (Ro 14:17,) but sought that blessed rest and glory which is concealed under hope till the last day.
34. This generation shall not pass away. Though Christ employs a general expression, yet he does not extend the discourses to all the miseries which would befall the Church, but merely informs them, that before a single generation shall have been completed, they will learn by experience the truth of what he has said. For within fifty years the city was destroyed and the temple was razed, the whole country was reduced to a hideous desert, and the obstinacy of the world rose up against God. Nay more, their rage was inflamed to exterminate the doctrine of salvation, false teachers arose to corrupt the pure gospel by their impostures, religion sustained amazing shocks, and the whole company of the godly was miserably distressed. Now though the same evils were perpetrated in uninterrupted succession for many ages afterwards, yet what Christ said was true, that, before the close of a single generation, believers would feel in reality, and by undoubted experience, the truth of his prediction; for the apostles endured the same things which we see in the present day. 155 And yet it was not the design of Christ to promise to his followers that their calamities would be terminated within a short time, (for then he would have contradicted himself, having previously warned them that the end was not yet;) but, in order to encourage them to perseverance, he expressly foretold that those things related to their own age. The meaning therefore is: “This prophecy does not relate to evils that are distant, and which posterity will see after the lapse of many centuries, but which are now hanging over you, and ready to fall in one mass, so that there is no part of it which the present generation will not experience.” So then, while our Lord heaps upon a, single generation every kind of calamities, he does not by any means exempt future ages from the same kind of sufferings, but only enjoins the disciples to be prepared for enduring them all with firmness.
35 Heaven and earth shall pass away. In order to secure greater confidence in his statements, he illustrates their certainty by this comparison, that it is more firm and stable than the entire structure of the world. 156 But this form of expression is explained by commentators in a variety of ways. Some refer it as the passing away of heaven and earth at the last day, by which their frail constitution will be brought to an end; while others explain it to mean, that sooner shall the entire structure of the world perish than the prophecy which we have just heard shall fail to be accomplished. But as there can be no doubt that Christ expressly intended to raise the minds of his followers above the contemplation of the world, I think that he refers to the continual changes which we see in the world, and affirms, that we ought not to judge of his sayings by the changeful character of the world, which resembles the billows of the sea; for we know how easily our minds are carried away by the affairs of the world, when it is undergoing incessant change. For this reason, Christ enjoins his disciples not to allow their attention to be occupied by the world, but to look down, from what may be called the lofty watch-tower of divine providence, on all that he foretold would happen. Yet from this passage we draw a useful doctrine, that our salvation, because it is founded on the promises of Christ, does not fluctuate according to the various agitations of the world, but remains unshaken, provided only that our faith rises above heaven and earth, and ascends to Christ himself.
36. But of that day and hour. By this sentence, Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word. That men may not feel uneasy at not knowing that day, Christ represents angels as their associates in this matter; for it would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven. 157
Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account. But many persons, thinking that this was unworthy of Christ, have endeavored to mitigate the harshness of this opinion by a contrivance of their own; and perhaps they were driven to employ a subterfuge by the malice of the Arians, who attempted to prove from it that Christ is not the true and only God. So then, according to those men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to men. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to Christ as is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable. Before stating it, however, I shall briefly dispose of the objections of those who think that it is an insult offered to the Son of God, if it be said that any kind of ignorance can properly apply to him.
As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, 158 whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefor in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (Joh 21:17) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us, (Heb 2:17.) Again, the objection urged by some—that ignorance cannot apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin — is beyond measure ridiculous. For, first, it is prodigious folly to assert that the ignorance which is ascribed to angels proceeds from sin; but they discover themselves to be equally foolish on another ground, by not perceiving that Christ clothed himself with our flesh, for the purpose of enduring the punishment due to our sins. And if Christ, as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal.
I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Mt 20:23; Mr 5:40.) For (as I explained under that passage 159 ) he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him, (Mt 28:18.)
“Que nous voyons aujourdhui advenir aux fideles;” — “which we see in the present day happen to believers.”
“Que tout l’ordre de nature qui se voit au ciel et à la terre;” — “than the whole order of nature which is seen in heaven and in earth.”
“Aux anges de Paradis;” — “to the angels in Paradise.”
“La Divinité s’est tenue comme cachee; c’est à dire, n’a point demonstré sa vertu;” — “the Divine nature was kept, as it were, concealed; that is, did not display `its power.”
Harmony, vol. 2, p. 421