Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 26:21-25; MARK 14:18-21;
LUKE 22:15-16, 21-23
21. And while they were eating, he said, Verily I tell you, That one of you will betray me. 22. And they became exceedingly sorrowful, and began every one of them to say to him, Lord, is it I? 23. But he answering said, He who hath dipped his hand with me in the dish will betray me. 24. The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. 25. And Judas, who betrayed him, answering, said, Rabbi is it I? 181 He said to him, Thou hast said it.
18. And while they were sitting at table and eating, Jesus said, Verily I tell you, 182 One of you that eateth with me will betray me. 19. And they began to be sorrowful, and every one of them to say to him, Is it I? And another said, Is it I? 20. And he answering said to them, It is one of the twelve, who dippeth with me in the dish. 21. The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born.
15. And he said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer. 16. For I tell you, henceforth I will not eat of it anymore, till it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. (And a little after.) 21. But yet, lo, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me at the table. 22. And the Son of man indeed goeth, according to what hath been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! 23. And they began to inquire among themselves, 183 which of them it was that would do this.
Matthew 26:21. One of you will betray me. To render the treachery of Judas more detestable, he points out the aggravated baseness of it by this circumstance, that he was meditating the act of betraying him while he sat with him at the holy table. For if a stranger had done this, it would have been more easily endured; but that one of his intimate friends should form such a design, and — what is more — that, after having entered into an infamous bargain, he should be present at the sacred banquet, was incredibly monstrous. And therefore Luke employs a connecting particle which marks a contrast: but yet, (πλὴν) lo, the hand of him that betrayeth me. And though Luke adds this saying of Christ after the supper was finished, we cannot obtain from it any certainty as to the order of time, which, we know, was often disregarded by the Evangelists. Yet I do not deny that it is probable that Judas was present, when Christ distributed to his disciples the symbols of his flesh and blood.
22. They began every one of them to say to him. I do not think that the disciples were alarmed, as persons struck with terror are wont to give themselves uneasiness without any reason; but, abhorring the crime, they are desirous to clear themselves from the suspicion of it. It is, indeed, a mark of reverence, that when indirectly blamed, they do not reply angrily to their Master, but each person constitutes himself his own judge, (as the object which we ought chiefly to aim at is, to be acquitted by his own mouth;) but, relying on a good conscience, they wish to declare frankly how far they are from meditating such a crime.
23. But he answering said. Christ, by his reply, neither removes their doubt, nor points out the person of Judas, but only confirms what he said a little before, that one of his friends sitting at the table is the traitor. And though they thought it hard to be left in suspense and perplexity for a time, that they might employ themselves in contemplating the atrocity of the crime, it was afterwards followed by another advantage, when they perceived that the prediction of the psalm was fulfilled,
He that ate pleasant food with me 184
hath lifted up his heel against me, (Ps 41:10.)
Besides, in the person of Judas, our Lord intended to admonish his followers in all ages, not to be discouraged or faint on account of intimate friends proving to be traitors; because the same thing that was experienced by Him who is the Head of the whole Church, must happen to us who are members of it.
24. The Son of man indeed goeth. Here Christ meets an offense, which might otherwise have greatly shaken pious minds. For what could be more unreasonable than that the Son of God should be infamously betrayed by a disciple, and abandoned to the rage of enemies, in order to be dragged to an ignominious death? But Christ declares that all this takes place only by the will of God; and he proves this decree by the testimony of Scripture, because God formerly revealed, by the mouth of his Prophet, what he had determined.
We now perceive what is intended by the words of Christ. It was, that the disciples, knowing that what was done was regulated by the providence of God, might not imagine that his life or death was determined by chance. But the usefulness of this doctrine extends much farther; for never are we fully confirmed in the result of the death of Christ, till we are convinced that he was not accidentally dragged by men to the cross, but that the sacrifice had been appointed by an eternal decree of God for expiating the sins of the world. For whence do we obtain reconciliation, but because Christ has appeased the Father by his obedience? Wherefore let us always place before our minds the providence of God, which Judas himself, and all wicked men — though it is contrary to their wish, and though they have another end in view — are compelled to obey. Let us always hold this to be a fixed principle, that Christ suffered, because it pleased God to have such an expiation.
And yet Christ does not affirm that Judas was freed from blame, on the ground that he did nothing but what God had appointed. For though God, by his righteous judgment, appointed for the price of our redemption the death of his Son, yet nevertheless, Judas, in betraying Christ, brought upon himself righteous condemnation, because he was full of treachery and avarice. In short, God’s determination that the world should be redeemed, does not at all interfere with Judas being a wicked traitor. Hence we perceive, that though men can do nothing but what God has appointed, still this does not free them from condemnation, when they are led by a wicked desire to sin. For though God directs them, by an unseen bridle, to an end which is unknown to them, nothing is farther from their intention than to obey his decrees. Those two principles, no doubt, appear to human reason Lo be inconsistent with each other, that God regulates the affairs of men by his Providence in such a manner, that nothing is done but by his will and command, and yet he damns the reprobate, by whom he has carried into execution what he intended. But we see how Christ, in this passage, reconciles both, by pronouncing a curse on Judas, though what he contrived against God had been appointed by God; not that Judas’s act of betraying ought strictly to be called the work of God, but because God turned the treachery of Judas so as to accomplish His own purpose.
I am aware of the manner in which some commentators endeavor to avoid this rock. They acknowledge that what had been written was accomplished through the agency of Judas, because God testified by predictions what He fore-knew. By way of softening the doctrine, which appears to them to be somewhat harsh, they substitute the foreknowledge of God in place of the decree, as if God merely beheld from a distance future events, and did not arrange them according to his pleasure. But very differently does the Spirit settle this question; for not only does he assign as the reason why Christ was delivered up, that it was so written, but also that it was so determined. For where Matthew and Mark quote Scripture, Luke leads us direct to the heavenly decree, saying, according to what was determined; as also in the Acts of the Apostles, he shows that Christ was delivered not only by the foreknowledge, but likewise by the fixed purpose of God, (Ac 2:25) and a little afterwards, that Herod and Pilate, with other wicked men,
did those things which had been fore-ordained by the hand and purpose of God, (Acts 4:27, 28.)
Hence it is evident that it is but an ignorant subterfuge which is employed by those who betake themselves to bare foreknowledge.
It had been good for that man. By this expression we are taught what a dreadful vengeance awaits the wicked, for whom it would have been better that they had never been born. And yet this life, though transitory, and full of innumerable distresses, is an invaluable gift of God. Again, we also infer from it, how detestable is their wickedness, which not only extinguishes the precious gifts of God, and turns them to their destruction, but makes it to have been better for them that they had never tasted the goodness of God. But this phrase is worthy of observation, it would have been good for that man if he had never been born; for though the condition of Judas was wretched, yet to have created hint was good in God, who, appointing the reprobate to the day of destruction, illustrates also in this way his own glory, as Solomon tells us:
The Lord hath made all things for himself; yea,
even the wicked for the day of evil, (Pr 16:4.)
The secret government of God, which provides even the schemes and works of men, is thus vindicated, as I lately noticed, from all blame and suspicion.
25. And Judas who betrayed him. Though we often see persons trembling, who are conscious of doing wrong, yet along with dread and secret torments there is mingled such stupidity, that they boldly make a fiat denial; but in the end they gain nothing by their impudence but to expose their hidden wickedness. Thus Judas, while he is restrained by an evil conscience, cannot remain silent; so dreadfully is he tormented, and, at the same time, overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, by that internal executioner. Christ, by indirectly glancing, in his reply, at the foolish rashness of Judas, entreats him to consider the crime which he wished to conceal; but his mind, already seized with diabolical rage, could not admit such a sentiment. Let us learn from this example, that the wicked, by bold apologies, do nothing more than draw down upon themselves a more sudden judgment.
“Maistre, est-ce moy?” — “Master, is it I?”
This clause has been omitted, through oversight, in Calvin’s Latin version; but the defect is supplied—as in other instances—by the French copy, “Je vous dy en verité;” — “I tell you in truth.” — Ed.
“Lors ils commencerent à s’entredemander l’un à l’autre;” — “then they began to ask one another.”
“Celuy qui mangeoit en ami avec moy;” — “he that ate with me as a friend.”