Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 26:51-56; MARK 14:47-52;
51. And, lo, one of those who were with Jesus, stretching out his hand, drew his sword, and, striking the servant of the high priest, cut off his ear. 52. Then Jesus said to him, Put thy sword again into its place; for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword. 53. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he will grant to me more than twelve legions of angels? 54. How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? 55. At that hour 215 Jesus said to the multitudes, You are come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me. I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not take me. 56. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
47. But one of those who were present drew his sword, and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 48. And Jesus answering said to them, Are you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? 49. I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But (this was done,) that the scriptures might be fulfilled. 216 50. And they all forsook him, and fled. 51. And a young man followed him, having a linen cloth wrapped about his naked body; and the young men seized him. 52. And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
49. And those who were around him, seeing what would happen, said to him, Lord, shall we strike with the sword? 50. And one of them struck a servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. 51. And Jesus answering said, Permit it to be thus far; and, having touched his ear, he healed him. 52. And Jesus said to those who had come to him, the chief priests, and rulers of the temple, and elders, Are you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53. When I was daily with you in the temple, you did not lay hands on me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.
Matthew 26:51. And, lo, one of those who were with Jesus. Luke says, that all the disciples made an agreement together to fight for their Master. Hence it is again evident, that we are much more courageous and ready for fighting than for bearing the cross; and, therefore, we ought always to deliberate wisely what the Lord commands, and what he requires from every one of us, lest the fervor of our zeal exceed the bounds of reason and moderation. When the disciples asked Christ, Shall we strike with the sword? they did so, not with the intention of obeying his injunction; but by these words they declared that they were prepared and ready to repel the violence of enemies. And, indeed, Peter did not wait till he was commanded or permitted to strike, but inconsiderately proceeded to unlawful violence. It appears, at first view, to be praiseworthy valor in the disciples, that, forgetting their own weakness, though they are unable to make resistance, they do not hesitate to present their bodies before their Master, and to encounter certain death; for they choose rather to perish with the Lord than to survive and look on while he is oppressed. But as they improperly attempt more than the calling of God commands or permits, their rashness is justly condemned; and therefore let us learn, that in order that our obedience may be acceptable to the Lord, we must depend on his will, so that no man shall move a finger, except so far as God commands. One reason ought, above all, to lead us to be zealous in cultivating this modesty; which is, that instead of a proper and well-regulated zeal, confused irregularity for the most part reigns in us.
Peter’s name is not mentioned here by the Evangelists; but John (Joh 18:10) assures us—and from what occurs shortly afterwards in the narrative it is evident — that it was Peter who is here described, though the name is suppressed. Yet Luke enables us easily to infer that there were others also who took part in the same outrage; for Christ does not speak to one person only, but says to all alike, Permit 217 it to be thus far.
52. Put thy sword again into its place. By these words, Christ confirms the precept of the Law, which forbids private individuals to use the sword. And above all, we ought to attend to the threatening of punishment which is immediately added; for men did not, at their own pleasure, appoint this punishment for avenging their own blood; but God himself, by severely prohibiting murder, has declared how dearly he loves mankind. First, then, he does not choose to be defended by force and violence, because God in the Law forbade men to strike. This is a general reason; and he immediately descends to a special reason.
But here a question arises. Is it never lawful to use violence in repelling unjust violence? For though Peter had to deal with wicked and base robbers, still he is condemned for having drawn his sword. If, in such a case of moderate defense, an exception was not allowed, Christ appears to tie up the hands of all. Though we have treated this question more copiously 218 under Mt 5:39, yet I shall now state my opinion again in a few words. First, we must make a distinction between a civil court and the court of conscience; 219 for if any man resist a robber, 220 he will not be liable to public punishment, because the laws arm him against one who is the common enemy of mankind. Thus, in every case when defense is made against unjust violence, the punishment which God enjoins earthly judges to carry into execution ceases. And yet it is not the mere goodness of the cause that acquits the conscience from guilt, unless there be also pure affection. So then, in order that a man may properly and lawfully defend himself, he must first lay aside excessive wrath, and hatred, and desire of revenge, and all irregular sallies of passion, that nothing tempestuous may mingle with the defense. As this is of rare occurrence, or rather, as it scarcely ever happens, Christ properly reminds his people of the general rule, that they should entirely abstain from using the sword.
But there are fanatics who have foolishly misapplied this passage, so as to wrest the sword out of the hands of judges. They contend that it is unlawful to strike with the sword. This I acknowledge to be true, for no man is at liberty to take the sword at his own pleasure, so as to commit murder; but I deny that magistrates—who are God’s ministers, and by whom he executes his judgments—ought to be viewed as belonging to the ordinary rank. And not only so, but by these words of Christ, this very power is expressly ascribed to them: for when he declares that murderers must be put to death, it follows, that the sword is put into the hands of judges, that they may take vengeance for unjust murders. It will sometimes happen, indeed, that men addicted to the shedding of blood are punished by other means; but this is the ordinary way in which the Lord determined that the fierce cruelty of wicked men should be restrained from rioting with impunity. Certain doctors of what is called Canon Law have ventured to proceed to such a pitch of impudence as to teach, that the sword was not taken from Peter, but he was commanded to keep it sheathed until the time came for drawing it; and hence we perceive how grossly and shamefully those dogs have sported with the word of God.
53. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father? Now follows that special reason which I mentioned a little ago; for Christ reminds them, that he would have at his command a better and more legitimate kind of defense, were it not that he must obey the decree of the Father. The substance of what he says is this. “As he has been appointed by the eternal purpose of God to be a sacrifice, and as this has been declared by the predictions of Scripture, he must not fight against it.” Thus Peter’s rashness is condemned on another ground, that he not only endeavors to overturn a heavenly decree, but also to obstruct the path of the redemption of mankind. Not only did Peter draw his sword unlawfully, but the disciples were foolish and mad; for—though they were few in number, and feeble—they attempted to make some resistance to a band of soldiers and a very great multitude. On this account, the Lord, in order to make their folly more manifest, employs this comparison. “If he wished to have a guard to defend his life, he would immediately obtain not eleven angels, but a large and invincible army, and since he does not implore that angels may be sent to assist him, much less would he resort to ill-considered means, from which no advantage was to be expected; for the utmost that could be effected by the disciples would be of no more service than if a few rooks were to make a noise.”
But here some commentators labor to no purpose in inquiring how Christ could have obtained a commission of angels from his Father, by whose decree it was that he had to suffer death. For the two things are inconsistent: that he exposed his Son to death naked and defenseless, because it was necessary that it should be so, and because it had been appointed; and yet, that he might have been prevailed on by prayer to send him relief. But Christ speaks conditionally, that he has a far better method of defending his life, were it not that the will of the Father was opposed to it. This takes away all contradiction, for Christ refrained from presenting such a request to his Father, because he knew that it was contrary to his decree. Yet from this we draw a useful doctrine, that those who resort to unlawful means on the plea of necessity pour dishonor on God. If a man is destitute of lawful aid and support, he runs headlong to wicked schemes and sinful undertakings; and the reason is, that few look for the secret protection of God, which alone ought to be sufficient to set our minds at rest. Are we threatened with danger? Because no remedy can be discovered according to the flesh, we make this or the other contrivance, as if there were no angels in heaven, who — Scripture frequently tells us — are placed as guardians for our salvation, (Heb 1:14.) In this way we deprive ourselves of their assistance; for all who are impelled, by their restlessness and excessive anxiety, to stretch out their hands to forbidden remedies for evils, do unquestionably renounce the providence of God.
54. How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled? By this expression Christ means, that he ought not to attempt any method of escaping death, to which he knew that he was called by the Father. For himself, indeed, he had no need of the Scriptures to inform him that God had appointed that he should die at that time; but because mortals do not know what God has determined to do until it be revealed by his word, Christ, with a view to his disciples, properly refers to the testimony which God gave of his will. We know that whatever affliction happens to us, it is inflicted by God himself; but since we are uncertain as to the result, when we seek remedies which he allows, we do not rise against his government; but when his will has been ascertained, nothing more remains for us than to acquiesce. Though in this passage Christ teaches nothing more than that he ought patiently to suffer death, because the Scriptures have declared that it must be so, yet the use of this doctrine is evidently more extensive, namely, that Scripture is a sufficient bridle for subduing the rebellion of the flesh; because God points out to us what is his. will for the very purpose of keeping us in subjection to his will. Accordingly, Paul ascribes to Scripture this office, that it trains us to patience, (Ro 15:4,) and supplies us with all the comfort that we need in adversity. His reproof of the disciples, as given by Luke, is more brief, Permit them to do thus far; but still he severely condemns their presumption, in having gone so far as to perform an unlawful action, though at the same time he holds out a hope of pardon, if they suppress their improper zeal, and proceed no farther.
Luke 22:51. And having touched his ear, he healed him. By his foolish zeal Peter had brought grievous reproach on his Master and his doctrine; and there can be no doubt, that this was a contrivance by which Satan attempted to involve the Gospel in eternal disgrace, as if Christ had kept company with assassins and seditious persons for revolutionary purposes. This, I think, was the reason why Christ healed the wound which Peter had inflicted. But a fearful and amazing stupidity must have seized his adversaries, who were not at all affected by having seen such a miracle. And yet there is the less reason to wonder that they did not see the power of Christ displayed in the person of another, when, after having themselves been laid prostrate by his voice, they still continued to rage, (Joh 18:6.) Such is the spirit of giddiness by which Satan maddens the reprobate, when the Lord has given them over to blindness. Above all, in the person himself who was healed, there is a striking instance of ingratitude; for neither did the divine power of Christ subdue him to repentance for his hardness, nor was he overcome by kindness so as to be changed from an enemy into a disciple. For it is a foolish imagination of the monks that he was also healed in his soul, that the work of Christ might not be left incomplete; as if the goodness of God were not every day poured out on those who are unworthy.
Matthew 26:55. Are you come out, as against a robber? By these words Christ expostulates with his enemies for having intended to bring odium upon him, by coming provided with a great body of soldiers; for the meaning is this, “What necessity was there for making such a display of arms against me, as if your object had been to overcome some robber? But I have always lived peaceably amongst you, and without using arms; and when I was teaching in the temple, you might easily have seized me without any military force.” Yet, while he complains of their malice in violently rushing upon him, as if he were a seditious man, he again wounds their evil conscience by reminding them, that though they had a traitor for their leader, they approached him with trembling, and with many marks of distrust.
56. Now all this was done. The other two Evangelists express it somewhat differently; for what Matthew relates in his own person, Mark appears to attribute to Christ.Luke employs even different words: this is your hour, and the power of darkness. But the design of the Holy Spirit is, beyond all doubt, that whatever may be the contrivances of wicked men, nothing whatever has been done but by the will and providence of God; for as he had said a little before, God has testified nothing by the prophets but what he had determined with himself, (Lu 22:3.) First, therefore, we are here informed, that whatever may be the unbridled rage by which Satan and all ungodly men are actuated, still the hand of God always prevails, so as to draw them reluctantly wherever he pleases. Secondly, we are informed, that though wicked men fulfill what was predicted in the Scriptures; yet, since God does not employ them as his lawful ministers, but directs them, by a secret movement, to that which was farthest from their wish, they are not excusable; and that, while God makes a righteous use of their malice, blame still attaches to them. At the same time, let us observe that Christ said this in order to remove the offense, which would otherwise have greatly disturbed weak minds, when they saw him so reproached and outraged.
Still Christ intended not only to promote the advantage of his disciples, but also to repress the pride of his adversaries, that they might not triumph as if they had achieved victory. For this reason, in Luke’s narrative he says, this is your hour; by which he means that the Lord grants them this liberty for a short time. The power of darkness denotes the power of the devil, and this term had also a strong tendency to abase their glory; for though they exalt themselves ever so much, Christ shows that they are still nothing more than the slaves of the devil. While all things are mingled in confusion, and while the devil, by spreading darkness abroad, appears to overturn the whole order of the world, let us know that the providence of God shines above in heaven, to bring at length to order what is confused; and let us, therefore, learn to raise the eyes of faith to that calm sky. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. Hence we may again infer how much more ready they were to fight rashly than to follow their Master.
Mark 14:51. And a young man. How some persons have come to dream that this was John 221 I know not, nor is it of much importance to inquire. The chief point is, to ascertain for what purpose Mark has related this transaction. I think that his object was, to inform us that those wicked men — as usually happens in riotous assemblies stormed and raved without shame or modesty; which appeared from their seizing a young man who was unknown to them, and not suspected of any crime, so that he had difficulty in escaping out of their hands naked. For it is probable that the young man, who is mentioned, had some attachment to Christ, and, on hearing the tumult by night, without stopping to put on his clothes, and covered only with a linen garment, came either to discover their traps, or, at least, that he might not be wanting in a duty of friendship. 222 We certainly perceive — as I just now said — that those wicked men raged with cruel violence, when they did not even spare a poor young man, who had left his bed, almost naked, and run, on hearing the noise.
“A ce mesme instant;” — “At that very instant.”
“Mais (il faut) que les Escritures soyent accomplis;” — “but the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
Our Author’s argument is obviously founded on the circumstance, that the verb ἐα̑τε, permit, is in the plural number. — Ed.
Harmony, vol. 1, p. 298
“Entre la jurisdiction externe ou civile, et le jugement spirituel, qui a son siege en la conscience;” — “between external or civil jurisdiction, and the spiritual judgment, which has its seat in the conscience.”
“Si quelqu’un use de violence pour repousser un brigand;” — “if any one use violence for repelling a robber.”
“Aucuns ont songé que c’estoit Jean, l’un des Apostres;” — “some have dreamed that it was John, one of the Apostles.”
“Ou, pour le moins à fin de faire devoir d’ami envers Jesus Christ;” — “or, at least, in order to perform the duty of a friend towards Jesus Christ.”