Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 27:24-32; MARK 15:15-21;
24. But Pilate, perceiving that he gained nothing by it, but that the tumult became the greater, took water, and washed his hands before the people, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man: see you to it. 25. And the whole people, answering, said, His blood be on us and on our children. 26. Then he released to them Barabbas, and after having scourged Jesus, he delivered him up to be crucified. 27. Then the soldiers of the governor conducted Jesus into the Pretorium, and gathered around him the whole band. 28. And having stripped him, they put on him a scarlet robe. 29. And having wreathed a crown of thorns, they put it on his head, and a reed in his right hand; and kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! 30. And having spat on him, they took the reed and struck him on the head. 31. And after having mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. 32. And as they were going out, they found a Cyrenian named Simon: him they constrained to bear his cross.
15. Pilate then wishing to satisfy the multitude, released Barabbas to them, and after having scourged Jesus, he delivered him up to be crucified. 16. And the soldiers conducted him into the hall, which is the Pretorium; and they gather together the whole band. 17. And they clothe him with purple, and put upon his head a crown interwoven with thorns. 18. And they began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! 19. And they struck him on the head with a reed, and spat on him; and kneeling they worshipped him. 20. And having mocked him, they stripped him of the purple, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. 21. And they compelled the one Simon, a Cyrenian, who was passing by, who was coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
24. And Pilate decided that what they demanded should be done. 25. And he released to them him who, for sedition and murder, had been put in prison, whom they had desired; and delivered up Jesus to their will. 26. And as they were leading him away, they seized one Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming out of the country, and laid the cross upon him, to carry it after Jesus. 27. And there followed him a great multitude of people and of women, who also bewailed and lamented him. 28. And Jesus turning to them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29. For, lo, the days will come in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that did not bear, and the breasts which did not give suck. 30. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us. 31. For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? 32. Two others also, who were malefactors, were led with him to be crucified.
Matthew 27:24. But Pilate, perceiving that he gained nothing by it. As sailors, who have experienced a violent tempest, at last give way, and permit themselves to be carried out of the proper course; so Pilate, finding himself unable to restrain the commotion of the people, lays aside his authority as a judge, and yields to their furious outcry. And though he had long attempted to hold out, still the necessity does not excuse him; for he ought rather to have submitted to any amount of suffering than to have swerved from his duty. Nor is his guilt alleviated by the childish ceremony which he uses; for how could a few drops of water wash away the stain of a crime which no satisfaction of any kind could obliterate? His principal object in doing so was not to wash out his stains before God, but to exhibit to the people a Mark of abhorrence, to try if perhaps he might lead them to repent of their fury; as if he had employed such a preface as this, “Lo, you compel me to an unrighteous murder, to which I cannot come but with trembling and horror. What then shall become of you, and what dreadful vengeance of God awaits you, who are the chief actors in the deed?” But whatever might be the design of Pilate, God intended to testify, in this manner, the innocence of his Son, that it might be more manifest that in him our sins were condemned. The supreme and sole Judge of the world is placed at the bar of an earthly judge, is condemned to crucifixion as a malefactor, and — what is more — is placed between two robbers, as if he had been the prince of robbers. A spectacle so revolting might, at first sight, greatly disturb the senses of men, were it not met by this argument, that the punishment which had been due to us was laid on Christ, so that, our guilt having now been removed, we do not hesitate to come into the presence of the Heavenly Judge. Accordingly, the water, which was of no avail for washing away the filth of Pilate, ought to be efficacious, in the present day, for a different purpose, to cleanse our eyes from every obstruction, that, in the midst of condemnation, they may clearly perceive the righteousness of Christ.
25. His blood be on us. There can be no doubt that the Jews pronounced this curse on themselves without any concern, as if they had been fully convinced that they had a righteous cause before God; but their inconsiderate zeal carries them headlong, so that, while they commit an irreparable crime, they add to it a solemn imprecation, by which they cut themselves off from the hope of pardon. Hence we infer how carefully we ought to guard against headlong rashness in all our judgments. For when men refuse to make inquiry, and venture to decide in this or the other matter according to their own fancy, blind impulse must at length carry them to rage. And this is the righteous vengeance of God with which he visits the pride of those who do not deign to take the trouble of distinguishing between right and wrong. The Jews thought that, in slaying Christ, they were performing a service acceptable to God; but whence arose this wicked error, unless from wicked obstinacy, and from despising God himself? Justly, therefore, were they abandoned to this rashness of drawing upon themselves final ruin. But when the question relates to the worship of God and his holy mysteries, let us learn to open our eyes, and to inquire into the matter with reverence and sobriety, lest through hypocrisy and presumption we become stupefied and enraged.
Now as God would never have permitted this execrable word to proceed from the mouth of the people, if their impiety had not been already desperate, so afterwards he justly revenged it by dreadful and unusual methods; and yet by an incredible miracle he reserved for himself some remnant, that his covenant might not be abolished by the destruction of the whole nation. He had adopted for himself the seed of Abraham, that it might be
a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, his peculiar people and inheritance,
The Jews now conspire, as with one voice, to renounce a favor so distinguished. Who would not say that the whole nation was utterly rooted out from the kingdom of God? But God, through their treachery, renders more illustrious the fidelity of his promise, and, to show that he did not in vain make a covenant with Abraham, he rescues from the general destruction those whom he has elected by free grace. Thus the truth of God always rises superior to all the obstacles raised by human unbelief.
26 Then he released to them Barabbas. Our three Evangelists do not mention what is related by John, (Joh 15:13,) that Pilate ascended the judgment-seat to pronounce sentence from it; for they only state that the clamor of the people and the confused tumult prevailed on him basely to deliver up Christ to death. But both of these things must be observed, that a compliance was forced from him contrary to his will, and yet that he exercised the office of a judge in condemning him whom he pronounces to be innocent. For if the Son of God had not been free from all sin, we would have had no right to look for satisfaction from his death; and, on the other hand, if he had not become our surety, to endure the punishment which we had deserved, we would now have been involved in the condemnation of our sins. So then God determined that his Son should be condemned in a solemn manner, that he might acquit us for his sake.
But even the severity of the punishment serves to confirm our faith, not less than to impress our minds with dread of the wrath of God, and to humble us by a conviction of our miseries. For if we are desirous to profit aright by meditating on the death of Christ, we ought to begin with cherishing abhorrence of our sins, in proportion to the severity of the punishment which he endured. This will cause us not only to feel displeasure and shame of ourselves, but to be penetrated with deep grief, and therefore to seek the medicine with becoming ardor, and at the same time to experience confusion and trembling. For we must have hearts harder than stones, if we are not cut to the quick by the wounds of the Son of God, if we do not hate and detest our sins, for expiating which the Son of God endured so many torments. But as this is a display of the dreadful vengeance of God, so, on the other hand, it holds out to us the most abundant grounds of confidence; for we have no reason to fear that our sins, from which the Son of God acquits us by so valuable a ransom, will ever again be brought into judgment before God. For not only did he endure an ordinary kind of death, in order to obtain life for us, but along with the cross he took upon him our curse, that no uncleanness might any longer remain in us.
27. Then the soldiers of the governor. It is not without reason that these additional insults are related. We know that it was not some sort of ludicrous exhibition, when God exposed his only-begotten Son to every kind of reproaches. First, then, we ought to consider what we have deserved, and, next, the satisfaction offered by Christ ought to awaken us to confident hope. Our filthiness deserves that God should hold it in abhorrence, and that all the angels should spit upon us; but Christ, in order to present us pure and unspotted in presence of the Father, resolved to be spat upon, and to be dishonored by every kind of reproaches. For this reason, that disgrace which he once endured on earth obtains for us favor in heaven, and at the same time restores in us the image of God, which had been not only stained, but almost obliterated, by the pollutions of sin. Here, too, is brightly displayed the inconceivable mercy of God towards us, in bringing his only-begotten Son so low on our account. This was also a proof which Christ gave of his astonishing love towards us, that there was no ignominy to which he refused to submit for our salvation. but these matters call for secret meditation, rather than for the ornament of words.
We are also taught that the kingdom of Christ ought not to be estimated by the sense of the flesh, but by the judgment of faith and of the Spirit. For so long as our minds grovel in the world, we look: upon his kingdom not only as contemptible, but even as loaded with shame and disgrace; but as soon as our minds rise by faith to heaven, not only will the spiritual majesty of Christ be presented to us, so as to obliterate all the dishonor of the cross, but the spittings, scourgings, blows, and other indignities, will lead us to the contemplation of his glory; as Paul informs us, that
God hath given him a name, and the highest authority, that before him every knee might bow, because he willingly emptied himself (ἐκένωσε) even to the death of the cross,
If, therefore, even in the present day, the world insolently mocks at Christ, let us learn to rise above these offenses by elevated faith; and let us not stop to inquire, what unworthy opposition is made to Christ by wicked men, but with what ornaments the Father hath clothed him, with what scepter and with what crown he hath adorned him, so as to raise him high, not only above men, but even above all the angels.
Mark uses the word purple instead of scarlet; but though these are different colors, we need not trouble ourselves much about that matter. That Christ was clothed with a costly garment is not probable; and hence we infer that it was not purple, but something that bore a resemblance to it, as a painter counterfeits truth by his likenesses.
32. They found a man, a Cyrenian. This circumstance points out the extreme cruelty both of the Jewish nation and of the soldiers. There is no reason to doubt that it was then the custom for malefactors to carry their own crosses to the place of punishment, but as the only persons who were crucified were robbers, who were men of great bodily strength, they were able to bear such a burden. It was otherwise with Christ, so that the very weakness of his body plainly showed that it was a lamb that was sacrificed. Perhaps, too, in consequence of having been mangled by scourging, and broken down by many acts of outrage, he bent under the weight of the cross. Now the Evangelists relate that the soldiers constrained a man who was a peasant, and of mean rank, to carry the cross; because that punishment was reckoned so detestable, that every person thought himself polluted, if he only happened to put his hand to it. 265 But God ennobles by his heralds the man who was taken from the lowest dregs of the people to perform a mean and infamous office; for it is not a superfluous matter, that the Evangelists not only mention his name, but inform us also about his country and his children. Nor can there be any doubt that God intended, by this preparation, to remind us that we are of no rank or estimation in ourselves, and that it is only from the cross of his Son that we derive eminence and renown.
Luke 23:27. And there followed him. Although in public all the people, with one shout, had condemned Christ, yet we see that there were some who had not forgotten his doctrine and miracles; and thus, in the midst of that miserable dispersion, God reserved for himself a small remnant. And though the faith of those women was weak, yet it is probable that there was a hidden seed of piety, which afterwards in due time produced fruit. Yet their lamentation served to condemn the wicked and shocking cruelty of the men, who had conspired with the scribes and priests to put Christ to death But Luke’s design was different, namely, to inform us, that when the wickedness of men breaks out into unrestrained disorder, God does not indolently look on, to see what they are doing, but sits as a judge in heaven, to punish them soon for their unjust cruelty; and that we ought not to despise his vengeance, because he delays it till the proper time, but that we ought to dread it before he appears.
28. Weep not. Some have thought that the women are reproved, because foolishly and inconsiderately they poured out tears to no purpose. On the contrary, Christ does not simply reprove them, as if it were improperly and without a cause that they were weeping, but warns them that there will be far greater reason for weeping on account of the dreadful judgment of God which hangs over them; as if he had said, that his death was not the end, but the beginning, of evils to Jerusalem and to the whole nation; and in this way he intimates, that he was not abandoned to the wickedness of man in such a manner as not to be the object of Divine care. For, from the punishment which immediately followed, it was manifest that the life of Christ was dear to God the Father, at the time when all imagined that he had been wholly forsaken and cast off.
These words do indeed show plainly with what exalted fortitude Christ was endued; for he could not have spoken in this manner, if he had not advanced to death with a steady and firm step. But the principal object is to show, that under this mean and revolting aspect he is still under the eye of God, and that wicked men, who now proudly triumph, as if they had obtained a victory, will not long enjoy their foolish mirth, for it will quickly be followed by an astonishing change. This doctrine is even now of use to us, when we learn that Christ was not less dear to his Father, because for a moment he was deprived of his aid, but that he set so high a value on our salvation, that he did not even spare his only-begotten Son. He gave a remarkable proof of this, when he razed to the foundation, and destroyed, along with its inhabitants, the Holy City, in which he had chosen his only sanctuary. Let us learn from this to rise to meditation on the cause of the death of Christ; for since God revenged it with such severity, he would never have permitted his Son to endure it, unless he had intended that it should be an expiation for the sins of the world.
29 For, lo, the days will come. He threatens, that a calamity which is not usual, but fearful and unheard of, is at hand, in which will be perceived, at a glance, the vengeance of God. As if he had said, that this nation will not be carried away by a single or ordinary kind of destruction, but that it will perish under a mass of numerous and great calamities, so that it would be much more desirable that the mountains should fall upon them, and crush them, or that the earth should open and swallow them up, than that they should pine away amidst the cruel torments of a lingering destruction. Nor did those threatenings fall to the ground without effect, but this thunder of words was surpassed by the awful result, as is evident from Josephus. And as the wish to be crushed by the mountains, and the cursing of their children, were expressive of the lowest despair, Christ taught by these words that the Jews would at length feel that they had made war, not with a mortal man, but with God. Thus shall the enemies of God reap the just reward of their impious rage, when they who formerly dared even to attack heaven, shall in vain desire to employ the earth as a shield against his vengeance.
31. If they do these things in the green tree. By this sentence Christ confirms what he had stated, that his death will not remain unpunished, and that the Jews, whose iniquity is ripe, or rather half-rotten, will not remain long in their present condition; and by a familiar comparison, he proves it to be impossible but that the fire of the divine wrath shall immediately kindle and devour them. We know that dry wood is wont to be first thrown into the fire; but if what is moist and green be burnt, much less shall the dry be ultimately spared. The phrase, if they do, may be taken indefinitely for if it be done 266 and the meaning will be: “If green wood is thrown into the fire before the time, what, think you, shall become of what is dry and old?” But some perhaps will prefer to view it as a comparison of men with God, as if Christ had said: “Wicked men, who resemble dry wood, when they have basely murdered the righteous, will find that their time is prepared by God. For how could they who are already devoted to destruction escape the hand of the heavenly Judge, who grants them so much liberty for a time against the good and innocent?”
Whether you choose to interpret it in the one or the other of these ways, the general meaning is, that the lamentation of the women is foolish, if they do not likewise expect and dread the awful judgment of God which hangs over the wicked. And whenever our distress of mind, arising from the bitterness of the cross, goes to excess, it is proper to soothe it by this consolation, that God, who now permits his own people to be unjustly oppressed, will not ultimately allow the wicked to escape punishment. If we were not sustained by this hope, we must unavoidably sink under our afflictions. Though it be the natural and more frequent practice to make a fire of dry wood rather than of green wood, yet God pursues a different order; for, while he allows tranquillity and ease to the reprobate, he trains his own people by a variety of afflictions, and therefore their condition is more wretched than that of others, if we judge of it from the present appearance. But this is an appropriate remedy, if we patiently look for the whole course of the judgment of God; for thus we shall perceive that the wicked gain nothing by a little delay; for when God shall have humbled his faithful servants by fatherly chastisements, he will rise with a drawn sword against those whose sins he appeared for a time not to observe.
“S’il luy fust advenu d’y mettre la main.”
“Pour si on fait ”