Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
41. But while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said to them, Have you here any thing to eat? 42. And they presented to him a piece of a broiled fish, and some honeycomb. 43. And he took, and ate, in their presence. 44. And he said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you; that all things which are written in the law Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me, are fulfilled. 45. Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. 46. And he said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it was proper that Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead on the third day; 47. And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48. And you are witnesses of those things. 49. And, lo, send the promise of my Father upon you; but remain you in the city of Jerusalem, till you are endued with power from on high.
Luke 24:41. But while they yet believed not for joy. This passage shows also that they were not purposely incredulous, like persons who deliberately resolve not to believe; but while their will led them to believe eagerly, they were held bound by the vehemence of their feelings, so that they could not rest satisfied. For certainly the joy which Luke mentions arose from nothing but faith; and yet it hindered their faith from gaining the victory. Let us therefore observe with what suspicion we ought to regard the vehemence of our feelings, which, though it may have good beginnings, hurries us out of the right path. We are also reminded how earnestly we ought to struggle against every thing that retards faith, since the joy which sprung up in the minds of the apostles from the presence of Christ was the cause of their unbelief.
43. And he took, and ate it in their presence. Here we perceive, on the other hand, how kindly and gently Christ bears with the weakness of his followers, since he does not fail to give them this new support when they are falling. And, indeed, though he has obtained a new and heavenly life, and has no more need of meat and drink than angels have, still he voluntarily condescends to join in the common usages of mortals. During the whole course of his life, he had subjected himself to the necessity of eating and drinking; and now, though relieved from that necessity, he eats for the purpose of convincing his disciples of the certainty of his resurrection. Thus we see how he disregarded himself, and chose always to be devoted to our interests. This is the true and pious meditation on this narrative, in which believers may advantageously rest, dismissing questions of mere curiosity, such as, “Was this corruptible food digested?” “What sort of nourishment did the body of Christ derive from it?” and, “What became of what did not go to nourishment?” As if it had not been in the power of Him who created all things out of nothing to reduce to nothing a small portion of food, whenever he thought fit. As Christ really tasted the fish and the honeycomb, in order to show that he was a man, so we cannot doubt that by his divine power he consumed what was not needed to pass into nourishment. Thus the angels, at the table of Abraham, (Ge 18:1,) having been clothed with real bodies, did actually, I have no doubt, eat and drink; but yet I do not therefore admit that the meat and drink yielded them that refreshment which the weakness of the flesh demands; but as they were clothed with a human form for the sake of Abraham, so the Lord granted this favor to his servant, that those heavenly visitors ate before his tent. Now if we acknowledge that the bodies which they assumed for a time were reduced to nothing after they had discharged their embassy, who will deny that the same thing happened as to the food?
44. These are the words. Though it will afterwards appear from Matthew and Mark that a discourse similar to this was delivered in Galilee, yet I think it probable that Luke now relates what happened on the day after his resurrection. For what John says of that day, that he breathed on them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost, (Joh 20:22) agrees with the words of Luke which here immediately follow, that he opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. By these words Christ indirectly reproves their gross and shameful forgetfulness, that, though they had long ago been fully informed of his future resurrection, they were as much astonished as if it had never been mentioned to them. The import of his words is: “Why do you hesitate as if this had been a new and unexpected occurrence, while it is only what I frequently predicted to you? Why do you not rather remember my words? For if hitherto you have reckoned me worthy of credit, this ought to have been known to you from my instructions before it happened.” In short, Christ tacitly complains that his labor has been thrown away on the apostles, since his instruction has been forgotten.
All things which are written concerning me. He now rebukes them more sharply for their slowness, by declaring that he brought forward nothing that was new but that he only reminded them of what had been declared by the Law and the Prophets, with which they ought to have been familiar from their childhood. But though they had been ignorant of the whole doctrine of religion, nothing could have been more unreasonable than not to embrace readily what they knew to have undoubtedly proceeded from God; for it was a principle admitted by the whole nation, that there was no religion but what was contained in the Law and the Prophets. The present division of the Scriptures is more copious than what we find in other passages; for besides the Law and the Prophets, he adds, in the third place, the Psalms, which, though they might with propriety have been reckoned among the Prophets, have, something distinct and peculiar to themselves. Yet the division into two par which we have seen elsewhere, (Lu 16:16; Joh 1:45,) embraces notwithstanding the whole of Scripture.
45. Then he opened their understanding. As the Lord had formerly discharged the office of Teacher, with little or no improvement on the part of the disciples, he now begins to teach them inwardly by his Spirit; for words are icily wasted on the air, until the minds are enlightened by the gift of understanding. It is true, indeed, that
the word of God is like a lamp,
but it shines in darkness and amidst the blind, until the inward light is given by the Lord, to whom it peculiarly belongs to enlighten the blind, (Ps 146:8.) And hence it is evident how great is the corruption of our nature, since the light of life exhibited to us in the heavenly oracles is of no avail to us. Now if we do not perceive by the understanding what is right, how would the will be sufficient for yielding obedience? We ought, therefore, to acknowledge that we come short in every respect, so that the heavenly doctrine proves to be useful and efficacious to us, only so far as the Spirit both forms our minds to understand it, and our hearts to submit to its yoke; and, therefore, that in order to our being properly qualified for becoming his disciples, we must lay aside all confidence in our own abilities, and seek light from heaven; and, abandoning the foolish opinion of free-will, must give ourselves up to be governed by God. Nor is it without reason that Paul bids men
become fools, that they may be wise to God,
for no darkness is more dangerous for quenching the light of the Spirit than reliance on our own sagacity.
That they might understand the Scriptures. Let the reader next observe, that the disciples had not the eyes of their mind opened, so as to comprehend the mysteries of God without any assistance, but so far as they are contained in the Scriptures; and thus was fulfilled what is said,
(Ps 119:18,) Enlighten mine eyes,
that I may behold the wonders of thy law.
For God does not bestow the Spirit on his people, in order to set aside the use of his word, but rather to render it fruitful. It is highly improper, therefore, in fanatics, under the pretense of revelations, to take upon themselves the liberty of despising the Scriptures; for what we now read in reference to the apostles is daily accomplished by Christ in all his people, namely, that by his Spirit he guides us to understand the Scriptures, and does not hurry us away into the idle raptures of enthusiasm.
But it may be asked, Why did Christ choose to lose his labor, during the entire period of three years, in teaching them, rather than to open their understandings from the very outset? I reply, first, though the fruit of his labor did not immediately appear, still it was not useless; for when the new light was given to them, they likewise perceived the advantage of the former period. For I regard these words as meaning, not only that he opened their understandings, that, in future they might be ready to receive instruction, if any thing were stated to them, but that they might call to remembrance his doctrine, which they had formerly heard without any advantage. Next, let us learn that this ignorance, which lasted during three years, was of great use for informing them that from no other source than from the heavenly light did they obtain their new discernment. Besides, by this fact Christ gave an undoubted proof of his Divinity; for he not only was the minister of the outward voice, which sounded in their ears, but by his hidden power he penetrated into their minds, and thus showed that what, Paul tells us, does not belong to the teachers of the Church is the prerogative of Him alone, (1Co 3:7.) Yet it ought to be observed, that the apostles were not so destitute of the light of understanding as not to hold certain elementary principles; but as it was only a slight taste, it is reckoned to be a commencement of true understanding when the veil is removed, and they behold Christ in the Law and the Prophets.
46. And he said to them, Thus it is written. The connection of these words refutes the calumny of those who allege that outward doctrine would be superfluous, if we did not naturally possess some power of understanding. “Why,” say they, “would the Lord speak to the deaf?” But we see that, when the Spirit of Christ, who is the inward Teacher, performs his office, the labor of the minister who speaks is not thrown away; for Christ, after having bestowed on his followers the gift of understanding, instructs them out of the Scriptures with real advantage. With the reprobate, indeed, though the outward word passes away as if it were dead, still it renders them inexcusable.
As to the words of Christ, they are founded on this principle: Whatever is written must be fulfilled, for God declared nothing by his prophets but what he will undoubtedly accomplish.” But by these words we are likewise taught what it is that we ought chiefly to learn from the Law and the Prophets; namely, that since Christ is the end and the soul of the law, (Ro 10:4,) whatever we learn without him, and apart from him, is idle and unprofitable. Whoever then desires to make great proficiency in the Scriptures ought always to keep this end in view. Now Christ here places first in order his death and resurrection, and afterwards the fruit which we derive from both. For whence come repentance and forgiveness of sins, but because our old man is crucified with Christ, (Ro 6:6,) that by his grace we may rise to newness of life; and because our sins have been expiated by the sacrifice of his death, our pollution has been washed away by his blood, and we have, obtained righteousness through his resurrection? He teaches, therefore, that in his death and resurrection we ought to seek the cause and grounds of our salvation; because hence arise reconciliation to God, and regeneration to a new and spiritual life. Thus it is expressly stated that neither forgiveness of sins nor repentance can be preached but in his name; for, on the one hand, we have no right to expect the imputation of righteousness, and, on the other hand, we do not obtain self-denial and newness of life, except so far as
he is made to us righteousness and sanctification,
But as we have elsewhere treated copiously of this summary of the Gospel, it is better to refer my readers to those passages for what they happen not to remember, than to load them with repetitions.
47. To all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Christ now discovers clearly what he had formerly concealed—that the grace of the redemption brought by him extends alike to all nations. For though the prophets had frequently predicted the calling of the Gentiles, still it was not revealed in such a manner that the Jews could willingly admit the Gentiles to share with them in the hope of salvation. Till his resurrection, therefore, Christ was not acknowledged to be any thing more than the Redeemer of the chosen people alone; and then, for the first time, was the wall of partition (Eph 2:14) thrown down, that they who had been strangers, (Eph 2:19,) and who had formerly been scattered, might be gathered into the fold of the Lord. In the meantime, however, that the covenant of God might not seem to be made void, Christ has assigned to the Jews the first rank, enjoining the apostles to begin at Jerusalem. For since God had peculiarly adopted the posterity of Abraham, they must have been preferred to the rest of the world. This is the privilege of the firstborn which Jeremiah ascribes to them, when Jehovah says, I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is first-born, (Jer 30:9.) This order, too, Paul everywhere observes with the greatest care, telling us that Christ came and proclaimed peace to those who were near, and afterwards to strangers who were at a distance, (Eph 2:17.)
48. And you are witnesses of those things. He does not yet commission them to preach the gospel, but only reminds them to what service he has appointed them, that they may prepare themselves for it in due time. He holds out this, partly as a consolation to soothe their grief, and partly as a spur to correct their sloth. Conscious of their recent departure from their Master, they must have been in a state of dejection and here, contrary to all expectation, Christ bestows on them incredible honor, enjoining them to publish to the whole world the message of eternal salvation. In this manner he not only restores them to their former condition, but by the extent of this new favor he utterly obliterates the recollection of their heinous crimes; but at the same time, as I have said, he stimulates them, that they may not be so slow and dilatory in reference to the faith of which they were appointed to be preachers.
49. And, lo, I send. That the apostles may not be terrified by their weakness, he invites them to expect new and extraordinary grace; as if he had said, though you feel yourselves to be unfit for such a charge, there is no reason why you should despond, because I will send you from heaven that power which I know that you do not possess. The more fully to confirm them in this confidence, he mentions that the Father had promised to them the Holy Spirit; for, in order that they might prepare themselves with greater alacrity for the work, God had already encouraged them by his promise, as a remedy for their distrust. Christ now puts himself in the place of the Father, and undertakes to perform the promise; in which he again claims for himself divine power. To invest feeble men with heavenly power, is a part of that glory which God swears that he will not give to another: and, therefore, if it belongs to Christ, it follows that he is that God who formerly spoke by the mouth of the prophet, (Isa 42:8.) And though God promised special grace to the apostles, and Christ bestowed it on them, we ought to hold universally that no mortal is of himself qualified for preaching the gospel, except so far as God clothes him with his Spirit, to supply his nakedness and poverty. And certainly, as it is not in reference to the apostles alone that Paul exclaims,
And who shall be found sufficient for these things?
so all whom God raises up to be ministers of the gospel must be endued with the heavenly Spirit; and, therefore, in every part of Scripture he is promised to all the teachers of the Church without exception.
But remain you in the city of Jerusalem. That they may not advance to teach before the proper time, Christ enjoins on them silence and repose, until, sending them out according to his pleasure, he may make a seasonable use of their labors. And this was a useful trial of their obedience, that, after having been endued with the understanding of the Scripture, and after having had the grace of the Spirit breathed on them, (Joh 20:22;) yet because the Lord had forbidden them to speak, they were silent as if they had been dumb. For we know that those who expect to gain applause and admiration from their hearers are very desirous to appear in public. Perhaps, too, by this delay, Christ intended to punish them for indolence, because they did not, in compliance with his injunction, set out immediately, on the same day, for Galilee. However that may be, we are taught by their example, that we ought to attempt nothing but as the Lord calls us to it; and, therefore, though they may possess some ability to teach in public, let men remain in silence and retirement, until the Lord lead them by the hand into the public assembly. When they are commanded to remain at Jerusalem, we must understand this to mean, after they had returned from Galilee. For, as we shortly afterwards learn from Matthew, though he gave them an opportunity of seeing him at Jerusalem, still he did not change his original intention to go to Galilee, (Matt. 26:32, Matt. 28:10.) The meaning of the word, therefore, is, that after having given them injunctions at the appointed place, he wishes them to remain silent for a time, until he supplies them with new rigor.