Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MARK 16:19-20; LUKE 24:50-53
19. And after the Lord had thus spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by accompanying signs.
50. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51. And it came to pass that, while he was blessing them, he withdrew from them, and was carried up into heaven. 52. And having worshipped him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53. And were always in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
Mark 16:19. And after the Lord had thus spoken to them. The Evangelist Matthew, having extolled in magnificent language the reign of Christ over the whole world, says nothing about his ascension to heaven. Mark, too, takes no notice of the place and the manner, both of which are described by Luke; for he says that the disciples were led out to Bethany, that from the Mount of Olives, (Mt 24:3,) whence he had descended to undergo the ignominy of the cross, he might ascend the heavenly throne. Now as he did not, after his resurrection, appear indiscriminately to all, so he did not permit all to be the witnesses of his ascension to heaven; for he intended that this mystery of faith should be known by the preaching of the gospel rather than beheld by the eyes.
Luke 24:50. And lifted up his hands, and blessed them; by which he showed that the office of blessing, which was enjoined on the priests under the law, belonged truly and properly to himself. When men bless one another it is nothing else than praying in behalf of their brethren; but with God it is otherwise, for he does not merely befriend us by wishes, but by a simple act of his will grants what is desirable for us. But while He is the only Author of all blessing, yet that men might obtain a familiar view of his grace, he chose that at first the priests should bless in his name as mediators. Thus Melchizedek blessed Abraham, (Ge 14:19,) and in Nu 6:23-27, a perpetual law is laid down in reference to this matter. To this purport also is what we read in Ps 118:26, We bless you out of the house of the Lord In short, the apostle has told us that to bless others is a Mark of superiority; for the less, he says, is blessed by the greater, (Heb 7:7.) Now when Christ, the true Melchizedek and eternal Priest, was manifested, it was necessary that in him should be fulfilled what had been shadowed out by the figures of the law; as Paul also shows that we are blessed in him by God the Father, that we may be rich in all heavenly blessings, (Eph 1:3.) Openly and solemnly he once blessed the apostles, that believers may go direct to himself, if they desire to be partakers of his grace. In the lifting up of the hands is described an ancient ceremony which, we know:, was formerly used by the priests.
52. And having worshipped him, they returned. By the word worship, Luke means, first, that the apostles were relieved from all doubt, because at that time the majesty of Christ shone on all sides, so that there was no longer any room for doubting of his resurrection; and, secondly, that for the same reason they began to honor him with greater reverence than when they enjoyed his society on earth. For the worship which is here mentioned was rendered to him not only as Master or Prophet, nor even as the Messiah, whose character had been but half known, but as the King of glory and the Judge of the world. Now as Luke intended to give a longer narrative, he only states briefly what the apostles did during ten days. The amount of what is said is, that through the fervor of their joy they broke out openly into the praises of God, and were continually in the temple; not that they remained there by day and by night, but that they attended the public assemblies, and were present at the ordinary and stated hours to render thanksgiving to God. This joy is contrasted with the fear which formerly kept them retired and concealed at home.
Mark 16:19. And sat down at the right hand of God. In other passages I have explained what is meant by this expression, namely, that Christ was raised on high, that he might be exalted above angels and all creatures; that by his agency the Father might govern the world, and, in short, that before him every knee might bow, (Php 2:10.) It is the same as if he were called God’s Deputy, to represent the person of God; and, therefore, we must not imagine to ourselves any one place, since the right hand is a metaphor which denotes the power that is next to God. This was purposely added by Mark, in order to inform us that Christ was taken up into heaven, not to enjoy blessed rest at a distance from us, but to govern the world for the salvation of all believers.
20. And they went out and preached. Mark here notices briefly those events of which Luke continues the history in his second book 325 that the voice of a small and dispersed body of men resounded even to the extremities of the world. For exactly in proportion as the fact was less credible, so much the more manifestly was there displayed in it a miracle of heavenly power. Every person would have thought that, by the death of the cross, Christ would either be altogether extinguished, or so completely overwhelmed, that he would never be again mentioned but with shame and loathing. The apostles, whom he had chosen to be his witnesses, had basely deserted him, and had betaken themselves to darkness and concealment. Such was their ignorance and want of education, and such was the contempt in which they were held, that they hardly ventured to utter a word in public. Was it to be expected that men who were unlearned, and were held in no esteem, and had even deserted their Master, should, by the sound of their voice, reduce so many scattered nations into subjection to him who had been crucified? There is great emphasis, therefore, in the words, they went out and preached everywhere — men who but lately shut themselves up, trembling and silent, in their prison. For it was impossible that so sudden a change should be accomplished in a moment by human power; and therefore Mark adds,
The Lord working with them; by which he means that this was truly a divine work. And yet by this mode of expression he does not represent them as sharing their work or labor with the grace of God, as if they contributed any thing to it of themselves; but simply means that they were assisted by God, because, according to the flesh, they would in vain have attempted what was actually performed by them. The ministers of the word, I acknowledge, are called fellow-workers with God, (1Co 3:9,) because he makes use of their agency; but we ought to understand that they have no power beyond what he bestows, and that by planting and watering they do no good, unless the increase come from the secret efficacy of the Spirit.
And confirming the word. Here, in my opinion, Mark points out a particular instance of what he had just now stated in general terms; for there were other methods by which the Lord wrought with them, that the preaching of the gospel might not be fruitless; but this was a striking proof of his assistance, that he confirmed their doctrine by miracles. Now this passage shows what use we ought to make of miracles, if we do not choose to apply them to perverse corruptions; namely, that they aid the gospel. Hence it follows that God’s holy order is subverted, if miracles are separated from the word of God, to which they are appendages; and if they are employed to adorn wicked doctrines, or to disguise corrupt modes of worship.
That inspired book which is now generally known by the name of The Acts of the Apostles, was often denominated, by older writers, Second Luke. — Ed.