Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 24:43-51; MARK 13:34-37;
43. But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly have watched, and would not have permitted his house to be broken into. 44. Therefore, be you also ready; because the Son of man will come at an hour when you are not aware. 45. Who is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master hath appointed over his household, to give them food in due season? 46. Blessed is that servant, whom his master, when he cometh, shall find acting in this manner. 47. Verily I say to you, He will appoint him 165 over all his property. 48. But if that wicked servant shall say in his heart, My master delayeth to come; 49. And shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and even to eat and drink with drunkards; 50. The master of that servant will come on a day when he doth not look for him, and at an hour when he is not aware; 51. And shall cut him off; and assign his portion with hypocrites: weeping and gnashing of teeth shall be there.
34. As a man 166 who is going abroad, and hath left his house, and hath given it in charge to his servants, and hath assigned to every man his work, and hath commanded the porter to watch. 35. Watch, therefore; (for you know not when your Lord will come, 167 whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning;) 36. Lest, when he shall come suddenly, he will find you sleeping. 37. But what I say to you I say to all, Watch.
35. Let your loins be girt, and your lamps burning; 36. And yourselves like men who wait for their master, till he shall return from the marriage, that, when he shall come and knock, 168 they may open to him immediately. 37. Blessed are those servants whom their lord, when he cometh shall find watching. Verily I tell you, that he will gird himself, and make them sit down at table, and will come forward and serve them. 38. And if he shall come in the second watch, or if he shall come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39. But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly have watched, and would not have permitted his house to be broken into. 40. And therefore be you also ready; for the Son of man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him. 41. And Peter saith to him, Lord, sayest thou this parable to us, or likewise to all? 42. And the Lord said, Who is a faithful and wise steward, whom his master will appoint over his household, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43. Blessed is that servant, whom his master, when he cometh, shall find acting in this manner. 44. Verily I tell you, that he will appoint him over all that he possesses. 45. But if that servant shall say in his heart, My master delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the men-servants, and maids, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; 46. The master of that servant will come on a day when he doth not expect him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him off, and assign his portion with the unfaithful. 47. But that servant, who knew his master’s will, and did not make himself ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48. But he who knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much hath been given, much will be demanded from him, and to whom men have entrusted much, from him they will exact more. 49. I came to send a fire on the earth, and what do I wish if it be already be kindled? 169 50. But I have to be baptized with a baptism, and how am I distressed till it be accomplished!
Matthew 24:43. If the householder had known. Luke relates this discourse of Christ at a different place from Matthew; and we need not wonder at this, for in the twelfth chapter, where (as we have formerly explained) he collects out of various discourses a summary of doctrine, he inserts also this parable. Besides, he introduces a general preface that the disciples should wait for their master, with their loins girt, and carrying burning lamps in their hands. To this statement corresponds the parable, which we shall soon afterwards find in Mt 25:1-12 about the wise and foolish virgins.
In a few words Christ glances rapidly at the manner in which believers ought to conduct their pilgrimage in the world; for first he contrasts the girding of the loins with sloth, and burning lamps with the darkness of ignorance. First, then, Christ enjoins the disciples to be ready and equipped for the journey, that they may pass rapidly through the world, and may seek no fixed abode or resting-place but in heaven. The warning is highly useful; for though ungodly men have likewise in their mouth this form of expression, “the course of life,” yet we see how they lay themselves down in the world, and remain unmoved in their attachment to it. But God does not bestow the honorable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, and who not only are at all times prepared to leave it, but likewise move forward, in an uninterrupted “course,” towards the heavenly life. Again, as they are surrounded on all sides by darkness, so long as they remain in the world, he furnishes them with lamps, as persons who are to perform a journey during the night. The first recommendation is, to run vigorously; and the next is, to have clear information as to the road, that believers may not weary themselves to no purpose by going astray; for otherwise it would be better to stumble in the way, than to perform a journey in uncertainty and mistake. As to the expression, girding the loins, it is borrowed from the ordinary custom of Eastern nations in wearing long garments.
Luke 12:36. And you yourselves like men that wait for their master. He uses another parable not mentioned by Matthew, who writes more briefly on this subject; for he compares himself to a householder who, while he is joining in the festivities of the marriage feast, or in other respects indulging in pleasure, out of his own house, wishes his servants to conduct themselves with modesty and sobriety at home, attending to their lawful occupations, and diligently waiting for his return. Now though the Son of God has departed to the blessed rest of heaven, and is absent from us, yet as he has assigned to every one his duty, it would be improper for us to give way to indolent repose. Besides, as he has promised that he will return to us, we ought to hold ourselves prepared, at every moment, to receive him, that he may not find us sleeping. For if a mortal man looks upon it as a duty which his servants owe him, that, at whatever hour he returns home, they shall be prepared to receive him, how much more has he a right to demand from his followers that they shall be sober and vigilant, and always wait for his coming? To excite them to greater alacrity, he mentions that earthly masters are so delighted with such promptitude on the part of their servants, that they even serve them; not that all masters are accustomed to act in this manner, but because it does sometimes happen that a master, who is kind and gentle, admits his servants to his own table, as if they were his companions.
Yet it may be asked, Since Scripture calls us in many passages children of light, (Eph 5:8; 1Th 5:5,) and since the Lord also shines upon us by his word, so that we walk as at noon, how does the Lord compare our life to the watches of tire night? But we ought to seek the solution of this difficulty from the words of Peter, who tells us, that the word of God shines like a burning lamp, to enable us distinctly to see our road in a dark place. We ought therefore to attend. to both statements, that our journey must be performed amidst the thick darkness of the world, and yet we are protected from the risk of going astray, while the torch of heavenly doctrine goes before us, more especially when we have Christ himself for a sun.
Matthew 24:44. But know this. Another similitude is now employed by Christ, in exhorting his disciples to keep diligent watch; for if any person shall hear that robbers are prowling in the night, fear and suspicion will not allow him to sleep. Since, therefore, we are informed that Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected, like that of a robber, and since we are expressly forewarned that we must always watch, lest he come upon us when asleep, and we be swallowed up with the ungodly, there is no excuse for our indolence; more especially since there is reason to dread not only a breach of the wall, and a loss of our property, but a deadly wound to ruin our soul, unless we are on our guard. The tendency of these words therefore is, that the warning of Christ should arouse us; for, though the last judgment be delayed for a long time, yet it hangs over us every hour; and, therefore, when there is ground for alarm, and when danger is near, it is unreasonable that we should be sluggish.
45. Who is the faithful and wise servant? This passage is more distinctly explained by Luke, who inserts Peter’s question, which gave rise to a new parable. Christ having declared that the suddenness and uncertainty of his coming led to such danger as left no room for sloth, Peter asked, if this doctrine was general, or if it belonged to the twelve alone. For the disciples—as we have formerly seen—were always in the habit of thinking that they were unjustly treated, unless they were exempted from the common lot, and greatly excelled all others. When our Lord now represents to them a condition which is far from being pleasant or desirable, they look around them on every hand, like persons astonished. But the object of Christ’s reply is, to show that, if each of the common people ought to watch, much less ought it to be endured that the apostles should be asleep. As Christ had formerly exhorted the whole family in general to watch for his coming, so now he demands extraordinary care from the principal servants, who had been appointed over others for the purpose of pointing out, by their example, the path of sobriety, watchfulness, and strict temperance. By these words he reminds them that they were not elevated to high rank for the purpose of indulging in ease, indolence, and pleasure; but that, the higher the rank of honor which they had obtained, the heavier was the burden which was laid on them; and therefore he declares that it is especially demanded from such persons that they exercise fidelity and wisdom.
Let all who are called to an honorable office learn from this, that they are so much the more strongly bound, not only to bestow their labor faithfully, but to strive with their utmost zeal and industry to discharge their duty. For while it is enough for ordinary servants to go through their daily toil, stewards, whose office embraces the care of the whole family, ought to go much farther. Otherwise Christ charges them with ingratitude, because, while they have been chosen before others, they do not answer to their honor; for why does our Lord prefer them to the rest, but in order that they may excel all by extraordinary fidelity and wisdom? True, indeed, all are enjoined, without exception, to be sober, and to give earnest attention, but drowsiness would be peculiarly disgraceful and inexcusable in pastors. He next holds out even the hope of a reward to encourage them to diligence.
48. But if that wicked servant shall say in his heart. By these words, Christ briefly points out the source of that carelessness which creeps upon wicked servants. It is because they trust to a longer delay, and thus of their own accord involve themselves in darkness. They imagine that the day when they must render an account will never come; and, under the pretext of Christ’s absence, they promise themselves that they will remain unpunished. For it is impossible but that the expectation of him, when it does occur to our minds, shall shake off sleep, and still more, that it shall restrain us from being carried away by wicked sensuality. No excitement of exhortation, therefore, can be more powerful or efficacious, than to represent to us that rigid tribunal which no man will be able to escape. That each of us may be careful to discharge his duty earnestly, and keep himself strictly and modestly within his own limits, let us constantly make our minds familiar with the thought of that last and sudden coming of the Lord, the neglect of which leads the reprobate to indulge in wickedness.
At the same time, Christ takes a passing glance at the ease with which insolence grows, when a man has once shaken off the bridle, and given himself up to sinning. For Christ does not represent to us a servant who is merely dissolute and worthless, but one who rises up in an outrageous manner to disturb the whole house, who wickedly abuses the power committed to him, exercises cruelty on his fellow-servants, and wastefully spends the property of his master, whom he treats with open ridicule. Lastly, to excite terror, he adds the punishment, which is of no ordinary degree; for severe punishment is due to such unbounded wickedness.
Luke 12:47. But that servant. There is great weight in this circumstance, which is mentioned by Luke alone, that, in proportion as any man knowingly and willingly takes pleasure in despising the Lord, he deserves severer punishment. A comparison is made between the greater and the less to this effect: If punishment does not fail to be inflicted on a servant who errs through mistake, what shall become of the wicked and rebellious servant, who purposely, as it were, tramples under foot the authority of his master? It ought to be remembered, however, that those who are appointed to govern the Church do not err through ignorance, but basely and wickedly defraud their Master of his right.
Yet we ought to gather from this passage a general doctrine, that it is in vain for men to betake themselves to the plea of ignorance, in order to be freed from condemnation. For if a mortal man claims the right of demanding from his servants that they shall inquire into his will, so that nothing may be done in his house in a heedless or confused manner; how much greater authority belongs to the Son of God, that they who serve him should be earnestly desirous to be informed about his injunctions, and not rush forward, at their own pleasure, to act in a state of uncertainty, but depend wholly on the intimations of his will; particularly when he has prescribed what we ought to do, and always gives us a gracious answer, when we ask his direction? It is certain, that our ignorance is always accompanied by gross and shameful negligence. We see, indeed, that it is in vain to resort to this subterfuge, that he who has gone wrong through ignorance is not in fault; for, on the contrary, the Heavenly Judge declares, that though such offenders are visited by lighter chastisement, yet they will not be altogether unpunished. And if even ignorance does not excuse men, how dreadful is the vengeance that awaits deliberate transgressors, who with outrageous violence provoke God, in opposition to the dictates of their conscience? The more abundant the instruction, therefore, which any man has received, so much the greater is the ground for punishment, if he be not obedient and submissive. Hence it appears how trifling and worthless is the excuse of those who, now rejecting the plain doctrine of the Gospel, endeavor to screen such obstinacy by the ignorance of their fathers; as if ignorance were an adequate shield to ward off the judgment of God. But granting that faults committed through mistake were pardoned, it would be highly unreasonable that the same favor should be extended to those who sin willfully, since with deliberate malice they rage against God.
48. To whomsoever much hath been given. Christ shows by another circumstance, that the more highly favored disciples ought to be visited with severer punishment, if they despise their calling, and abandon themselves without reserve to every kind of licentiousness; because the more eminent a man is, he ought to consider that so much the more has been entrusted to him, and on the express condition that he shall one day render an account of it. In the same proportion, therefore, as any of us is endued with higher gifts, if he does not, like a field which has been cultivated at greater expense, yield to the Lord more abundant produce, the abuse of that grace which he has profaned, or uselessly withheld, will cost him dear.
49. I am come to send fire on the earth. From these concluding words it may easily be inferred, that this was one of Christ’s latest discourses, and is not related by Luke at the proper place. But the meaning is, that Christ has introduced into the world the utmost confusion, as if he had intended to mingle heaven and earth. The gospel is metaphorically compared to fire, because it violently changes the face of things. The disciples having falsely imagined that, while they were at ease and asleep, the kingdom of God would come, Christ declares, on the contrary, that there must first be a dreadful conflagration to kindle the world. And as some beginnings of it were even then making their appearance, Christ encourages the disciples by this very consideration, that they already feel the power of the gospel. “When great commotions,” says he, “shall already begin to kindle, this is so far from being a reason why you should tremble, that it is rather a ground of strong confidence; and, for my own part, I rejoice that this fruit of my labors is visible.” In like manner, all the ministers of the gospel ought to apply this to themselves, that, when there are troubles in the world, they may be more diligently employed in their duty. It is proper to observe, also, that the same fire of doctrine, when it burns on all sides, consumes chaff and straw, but purifies silver and gold.
50. But I have a baptism to be baptized with. By these words our Lord asserts that there remains nothing but his last act, that by his death he may consecrate the renovation of the world. For since the shaking which he mentioned was appalling, and since that conflagration of the human race was terrific, he is about to show that the first-fruits must be offered in his own person, after which the disciples ought not to be displeased at feeling some portion of it. He compares death—as in other passages—to baptism, (Ro 6:4,) because the children of God, after having been immersed for a time by the death of the body, shortly afterwards rise again to life, so that death is nothing else than a passage through the midst of the waters. He says that he is sorely pressed till that baptism has been accomplished, that he may encourage every one of us, by his example, both to bear the cross and to prefer death. Not that any man can have a natural preference for death, or for any abatement of present happiness, but because, when we contemplate on the farther bank the glory, and the blessed and immortal rest of heaven, we not only suffer death with patience, but are even carried forward by eager desire where faith and hope lead us.
“Il le constituera, ou, luy donnera en charge;” — “he will appoint him, or, will commit to his charge.”
“C’est ainsi comme si un homme, &c.; ou, Le Fils de l’homme est tout un comme si un homme,” &c.—”It is as if a man, &c.; or, The Son of Man is all one as if a man,” &c.
“Quand le Seigneur de la maison viendra;” — “when the Lord of the house will come.”
“Et frappera à la porte;” — “and shall knock at the gate.”
“Et que veux-je plus s’il est ja allumé? ou, sinon qu’il soit allumé?” — “And what do I wish more, if it be already kindled? or, And what do I wish more than that it be kindled?”