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III Jesus Christ
1. THE MEDIATOR
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Heb. 13:8.
The only way to continue in the right faith is to keep to the foundation and not to turn away from it a single inch. If a man does not hold on to Christ, his wisdom is mere folly, even though he comprehend heaven and earth; for all the treasures of heavenly wisdom are contained in Christ. Therefore, this is a remarkable verse, because from it we see that there is no other rule of true wisdom except to set our whole minds on Christ alone. And, since the writer had to do with the Jews, he teaches that Christ has at all times in the past reigned as he does today, and that he will reign till the end of the world as he has reigned to the present time. Yesterday he says, today, and the same also forever; by these words he means that Christ, who is now manifested to the world, has reigned from the beginning of the world, and that, when we come to him, we must go no further. Yesterday therefore, includes the whole duration of the Old Testament. The word is used to establish that, even though the gospel has been preached but recently, this does not justify jumping to the conclusion that it will soon disappear; in fact, Christ has been revealed recently for the very purpose that men might know him from that time on and ever after. From this it is evident that the apostle is speaking not of Christ as he is in eternity, but of our knowledge of him, which the godly have always had, and which is at all times the foundation of the church. Of course it is true that Christ was, before he revealed his power. But about what is the apostle speaking? I say that in this verse he is speaking not of Christ’s being but, so to say, of his quality (or of how he acts towards us); the question is not his eternal presence before the Father, but what men have 143known of him. Moreover, even though, with regard to external form and manner, Christ was manifested differently under the law and in our time, the apostle nonetheless speaks truly and properly when he says that the faithful have always had their eyes fixed upon Christ.
The sun of righteousness shall rise to you who fear my name, and with healing in his wings; and you will go forth and leap like well-fed (or fattened) young bulls. Mal. 4:2. (Calvin’s wording.)
Now the prophet directs his words to the faithful. Up to this point, he had been threatening the hypocrites who arrogantly claimed holiness for themselves alone, although they had never ceased to provoke God’s anger. Now, as I said before, he is addressing the others when he says shall rise to you. He distinguishes those who fear God or worship him purely from the multitude with which he has so far been disputing.
The antithesis is important. Although the people as a whole had been infected with the general disgrace, God had kept a few untouched by it. He had been contending with the majority of the people; now he gathers the chosen apart by themselves and promises that for them Christ will be the author of true salvation. We know that the faithful would be terrified at God’s threats of punishment and would almost cease to breathe, if God did not soften the severity of his condemnation. Whenever he announces punishment to sinners, most of them either laugh, or become angry, or else pay no attention at all. So it happens that the wicked continue securely in their crimes, while God thunders. But the faithful are terrified at one word from him and would be wholly discouraged if God did not bring some remedy.
Therefore the prophet softens the harshness of the preceding threat, as if to say that he had not proclaimed the terror of Christ’s coming with the purpose of filling their hearts with fear. Its dreadfulness did not concern them; he had described it only to frighten the wicked.
This, then, is what he means: “Come near, you who fear the Lord, for I have a different word for you. The Sun of Righteousness will rise and will bring healing in his wings. Let those perish who despise God, who even fight against him and wish to hold him in subjection to themselves. But you, lift up your heads and wait patiently for that day. In the hope of it, endure all misfortunes calmly.”
Now we come to the high point of the verse. There is no 144doubt that Malachi here calls Christ the Sun of Righteousness, and the words appear especially appropriate when we consider how the situation of the fathers differed from our own. God always gave light to his church, but the full light was brought by Christ; as Isaiah also taught (60:1 ff.), The Lord will shine upon you and the glory of God will be seen among you. This is fulfilled only in the person of Christ. Then behold shadows will cover the earth. . . and the Lord will shine upon thee; and also, There will be no sun and moon by day or night, but God alone will shine. All these passages show that the name of sun is appropriate to Christ because God the Father shines upon us so much more brightly in his person than formerly in the law and all the additions to the law.
For the same reason Christ calls himself the light of the world. Not that the fathers wandered like blind men in a mist, but that they had to be content with the light of early dawn or with the moon and stars. We know how obscure the teaching of the law was, so that it is truly called a “shadow.” But when the heavens were finally opened by the gospel, then indeed did the sun rise; and when the risen sun gives light the full day comes. It is Christ’s true office to give light. Therefore John begins by saying that the true light was from the beginning and lights every man coming into the world; and that the light itself shines in darkness. For some sparks of reason remain in men even when they have become blind by Adam’s Fall and the corruption of their nature.
But Christ is fittingly called light in relation to the faithful whom he has rescued from their natural blindness and has raised up to be ruled by his Spirit. This is the meaning of sun when the name is given metaphorically to Christ. He is called sun because without him we can only wander and go wrong, but when He leads us we keep on the right road; as he says, Who follows me does not walk in darkness.
It must be noted that this promise is not restricted to the physical presence of Christ, but refers also to the gospel; as Paul says, Wake, you who sleep, and rise from darkness and Christ will give you light (Eph. 5:14). Every day, Christ enlightens us by his teaching and his Spirit; and although we do not see him with our eyes we know by experience that he is our sun.
Further, he is called in the Hebrew sun of righteousness, that is perfection of justice, either because in him nothing will be incomplete or because the righteousness of God will be seen in him. But in order to comprehend the light which we enjoy through him and which comes to us from him to shine upon us, we must 145keep our eyes not on temporary advantages but on the spiritual life. This is the one requirement. Christ acts as our sun, not to direct our hands and feet in earthly actions, but to bring to us the light which shows the road to heaven and the direction by which we come to a happy and eternal life.
Also we must note that this spiritual light cannot be separated from righteousness. In what sense is Christ our sun? Because he rescues us from the shame of the world and transforms us to the image of God. This is the force of the word righteousness.
The prophet adds healing in his wings, calling the rays of the sun wings. This metaphor has much charm, because it is taken from nature itself and is beautifully suited to Christ. For we know that nothing is more health-giving than the sun’s rays. We should be overcome in a short time — even in one day — by evil smells, if the sun did not cleanse the earth of its refuse. Without the sun, we could not breathe.
Also we feel a lift of the spirit at sunrise. For night is like a burden to us, and when the sun sets we feel a heaviness in all our limbs. But in the morning, even the sick are encouraged and feel some change just from the effect of the sun’s nearness, because it does indeed bring healing in its wings.
But the prophet is here saying more than that a bright sun in a clear sky brings health. There is also an implicit contrast between storm clouds and fair, clear weather. In good weather we feel much more alive — I mean all men, both sick and well. There is no one who does not get some sense of revival from a clear sky; but when the weather is cloudy even the strongest of us feel some discomfort. In this sense, Malachi says that healing will be in the wings of Christ, although we must still bear many ills.
If we think back to the history of those times, we realize that the condition of the people was most miserable. The prophet now promises them a change, [a time] when the restoration of the church will bring them joy. We see then how he understands the healing in Christ’s wings. Christ will disperse the darkness, and bring back from behind the clouds a serene sky, giving courage to the minds of the faithful.
To call the faithful those who fear God is an ordinary usage in Scripture; for, as we have said, the center of righteousness and holiness is the worship of God. But here something new is expressed. It is the mark of true religion that men submit themselves to God although he is not seen, and although he does not speak face to face, and does not openly show his hand 146holding the scourge. When men willingly honor God’s glory and acknowledge the world to be ruled by him and themselves to be under his authority, then they give true evidence of religion. This is what the prophet means by fear my name. Those who fear the name of God, do not desire to bring him out of heaven, nor do they demand obvious signs of his presence; they are content to show their faith by adoring and serving God, although they do not see him face to face, but only in a mirror or a riddle, or through his righteous and powerful judgments and the other great acts which he presents to our eyes.
After saying that the sun of righteousness will rise for the Jews, Malachi adds that this will give them joy. As sadness oppresses the faithful when they are without Christ, or think him to be far away, so his favor is their greatest happiness and a solid delight. Therefore the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth to the shepherds began, Behold I give you tidings of great joy. And although the metaphor may seem harsh, the prophet has a good reason for saying that the Jews will be like fattened calves. He is describing an unbelievable change and he must put it before them in vivid terms, to give them the greater hope.
A contrast is implied in the verb go out. Their anxiety had long held them captive; now there would be freedom to go out. When things change for the better with us, we show the joy of our hearts openly to others, and seek a stage on which to express our feelings. Now we can see why the prophet says the Jews will go out. They have before been shut in by hard times. Now God will grant them room for lively rejoicing. So Paul says (2 Cor. 3:17), Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Gen. 28:12.
Behold a ladder. Here we have the description of a vision in which form and content are closely related. God showed himself perched upon a ladder, the ends of which touched heaven and earth. And angels were using it to go back and forth between heaven and earth.
The ladder is taken by some Jewish commentators as a symbol of divine Providence which includes both heaven and earth under its direction. This interpretation is not satisfactory, for God would have given a more suitable symbol.
But for us who hold the truth that the covenant of God was founded on Christ and that Christ was always the same eternal 147image of the Father and revealed himself to the holy patriarchs, nothing in this vision is perplexing or ambiguous. For men are separated from God by sin, although his power fills and sustains all things; and we do not see the line of communication which draws us towards him. Rather there is between us such a gulf that we flee from him, believing him to be hostile to us. The angels who are assigned the guardianship of the human race do not deal with us in a way which makes us familiar with their nearness and reveals it to our senses.
It is Christ alone who joins heaven to earth. He alone is Mediator, reaching from heaven to the earth. He it is through whom the fullness of all heavenly gifts flows down to us and through whom we on our part may ascend to God. . . . Therefore, if we say that the ladder is a symbol of Christ, the interpretation is not forced. For the metaphor of a ladder is most suited to a Mediator through whom the service of angels, righteousness, and truth, and all the spirits of holy grace descend to us step by step. We, on our part, who are firmly fixed not only upon the earth but in the abyss of the curse, and are submerged in hell itself, through him climb up to God.
Moreover the God of hosts tops the ladder because the divine fullness dwells in Christ, who therefore reaches heaven. For although all power was given by the Father to Christ’s human nature, yet he would not be the support of our faith if he were not God manifest in the flesh. The fact that the body of Christ is finite in no way prevents his filling the heavens, since his grace and power is spread over all. To this Paul bears witness when he says that Christ ascended to heaven to fill all things.
Those who translate ’al as near wholly distort the meaning [of this verse], for Moses wished to say that full deity dwelt in Christ. In fact, Christ does not so much come to us as become encumbered with our nature to make us one with him.
Confirmation of the ladder as a symbol of Christ is found also in this consideration (and nothing has been more fully agreed by all): God sanctified his eternal covenant with his servant Jacob in his Son. And incalculable joy comes to us when we hear that Christ who excels all creation is joined to us. Indeed the majesty of God, plainly shown in his Son, must inspire terror so that every knee bows to Christ, all creatures pray to him and adore him, and all flesh is silent before him. Yet at the same time Christ shows himself to us as friendly and gentle, and he makes known to us by his descent that heaven is open to us and the angels are made our companions; with them we 148have a brotherly communion, because our common Head took his place on earth.
The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads. Gen. 48:16.
Jacob joins the angel to God as an equal. He worships him and asks from him the same things he asked from God (v. 15). If you take this verse as a reference to an ordinary angel, the words are absurd. . . . It is necessary to understand them of Christ, who is intentionally given the title of angel because he has been the perpetual Mediator. Paul testifies that He was the leader and guide of the journey of his ancient people [through the wilderness].
Christ had not yet been sent by the Father to take on our flesh that he might come nearer to us; but he was always the link joining men to God, and God did not reveal himself otherwise than through him. Therefore he is rightly called angel, messenger. . . . For there has always been between God and man a distance too great for any communication to be possible without a mediator.
But although Christ has appeared in the form of an angel, we must hold to what is said in Heb. 2:16; he did not put on the nature of an angel and become one of the angels, as he did become true man. When the angels are clothed with a human body, they do not become men.
Moreover we are taught by these words that the true gift of Christ to us is that he guards us and rescues us from all evils. And we must therefore take heed that our faithless forgetfulness does not bury this gift, which has been shown to us more clearly than it was formerly to the saints under the law. For Christ proclaimed openly that the faithful are given into his custody and that no one of them will perish. Therefore trust in his guardianship ought to flourish better in our hearts, and we ought to celebrate it with fitting praise. And also we should be roused to seek primarily the help of our best Guardian.
His help is indeed especially necessary for us today. For if we think over all the dangers which surround us, we can find scarcely a day on which we were not rescued from a thousand deaths. And how does this happen except that we are under the care of God’s Son, who took us over from his father’s hand to watch over us.
. . . The first tabernacle was yet standing, which was a figure for the 149times then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. . . . But Christ being come as a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. Heb. 9:8–9,11–12.
The Greek word for figure is παραβολὴ which in my judgment is about the same as ἀντίτυπον. The apostle means that the Tabernacle was a secondary exemplar which corresponded to the original; as the picture of a man ought to correspond to himself, so that when we see it we are immediately reminded of him.
Besides, when he says that the first Tabernacle was a likeness for that time, he means that it was valid so long as the external observances were in force. In this way, he restricts its use to the period of ancient law. This is almost the same as what he says soon after: that the ceremonies were in effect until the time of reformation (under the gospel). . . .
As pertaining to conscience. This means that the ancient gifts and sacrifices could not penetrate the soul so as to make it truly holy. Some use here the word perfect, which I do not reject; but I think sanctify fits the context better.8181Notice the contrast with the King James Version. But, if the reader is to understand the words of the apostle, he had better watch the contrast between the flesh and the conscience. What the apostle does is to deny that the legal sacrifices cleansed inwardly and spiritually those who performed them; and the reason he gives for his denial is that all the rites of the first Tabernacle were of the flesh or carnal. Then what good were they? There is a common notion that they were intended to teach people honesty and good manners. But those who think this way forget the promises which were added to these observances. Therefore we must reject their invention. It is all wrong and absurd to think that the flesh itself was justified by these rites, as though they were good only for the cleansing and purity of the body! The apostle’s judgment is that they were earthly symbols which failed to penetrate to the soul. They were testimonies to perfect holiness, even though they neither contained it nor could confer it on men. They were helps given to the faithful, which laid hold of their hands and led them to Christ, to seek in him what was lacking in the symbols.
But, someone will ask, Why did the apostle show so little 150respect for sacraments instituted by God, treating them with contempt, and going even so far as to rob them of all power? He did so, because he was thinking of them as they are when separated from Christ. We know that considered in themselves, they are niggardly elements of this world, as Paul himself called them (Gal 4:9). . . .
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands. . .
He now presents us with the reality behind the symbols of the law, in order to turn our eyes to it. For, anyone who believes that the things foreshadowed [in the law] have been revealed truly in Christ, will no longer hold on to the shadows. He will embrace the substance in all its solid reality.
Nevertheless, we must see carefully and in detail how he compares Christ with the ancient high priest. He has already said that the high priest alone entered the sanctuary once a year, carrying blood with which to expiate sins. Christ is like the ancient high priest, in that He alone is honored with this dignity and office; but he is different in that he brings with him gifts which are eternal and establish his priesthood forever. Secondly, the ancient high priest and our own are alike in that they both entered the Holy of Holies through the sanctuary; but they differ in that Christ alone entered heaven by way of the temple of his own body. Even though the Holy of Holies was opened to the high priest once a year for a solemn performance of expiation, this was only a poor figure for the matchless [self-] offering of Christ. Indeed, they both went in. But the one entered into an earthly place; the other, into heaven, forever, even to the end of the world. Both offered blood, but there is all the difference in the world between blood and blood; the ancient high priest offered the blood of cattle, Christ offered his own. They both made expiation; but the one made under the law was ineffectual and had to be repeated each year; Christ’s expiation kept its vigor forever, and is the source of our salvation in eternity. Hence, every word of the apostle is heavily weighted. Some change Christ being come to “Christ being nearby.” But this does no justice to the apostle’s thought. What he means is that after the Levitical priests had performed their office, at a fixed time they were removed, and Christ was chosen in their place. But this is obvious from ch. 7 of this epistle.
Of good things to come means of things eternal. As μέλλον καιρὸς is set against τὸν ἐνεστήκοτι, so future goods are opposed to the 151present. In short, the priestly work of Christ brings us to the heavenly Kingdom of God, and makes us to partake in spiritual righteousness and eternal life: therefore, no good comes from looking for something better. We need not go beyond Christ, because he himself possesses all that we need, and he will fill us.
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which were called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. Heb. 9:15.
He concludes that there is no further need for another priest, because Christ himself fulfills this function under the New Testament. Besides, he does not claim the title of Mediator for Christ to let others share it with him; on the contrary, he contends that when this office was attached to Christ, all other mediators were repudiated. . . . He confirms this more fully when he states specifically how Christ discharged the office of the Mediator by the intercession of his death. If this happened only in Christ, and in no one else, it follows that he alone is the true Mediator. . . .
Now, if anyone asks whether the sins of the fathers were forgiven under the law, the answer is the same as I gave before: they were forgiven, but through the benefit of Christ; in terms of the physical acts of expiation, we must always hold and maintain that they remained guilty. For this reason, Paul says that the law is a handwriting against us (Col. 2:14). When a sinner came forward, confessing openly that he had done evil before God and killed an innocent animal, he admitted that he was worthy of eternal death. And what did his victim do for him except that by it he sealed his own death as it were by his own handwriting? In short, only those who looked at Christ found peace in the forgiveness of sins. If looking to Christ only takes away sins, those who remain under the law do not find freedom. David himself declares, Blessed is the man to whom sins are not imputed (Ps. 32:2); but if a man is to share in this blessing, he must, setting aside the law, fix his eyes on Christ; for if he stays with the law, he is not set free from guilt.
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. Isa. 53:2.
This statement turns our minds to what we said before: 152namely, that Christ at the beginning [of his life on earth] is to show neither splendor nor beauty before men, but before God he will nonetheless be highly exalted and beloved. Hence we see that the glory of Christ must not be judged by human eyes. What the holy books teach about him must be understood by faith. Therefore, the phrase before him is to be contrasted with the human senses which cannot grasp the wonder of Christ.
The prophet used a similar metaphor in ch. 11:1: a branch will come from the trunk of Jesse. He compared the house of David to a dry trunk with no strength in it and no beauty; and he did not name the royal house, but Jesse whose name by itself was obscure. Here he adds in desert ground, by which he means that Christ’s strength will come not like a tree from the humidity of the soil, but from outside the ordinary course of nature.
Those who philosophize from this passage about the Virgin Mary, supposing that she was called desert ground because she conceived from the Holy Spirit and not from man’s seed, are beside the point. For the passage deals not with the birth of Christ but with his whole reign. It states that he will be like a branch growing from dry ground, which is not expected to reach the right size.
We should think of the whole history of his planting, of the men whose work he has used, of the small beginnings of the church and of the many adversaries who oppose it. Then we can easily see that all things happened as predicted. What kind of men were the apostles who could subdue so many kings and nations by the sword of the Word? Are they not deservedly compared to branches in a desert? The prophet is describing the ways by which the Kingdom of Christ was founded and established, so that all men may not judge it by human reason.
The ugliness which he next mentions ought also to be understood not only of the person of Christ who was despised by the world and condemned to a shameful death, but of his whole reign. For that reign has had, in men’s eyes, neither beauty nor splendor nor magnificence. In fact, it has nothing which could by its appearance attract men or charm their eyes. And although Christ rose from the dead, the Jews think of him always as crucified and dishonored, and look on him with disgust and contempt.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isa. 53:5.153
In order to counteract the offense which people might take, the prophet repeats the reason for Christ’s great suffering. The sight of the cross of Christ offends many so long as they consider only what their eyes see, and pay no attention to the purpose. But all offense is certainly taken away when we understand that by this death our sins are atoned for, and salvation is won for us.
Chastisement of our peace. Some think this is called chastisement of our peace because men feel so secure and remain so stupefied in their evil ways that Christ’s suffering was required to move them. Others apply peace to conscience. Christ suffered that we might have a quiet conscience; as Paul said (Rom. 5:1), We, justified through Christ by faith, have peace with God.
But I take it simply as reconciliation. Christ paid the price of our chastisement, that is, the chastisement due to us. By him, God’s anger, which was inflamed against us, was appeased. The peace in which we are reconciled came from him who is the Mediator. Thus we have the general doctrine that we are freely reconciled to God because Christ paid the price of our peace.
This doctrine, indeed, the papists confess, but then they restrict it to original sin; as if after baptism there were no more place for free reconciliation, and satisfaction were to be made by our merits and works. But the prophet here is not treating of a single aspect of forgiveness; he extends God’s forgiving kindness through the whole course of our lives. Therefore the doctrine cannot be attenuated or restricted to any specific time without great sacrilege. . . . Our prophet teaches plainly that the penalty for our sins was transferred to Christ. What then are the papists claiming for themselves but equality with Christ and a share in his authority as his partners?
With his stripes. Again we are recalled to Christ, called to flee to his wounds if we wish to regain life. Here he is set in contrast to us. In us are only destruction and death; in Christ alone is life and safety. He alone brings us a remedy. He provides health for us by his weakness, and wins our life by his death. He alone satisfies the Father; he alone reconciles us to him.
We could say many things here about the fruit of Christ’s suffering, but our task is to interpret, not to preach; and we must be content to state the plain meaning [of the verse]. Let each one of you take comfort for himself from this passage and fit its use to his own need. For these words were spoken not only publicly to all, but to each man individually.154
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isa. 53:6.
In order to impress on our minds the greatness of the blessing given us in Christ’s death, he shows us how great is our need for healing. For unless we realize our own helpless misery, we shall never know how much we need the remedy which Christ brings, nor come to him with the fervent love we owe him. But as soon as we know ourselves to be lost and realize our own wretchedness, we rush eagerly to seize the remedy, which otherwise we should hold in contempt. To know the true flavor of Christ, we must each of us carefully examine ourselves, and each must know himself condemned until he is vindicated by Christ. No one is exempt. The prophet includes all. If Christ had not brought help, the whole human race would perish. . . .
The prophet makes the comparison with sheep, not to lighten our guilt, as if straying were a minor misdemeanor; but to teach more plainly that it was the work of Christ to gather those who were scattered like foolish animals.
By adding each to the general statement including all men, he appeals to every individual to ponder whether this is not true of himself. For we are little moved by a generalization unless each one of us separately feels that it applies to him. Therefore let every one of us rouse his own conscience and take his place before God’s tribunal. Then will each one of us know his own bankruptcy.
Next the prophet declares more plainly what this wandering is: every one has followed the way of his own choice; he has chosen to live as it pleased him. This means that there is only one way of living rightly; and if any man turn away from it, he can find nothing but ways which send him in the wrong direction. He is not speaking so much of actions as of our nature itself, which always sends us wandering. For if by natural instinct or wisdom we could bring ourselves back to the road and escape from error, we would have no need for Christ. But we all by ourselves perish unless we are freed by Christ our Savior. The more we trust our own wisdom and industry, the more quickly we rush to ruin. Here the prophet has shown us what sort of creatures we should be if Christ had not redeemed us. And all are included in the same condemnation. There is no one who is righteous; no one who understands; no one who inquires of God. All have gone astray and become unprofitable. There is none who does well, not one, as Paul said more at length (Rom. 3:10).155
And the Lord hath laid on him. Here we have a beautiful antithesis. In ourselves we are scattered, in Christ we are collected; by nature we go astray and are driven headlong to destruction, in Christ we find the road by which we are led to the gate of salvation. Our sins overwhelm us; but they are transferred to Christ, in whom we are acquitted. When we were perishing, separated from God and hastening to hell, Christ took upon himself the filth of our iniquities and rescued us from eternal destruction. (This refers of course only to the punishment of sin, for he was free from all guilt.) Let each one of us weigh his own sins carefully, that he may truly taste the grace [of Christ] and begin to see the fruit of his death.
He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Isa. 53:11.
Isaiah continues the same theme. Now he declares that Christ, after he has suffered, will see the reward of his death in the salvation of men. For, to He will see, we must add the “fruit” or the “result” [of his labor]. These words are full of comfort. For Isaiah could not have expressed better the greatness of Christ’s love for us than by saying that his delight will be in our safety; that he will be content with the fruit of his labor, like a man whose one wish and longing has been fulfilled. No man is satisfied except when he obtains the one thing he has most desired; then he disregards all else and is content with it alone.
Afterwards the prophet shows the way or method by which we may rightly appreciate the force and efficiency of Christ’s death and realize its fruit. The way he shows is the knowledge of him. I admit that the word da’ath can be read passively or actively, as knowledge of him or his knowledge. Whichever way we take it, it is easy to see what the prophet means. However insolently the Jews may quibble and in spite of their objections, we need not twist the meaning of what is here said plainly: that Christ alone is both master and author of man’s justification.
The work of Christ is stated in the words He will justify many; which mean that in the school of Christ, men are not merely taught about justification; they are made just by what he has done for them. And this is the difference between justification by law and justification by faith. For although the law shows what it is to be righteous, as Paul says, it cannot produce righteousness; and experience shows the same thing. The law is for us a mirror showing us our own unrighteousness. But the way to 156obtain righteousness, as taught by Christ, is simply to know him; and this is faith. In faith we lay hold on the benefit of his death and find full rest in him.
The philosophers have given many excellent rules by which they think righteousness may be established; but they cannot give righteousness to anyone. For who by their rules has achieved the good life? And it is of little help to know what righteousness is, if we remain without it.
But let us leave the philosophers aside. The law itself, which contains the most perfect rule of life, could not, as we said, confer righteousness. Not that there was anything lacking in the law; Moses declared that he set before the people good and evil, life and death. But because of the corruption of our nature the law was not enough to insure righteousness. Even as Paul taught (Rom. 8:3), the defect was in our flesh, not in the law. When the law speaks, nature drives us in the opposite direction, and our desires break out with the greater force, like untamed wild elephants, against God’s command. Thus the law works wrath rather than righteousness. The law holds all guilty, and by exposing sin takes away from men every excuse. Therefore we must seek another way to righteousness: the way which is in Christ, whom the law itself set forth as its fulfillment.
The righteousness of the law said, Who does these commandments, shall live in them (Lev. 18:5). But none did them. Therefore there had to be another righteousness; one that Paul taught, from Moses himself: The word is near, in your mouth and in your heart; this is the word of faith which we preach (Rom. 10:8). It is this doctrine that justifies us — not the bare doctrine, but because it offers us the fruit of Christ’s death, by which our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God. For if by faith we grasp this gift, we are counted as righteous before God.
The prophet expresses this teaching clearly and shows its meaning. For these two clauses belong together: He will justify by his doctrine or by the knowledge of him, and He will bear our iniquities. He made atonement for us once for all; but now, by the teaching of the gospel, he is inviting us to accept the fruit of his death. Therefore the death of Christ is the substance of the doctrine that he justifies us. Paul adhered closely to the prophet’s word when he taught that Christ was offered as sacrifice for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God; to which he added that Christ is our advocate, and urged us to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
My righteous servant. The prophet teaches that Christ justifies 157us not only as God, but also as man, since he won righteousness for us in his flesh. For the words are not my son but my servant. Therefore, let us not think of Christ only as God, but let us study his human nature in which he practiced the obedience by which we are forgiven before God. For this, the sacrifice of himself which he offered, is the foundation of our salvation. As he himself said, I consecrated myself for them that they themselves might be holy (John 17:19).
Therefore will I divide for him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressor. Isa. 53:12.
Here the figure is changed to one drawn from the customary celebration of military triumphs, where the leaders are generally received and honored with a magnificent exhibition of the spoils of victory. So Christ like a strong and noble general triumphs over his conquered enemies. The second clause has the same meaning as the first, for such repetition is usual in Hebrew. Those whom he first calls great he next calls powerful or strong. Those who translate rabbim as “many” in my opinion misinterpret the prophet’s meaning. There is only this difference between the two clauses: in the first, God states what he will give to Christ; the second adds that Christ will rejoice in the gift. Christ rejoices not for his own sake but for ours, since he gives the fruits of his victory to us. For us, Christ conquered death, the world, and the devil.
He prayed for the transgressors. It is Christ’s prayer to the Father in our behalf which ratifies the forgiveness won for us by his death. Therefore this addition is essential. In the old law the priest, who did not come to the altar without the blood of sacrifice, prayed there for the people; and so he foreshadowed what was fulfilled in Christ. For first Christ offered the sacrifice of his body, and poured out his blood to pay the penalty which we owed. Then to make the atonement effective, he performed the work of advocate and made intercession for all who in faith accepted for themselves his sacrifice. To this he testified in the words written for us by the hand of John: I pray not for these only, but for all who believe in me by their word (John 17:20). If we are to be numbered with the faithful, let us not doubt that Christ suffered for us and that even now we receive the fruits of his death.158
2. THE PERSON OF CHRIST
And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the works of thine hands; they shall perish, but thou remainest. . . . Heb. 1:10–11.
At first this testimony may seem not to fit the case of Christ, since it has to do with the creation of heaven and earth. But this whole passage has to do with the glory not of God but of Christ. It is true that the psalm is a celebration of God’s majesty, and makes no mention of Christ. I admit this. At the same time, it is clearly a public praise of God’s Kingdom, and everything that is said in it fits Christ very well. For, where are the following prophecies fulfilled except in Christ: “Thou shalt arise and have mercy on Zion, that the nations may fear thy name, and all the kings of the earth thy glory” ; or again, “When the people shall be gathered together, and the kingdom, to serve the Lord.” Where except in Christ are we to look for this God by whom the whole world shall be united in one faith and worship of God? All the rest of the psalm fits the person of Christ; among other things, because he is the eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth, everlasting and changeless; therefore, high and lifted up in majesty, and set apart from all that has been created. David declares that the heavens shall pass away; but some get around this statement by making him say, “should the heavens pass away,” as though he had made no positive assertion. But what reason is there for such a strained exposition? After all, we know that everything comes to an end. And why do even the heavens yearn and travail with hope for a renewal, unless they are marked for destruction? Besides, the eternity of Christ affords no small comfort to the believers who, according to the psalm, shall participate in it as Christ communicates himself and all his riches to his body.
And now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. John 17:5.
He declares that he has no desire except for what is his own; that he only wants to be seen in the flesh with the glory which was his before the world was made; or, more plainly, that the divine majesty which was eternally his might shine in the person of the Mediator and in the human flesh he has put on. This is a striking passage which teaches us that Christ is not an upstart and temporary God. For as his glory was eternal, so he himself always was. Add to this that there is here a distinction made 159between him and the Father; which means that he is not only God eternal but also the eternal Word of God begotten of the Father before all ages.
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. John 1:45.
Many argue deeply about Christ, but they get so subtle and involved that they can never find him. So it is with the papists who refuse to call Christ the son of Joseph. They are particular about his name: but yet they so empty him of his power, that in Christ’s place they have a ghost. Were it not better to babble crudely with Philip and hold on to the real Christ, rather than with clever and high-sounding talk end up with only a fiction? There are many poor dunces today who, even though they speak as rude and ignorant men, teach Christ much more faithfully than the theologians of the pope, with their deep speculations. So we are warned that when we hear simple and ignorant men speak inaptly, we should not take offense and reject them, provided they lead us to Christ. However, we must seek pure knowledge from the Law and the Prophets, in order that we may not be driven away from Christ by falsehoods invented by men.
Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you; for him hath the Father sealed. John 6:27.
He confirms the first part of this verse by saying that the Father has appointed him for this end (to give us an imperishable food). The ancient fathers tortured and misused this verse in order to prove the divine essence of Christ; as though sealed here meant that Christ bore the stamp of the Father. But he speaks here, not subtly of his eternal essence, but of his mandate and mission in our behalf, and of what we are to hope and expect from him. By an apt metaphor, he refers to the ancient custom of sealing with a ring, which made an agreement authoritative and binding. Christ’s intention is to declare that his task was imposed upon him by the Father, and that the appointment of the Father is as a seal engraved upon him. In this way, he emphasizes that all he has is from the Father. In short, it is not for everybody to feed souls with incorruptible food, when Christ comes forth with the promise of so great a blessing. He adds that he has God’s approval and has been sent to us with God’s own seal as the mark of his mission.160
I and my Father are one. John 10:30.
He sets out to meet the mockery of the wicked, who claimed that he was in no position to protect his disciples, since he did not possess God’s power. He, therefore, testifies that his business and the Father’s are one; which means that the Father will never deny his help to him or to his sheep. The ancient fathers misused this verse when they brought it up as proof that Christ is ὁμοούσιος (of one essence) with the Father. Christ is not here arguing that he is one substance with the Father, but that he is of one mind with him; which means that whatever Christ does has behind it the power of God.
Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself. John 14:10.
These words refer not to Christ’s divine essence, but to the manner of revelation. For, as to his secret deity, Christ is known to us no better than the Father. He is rightly called the express image of God, for the Father revealed himself totally in the Son: but in the sense that God’s unbounded goodness, wisdom, and power appeared in him. Therefore, the fathers were not wrong when they found in this verse a basis for asserting the divinity of Christ. Still, since Christ is here speaking not of what he is in himself, but of what he is toward us, it is a question of power rather than of essence. The Father therefore is said to be in Christ because the fullness of Divinity dwells in him, and manifests his power in him. On the other hand, Christ is said to be in the Father, because by his divine power he shows that he is one with the Father.
The words which I speak to you. He proves by the effects of his words that we should seek God nowhere but in him. He contends that his teaching, which is heavenly and truly divine, is evidence and the brilliant reflection of God’s own presence. If anyone objects that the prophets also were sons of God, because, inspired by the Spirit, they spoke in a divine manner, so that God was the author also of their teaching — the answer is easy. We should consider the content of their teaching: the prophets send their disciples to someone else; Christ on the other hand holds them as his own. We must keep in mind what the apostle says in the first chapter of Hebrews: namely, that God spoke by the mouth of his Son from heaven; whereas he spoke by Moses, as it were, from the earth.
Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away and come again unto 161you. If ye loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father; for my Father is greater than I. John 14:28.
This passage has been variously distorted. The Arians, in order to prove that Christ is beneath (second to) God, objected that he is less than the Father. The orthodox fathers, in order to cut such calumny short, said that this statement refers to Christ’s human nature. Even though the Arians abused this statement wickedly, the answer given by the fathers was neither right nor relevant. It is a question neither of the human nature of Christ nor of his eternal divinity, but of mediation between us and God because of our own weakness. Since it is not given to us to go up to the height of God, Christ came down to us in order to raise us there. Rejoice, he says, because I return to the Father; because this is the ultimate destination at which you yourselves ought to aim. With these words he does not show how he differs from the Father; he tells us that he descended to us, to unite us with God. Unless we arrive at this point, we remain stranded midway. Unless he lead us to God, we only imagine a mutilated Christ, cut into half.
Of a similar import is 1 Cor. 15:24, where Paul says that Christ will turn over the Kingdom to God and the Father, that he be all in all. Obviously, Christ does reign not only in his human nature, but as God manifest in the flesh. How then will he put aside his Kingship? Plainly, the divinity which we now discern only on the face of Christ will then be seen openly and conspicuously in him as his. The only difference is that Paul is here referring to the ultimate and perfect manifestation of divine brightness, whose rays began to shine when Christ ascended to heaven. To make the matter more plain, let us speak more bluntly. Here Christ does not compare the divinity of the Father with his own; neither does he compare his human nature with the divine essence of the Father. But rather, he contrasts his present state with the glory of heaven where he was soon to be received again. What he means is, “You want to keep me in this world, but it is better that I ascend to heaven.” So therefore let us see Christ emptied of the flesh, that he may lead us to the fountainhead of blessed immortality. He is our leader, not in order to raise us to the sun or to the moon, but to unite us with God the Father.
Jesus answered, and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go: but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. John 8:14.162
Though I testify. Christ answers that the authority of his witness is sufficient as the ground for faith, because the status (persona) he bears is very different from that of a private man picked out of a crowd of common people. He sets himself apart from the common run of men by saying that he knows where he comes from and where he is going. What he means is that although we must suspect an ordinary man who pleads his own cause, and although our own laws warn us not to believe a man who speaks on his own behalf, we are not to apply such reservations to the Son of God who has a pre-eminence above the whole world. Christ, who has the privilege from the Father to bring all men in line (ordo) by his mere word, must not be reckoned as of the order (ordino) of men.
I know whence I came. By these words he discloses that he is not of this world, but has come from the Father; and that for this reason it is foolish and wicked to subject his teaching, which is from God, to human standards. These people treated him with contempt because he had put on our lowly flesh and was among them in the form of a servant; therefore, he turns their attention to the future glory of his resurrection, in which his divinity, now hidden and unknown, was to shine forth in all its proper glory. The lowly position of Christ among them should not have prevented the Jews from submitting to the unique Ambassador of God, who had been promised shortly before in the law itself.
When he says that he knows and they do not know, he means that their unbelief does not in the least take away from his glory. Besides, since he has given the same testimony to us, faith ought to despise all the chicaneries and vicious outcries of wicked men; for, if it is founded upon God, it is far above the loftiness of the world. Moreover, if the majesty of his gospel is to remain before us, we need to see him always in his heavenly glory; we need so to hear him speaking in the world that we may keep in mind where he came from and what sovereignty he has obtained, now that his work as ambassador is finished. For, as he humbled himself for a season, so he now sits at the right hand of the Father, that every knee may bow to him.
And the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. John 14:24.
No matter how great, therefore, the mad insolence of the world, let us follow the teaching of Christ which rises high above heaven and earth. When Christ denies that the word is his own, it is for his disciples’ sake. He means that the Word is not from 163man, and that he teaches by the authority of the Father. Still we know that since he is the eternal wisdom of God, he is the foundation of all doctrine; and all prophets since the beginning have spoken by his Spirit.
And the Word was made flesh. John 1:14.
The Evangelist has already spoken of Christ’s coming. He now tells us he came putting on our flesh and showing himself openly to the world. He touches briefly upon the ineffable mystery that the Son of God put on human nature. Even though brief, he is astonishingly clear. At this point, some mad people amuse themselves with frivolous subtleties and make fools of themselves. They say, The Word is said to have been made flesh in the sense that God conceived the Son in his own mind and then sent him into the world as a man; as though the Word were I do not know what sort of shadowy image. But we have shown that the statement refers to a real hypostasis in the essence of God.
By saying “flesh,” the writer expresses himself more forcibly than if he had said He was made man. He means to state that the Son of God, for our sakes, left the height of his heavenly glory and humbled himself to a state at once low and abject. When Scripture speaks of man with contempt, it calls him flesh. In spite of the vast distance between the spiritual glory of the Word of God and the stink of our filthy flesh, the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself this same flesh which is subject to so many miseries. Flesh here means not, as so often with Paul, our nature corrupted by sin, but mortal men in general. Still, it refers to our nature with disdain as frail and perishing; so we read in Scripture in Ps. 78:39, Thou art mindful that they are flesh, and in Isa. 40:6, All flesh is grass. (There are other passages of this kind.) At the same time, however, we must notice that this is a figure of speech: [flesh] which is one part of man, stands for him as a whole. Therefore Apollinaris8282Apollinaris (d. 392) taught that Christ had a human body and the life of a man, but that in him the rational soul or mind was replaced by the λόγος. Thus he represented Christ as neither God nor man, but a mixture (mi/jic) of the two. He was repudiated, but orthodoxy was permanently infected by him. was foolish to fancy that Christ put on a human body without the soul.
Now my soul is troubled. . . . John 12:27.
At first this verse seems to differ greatly from the preceding 164discourse. There he showed more than heroic courage in exhorting his disciples not only to undergo death, but to face it willingly and eagerly whenever needful. But now he shrinks from death and seems to go soft. However, here we do not read anything that does not agree with the believers’ own experience. If scoffers laugh at this, it is no wonder; one cannot understand it except by experience.
Besides, it was necessary for our salvation that the Son of God should have been affected in this way. In his death, we must first consider the work of expiation which appeased the wrath and curse of God; this he certainly could not have done unless our sin had been transferred to him. The death, therefore, to which he was subjected had to be dreadful even to him, because he could not have made satisfaction for us unless he had known God’s dreadful judgment; we know better the enormity of sin because the Heavenly Father exacted such a dire punishment of his only-begotten Son. Therefore, we must realize that death was not a pleasure or a game for Christ, and that he suffered excruciation to the utmost for our sakes.
And it was not absurd that the Son of God should have been thus troubled. In the act of expiation, the secret divinity of the Son was quiescent and did not exercise its power. Christ in fact put on not only our flesh but also our human feeling; and this he did voluntarily. He was afraid not by constraint, but because he willingly subjected himself to fear. It must be firmly held that his fear was real and not fictitious. But he was unlike the rest of mankind in that, as we have said elsewhere, his feelings were tempered by obedience to the righteous God.
Christ’s humanity in feeling has a further value for us. If Christ had not been troubled by the fear of death, which of us would take his example seriously? It is not given to us that we should face death without a troubled mind; so, when we hear that he was not made of iron, we gather our forces and set out to follow him; and the weakness of our flesh which troubles us at death does not hinder us from joining our Leader in battle.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and 165showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. . . . Matt. 4:5–8.
It is no great matter that Luke puts this temptation second, while Matthew puts it last. The Evangelists did not arrange their stories exactly in time, but so as to put together, as in a mirror or picture, the main events which are most useful for our knowledge of Christ. It is enough to learn that there were three temptations of Christ. It is foolish to worry our heads over which came second and which third. In this exposition, I shall follow Matthew’s text.
It is said that Christ was placed on the pinnacle of the Temple. But the question is whether he was actually lifted up there, or whether this happened in a vision. There are many who assert obstinately that Christ was taken up there, as we say, really and truly; because, they say, it was unworthy of Christ that he should have been subject to delusion at the hand of Satan. This objection is easily disposed of, since it would by no means have been absurd for Christ to have been tempted with God’s permission and his own willing subjection [to God’s will], provided he did not yield inside himself, that is, in his mind and spirit. And what is said further, namely, that he was shown all the kingdoms of the world, or, as Luke has it, that in the twinkling of an eye he was carried to faraway places, fits best the supposition that all this happened in visions. In a doubtful matter like this, where ignorance does no harm, I prefer to pass no judgment, rather than to provide contentious people with something to quarrel about. It is in fact probable that the second temptation was not continuous with the first, or the third with the second. It may well be that some time elapsed between the first temptation and the second, and the second and the third. This may be so in spite of Luke’s saying that Christ rested awhile, which suggests that the time in question was short.
He will charge his angels concerning thee. Satan’s malice should not escape us. He misuses the testimony of Scripture, to make the life (Scripture) deadly for Christ, or to turn bread itself into poison. He does not cease using the same trick daily. When the Son of God chose to submit to this trial in his own person, he became an example to all believers, so that they may carefully avoid falling into Satan’s snares by a wrong use of Scripture. And without a doubt, the Lord gives our enemy so much leeway, not to put us at our ease and make us lazy, but that we may rather be on our guard. We must be especially careful not to be 166like those preposterous people who, just because Satan corrupts Scripture, throw it aside as much too doubtful. According to this rule we should stop eating, since there is always danger of being poisoned. Satan does profane the Word of God and twist it around for our undoing; but still Scripture was ordained for our salvation. Shall God’s purpose become invalid, just because our own indolence keeps us from using it for our good?
There is no need to argue this point at length. Let us only see what Christ prescribes by his example, which is the rule we are to follow. Does he yield when Satan gives Scripture a wicked twist? Seeing that Satan had armed himself with Scripture, does he let him hold on to it and make away with it? On the contrary, he in turn takes up Scripture, and with it refutes the wicked calumnies which Satan had thrown at him. In the same way, when Satan hides his deceptions under Scripture, or when godless men attack us and try to subvert our faith under the pretext of using Scripture, we should borrow our arms from Scripture alone, and so defend our faith.
Now, even though the promise, He shall charge his angels concerning thee, belongs to all the faithful, it applies peculiarly to Christ; because as the head of the church, he has authority over the angels, and they watch over us by his command. Satan was not wrong in using this text to show that the angels were given to Christ as his servants, to protect him and bear him upon their hands. He was wrong in presenting angelic protection as something vague and haphazard; on the contrary, it is promised to the children of God only as they keep to the way which leads to the fulfillment of God’s purpose for them. Whatever the force of the phrase in all thy ways (Ps. 91:11), Satan wickedly corrupts and mutilates the prophet’s words, and both tortures and confuses them when he makes them include any kind of way, however wrong and errant. God commands us to walk in the ways he has set before us, and in this connection declares that his angels shall protect us. When Satan brings up the matter of angelic protection, his intention is to make Christ walk into any danger that comes along; what he says amounts to this: “If you throw yourself at death in defiance of God, his angels will defend your life!”
It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Christ answered most aptly that believers cannot hope to receive the promise of God’s help except as they humbly let him guide them. We are in no position to rely upon God’s promises unless we obey his commandments. Now, we tempt God in many 167ways. But here to tempt is to neglect the means he puts in our hands. This is what men do when they make trial of God’s power and prowess, at the same time that they set aside the means provided by God; this is like cutting off a man’s hand and arms, and then telling him to do something! In short, whoever desires to experiment with God’s power unnecessarily, tempts God by subjecting his promises to unlawful scrutiny.
The devil takes him to a high mountain. As I have said before, we must remember that Satan had this power over Christ’s eyes not because of a weakness in his nature, but by a free purpose and permission. Even though Christ’s senses were affected and moved by the glory of the kingdoms presented to him, no inward lustful desire pierced his soul; quite otherwise the lusts of the flesh lay hold of us like powerful beasts, and drag us to the things that give us pleasure. Christ had our feelings, but not our unruly appetites. Now, the temptation put before Christ was to seek the inheritance God has promised his children elsewhere than in God. And the daring sacrilege of the devil appears in his seeking to rob God of his empire and to usurp it for himself. “All these things,” he said, “are mine; and no one can have them except by my power.”
We ourselves have to struggle with the same imposture, which every believer knows within himself, and which we see even more clearly in the whole life of the ungodly. For, even though we know that we owe our security, goods, and comforts to the blessing of God, our senses flatter and bewitch us into seeking Satan’s help, as though God were not enough for us. Therefore, the greater part of mankind deny God’s authority and sovereignty over the whole world, and imagine that the giver of every good thing is Satan. For, how does it come about that men are universally addicted to evil machinations, to rapine and fraud, if not because they credit Satan with what God alone can do; namely, enriching us by his benediction and according to his good pleasure. They say with their mouth that God gives them their daily bread; but with their mouth only. In fact, they set Satan up as one who dispenses all the riches of the world.
3. ASCENSION: EXAMPLES OF EXEGESIS
Then the disciples went away again unto their own homes. But Mary stood without at the sepulcher, weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, and seeth two angels in 168white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. John 20:10–12.
It may well be that when the disciples returned home, they were full of doubt and hesitation. Although John says that they believed, it is evident that their faith was not firm. They had a confused feeling that a miracle had happened; but they went about as it were in a trance, until something better confirmed them in their faith. It is evident that the sight they saw was not enough in itself to produce solid faith. What is more, Christ did not reveal himself to them until they were aroused from the stupidity of the flesh. When they ran to the sepulcher, they did indeed give a praiseworthy evidence of their zeal; still, Christ hid himself from them because their search for him was much too superstitious.
But Mary stood. Now the Evangelist begins to tell the story of how, when Christ testified to his resurrection, he appeared to the women as well as to the disciples. Even though here Mary alone is mentioned, it seems to me probable that the other women were with her. It is not rational to suppose that these other women had fainted out of fear. The writers who take this view try to escape a contradiction in our story which, as I have shown, does not exist.
We need not praise the women because they remained at the sepulcher, while the disciples returned home; for the latter went home comforted and full of joy, whereas the women indulged themselves in stupid and pointless weeping. What kept them at the grave was mere superstition, together with the feelings of the flesh.
And seeth two angels. What wonderful forbearance our Lord shows toward Mary and her companions in putting up with their many faults! He does them no small honor by sending them his angels and then by showing himself to them — an honor which was denied even to the disciples. Even while the apostles and the women labored with the same disease, the stupidity of the former was the less excusable because they had learned so little from the careful and exact teaching of Christ. Certainly, it was to shame them that Christ chose to show himself first to the women.
It is not certain whether Mary recognized the angel or took him for a man. We know that white garments symbolize heavenly glory. When Christ revealed his majesty to his three disciples on top of the mountain, there he also was clothed in such white garments. Luke says the same thing of the angel who 169appeared to Cornelius. I do not deny that Mary might have taken the angel for a man, because Eastern peoples often wore white garments. But the garments with which God adorned his angels were peculiar to them; they were marks by which men might see and recognize them. Besides, Matthew compares to lightning the countenance of the angel who spoke to the women. But still, probably the women’s wonder worked only fear; they seem to have stood there struck with stupor and beside themselves.
Moreover, when we read that angels appeared in the visible form of men and clothed in garments, we must remember that this was done to offset human weakness. I have no doubt angels were at times clothed with a body; but as to whether these particular two angels merely appeared to have bodies, that is not the main question, and I shall not settle it. For me it is enough that the Lord gave them a human form, so that they might be seen and heard by the women. They were covered with uncommon splendor, so that they might be distinguished from human beings and show forth what is heavenly and from God.
One at the head, and the other at the foot. The fact that Matthew mentions only one angel does not contradict John’s story. Both angels did not speak to Mary at once; this was done by the one who was commissioned for it. There is not much to Augustine’s allegory that the position of these angels indicates the course of the future preaching of the gospel, from the place where the sun rises to the place where it goes under. In this place, it is more worth-while to notice the auspices under which Christ ushered in the glory of his Kingdom. When the angels honored Christ’s grave [with their presence], they exhibited his celestial majesty. But they did so without abolishing the ignominy of the cross.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. John 20:17.
This does not seem to agree with the account in Matthew (28:9): for he writes openly that the women embraced the feet of Christ. Now, since Christ allowed himself to be touched by his disciples, why did he forbid Mary? The answer is easy, if we only remember that Jesus did not repel them until they overdid their desire to touch him. When it was a matter of removing doubt, then surely he did not forbid them. But when he saw 170that they held on to his feet, he calmed their excessive zeal, and corrected it. They clung to his bodily presence, because they knew only an earthly way of enjoying him. The truth is that Jesus did not forbid them to touch him until he saw their stupid and excited desire to keep him here on earth. Let us note therefore the reason he gave for the prohibition: for I am not yet ascended to the Father. By these words, he commanded the women to control themselves until he was received into heavenly glory. Finally, in this way, he pointed out that the purpose of his resurrection was quite different from their fancy about it. He was come to life again not to triumph in the world, but rather to ascend to heaven and to take possession of the Kingdom which had been promised to him; to reign over the church at the right hand of God, by the power of his Spirit. . . .
I ascend unto my Father. With the word ascend, he confirms what I have said before. For certainly he rose from the dead not to linger awhile longer on earth, but so that, having entered the heavenly life, he might draw the faithful to him. In short, with this word the apostle forbids us merely to stop with resurrection. He bids us to go forward until we arrive at the spiritual Kingdom, at heavenly glory, at God himself. Therefore this word, ascend, is very emphatic; Christ stretches out his hand to his own, so that they may seek their happiness nowhere but in heaven. For where our treasure is, there also must our heart be (Matt. 6:21). Now, Christ declares that he is about to ascend on high; therefore, let us also rise with him, if we would not be separated from him. Furthermore, when he adds that he will ascend, he quickly dispels the sadness and anxiety of his disciples because he was to leave them behind. He wants them to know that by his divine power he will always be with them. Ascend indeed implies distant places; but even though Christ is absent bodily, because he is with God, his spiritual power, which works everywhere, shows clearly that he is present with us. Why indeed did he ascend to the Father, except, seated at his right hand, to reign in heaven and on earth? Finally, with this statement Jesus intended to commend the divine power of his reign, so that his bodily absence might not trouble his disciples.
And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Rom. 1:4.
If you prefer, “designated” to be the Son, etc. (definitus). He means that the power of the resurrection, by which he was pronounced the Son of God, was as it were a decree; as in Ps. 2:7, I 171have this day begotten thee. “Begotten” in this verse means actually “made known.” Some find in this verse three evidences of the divinity of Christ: his power for working miracles, the witness of the Spirit, and his resurrection from the dead. I prefer to put the three together into one as follows: Christ was designated the Son of God when he rose from the dead, by an open exercise of true heavenly power, which was the power of the Spirit; but the knowledge of this power is sealed in our hearts by the same Spirit. The language of the apostle agrees well with this interpretation. The power with which he was declared, or the power which shone forth in Christ, that is, in his resurrection, was God’s own power; and this proves that he was God. The same point becomes clear in another place where Paul confesses that Christ’s death revealed him as subject to the infirmity of the flesh, and extols the power of the Spirit in his resurrection (2 Cor. 13:4). But this glorious work cannot be known by us unless the Spirit himself impresses it upon our hearts. The very fact that Paul calls the Spirit the Spirit of holiness, shows that in his mind the same wonderful efficacy of the Spirit revealed in the resurrection of Christ from the dead is to be seen in the witness which individual believers know in their hearts. He means that as the Spirit sanctifies, he shows and ratifies the power which he exercised once before in raising Christ from the dead. The various titles which Scripture gives to the Spirit fortify the present argument. For instance, our Lord calls him the Spirit of truth, because he effects truth in believers (John 14:17).
Besides, the power shown forth in Christ’s resurrection was his own as well as God’s; as is evident from the sayings: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19); and, No one takes my life; of myself, etc. (John 10:18). For he did not beg his victory over death (to which he yielded by the infirmity of the flesh) from another, but achieved it by the working of his own Spirit.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) Eph. 4:8–10.
Because Paul makes this testimony fit his purpose by turning it aside from its original meaning, the wicked accuse him of abusing Scripture. And the Jews go further. They are malicious 172enough to pervert the natural meaning of this verse, so as to lend color to their calumny that what is said here of God, applies to David and the people of Israel! David, they say, or the people, ascended up on high, when, elated by many victories, they were set high above their enemies. But when one weighs carefully what the psalm as a whole says, it becomes clear that the above words apply only to God. The whole psalm is as it were an epinicion, a song of triumph, which David sings to God, celebrating the victories given him by God. He makes the recital of his own exploits in this psalm an occasion for commemorating God’s own wonderful acts in the deliverance of his people. His aim is to open the eyes of the people to God’s glorious power and goodness in the Church. And so, among other things, he says, He ascended up on high. When God does not exercise his judgment in an obvious way, the mind of the flesh thinks that he is idle or gone to sleep. So, according to the judgment of men, when the church is oppressed, God himself is brought low. But when he stretches out his arm in vengeance, he is said to arise and ascend to his judgment seat. This way of speaking is common and well known; so the deliverance of the church is called the ascension of God.
When Paul saw that in this psalm David celebrated the triumphs of God with which he wrought salvation in the church, he rightly applied this verse about the ascension of God to the person of Christ. The greatest victory of God took place when Christ, having overcome sin, conquered death, and put Satan to flight, was lifted up to heaven in majesty, that he might reign gloriously over the church. Therefore, there is no reason why anyone should object that Paul’s use of this prophecy was contrary to the mind of the psalmist. Since David saw the glory of God in the continuance of the church, it is evident that no ascent of God shall be more victorious and memorable than that which occurred when Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, to bring to subjection all principalities and dominations, and then to become in eternity the defender and protector of the church.
He led captivity captive. Captivity here is a collective noun for captive enemies. It means simply that the mighty God has overcome his enemies; but this was done more thoroughly in Christ than in any other way. He has overthrown not only the devil, sin, death, and all hell, but also the lust of our flesh, thus by his word making us rebels into an obedient people. On the other hand, he binds his enemies, that is, all the wicked, with 173chains of iron, and restrains their fury by his power, so that they can do no more than he permits.
The next phrase, and gave gifts to men, is especially difficult. According to the psalmist, God receives gifts. Paul speaks of giving gifts, which seems to be quite the opposite of what the psalmist says. Still, this is not absurd. Paul is not interested in quoting Scripture word for word. All he wants to do is get at the real meaning of the passage he mentions. Certainly God received the gifts David speaks of, not for himself but for his people, A little before, the psalm itself had said that the spoils of war had been divided among the families of Israel. Since God received in order to give, even though Paul altered the wording of the psalm he did not depart from its meaning.
At the same time, I am inclined towards another opinion; namely, that Paul changed the word received intentionally. When he did this, he intended not to misquote the psalm but to coin an expression of his own which would serve his present purpose. Having quoted a few words from the psalm, with regard to Christ’s exaltation, he added that he gave gifts. He wanted to show that God’s ascent in Christ’s person was more excellent than his victories in the ancient church [Israel]. What he does is to compare the lesser with the greater; for after all, when a victor gives freely and bountifully to all his men the spoil taken from his vanquished enemies, his glory is greater than if he gathered it up for himself. The view of others who say that Christ gave us what he received from the Father is forced and has nothing to do with this verse. Thus, in my judgment, the most natural explanation of this passage is that, after quoting the psalm briefly, Paul takes the liberty of adding a phrase of his own, because it is suitable for Christ. The point is that the ascension of Christ is more excellent and wonderful than God’s glorious deeds as recounted by David.
Now that he ascended. Now the false accusers belabor Paul again, saying, What frivolous and childish argument is this that forces a figure of speech about the manifestation of divine glory, to apply to the real ascension of Christ! Who does not know, they say, that the word ascended is a metaphor? And why infer that he must have first descended? My answer is this. Paul does not here argue like a logician about what follows necessarily or what we may infer from the words of the prophet. He knew very well that what David said of God’s ascension was metaphorical. But still, it cannot be denied that God’s exaltation indicates a previous humiliation. Paul has a good reason for inferring the 174descent from the ascent. And when did God come down lower than he did when Christ emptied himself? If God was ever brought down ingloriously, and then ascended with glory, it was when Christ, from the depths of our condition, was received to the glory of heaven.
In short, here we must not look for a careful and literal interpretation of the psalm. What we have is a mere allusion to the word of the prophet. Paul does the same thing in Rom. 10:6, when he turns a passage from Moses to his own use (Deut. 30:12). If there be any doubt about the rightness and propriety of Paul’s application of this passage to the person of Christ, it is removed by the evidence of the psalm itself, which is a song in celebration of his Kingdom; because, for one thing, it contains a distinct prophecy of the calling of the nations.
Into the lower parts of the earth. There is no sense in torturing this phrase to make it mean purgatory, or hell. Paul is speaking simply about our condition in the present life. The argument from the comparative lower is very weak. What we have here is not a comparison of one part of the earth with another, but of the whole earth with heaven. He means that Christ left his exalted seat and came all the way down into our own deep abyss.
He . . . ascended up above all heavens: that is, beyond the created world. When we say Christ is in heaven, we must not imagine that he is somewhere among the cosmic spheres, counting the stars! Heaven means a place far beyond all the spheres, destined for the Son of God after his resurrection. When we speak of it as another place outside the universe, we do so because we must speak of the Kingdom of God using the only language which we have. There are those who claim that no space separates Christ from us, because, they say, above all heavens and ascended into heaven amount to the same thing! But they forget that whether he be above heavens or in heaven, he is beyond everything under the sun and stars, beyond all the spheres which surround the earth, beyond the whole machinery of the visible world.
That he might fill all things. Since to fill often means to accomplish, we may so understand it in this place. When Christ ascended to heaven, he came into possession of the dominion given him by the Father, to rule and direct all things by his power. I think we might arrive at an even more beautiful conception if we put together two ideas which, contradictory though they seem, are in fact perfectly congruous one with the other. So soon as we hear that Christ is ascended, we fancy that he is far away from us; as he indeed is in his humanity or in the 175body. But Paul reminds us that although he is absent from us bodily, he nevertheless fills all things by the power of his Spirit. Whenever the right hand of God, which embraces heaven and earth, is revealed, Christ’s spiritual presence fills all things with the exercise of his boundless power. And this is so, even though, according to Peter, his body is and remains in heaven (Acts 3:21).
Thus, we see that Paul, by indulging in an apparent contradiction, added not a little to the grace of his exposition. Christ, who was before enclosed in a narrow space, ascended to fill heaven and earth. But, did he not do this before? Yes, I admit, he did it before in his divinity. But, after he took possession of his Kingdom, he began to exercise the power of his Spirit in a new way; and in the same Spirit, he revealed his presence among us. As John says: The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified (7:39); and again, It is expedient for you that I go away; for, if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you (16:7). In short, when he began to sit at the right hand of the Father, he began also to fill all things.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55–56.
He saw the glory of God. As I said before, Luke means that when Stephen raised his eyes to heaven, immediately Christ appeared to him. But before that he tells us that Stephen was given other than earthly eyes, whose vision enabled him to rise as far as the glory of God. From this we receive the general consolation that God shall be no less with us, provided, leaving the world behind, all our senses seek after him; not that he will appear to us in an external vision as he did to Stephen, but that he will so reveal himself within us as to give us a true knowledge of his presence. And this way of seeing should be enough for us, since, by his grace and power, God not only shows that he is near us, but also proves that he lives in us.
Behold, I see the heavens. God did not intend to have only private dealings with his servant. He wanted to trouble and vex his enemies. For, when Stephen declares openly that he was given this miracle, he offers them a powerful insult. But it may be asked, How were the heavens opened? So far as I am concerned, I judge that nothing was changed as to the nature of the heavens, but that Stephen was given a new sharpness of vision 176which, overcoming all obstacles, penetrated to the invisible Kingdom of Heaven. For, even if heaven had been torn apart, no human eye could have reached so high as to see it. Therefore, only Stephen saw the glory of God. As to the wicked who stood there, not only was this spectacle hidden from them, but also they were so blinded within themselves as not to perceive the open light of truth. Therefore, he says that the heavens were opened to him, because nothing prevented him from seeing the glory of God. From this it follows that the miracle was wrought not in the sky, but in his eyes. Therefore, we should not dispute about a physical vision, because certainly Christ did not appear to him in a way and order that is natural, but in a new and singular fashion. And, pray tell me, what were the colors of God’s glory that they might have affected naturally the eyes of flesh? Therefore in this vision we should consider nothing but what belongs to God. Besides, it is very much worth noting that the glory of God appeared to Stephen not strictly as it was but in so far as a man is capable of seeing it. For the immeasurableness of God’s glory cannot be comprehended by the measure of the creature.
4. CHRIST THE KING AND THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST
Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. John 1:49.
It is not surprising that Nathanael knows Jesus as the Son of God because of his divine power. But why does he call him the King of Israel? For, these two things do not seem to be related. But Nathanael is looking deeper. He had heard that Christ is the Messiah; and now he confirms this doctrine which was given [by the prophets], with the further statement that He is the Son of God. Moreover, he reminds himself of the self-evident truth that the Son of God shall appear to become King over God’s people. He is therefore right in confessing that the Son of God is also the King of Israel. Faith not only should be fixed upon the essence of Christ (as they say), but should also attend to his mission and power. It avails little to know who Christ is, without knowing also what his will for us was to be and to what end he was sent by the Father. This is why the papists have but the shadow of Christ; they care only to know his bare essence, and neglect his Kingship which consists in his power to save us.
Moreover, when Nathanael calls him the King of Israel, he shows that he is of little faith; because the Kingship of Christ 177extends to the ends of the world. His faith had not made enough progress for him to realize that Christ was destined to be the King of the whole world, or that the children of Abraham would be gathered together from all parts, so that the whole world might be the Israel of God.
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day I have begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? Heb. 1:5.
Thou art my Son. It cannot be denied that this was spoken of David, but in so far as Christ was in him;8383Literally, he bare the Person of Christ. therefore, the things we find in this psalm were foreshadowed in David, but manifested in Christ. When David conquered the many enemies surrounding his kingdom and enlarged its borders, there was a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the promise, I shall give the nations for thine inheritance. But how little this was compared with the Kingdom of Christ, which extends from East to West! Again, David was called the Son of God because he was called to do great things. But his glory was a mere spark compared with that which shone forth in Christ, who bore the very image of the Father. Christ alone deserves the singular honor of bearing the name Son because the Father has sealed him alone, and no one else, with his image. Therefore, it is blasphemous to give the title Son to anyone but Christ.
But the argument of the apostle does not seem to be very strong. He claims that Christ is superior to the angels because he is called the Son. But Christ has this name in common with the princes and all those who are high in power, of whom it is written: Ye are gods, and the sons of the most high. Besides, the prophet conferred a greater honor upon the whole people of Israel when he called them the first-born of God (Jer. 31:9). In fact, in Scripture they are often called sons. Again, elsewhere, David calls the angels also sons of God; as when he says, in Ps. 89:6, Who is like the Lord among the sons of God? But, the answer to all this is not difficult. The princes are given this name because of their peculiar position; Israel, because by God’s grace they were his chosen people; the angels are called sons of the gods figuratively, because they are heavenly spirits and taste of divinity in their blessed immortality. But when David, representing Christ’s Person, calls himself without qualification the Son of God, he means something unique, an honor far above that of the princes, or of the angels, or of the whole 178people of Israel. But it were most inapt and improper to set Christ above all others as the Son of God, if he had nothing more than they. For the expression Son of God sets him apart from the class and number of all other beings. Since thou art my Son is spoken to Christ alone, it follows that no angel shares this honor with him.
If again someone takes exception to this argument and says that it raises David above the angels, I reply: It is not absurd that David should be set above the angels, in so far as he is the image of Christ; just as it was not an insult to the angels that the high priest who expiated sins was called a mediator. Neither David nor the high priest received the title for himself; but in pointing to the Kingdom of Christ, each derived his title from Him. The sacraments also, which are in themselves without life, are honored with titles which even the angels cannot claim without blasphemy. Hence it is clear that the argument from the use of the word Son is valid.
As to Christ’s being begotten, briefly speaking, I take it that in this verse it has to do with his relationship to us. Augustine’s subtle reasoning, according to which today means in eternity or perpetuity, is frivolous. Of course, Christ is the eternal Son of God, because he is the wisdom of God begotten before time. But this has nothing to do with our verse, which expresses the truth that men know Christ as the Son of God because the Father has revealed him as his Son. Similarly, the declaration mentioned by Paul in Rom. 1:4, was, so to speak, a kind of outward begetting. The secret and inward begetting which went before, was beyond human knowledge; it was above our understanding, until God gave us visible evidence of it.
I will be to him a Father. The same is true with regard to this second testimony, which refers to Solomon. Although Solomon was inferior to the angels, yet when God promises to be his Father, he was set apart from the commonality of men. God was to be a Father to him, not as to one of the sons of Abraham, or to one of the princes, but as to one who had pre-eminence over all the rest. The same preference which made him a Son, excluded all others from an equal honor. But now, the context of this verse makes it clear that Solomon is declared the Son, not in himself but as a figure, an exemplar of Christ. The universal kingship here mentioned as destined for the Son, is also said to be a kingdom without end. The kingdom of Solomon, on the contrary, was narrowly bounded; and it was far from being perpetual, since it was divided soon after his death; and a little 179while after it fell. Besides, in that psalm, the Lord makes a vow, with the sun and moon as witnesses, that so long as they shall shine in the heavens, his Kingdom shall stand. But this does not apply to David’s kingdom which collapsed in a short while and finally was utterly destroyed. Further, we may gather readily from many passages in the prophets, that such promises belong to no one but Christ. And let nobody cavil that this is a new invention of ours. For, the Jews called Christ, commonly and usually, the Son of David.
But to which of his angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Heb. 1:13.
Again, he exalts the superiority of Christ by another testimony, in order to show the pre-eminence of Christ over the angels.
This verse is taken from Ps. 110, which can be made to apply only to Christ. We know very well from the story of Uzziah’s leprosy, that even the kings had no right to act as priests (2 Chron. 26:18). Since it is clear that neither David nor the kings who followed him were ordained to be priests, it follows that here we have a prophecy of a new kingship and a new priesthood, in which king and priest were to be one. Besides, the eternal priesthood spoken of in this psalm fits the case of Christ alone.
Now, at the beginning of the psalm, he is put at God’s right hand; which means, as I have said, that he is given a position second only to the Father. What we have here is a metaphor which signifies that Christ is the Father’s agent and his head ambassador who exercises his power, so that the Father reigns by his hand. No angel was ever honored in this way. Christ therefore is exalted far above the host of angels.
Until I make. Since there never is any dearth of Christ’s enemies who set themselves against his Kingdom, the church is always in peril; especially because his foes, who seek to overthrow it, are among the great men of this world; men who both resort to artifice and attack repeatedly with fury and violence. When we look at what is before our eyes, we cannot but conclude that the Kingdom of Christ is about to fall in ruin. But the promise made in this psalm takes away all our fear, because Christ shall not leave his seat [at the Father’s right hand] until he has prostrated his last enemy to the ground. There are two things to keep in mind. First, there shall never be quietness for the Kingdom of Christ in this world, because it will always be infested and troubled by its enemies. Secondly, no matter what 180evils they perpetrate, the enemies of Christ shall not prevail, because Christ sits at God’s right hand, not for a time but in eternity. Therefore, all those who do not submit to his sovereignty shall be thrown down and trodden under his feet.
That I may lead forth a people, blind who have eyes and deaf who have ears. Isa. 43:8. (Calvin’s wording.)
The brevity of this verse makes its meaning unclear. There are some who translate “I will bring forth the blind and him who has eyes” ; that is, both the blind and the seeing, both the deaf and the hearing. Others explain blind as those who have eyes, but eyes which are too dim to be able to perceive the secrets of heavenly wisdom. But taking everything into consideration, I prefer to separate the two parts. “I will lead forth the blind, and restore sight to them; I will free the deaf, and they will regain their ears.” So the words run: lead forth the blind, and they will have eyes; the deaf, and they will have ears.
The content of this verse requires careful consideration. First the people are freed; then eyes and ears are restored to them. The Lord fulfilled this promise when he led his people from Babylon, but the prophecy certainly extends beyond that to the Kingdom of Christ. For in his Kingdom the faithful have been gathered not only from Chaldea, but also from all parts of the earth. This began conspicuously long ago at the time of Peter’s first speech (Acts 2:41), when great numbers from different countries joined in one confession of faith. But later others, who seemed wholly alien, joined with the same body and showed themselves sons of Abraham.
Therefore if we seek the full truth of this prophecy we must come to Christ, by whom alone we are delivered from slavery to the devil and confirmed in liberty. He restores eyes and ears to us who were formerly by nature both blind and deaf.
Further we must remember, as I have emphasized rather often, that the return of the people from exile is connected with the restoration of the church accomplished by Christ. For what God began when he brought the people out of exile, he continued and fulfilled in the coming of Christ. So the redemption is one. And hence it follows that the blessing here described cannot be limited to any one short period of time.
And in mercy shall the throne be established; and he shall sit upon it securely in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness. Isa. 16:5.181
The Hebrews apply the whole verse to Hezekiah, but this interpretation is by no means acceptable. The prophet is describing a greater restoration of the church. (Besides, the Moabites did not suffer punishment in the time of Hezekiah, nor did God’s blessing then begin to shine among the Judeans.) What he means is: All the enemies of the chosen people are planning the destruction of the Kingdom which God had promised would be firm forever. But the faithful must not lose courage when they are miserably scattered; they must remember this well-known oracle which attests the continuance of God’s Kingdom. And this passage can be interpreted as referring to none other than Christ; although I admit that Hezekiah stands as a symbol of Christ, as did David and his other successors. But all these [men] point us to Christ himself, who alone redeems and leads his people, who alone gathers his scattered remnant.
In this way the prophet recalls the faithful to Christ; it is as if he said: “You know the God whom you serve. He declares himself the guardian of your safety to keep you always secure and unharmed under his protection. And if all things have slid down to disaster, he has promised you a Redeemer under whom a wholly new happiness will rise and prevail. At the very moment of despair the Redeemer of the church will come and restore you to the full flower of freedom. Therefore be perfectly calm and wait for him, even when you see the church poor and scattered.”
We must note these words carefully. All other comforts are temporary and illusory unless we depend wholly upon Christ. Therefore if we wish to be blessed and happy let our eyes be fixed upon him. He has promised that we shall be blessed even under the cross; that crucifixion and torture will be the door to a blessed life; that whatever hardships we suffer will end for us with the fullness of felicity.
In mercy. As Isaiah shows, this is no human achievement, but results from the goodness of God who is its sole architect. Therefore we must acknowledge his free favor, and accent the establishment of this holy throne among us as his gift. This the prophet asserts plainly. We should seek no other reason for God’s kindness to us except his pure compassion; and truly there is no other cause for it.
Neither honor nor merits (of which surely there are none) can be brought forward as a reason for God’s raising again the throne which had fallen through the guilt and the crimes of the 182people. Quite otherwise, when he saw that those whom he had chosen were lost, he willed to give an example of his infinite goodness. If God is the maker of this throne, by whom can it be overturned? Are the wicked stronger than he?
He will sit firmly in the tent of David. Almost every separate word has its own force, and this little clause is worth careful study. I like the allusion to the tent here because Christ was certainly a man of the common people before he was called to his throne. Also the prophet wishes to give a picture of the church which bears no resemblance to the thrones of kings and princes, and does not glitter with gold and gems. And in addition to presenting the spiritual rule of Christ under a humble and inglorious aspect, he declares at the same time that it will be revealed on earth and among men. For if he had said only that the throne of Christ would be erected, we could wonder if it would be located in heaven or on earth. When he says in the tent of David, he shows that Christ reigns not only among angels but also among men. Therefore, we should not think that we must penetrate the heavens to seek him.
The ungodly think that what we proclaim about the reign of Christ is ridiculous; as if it were some phantasm of our own imagination. They wish to see with their eyes something open to their senses. But we have no need to receive any physical sign from him, and are content with his power and goodness.
In firmness (firmly). ’emeth means sometimes certainty, sometimes truth. Here the prophet means that Christ’s Kingdom will be firm and enduring, even as Daniel (2:44; 7:14) bore witness, and the Evangelist also: Of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:33). This permanence distinguishes it from the ordinary kingdoms. For although they are established with great and plentiful resources, they totter or sink by their own weight, so that they are no firmer than images of melting wax.
But Isaiah declares that the empire of Christ, although threatened often by destruction, will endure forever because it will be upheld by God’s hand. We must keep his testimony on hand as a weapon against the temptations which arise when Christ’s Kingdom is attacked by so many mighty enemies that it seems about to fall. For although the world plots [against it] in every way, and hell itself pours out fire and flame against it, the promise stands.
Who will judge. I take judge (shaphat) as “govern” ; as if the line ran “who will govern.” We often see a magnificent throne without an occupant; and it often happens that kings are either 183figureheads or cattle, so that they are without good judgment, or prudence, or wisdom. But on this throne, the prophet says, will sit one who truly fulfills the office of Governor. Then he makes a further addition to assure us that Christ will be our protector. For when he attributes justice and righteousness to him, he displays the royal banner under the protection of which Christ receives us and which he will not allow to be violated. And so long as we give ourselves to faith in him, with calm and quiet minds, he will not permit the wicked to injure us with impunity.
The word hasten is used to teach us that our reward will be swift and prompt; and this speed must be set against our impatience. For he never seems to us to bring aid quickly enough. But when we are tormented with fervent longing, let us remember that we suffer from impatience because we do not give room enough to his Providence. When to our carnal mind he seems slow, he is really fitting his acts of judgment to the time which he best knows. Let us then submit to his will.
He will judge among many peoples and accuse (or blame) strong nations afar off; and they will beat their swords into plowshares and their lances into sickles. They shall not lift the sword, nation against nation, and they will no more be accustomed to war. Micah. 4:3. (Calvin’s wording.)
Here the prophet describes the fruits of the teaching of God’s word. God will recall all peoples to gentleness, so that they will strive to promote brotherly peace among themselves and will lay aside all desire to inflict injuries. As he said before, the church of God can be established in no other way than by the Word. True service of God cannot be begun, nor can it endure, except where God is served by the obedience of faith. Now he shows the goal to which the teaching leads. Those who once lived in mutual hostility and burned with the desire to hurt one another, now, with character transformed, are wholly intent on mutual kindness.
But before the prophet comes to this point, he says he will Judge among many peoples and accuse strong nations. The word judge, shaphat, in Hebrew also means govern. God is certainly the subject of the sentence. The prophet is saying that although formerly men did not obey God, they will in the future know him as King and concede supreme power to him. God indeed has always governed the world by his hidden providence and so governs it now. However much the devil and wicked men may 184rage, however much they boil with their own unrestrained anger, there is no doubt that God checks and curbs their madness with a hidden bridle.
The Scripture speaks in two ways of God’s rule. God governs the devil and all the wicked, but not by his Word nor by the Spirit’s sanctification. They obey God against their wish and will. God’s special rule applies to his church alone, where God by his Word and Spirit turns the hearts of men to obedience, so that they follow him freely and voluntarily. They are thoroughly taught within and without; within, by the inspiration of the Spirit, without, by the preaching of the Word. Then, as Ps. 110:3 says, your willing people will assemble. Such is the Kingdom of God, which the prophet here describes.
God will judge, not as he now governs the whole world, but in a special way he will subject the faithful to himself so that they desire nothing so much as to surrender themselves wholly to him.
But because men must be subjugated before they offer such submission to God, the prophet has added in plain terms He will convict (or accuse) many people. And this addition must be carefully noted, because from it we learn that our inborn pride is too great for anyone, unless mastered by force, to be ready to be God’s pupil. The teaching by itself would congeal in the great corruption of our nature, if God did not convict us, that is, unless he prepared us beforehand by force and violence. Now we see the prophet’s wisdom in including correction in God’s rule. The verb yakach means sometimes “remonstrate with,” “accuse,” sometimes “convict.” In any case, it here implies the wickedness and perversity of our flesh, since even the best of men never surrender themselves to God until they are subdued. Subdued how? Truly by God’s use of force in their correction.
Such are the beginnings of the reign of Christ. The prophet speaks here of strong peoples to glorify that reign and to illuminate it by his words. We see here the power of the teaching of the Word, because, after receiving its correction, strong men offer themselves without any hesitation to be ruled by God. The correction is very necessary, but God does not use external force nor any armed soldiers when he wishes to subdue his church. And yet he gathers in it strong men. The power of the teaching is therefore undeniable. For among men, where there is strength, there also is assurance and pride, and afterwards rebellion. But the Word, without any external aid, corrects men’s obstinacy, and we see that God works in an unbelievable way when he gathers his church.185
There is certainly no doubt that this passage must refer to the Person of Christ. Micah speaks of God without specific mention of Christ, because Christ had not yet been manifested in the flesh. But we know that God’s rule of the world and the submission of the peoples of the whole earth to him had its fulfillment in Christ. Also we have affirmed that Christ is true God, for he was not called his Father’s servant like Moses or the other prophets. He was supreme King of his church.
But before I come to the fruits of Christ’s reign, the phrase inserted here, ’ad rachoq, must be noted. Both length of time and distance of place can be so expressed. The Targum of Jonathan8484The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Old Testament. Such translations were first made orally in the synagogues to convey the meaning of the Hebrew text to the Aramaic-speaking congregations (cf. Ezra 4:7; Neh. 8:7). Later, written translations were made. That of Onkelos on the Pentateuch is a very literal and exact translation; but the Targum of Jonathan on the Prophets is an edifying paraphrase rather than a translation. It was probably written in the first century A.D., although the tradition of interpretation which it represents is much older. takes it as length of time, because God accuses people through the ages. But I have no doubt that the prophet wished to include far-separated regions; as if he said, God would be King not of one people only: his Kingdom would be extended to the farthest ends of the earth. Therefore he will convict nations afar off.
Then the prophet describes the consummation: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their lances into sickles. I have already stated briefly his meaning. He speaks of the great change which will come when the nations have been taught the Word of God. Then all will strive to devote their work and their kindly acts to their neighbors. When he talks of swords and lances, he shows with few words that men have always been prone to unjust violence until they were tamed by the Word of God. Such a change would be impossible while every man followed his own nature. There is no one who does not want his own private comforts; so insatiable is man’s greed. Therefore, when all are so intent on gain, when each one is blinded by his self-love, cruelty bursts out from this evil source. Men cannot cultivate peace among themselves, because each one wishes to be first, and snatches everything for himself. No one yields willingly. Thence come disagreements, and from disagreements, wars. This the prophet knows. Yet he adds that as the result of Christ’s teaching those who had before then been bristling 186brutes would become tame. Therefore they will beat their swords into plowshares and their lances into sickles. They will not, he says, draw sword, nation against nation, and they will practice war no more.
This puts more clearly what I said before. The gospel of Christ will be like a signal of peace for the nations. When a battle standard is displayed, the soldiers gather for the fight and their ardor is kindled. Micah ascribes the opposite result to the gospel of Christ. It will recall men, formerly bent on evil-doing, to a desire for peace and concord. When he says they will not draw swords, nation against nation, he shows, as I have said, that where Christ does not reign men are wolves to men. Each one would gladly devour all the others.
By nature, men rush blindly to attack one another, and the prophet says this madness can be corrected, so that wars cease and men refrain from doing injury, only when Christ is made their teacher. For by the word lamad, he means that in general men are always struggling with one another and are always ready to inflict injuries unless they change their natures. Whence is gentleness born? Truly from the teaching of the gospel. This passage is memorable because we learn from it that the truth of the gospel has not reached us, unless mutual love and friendliness prevail among us, and the desire to do kindness.
And although today the pure gospel is preached among us, yet if we consider how little each one of us practices brotherly love, we shall rightly be ashamed of our negligence. Daily God declares himself reconciled to us in his Son. Christ bears witness in this law of love that he is [the giver of] peace with God. He offers himself for us, so that we may willingly and quickly be brothers to one another. And we desire indeed to be enrolled as sons of God; we desire to enjoy the reconciliation won for us by the blood of Christ. But meanwhile we tear at one another; we sharpen our teeth; our minds are wholly ruthless. If we wish to prove ourselves disciples of Christ we must heed this part of his teaching and each one of us strive to help his neighbors.
Now this cannot be done without opposition from the flesh; for we are prone to love ourselves and to seek too much our own private advantage. We must shed these immoderate and hurtful emotions of self-interest, if brotherly love is to take their place. We are warned here that it is not enough to refrain from doing injury; a man must be helpful to his brothers. The prophet could have said simply “they will break their swords and lances and refrain from inflicting further damage.” But he does not say merely this; he adds, They will turn (or beat) their swords 187into plowshares and lances into sickles. That is: when they have ceased doing evil, they will desire to concern themselves with acts of kindness. So Paul (Eph. 4:28) urges those who steal to steal no more and also to work with their hands to serve others Therefore unless we want to help our brothers’ need and to offer them our aid, we are only half converted. Many people are not cruel, they rob nobody, they give nobody reason to complain; but they live for themselves and enjoy a useless leisure. This idleness the prophet indirectly condemns when he speaks of plows and sickles.
But the question may be raised: How has this been fulfilled by Christ’s coming? The prophet is not describing here the state of the church at any time; he is showing what Christ’s Kingdom will be like at the end. Moreover we know that when the gospel was first preached, the whole world was more savagely embroiled in war than ever before; and now, although in many places the pure gospel is preached, disagreements and quarrels do not cease. We see greed, ambition, covetousness flourishing; and from them arise both dissensions and bloody wars. Yet it would seem to be an absurdity for the prophet to speak this way about the reign of Christ, if God did not mean to execute in reality what was predicted. I answer, the reign of Christ had already begun when God wished the gospel to be preached everywhere, and today it is still in progress and not yet complete. Consequently what the prophet describes here does not yet appear before our eyes. And because the number of the faithful is small and the majority of men despise and reject the gospel, robbery and evil deeds do not cease in the world. Do you ask why?
The prophet speaks of Christ’s followers. He shows the fruit of the teaching. And truly it bears fruit wherever it takes good root. But the teaching of the gospel takes root in hardly one out of a hundred. We must look at the amount of progress. For in so far as any man has taken hold of the teaching of the gospel he becomes gentle and desires to help his neighbors. But since we still carry around with us in our flesh the remains of sin, and a perfect knowledge of the gospel does not exist in us, it is not strange that no one has rid himself wholly of the unrighteous and stupid desires of his flesh.
Hence it is easy to see how limited is the imagination of those who on the basis of the gospel wish to remove the use of the sword from the world. We know how the Anabaptists have clamored that the whole political order is the enemy of Christ’s 188Kingdom; as if the Kingdom of Christ were bound up in one doctrine — there shall be no use of force. This teaching would indeed hold, if in this world we were angels. But as I have said the number of the faithful is small and therefore it is necessary that the rest of the crowd be restrained by a forcible curb. For the sons of God are intermingled with great, savage beasts, or with wolves and false men. For some are openly rebellious against God and others are hypocrites. Therefore the use of the sword will continue until the end of the world.
Now we must notice under what circumstances our prophet was speaking. Isaiah used the same words, and it is probable that Micah was Isaiah’s disciple. For although they held their prophetic office at the same time, Isaiah was the elder. But Micah was not ashamed to follow Isaiah and to borrow words from him. Nor was he so concerned for his own importance that he had to produce everything himself. He conformed to what Isaiah had done, and repeated his words exactly, showing the agreement between himself and God’s illustrious servant, in order to give the teaching greater authority. We recognize his humility when he gave no thought to ill-natured and spiteful men who might say: “What! He’s only repeating somebody else’s words.” He cared nothing for such slander, and was content to affirm faithfully what God commanded.
The words afar off are not in Isaiah, but otherwise the two passages agree.
Behold the days will come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he will reign as king and act wisely (or prosper). He will do judgment and righteousness on the earth. Jer. 23:5. (Calvin’s wording.)
The prophet confirms what he has just said about the restoration of the church. For it would not have been enough to promise shepherds who would faithfully perform their duty, if that one Shepherd on whom God’s covenant was founded had not been assured to them. For, the fulfillment of every good for which men can hope must be sought in him.
It is usual for all the prophets, whenever they want to give the people hope of a happy future, to declare the coming Messiah. For in him have always been all the promises of God, now and forever, amen. This appears more clearly in the gospel; but the faith of the fathers could be complete only when they turned their thoughts to the Messiah. For apart from Christ, the fathers could not have had assurance of the love of God, or sure evidence 189of his kindness and fatherly goodness. This is the reason the prophets set Christ before men’s eyes when they wish to inspire good hope in the distressed, who would otherwise be overcome by their sorrow and yield to despair.
We should notice how often the prophets do this, so that we may realize how cold God’s promises would be to us, how they would hang in the air or vanish completely if we do not turn our minds to Christ, and seek in him the answer we shall find nowhere else.
There follows: He will act wisely (or prosper), and will establish righteousness and judgment on the earth. Shakal has both meanings, “act wisely” and “prosper,” but the prophet seems to be speaking of just judgment rather than of good success, because the two clauses should be read together: “The Messiah will act wisely and then establish righteous judgment.” He apparently means that Christ will be endowed with both wisdom and a spirit of right and justice, and so will fulfill all the requirements for a good and perfect king. And the first necessity is wisdom; for honesty is not enough in a king (indeed even among private citizens it gets only moderate praise); if he lacks intelligence, his honesty is of little use. Therefore the prophet here praises Christ for his true wisdom and then speaks of his love for justice and right.
These words are not adequate for honoring Christ. But the figure is taken from human experience; and it is true that the first gift of kings is wisdom, the second integrity. We know that Christ is often compared to earthly kings, or the picture of an earthly king is drawn for us to help us see Christ. For God adapts himself to our dull capacity. Since we cannot comprehend the unthinkable justice or wisdom of Christ, God brings us by easy steps to the knowledge of him by giving us a shadow of him in these similes. . . .
But the difference between the justice of Christ and the justice of other kings must be thoroughly understood. Those who rule well among men can exercise justice and judgment when they try to gave every man his just due, by restraining the boldness of the wicked and protecting the good and harmless. This is all that can be asked of earthly kings.
But Christ is altogether different. Not only is he wise to perceive what is best and right, but also he endows his servants with wisdom and insight. He not only does judgment and justice by defending the harmless and aiding the oppressed, by helping the poor and checking the wicked; but also he establishes justice 190in regenerating us by his Spirit. And, he establishes justice further by putting a bridle on the devil.
Now we see what I meant when I said that we must attend to both Christ’s unlikeness and his likeness to earthly kings. His unlikeness is exceedingly great; yet the comparison has value for us.
And on that day, Israel will be, with Egypt and Assyria, a third blessing in the midst of the earth. For the Lord of hosts will bless saying, Blessed be my people Egypt, and Assyria the work of my hand, and Israel my inheritance. Isa. 19:24–25. (Calvin’s wording.)
Isaiah ends the promise with the addition that there will certainly be a blessing for Egypt and Assyria as well as for Israel. Earlier God’s grace was in a sense limited to Israel, because with them the Lord had entered into a covenant. For the Lord had extended his cord to Jacob, as Moses and David say (Deut. 32:9; Ps. 147:20). He hath not so dealt with every nation and revealed to them his judgments. The blessing of God dwelt in Judea alone.
But the prophet says this blessing would in the future belong also to the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Under these names he includes all nations. He specifies these two, not to honor them, but because, since they had been continual enemies of God, they seemed the most alien and the farthest from hope of favor. God had earlier adopted only the sons of Abraham; he now wished to be called the Father of all nations without distinction.
The third. The interpretation of some that Israel will have third place does not please me. For since the Hebrew word is feminine, it ought to be joined to barakah, blessing. This blessing is to be understood as an example or mirror of all blessings.
Because he will bless. The repetition serves to explain the preceding. The prophet teaches that by God’s free kindness, Assyria and Egypt will be united and associated with the chosen people. He means, “Although this title belonged only to Israel, it will be given also to other nations whom the Lord shall adopt for his own.” There is a mutual relation between God and his people. They whom God by his own mouth names a holy people rightly call him their God. And this public naming is now extended to Egyptians and Assyrians.
But although the prophet meant to unite distant nations with the Jews, he differentiates their appropriate positions with suitable labels. By calling the Egyptians the people of God, he means that they will share the distinction with which God had 191formerly honored the Jews alone. By calling the Assyrians the work of his hands, he distinguishes them by the praise suited to God’s church. We have said elsewhere that the church is called τὸ ποίημα of God (Eph. 2:10), or his work, because the faithful are remade by the spirit of regeneration and bear the image of God. The prophet means by the work of God’s hands, not that we were first created by God, but that we who are separated from the world and are made new creatures, are transformed for a new life. As we well know, nothing in that new life is to be ascribed to us; for we know it all to be God’s work.
Israel he honors with its own unique privilege. Because it is God’s inheritance, it keeps the right and honor of the first-born among its new brethren. Certainly God’s covenant, which he first made with them, gave to them a priority which not even their own ingratitude could erase.192
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