56. Your father Abraham exulted to see my day; and he saw it and rejoiced.57. The Jews then said to him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58. Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.59. Then they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus concealed himself, and went out of the temple.
56. Your father Abraham. He grants to them, in words only, what he formerly took from them, that Abraham is their father But he shows how idle is the objection drawn from the name of Abraham |He had no other object,| says he, |during his whole life, than to see my kingdom flourish. He longed for me when I was absent, you despise me when I am present.| What Christ here asserts concerning Abraham alone, applies to all the saints. But this doctrine has greater weight in the person of Abraham, because he is the father of the whole Church. Whoever then desires to be reckoned in the number of the godly, let him rejoice, as he ought to do, in the presence of Christ, for which Abraham ardently longed.
Exulted to see my day. The word exult expresses a vehement zeal and ardent affection. We must now supply the contrast. Though the knowledge of Christ was still so obscure, Abraham was inflamed by so strong a desire, that he preferred the enjoyment of it to everything that was reckoned desirable. How base then is the ingratitude of those who despise and reject him, when he is plainly offered to them? The word day does not, in this passage, denote eternity, (as Augustine thought,) but the time of Christ's kingdom, when he appeared in the world clothed with flesh, to fulfill the office of Redeemer.
But a question now arises, How did Abraham behold, even with the eyes of faith, the manifestation of Christ? For this appears not to agree with another statement of Christ,
Many kings and prophets desired to see the things which you see, and yet did not see them,
I reply, faith has its degrees in beholding Christ. Thus the ancient prophets beheld Christ at a distance, as he had been promised to them, and yet were not permitted to behold him present, as he made himself familiarly and completely visible, when he came down from heaven to men.
Again, we are taught by these words that, as God did not disappoint the desire of Abraham, so he will not now permit any one to breathe after Christ, without obtaining some good fruit which shall correspond to his holy desire. The reason why he does not grant the enjoyment of himself to many is -- the wickedness of men; for few desire him. Abraham's joy testifies that he regarded the knowledge of the kingdom of Christ as an incomparable treasure; and the reason why we are told that he rejoiced to see the day of Christ is, that we may know that there was nothing which he valued more highly. But all believers receive this fruit from their faith, that, being satisfied with Christ alone, in whom they are fully and completely happy and blessed, their consciences are calm and cheerful. And indeed no man knows Christ aright, unless he gives him this honor of relying entirely upon him.
Others explain it to mean, that Abraham, being already dead, enjoyed the presence of Christ, when he appeared to the world; and so they make the time of desiring and the time of seeing to be different. And indeed it is true, that the coming of Christ was manifested to holy spirits after death, of which coming they were held in expectation during the whole of their life; but I do not know if so refined an exposition agrees with Christ's words.
57. Thou art not yet fifty years old. They endeavor to refute Christ's saying, by showing that he had asserted what was impossible, when he who was not yet fifty years of age makes himself equal to Abraham, who died many centuries before. Though Christ was not yet thirty-four years of age, yet they allow him to be somewhat older, that they may not appear to be too rigid and exact in dealing with him; as if they had said, |Thou certainly wilt not make thyself so old, though thou wert to boast that thou art already fifty years of age.| Consequently, those who conjecture that he looked older than he actually was, or that the years mentioned in this passage are not solar years, in either case labor to no purpose. The notion of Papias, who says that Christ lived more than forty years, cannot at all be admitted.
58. Before Abraham was. As unbelievers judge only from the appearance of the flesh, Christ reminds them that he has something greater and higher than human appearance, which is hidden from the senses of the flesh, and is perceived only by the eyes of faith; and that, in this respect, he might be seen by the holy fathers, before he was manifested in the flesh. But he uses different verbs. Before Abraham was, or, Before Abraham was born, I am. But by these words he excludes himself from the ordinary rank of men, and claims for himself a power more than human, a power heavenly and divine, the perception of which reached from the beginning of the world through all ages.
Yet these words may be explained in two ways. Some think that this applies simply to the eternal Divinity of Christ, and compare it with that passage in the writings of Moses, I am what I am, (Exodus 3:14.) But I extend it much farther, because the power and grace of Christ, so far as he is the Redeemer of the world, was common to all ages. It agrees therefore with that saying of the apostle, Christ yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, (Hebrews 13:8.) For the context appears to demand this interpretation. He had formerly said that Abraham longed for his day with vehement desire; and as this seemed incredible to the Jews, he adds, that he himself also existed at that time. The reason assigned will not appear sufficiently strong, if we do not understand that he was even then acknowledged to be the Mediator, by whom God was to be appeased. And yet the efficacy which belonged, in all ages, to the grace of the Mediator depended on his eternal Divinity; so that this saying of Christ contains a remarkable testimony of his Divine essence.
We ought also to observe the solemn form of an oath, Verily, verily. Nor do I disapprove of the opinion of Chrysostom, that the present tense of the verb is emphatic; for he does not say, I was, but I am; by which he denotes a condition uniformly the same from the beginning to the end. And he does not say, Before Abraham was, but, Before Abraham was made; which implies that Abraham had a beginning.
59. Then they took up stones. There is reason to believe that they did this, as if Christ ought to be stoned according to the injunction of the Law, (Leviticus 24:16.) Hence we infer how great is the madness of inconsiderate zeal; for they have no ears to know the cause, but they have hands ready to commit murder. I have no doubt that Christ rescued himself by his secret power, but yet under the appearance of a low condition; for he did not intend to make a clear display of his Divinity without leaving something for human infirmity. Some copies have the words, And so Jesus passed through the midst of them; which Erasmus justly considers to have been borrowed from the Gospel by Luke 4:30. It deserves notice also, that the wicked priests and scribes, after having banished Christ,
in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead,
retain possession of the outward temple; but they are greatly deceived, when they think that they have a temple in which God does not dwell. Such is the course now pursued by the Pope and his followers. After having banished Christ, and in this manner profaned the Church, they foolishly glory in the false disguise of a Church.