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Commentary On John Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

John 11:45-52

45. Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.46. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done.47. Then the chief priests and Pharisees assembled the council, and said, What do we? for this man doth many miracles.48. If we let him go on thus, all will believe on him; and the Romans will come, and will take away our place and nation.49. But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was the high priest of that year, said to them, You know nothing at all, 50. Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.51. Now this he spoke, not of himself, but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation; 52. And not for that nation only, but that he might assemble, in one body, the children of God who were scattered abroad.

45. Many therefore of the Jews believed on him. Christ did not permit the miracle which he had wrought to be without fruit, for by means of it he drew some persons to the faith. For we ought to understand that miracles have a twofold use. They are intended either to prepare us for faith, or to confirm us in faith. The former is here denoted by the Evangelist; for he means that those of whom he speaks regarded Christ with admiration and reverence, so as to submit to be his disciples; otherwise the bare miracle could not have been sufficient to produce faith. Accordingly, by the word believe we must not suppose anything else to be meant than a willingness to embrace the doctrine of Christ.

46. But some of them went away to the Pharisees. In those who accuse Christ we behold detestable ingratitude, or rather horrible rage, from which we infer how blind and mad is their impiety. The resurrection of Lazarus ought undoubtedly to have softened even hearts of stone; but there is no work of God which impiety will not infect and corrupt by the bitterness of its poison. So then, before men can profit by miracles, their hearts must be purified; for they who have no fear of God, and no reverence for him, though they saw heaven and earth mingled, will never cease to reject sound doctrine through obstinate ingratitude. Thus you will see in the present day many enemies of the Gospel, like fanatics, fighting with the open and visible hand of God. And yet they demand miracles from us, but it is for no other purpose than to show that, in stubborn resistance, they are monsters of men. As to the report being carried to the Pharisees rather than to any others, it is because, in proportion to their hypocrisy, they were more fierce in opposing the Gospel. For the same reason he soon afterwards makes express mention of them, when he relates that the council was assembled. They were indeed a part of the priests, but are specially named by the Evangelist, because they served the purpose of bellows to kindle the rage of the whole council

47. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled the council. Not less monstrous is the blindness of the priests, which is here described. If they had not been exceedingly stupid and brutish, they would at least have been impressed with some reverence for Christ, after so striking a demonstration of his Divine power. They now assemble deliberately and intentionally to bury the glory of God, at the sight of which they are constrained to be astonished. True, they do not openly proclaim that they wish to make war with God, but as they cannot extinguish Christ but by overturning the power of God, they unquestionably fight against that power openly by presumption and sacrilege. Infidelity indeed is always haughty, and despises God, but does not all at once break out to such an extent as to raise its horns against God. But when men have long struggled against God, the result at which they ultimately arrive is, that they endeavor to ascend above heaven, after the manner of the giants, without any dread of the Divine majesty; for they acknowledge that Christ doth many miracles And whence proceeds his great power? They therefore openly prepare to crush the power of God, which shines in the miracles of Christ. Yet God is not unemployed; but though he wink at them for a time, he laughs at their foolish arrogance, till the time come for executing his wrath, as it is said, (Psalm 2:4, 12.)

What do we? By these words they accuse themselves of sloth, as if they said that it is on account of their doing nothing, that Christ continues to make advances, because by active exertion they may stop his progress. Such is the confidence of wicked men, by which they lay claim to everything, as if it were in their power to do as they please, and as if even the result of the work depended on their wishes. And if the whole be duly weighed, they here employ their own industry as a shield against the Divine power, as if by perseverance they could vanquish God.

48. If we let him alone thus. What if they do not let him alone? In that case, as we have already said, they are fully convinced that it lies in their power to block up Christ's path, so that he shall go no farther, provided that they earnestly strive against him. If Christ had been some impostor, their duty would have been to employ their exertions, that he might not lead away the sheep from the Lord's flock; but by confessing his miracles, they make it sufficiently evident that they do not care much about God, whose power they so boldly and disdainfully despise.

The Romans will come. They cloak their wickedness by a plausible disguise, their zeal for the public good. The fear that chiefly distressed them was, that their tyranny would be destroyed; but they pretend to be anxious about the temple and worship of God, about the name of the nation, and about the condition of the people. And what is the object of all this? For they do not appear to seek pretences of this nature in order to deceive. They are not haranguing the people, but are holding in secrecy a private consultation among themselves. Being all aware that they are guilty of the same treachery, why do they not openly bring forward their plans and opinions? It is because impiety, though gross and manifest, is almost always accompanied by hypocrisy, and thus wraps itself in indirect evasions or subterfuges, so as to deceive under the semblance of virtue. Their chief design undoubtedly was, to hold out some appearance of gravity, moderation, and prudence, so as to practice imposition upon others; but it may readily be believed that, when they pretended to have just ground for persecuting Christ, they were themselves deceived by that poor disguise. Thus hypocrites, though their conscience reproves them within, are afterwards intoxicated by vain imaginations, so that in sinning they appear to be innocent. Yet they evidently contradict themselves; for at first they confessed that Christ did many miracles, and now they dread the Romans, as if there had not been abundantly sufficient protection in the power of God, which showed itself to be present by those miracles

The Romans will come. The Evangelist means, that the chief object of their consultation was, to guard against imminent danger. |If the Romans,| they say, |knew that any innovation was made in public matters, there is reason to fear that they would send an army to ruin our nation, together with the temple and worship of God.| Now it is wicked to consult about guarding against dangers, which we cannot avoid, unless we choose to depart from the right path. Our first inquiry ought to be, What does God command and choose to be done? By this we ought to abide, whatever may be the consequence to ourselves. Those men, on the other hand, resolve that Christ shall be removed from the midst of them, that no inconvenience may arise by allowing him to proceed, as he has begun. But what if he has been sent by God? Shall they banish a prophet of God from among them, to purchase peace with the Romans? Such are the schemes of those who do not truly and sincerely fear God. What is right and lawful gives them no concern, for their whole attention is directed to the consequences.

But the only way to deliberate in a proper and holy manner is this. First, we ought to inquire what is the will of God. Next, we ought to follow boldly whatever he enjoins, and not to be discouraged by any fear, though we were besieged by a thousand deaths; for our actions must not be moved by any gust of wind, but must be constantly regulated by the will of God alone. He who boldly despises dangers, or, at least, rising above the fear of them, sincerely obeys God, will at length have a prosperous result; for, contrary to the expectation of all, God blesses that firmness which is founded on obedience to his word. Unbelievers, on the other hand, are so far from deriving any advantage from their precautions, that, the more timorous they are, the more numerous are the snares in which they entangle themselves.

In this narrative the form and character of our own age are strikingly delineated. They who are desirous to be regarded as prudent and cautious have continually this song in their mouth: |We must consult the public tranquillity; the reformation which we attempt is not unaccompanied by many dangers.| After having raised this unfounded dislike against us, they find no better expedient than to bury Christ, for the purpose of obviating every annoyance. As if such wicked contempt of the grace of God could actually have a prosperous issue, when, in order to allay disturbances, they contrive this remedy, that the doctrine of salvation shall be abolished. On the contrary, what wicked men dread will happen; and though they may obtain what they expect, still it is a most unworthy recompense, to appease the world by offending God.

Will take away our place. It is uncertain whether they mean the temple or their country. They thought that their salvation depended on both; for, if the temple was destroyed, there would be no more sacrifices, or public worship of God, or calling on his name. If, therefore, they cared any thing about religion, they must have been anxious about the temple. It was of great importance, on the other hand, for upholding the condition of the Church, that they should not again be led away out of their own land. They still remembered the captivity into Babylon, which was an awfully severe vengeance of God. It was also a common proverb among them -- which is frequently to be found in the Law -- that it was in some respects a casting them off, if the Lord thrust them out of that land. Hence they conclude that, unless Christ be destroyed, the Church will not be safe.

49. Then one of them, named Caiaphas. It was a short consultation, for Caiaphas did not allow them to hesitate long. He holds out that there is but one way of purchasing safety, and that is, to slay an innocent man. To what a pitch of wickedness do men proceed, who, destitute of the fear of God, form their plans rather from the judgment of their flesh than from the word of God, and who confidently believe that they will derive advantage from that which is not permitted by the Author of every blessing. For what Caiaphas meant may be thus expressed. |They must provoke the wrath of God, in order that they may be happy and prosperous.| Wherefore, let us learn never to separate what is useful from what is lawful, since we ought not to expect any prosperity or success but from the blessing of God, which is promised not to wicked and rebellious persons, who ask assistance from the devil, but to believers who sincerely walk in their ways, (Psalm 91:11.) And yet there was some plausibility in this argument, for the public advantage ought always to have the preference. But -- as I have already said -- a people is no better protected by the unjust death of an innocent man, than the whole body of a man is protected, when you only cut his throat, or pierce his breast with a sword.

Who was the high priest of that year. He does not call him the high priest of that year, as if he meant that the office was annual, and lasted only for a year; but because it had become a gift that could be purchased with money, and was conveyed to various persons contrary to the injunction of the Law. God did not intend that this dignity should be terminated but by the death of him who held it; but, in consequence of trouble and confusion in public affairs, the Romans frequently changed the priests according to their fancy.

51. Now he spoke this, not of himself. When the Evangelist says that Caiaphas did not speak this of himself, he does not mean that Caiaphas -- like one who was mad, or out of his senses -- uttered what he did not understand; for he spoke what was his own opinion. But the Evangelist means that a higher impulse guided his tongue, because God intended that he should make known, by his mouth, something higher than what occurred to his mind. Caiaphas, therefore, might be said, at that time, to have two tongues; for he vomited out the wicked and cruel design of putting Christ to death, which he had conceived in his mind; but God turned his tongue to a different purpose, so that, under ambiguous words, he likewise uttered a prediction. God intended that the heavenly oracle should proceed from the high priest's seat, that the Jews might have less excuse. For, though not one person in the whole assembly had his conscience moved, yet they afterwards perceived that their insensibility was not entitled to forgiveness. Nor did the wickedness of Caiaphas prevent his tongue from being the organ of the Holy Spirit, for God looked at the priesthood which he had instituted rather than at the person of the man. And this was the reason which I glanced at, that a voice uttered from a lofty place might be more distinctly heard, and might have greater reverence and authority. In the same manner, God intended to bless his people by the mouth of Balaam, on whom he had bestowed the spirit of prophecy.

But it is highly ridiculous in the Papists to infer from this that we ought to reckon as an oracle whatever the Roman high priest may think fit to pronounce. First, granting what is false, that every man who is a high priest is also a prophet, still they will be under the necessity of proving that the Roman high priest is appointed by the command of God; for the priesthood was abolished by the coming of one man, who is Christ, and we no where read that it was afterwards enjoined by God that any one man should be the ruler of the whole Church. Granting to them, in the second place, that the power and title of high priest was conveyed to the Bishop of Rome, we must see of what advantage it was to the priests that they accepted the prediction of Caiaphas In order to concur in his opinion, they conspire to put Christ to death. But far from us be that kind of obedience which drives us to horrid apostacy by denying the Son of God. With the same voice Caiaphas blasphemes and also prophesies. They who follow his suggestion despise the prophecy, and adopt the blasphemy. We ought to guard against the same thing happening to us, if we listen to the Caiaphas of Rome; for otherwise the comparison would be defective. Besides, I ask, Must we conclude that, because Caiaphas once prophesied, every word uttered by the high priest is always a prophecy? But soon afterwards Caiaphas condemned as blasphemy (Matthew 26:65) the most important article of our faith. Hence we conclude, that what the Evangelist now relates was an extraordinary occurrence, and that it would be foolish to adduce it as an example.

That Jesus would die. First, the Evangelist shows that the whole of our salvation consists in this, that Christ should assemble us into one; for in this way he reconciles us to the Father, in whom is the fountain of life, (Psalm 36:9.) Hence, also, we infer, that the human race is scattered and estranged from God, until the children of God are assembled under Christ their Head. Thus, the communion of saints is a preparation for eternal life, because all whom Christ does not gather to the Father remain in death, as we shall see again under the seventeenth chapter. For the same reason Paul also teaches that Christ was sent, in order

that he might gather together all things which are in heaven and in earth,
(Ephesians 1:10.)

Wherefore, that we may enjoy the salvation brought by Christ, discord must be removed, and we must be made one with God and with angels, and among ourselves. The cause and pledge of this unity was the death of Christ, by which he drew all things to himself; but we are daily gathered by the Gospel into the fold of Christ.

52. And not for that nation only. The Evangelist means that the reconciliation effected by Christ is also extended to the Gentiles. But how comes it that they who, in consequence of being wretchedly scattered and wandering, became the enemies of God, are here called the children of God? I answer, as has been already said, God had in his breast children, who in themselves were wandering and lost sheep, or rather who were the farthest possible from being sheep, but, on the contrary, were wolves and wild beasts. It is therefore by election that he reckons as the children of God, even before they are called, those who at length begin to be manifested by faith both to themselves and to others.

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