Reading the Bible with Dead Guys: John Calvin on John 11:35

This article is part of the Reading the Bible with Dead Guys series.

Reading the Bible With Dead Guys is a weekly blog series giving you the chance to read God’s Word alongside some great theologians from church history. With content adapted from the Crossway Classic Commentaries series, these posts feature reflections on Scripture by giants of the faith like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, and more.

Today we’ll hear from John Calvin (1509–1564) on John 11:35.

“Jesus wept.” - John 11:35

Had Christ not been sad for their unhappiness, he would have remained unmoved. He voluntarily empathizes with the mourners, even to the point of crying with them. He remembered what he had been commanded by the Father and why he had been sent into the world—to free us from all ills.

This very thing Christ has done, and he wants to show us that he has done it with earnestness and feeling. Accordingly, when he is about to raise Lazarus, before he gives the cure or helps, he is seen to be deeply moved in spirit and to be troubled and to cry, because he is as much moved by our ills as if he had suffered with them himself.

But how can being deeply moved in spirit and being troubled be part of the Son of God? Some people find it absurd when we say that Christ, like other people, was subject to human feelings; they think that the only way he was sad or happy was when he took to heart other people’s emotions, when he thought it was right, through some secret dispensation. It is in this sense, Augustine thinks, that the evangelist says that Christ was deeply moved in the spirit, because other people are swept along by their feelings, which dominate them and so they become troubled. Therefore, he thinks that the meaning here is that Christ, who was otherwise calm and free from all passion, brought groaning and grief on himself of his own accord.

But I think it is more in keeping with Scripture if we make the simple statement that when the Son of God put on our flesh he also, of his own accord, experienced our human feelings, so that he did not
differ in any way from his brothers, except that he never sinned.


John Calvin

This Crossway Classic Commentary encapsulates the basics of the faith, including Christ's nature and the profound meaning of his presence and work on earth.

In this way we take none of Christ’s glory away from him when we say that it was only a voluntary submission by which it came to pass that he was like us in the emotions of the soul. Because he was submissive from the beginning, we must not imagine that he was free and exempt from them. In this way he showed that he was our brother, so that we might know that we have a Mediator who willingly pardons us and is prepared to help our weaknesses which he himself experienced.

This article was adapted from John Calvin’s commentary on John, part of the Crossway Classic Commentaries series edited by Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer.

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