In three of four Gospel books, Jesus is recorded as saying some who were standing there with him would not die before they saw Him coming in power and glory. And it’s obvious to me at least, that Jesus was absolutely, literally….. correct. Let me show you why.
Here are the Scriptures from the New International Version of the Bible:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
-Jesus (Matthew 16:27-28)
And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
-Jesus (Mark 9:1)
“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
-Jesus (Luke 9:27)
MANY OF THEM SAW THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM IN POWER
Jesus talked a great deal about the spiritual side of his “kingdom.” This is especially obvious when he was speaking to Pilate and said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36). And it wasn’t just the apostle John who wrote his Gospel much later, who was trying to explain things this way. The other Gospels write that when Jesus was talking about the “kingdom of God,” He wasn’t exclusively referring to His return.
Matthew 12:28 records Jesus saying: “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Mark 12:34 records Jesus as being impressed with an answer a teacher of the law gave Him, and replying “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And Luke 9:62 records Jesus commenting on someone who hesitated to be His disciple by saying, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
So the kingdom of God is spiritual in many ways, and that spiritual kingdom literally began on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. And just as Jesus said some standing there would see the kingdom of God come in power and glory, He also pointed to the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in a similar way, saying “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So one could say the “kingdom of God” Jesus referred to, was the spiritual kingdom that came in power in Acts 2. About 120 of them saw that.
The quote from Jesus in Mark and Luke fit with this nicely, however the one in Matthew seems to point more toward an actual, physical return of Christ in power. Look at the context:
Mat 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
Mat 16:28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Obviously, Jesus did not physically return with His angels before those standing there died… so wasn’t He wrong?
Not even close. For one, the kingdom of God is a progressive thing. It grows. Jesus pictured it that way in parables, talked about it in those terms, and the Old Testament prophesied it would be that way: (notice the rock is the kingdom, and the rock GROWS)
Daniel 2:35 and 44-45...But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth…. (and later) ….. the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands–a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.”
So many of those standing saw the beginning of the kingdom of God which the Bible says will fill the whole earth. That final part of course, would culminate with the return of Christ. You may not believe that, but it’s shows that what Jesus said was consistent with what the rest of the Bible said, too.
THREE OF THEM SAW JESUS TRANSFIGURED IN GLORY
In all three accounts, the VERY NEXT SENTENCE starts the story of Peter, James and John being taken by Jesus up to the top of a mountain and there seeing Jesus “transfigured” in glory, and Moses and Elijah appearing with Him. Many Bible teachers and scholars believe this is what Jesus was referring to when He said some standing there would not taste death before they saw the Son of Man coming in power and glory.
Now before I get carried away, the verses weren’t really talking just about Jesus, but about the coming of His kingdom.
Matthew: “before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Mark: “before they see the kingdom of God come with power”
Luke: “before they see the kingdom of God.”
And again, Matthew mentioned Jesus returning with His angels, so even though the very next thing that happened was Jesus becoming transfigured and appearing in glory with Moses and Elijah (And this happening right in front of Peter, James and John), it’s difficult to say how the kingdom of God fits into JUST this scene of the transfiguration. The kingdom of God is a real thing. The spiritual kingdom includes the relationship God has with His children on this earth, the work He does through them, and the work God does through the churches. The physical kingdom is the actual return of Christ, the judgment of this world, and the establishment of an eternal kingdom with God at the head of it. These are the sorts of things involved when speaking of the “kingdom of God” and Jesus being transfigured is only symbolic of that.
So I’m still partial to the first explanation over this one, but my favorite explanation is next because it’s the most obvious of all.
ONE OF THOSE STANDING THERE SAW IT ALL, INCLUDING THE RETURN OF CHRIST
Jesus said something mysterious about John once. Jesus was walking with Peter and Peter noticed John was following and asked about him. Here’s the account:
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
Really, that was sort of cryptic of Jesus to say that. Or was it prophetic? John was also the writer of the book of Revelation, where he writes what he “saw” in a vision about the end. The return of Christ. He wrote stuff like this:
Rev 19:11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.
Rev 19:14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.
Rev 20:11-12 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books
Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER
Many standing there saw the beginning of the kingdom of God as it came in power on the Day of Pentecost. Three of them saw Jesus in His glory on the mountain where he was transfigured before them. One of them saw Jesus returning to earth, saw the judgment of the nations and saw the new heaven and the new earth.
I’d say Jesus was right.