FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #9
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 they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
Question: Is the Son of Man coming “in his Father’s glory with his angels” (v.27) the same as “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (v.28)? What does Jesus mean when he says, “Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”?
It might be because I’ve been trained by CAPTOR this summer but, as soon as I start to engage a passage like this I want to know: what’s the context? So, let’s start there.
Jesus is talking to his disciples (v.24). He is making sure they understand the requirements necessary to be his disciple and then goes on to talk about the benefit: being his disciple will cost you now but faithful, sacrificial discipleship is the only way to get rewarded when Jesus returns. Further, the reward will far surpass whatever it might cost you to follow Jesus. Immediately after Jesus’ prediction, we read of Jesus’ transfiguration with Peter, James, and John as eyewitnesses (17:1-8).
When I read statements like “the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels” and “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” I immediately think Jesus must be referring to his eventual return. However, I need to remember that Jesus consistently spoke of his kingdom both as something that was currently established and yet to come. In this case, I think Jesus is talking about both his future return (“”the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person…”) and the present experience of his kingdom (v.28).
Why do I think that Jesus is not talking about his future return when he talks about “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”? The clue is in his prediction that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” I am quite confident that everyone who was standing there at that time has experienced death. So, unless Jesus was mistaken about when he would return, his prediction in verse 28 cannot be referring to his future return.
Without going into tonnes of detail, people have a few theories about what Jesus was referring to: his transfiguration, his resurrection, Pentecost, the spread of the kingdom through the missionary activity of the Church, or all of the above.
I think Jesus was referring to his transfiguration six days later: first, some of those standing there (James, John, Peter) were witnesses to Jesus’ kingdom glory; second, Peter indicates that his participation in the transfiguration confirms the promise of Jesus’ return (2 Peter 1:16-18); and, by having the transfiguration follow immediately after Jesus’ prediction, I think Matthew, under the direction of the Spirit, wants us to tie the transfiguration to the prediction.
This means “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” refers most directly to the transfiguration, which is a foreshadowing and guarantee of the future glory when “the Son of man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and… reward each person according to what they have done.” In the context, Jesus is saying that it will cost you to follow him but it will be worth it. Peter points to the transfiguration as evidence that this is true – the message of 2 Peter 1 is, “Hold firm to your calling despite the cost. I know it’s worth it because I got a glimpse of the glory that is to come. You don’t want to miss it!”
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