Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Who Won't Taste Death?

Biblegems #33
In Matthew 16:28 Jesus makes the surprising statement: 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.

The question is: Just who and when is Jesus talking about? Who standing there won't taste death; and when will they see Him coming in His kingdom?
It is a very reasonable question, especially considering the context immediately preceding this verse. Jesus had just been explaining to His disciples and the surrounding crowd that He was about to go to Jerusalem where He would be arrested by the religious authorities, killed, and then be raised from the dead (Matt. 16:21). He warned them that following Him would require self-sacrifice, but that God would reward such sacrifice at the appearing of the Son of Man in glory (Matt. 16:22-27). Immediately afterward He makes the claim that some in that very crowd would “not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

It is the following verses, however, where Jesus’ puzzling prediction finds its fulfillment. It’s helpful to remember that when the Gospels were first written they did not have chapter and verse separations. Those were added as study aids centuries later. So for us today, coming to end of a chapter has the affect of concluding one scene and moving on to an entirely new scene in the next chapter.

Yet, for the readers of this Gospel prior to the addition of chapter and verse, Jesus’ statement about the Son of Man coming in glory would have merged seamlessly into the next verse. There, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain where He was transfigured before them (17:1-8). These three disciples were the ones Jesus had prophesied about six days earlier. Not only did they get to see the Son of Man in His Kingdom glory, shining brighter than the midday sun, they also witnessed a conversation in the heavenly realms between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, followed by the voice of God Himself! The experience was so overwhelming, all three disciples collapsed in terror (Matt. 17:6).

We tend to associate the coming of the Son of Man in glory with the Return of Jesus at the end of the age (Matthew 24: 30-31). But the coming of the Kingdom actually began with Jesus’ Incarnation. As Jesus Himself announced, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).

Jesus’ Transfiguration reminds us that the Kingdom of God cannot be reduced to a timeline. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:20-21).

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