Friday, March 30, 2012

Tasting a Deceased Kingdom

In our studies, we are turning back to the Synoptic Gospel timeline now, where recently Jesus had asked His disciples who they thought that He was. When Simon replied that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus renamed Simon as Peter and claimed that Peter would be given the keys to Heaven. From then on, Jesus told His disciples about how He would be killed in Jerusalem and resurrected on (Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22) or after (Mark 8:31) the third day.

According to Matthew 16:22-23 and Mark 8:32-33, Peter rejected Jesus' vision for the future, so Jesus called him Satan and told him to get out of the way. (Of course, with this incident juxtaposed to Jesus having given Peter the keys to Heaven, this seems to be more evidence suggesting poor aggregation by Matthew of that prior episode.) Luke edited out Jesus calling Peter Satan from his Gospel, probably due to the harshness of such a rebuke or the theological problems it creates.

Tasting a Deceased Kingdom
"Faith is believing in something you know ain’t so." - Mark Twain
Mark Twain was a brilliant satirist. There is no doubt about it, and not just because of his views on religion. With his quote in mind, we are going to take a closer look at some verses and their Christian interpretations, which they "know ain't so." Context defines their meanings, but reality proves them to be incontrovertibly wrong, so we will see the faith that they put into "alternative" meanings.

We will be examining Matthew 16:24-28, Mark 8:34-38 + Mark 9:1, and Luke 9:23-27. The accounts are principally the same, but there are some very notable differences, which I will discuss along the way.

In these passages, Jesus is speaking to His Disciples (Mark has Jesus addressing the crowd too) regarding what they need to do in order to be rewarded by God in the coming days. All three accounts agree (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23) that for someone who wants to be saved, "he must deny himself and take up his cross" and follow Jesus. Luke adds the word "daily" in there, presumably to emphasize the continuous commitment required.

There is a distinct ascetic undercurrent in the instruction to "deny" yourself. We have touched on this theme before in an earlier study on the Sermon on the Mount, where it was clear that Jesus' words encouraged living in poverty; and in another earlier the study regarding the First Mission, where from parallel passages in Luke we saw the call to forsake your family and possessions, and instead only focus on Jesus.

There are scant few Christians today who live ascetic lives, in complete devotion to Christ. The rest of Christianity has come to terms with the fact that such a lifestyle is not practical if the world is not ending anytime soon, and so they simply ignore these verses, or claim that they applied only the the Disciples, or modify the meanings. For example, John Gill claims that this meant to deny the "sinful self, ungodliness, and worldly lusts," but that interpretation is undermined by the verses which follow.

The next two or three verses (depending on the verse count) provide the familiar refrains of whoever seeks to save his life will loose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus will gain (eternal) life, and it will profit a man nothing if he gains the world but loses his soul (Matthew 16:25-26, Mark 8:35-37, and Luke 9:24-25). In other words, forsake this life, and focus on the next one, because owning the entire world would not do you any good in the next life. So while Gill's version of "deny" was probably an aspect of that command, its full rendition is seen by the accompanying suggestion of actually losing your life for Jesus. This is far deeper than just trying to be a good little boy or girl who is unimpressed by materialism.

The next verse is the most varied in these passages; Matthew 16:27, Mark 8:38, and Luke 9:26. I will combine these three into one verse, and color-code it so that you can see the sources. What is common to all three will be in black. Matthew-only will be in red. Mark-only will be blue. Luke-only will be purple. Mark-Luke overlap will be in brown. Here are Jesus' composite words, in bold for enhanced color visibility:
"If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in His Father's glory with the holy angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done."
The differences in the versions are really trivial. Mark adds a little extra condemnation of the people of his time. Luke makes sure that Jesus gets His share of the glory too. Also, Mark and Luke emphasize how Jesus would be ashamed of those who were ashamed to follow Him, which is an implication of a judgement, and that same judgement is more-directly proclaimed in Matthew's exclusive words.

So we have a clear sense of that verse: It is referring to Jesus' Second Coming, and at that time Jesus will show up with angles and will execute judgement on all of mankind based on what they have done. This agrees with James 2:14-26, that it is what you do that matters, not just what you believe.

Continuing on, the next verse is where Christian interpretations really go haywire. There is much better consensus between Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, and Luke 9:27 than with the last verse, but I will render another amalgam for you in the same color-coding as above:
"I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His/the Kingdom of God with power."
In context with the verse above, it is plainly evident that this is still referring to Jesus' Second Coming, when the actual Kingdom of God will become established. Furthermore, the establishment of that Kingdom would occur soon, at some subsequent time which was no farther away than one human lifespan.

The implicit fact that "some" would die before seeing the Kingdom also suggests that perhaps significant time would pass before the manifestation of the Kingdom, perhaps five to ten years, perhaps decades, but this could also be a reference to Judas Iscariot, the Disciple who would later kill himself before Jesus' resurrection due to the guilt of betraying Jesus. So this is a weak point at best.

When the Kingdom does come, this is going to be an unmistakeable event, as is implied from Mark's "with power," where the Greek word for power is "dunamei," which shares the same root for the English word "dynamite." In fact, seeing the Kingdom of God with power could be another way of saying that the Kingdom of God would be firmly established at that time, as opposed to just beginning.

The Second Coming and establishment of the actual Kingdom of God interpretation is so evident that John Gill begins his exegesis of Matthew 16:28 with its refutation: (punctuation slightly adjusted for clarity)
"...till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom;" which is not to be understood of [Jesus'] personal coming in His kingdom in the last day, when He will judge quick and dead...
You know you are in likely in trouble when you begin by explaining why something does not mean what it appears to mean, and even more so when you ignore its surrounding context.

To Gill's credit, he also later refutes the notion that this verse may be referring to the Transfiguration. Instead, Gill explains the meaning as:
...of the appearance of [Jesus'] kingdom, in greater glory and power, upon His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension to heaven; when the Spirit was poured down in an extraordinary manner, and the Gospel was preached all over the world; was confirmed by signs and wonders, and made effectual to the conversion and salvation of many souls; which many then present lived to see, and were concerned in: though [this verse] seems chiefly to have regard to His coming, to show His regal power and authority in the destruction of the Jews; when those his enemies that would not He should reign over them, were ordered to be brought and slain before Him; and this the Apostle John, for one, lived to be a witness of.
Gill covers here nearly all of the Christian explanations which I have countered on this verse. It is interesting that Gill does partially come to terms with Jesus coming with power, but mistakenly applies it to the destruction of the Jews. It was Titus who led the Roman legions against Jerusalem, not Jesus.

Matthew Henry does add a small tweak of interpretation with: (with which John Wesley also agrees)
At the end of time, [Jesus] shall come in His Father's glory; but now, in the fulness of time, He was to come in His own Kingdom, his mediatorial Kingdom.
So let us sum up the given Christian interpretations of seeing Jesus coming in His Kingdom with power, and refute them as we go:
  • The Transfiguration (sometimes thought of as a glimpse of Heaven or and emblem of what was to come, but has nothing to with the establishment of the Kingdom)
  • Jesus' Resurrection (has nothing to do with seeing Jesus come in His Kingdom)
  • Jesus' Ascension into Heaven (has Jesus going somewhere else, not coming in His Kingdom)
  • Pentecost (has nothing to do with seeing Jesus or His Kingdom*)
  • When the Gospel message was preached to the world (has nothing to do with seeing Jesus come in His Kingdom with power*)
  • When the Roman legions, under the command of Titus, crushed the Jewish rebellion and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE (has nothing to do with seeing Jesus come in His Kingdom)
  • When Jesus established His "mediatorial" Kingdom (which nobody can actually see)
The "*" flagged points indicate a possible alternative definition; that gaining believers and building the "kingdom" of the church was seeing Jesus coming in His Kingdom. This is the "faith" which I spoke of in the beginning of the post, because Christians choose to isolate this verse from the context of the preceding one in order to make this interpretation, which they know is not the way that they should be reading the Scriptures. Furthermore, they have to isolate this verse from Jesus' message which He began proclaiming at the very start of His public ministry, with its associated prophesies, in order to maintain that position. Jesus said the time has come for judgement and the establishment of the Kingdom of God, but Christians have faith that He meant something else.


  1. I vote for the Transfiguration. The fact that it is "already widely refuted by Christian scholars" adds to its likelihood, in my view.

  2. @tom sheepandgoats
    Always the contrarian, huh tom? Do you run a hedge fund, by any chance? ;-)

    Given that the Transfiguration happened a mere six days later (or eight days later according to Luke), proclaiming that some people would not taste death before they saw it is a little melodramatic, is it not? :-)

  3. Is that the only reason scholars refute it?

  4. @tom sheepandgoats
    I am not sure. The scholars I "consulted" were the "classics" at In my mental library of sermons I have heard regarding these verses, I have no recollection of anyone else suggesting that the Transfiguration was what was meant here. That is how I drew the conclusion that it was "widely" refuted, but perhaps that is not a justifiable statement.

    Is that the Jehovah's Witness position?

    I would have other objections as well. Jesus was not "coming" anywhere in that scene. Rather, He was was standing there. While the transfiguration to white clothing and a glowing countenance, and talking God-cloud, could be a show of power, there is very little which is actually kingdom related. Jesus is not enthroned (nor is God for that matter) and is not ruling anyone. He is just having a conversation with some old friends, so to speak, while making sodium hypochlorate envious of His whitening power.

  5. Is that the Jehovah's Witness position?

    It is, mainly because it is the most obvious in context. Plus, you have convincingly ruled out the other options, whereas for this choice you merely have "objections." Coming from you, I count that as an endorsement. :-)

    How is it "to Gill's credit" that he refutes that interpretation of Jesus' words? What reasons does he offer?

  6. @tom sheepandgoats
    My apologies, tom, but I am not convinced of that interpretation as a reasonable possibility. Perhaps I would change my tune after seeing the thought process behind it. Would you care to explain that view, or is there a handy-dandy link you could provide explaining that view?

    I said "to Gill's credit" because I had thought that it was not really a feasible theory at all, but perhaps I am missing something. Gill, and in fact all of the "classics" who mention that as a possibility (which I think is just Matthew Henry, besides Gill) dismiss it by mentioning it in passing, as if it was not worth their effort to rebut because it is already known to be false.
    Maybe I would be willing to entertain the Transfiguration theory if I understood it better. So, would you like to help with that?

  7. if it was not worth their effort to rebut....

    Their talents and time must be valuable indeed if they cannot deign to waste them on analyzing the verses that immediately follow Jesus' words with regard to coming into his kingdom

  8. @tom sheepandgoats
    ...but that would not explain why Jesus' Disciples would later ask Him the signs of His coming in Matthew 24:3. In fact, that later verse would appear in direct contradiction with such an interpretation. Perhaps that is why they dismissed it so easily.

  9. The word used at Matthew 24:3 is parousia. It is not the same word Luke uses at 9:27 and it's nice when translators are discerning enough to reflect the difference in their works. Some are.

  10. @tom sheepandgoats
    For reference, lexicon links:

    I am terribly sorry, maybe it is because I have worked a long day, but I do not see why you are bringing up Luke's version. As I note above with the color coding, Luke does not speak of seeing Jesus coming in His Kingdom, just seeing the Kingdom of God. Are you suggesting that Matthew's account is wrong because it does not agree with Luke?

    Also, yes, Matthew 24:3 uses parousia (, which is "presence, a coming, arrival, advent," and it agrees with the different word used in the above quoted Matthew 16:28 "erchomai" (, which is "to come, go." So we have Jesus claiming He would come (again) in Matthew 16:28, and the Disciples asking Jesus what the signs would be of His arrival in Matthew 24:3.

  11. Oops. My mistake. Sorry. Matthew's account is what I meant to say, not Luke's. As you point out, Matthew is the one who writes of 'coming' at 16:28. Luke doesn't. Long day here, too, I guess.

    I can picture you a thousand years from now reviewing news accounts of Obama's election, each reporter including details or words that the other leaves out, and concluding the entire election is malarky on that account.

    To me, it just seems childish to make a huge deal about the various wordings, as though reporters today would not do the same covering a contemporary news event. What if the three gospel writers all gave word for word the same description of Jesus' statement? Wouldn't you attack that as evidence of collusion? He probably said other things, too, which none of them picked up on. (John 21:25)

    Or, two thousand years from now, might you not read of Obama's 'coming to power' in short reports that dramatically differ, since one deals with his election and another his inauguration, and figure historians are trying to flim-flam you thereby?

    It's a complex event is what I'm saying, his assuming kingdom power, with many different features. You shouldn't expect it to be laid out for you like a child's primer.

    I don't know that I want to go into Matt 24:3, because it's an entirely new subject, not something dealt with in your post. I'll wait till you get there with a separate post.

    But neither do I quite know how to follow up on your analysis of the transfigration, with your insistance that since they are standing, not 'coming,' it can't possibly be what Matthew refered to only verses if nobody gets to be anywhere without coming to that place. Not to mention your discerning great significance from the absense of thrones, as if kings sit on their rears 24/7 and the minute they get up they cease to be kings.

    I just don't know how to deal with it. Maybe I should punt for now.

  12. @tom sheepandgoats
    I am not sure where your pedantic rant came from with regards to what we are discussing here. I was suggesting all of the accounts working together, describing Jesus coming in His Kingdom with power, not really nit-picking the differences in the accounts. (Not to say that I do not take such an approach, when I feel that it is justified, but I was not suggesting that regarding our debated verse.) On the contrary, as you may remember, it was your (now admittedly mistaken) mention of the difference between Luke and Matthew which prompted my question about contradiction, and I was asking in terms of your belief.

    If you were to punt now, that would come across that you have an indefensible belief regarding these verses. I can handle any complexities in order to understand what you want to communicate. Reading your blog, I am fairly certain that you have the ability to communicate such complexities effectively. My references to the throne and other such specifics were examples; evidences of the "trappings" of kingship which would make it inherently obvious to any observer that Jesus was coming in His Kingdom at the moment of the Transfiguration. And, of course, there are many definitions of "coming," but standing around talking to old friends about future plans is generally not one of them. Lacking such obvious queues, the matter becomes far more subjective, and therefore a position suggesting that this verse is referring to the Transfiguration demand an explanation, which you have continued to dance around despite my continued questioning for you to provide an explanation.

    My goodness. I have no qualms about sharing my foolish beliefs and bearing them naked to the world. Why is it so difficult for you to take a stand for yourself, tom? There is playing softball. There is playing hardball. And then there is taking your ball and going home. You seem to be opting for the latter case here.

  13. Okay. I won't punt. You must admit it's courageous to go for broke on the fourth down.

    If, in the Book of Pedanticles, Sheepandgoats says he is going shopping, and the very next verse shows him in a new place with some of the “trappings” of shopping, say a shopping cart, surely it's an obtuse critic who can't put the two together. Alright, so not all of the trappings are there. There's no BOGOs, no piles of oranges, and he's not carrying coupons. Must these critics have everything spelled out for them?

    Maybe stretching my credulity almost to snapping, I can justify a critic not settling on this explanation, but to think it beneath him to even consider it amazes me. Yet according to your post, that's exactly what they do. And you appear to agree with them. (Why they might do this is the subject of my current post; I've gotten into the spirit of the subject, also)

  14. @Everyone reading this
    In the original post above, in the summary of Christian responses to Jesus coming in His Kingdom, I had originally written:

    "The Transfiguration (already widely refuted by Christian scholars)"

    The "already widely refuted by Christian scholars" is not the most accurate way of explaining this, as there is a difference between disagreeing with the interpretation and actually refuting it, so I will change it with my own refutation after this debate with tom sheepandgoats.

    In going back over the classic Christian commentaries, it appears that my earlier comment in this string that they "dismiss it by mentioning it in passing, as if it was not worth their effort to rebut because it is already known to be false" is not accurate, but is a rather poor glossing over of the details. It is not exactly wrong, but it is not exactly right either, depending on which of the classic commentaries you refer to. For a more complete picture, head over to tom's site, where I will add my next comment with quotes from those commentaries.

    For those who want to skip the tiny url tom provided, you can go to

    Finally, tom was eventually forthcoming with his thoughts on seeing the Transfiguration as the meaning behind Jesus words discussed in this post. So head on over there for the conclusion of this debate.

  15. TWF:

    For what it's worth,among the early interpretations of this event, 2 Peter 1:16-18 seems to lend itself to Christ's words being fulfilled at Mount Tabor:

    "16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,i with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain."

    As well as a number of Church Fathers. I'm guessing this goes with a more "vestigial" interpretation of the passages in question. The NASB seems to go with this solution to the troublesome reading, given they separate Matthew 16:24-27 from Matthew 16:28. I think there is some logic to this as the first few verses appear to have a focus on "salvation" concluding with Christ's mention of his coming when he will repay each according "to his deeds", while the last verse switches the focus to the coming of Christ in "glory" (in his kingdom) rather than as a setting for judgment, and is seemingly marked off by a "Truly I say to you...". This seems to also be implied in that all three Gospels have this segment immediately followed by a Transfiguration account where "some" saw Christ glorified. I'm sure you've covered more commentary arguments. May I recommend, however, an addition of to the reference links as they seem to have a more substantial number of commentaries onsite?

    May all be well with you and with your family,
    especially during your busy times and travels,
    Felix Zamora

  16. Hi Felix,

    Thanks for the comment. Sorry for the delay... even more chaos than normal. I hope to actually read your comment, consider, and reply by the weekend.

    Best wishes.

  17. Hi Felix,

    Thanks for the additional interpretation. I don't think I had considered 2 Peter 1:16-18 when I wrote this post. Considering it now, though, it seems a bit anticlimactic to be connected to Matthew 16:24-28 and tying in the Transfiguration. Perhaps that is just my bias reasoning speaking, but allow me to make the case in brief:

    2 Peter 1:16-18 centers on hearing the voice of God proclaiming Jesus as His son, so much so that that is the only extent of majesty, honor, and glory mentioned, and Peter emphasizes his being an eyewitness to that.

    However, this was not the first time such majesty, honor, and glory was allegedly displayed. You may remember how the same voice from Heaven came to pronounce the same thing during Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). This message was revealed to far more people than just the few Disciples during the Transfiguration, and so presumably is the more noteworthy in-kind divine interaction.

    Not only that, but if we consider Jesus' earlier words in Matthew 16:15-17, God had already revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Son of God.

    These two facts in the storyline take a lot of the potential potency in supporting the Transfiguration interpretation from Peter's proclamation in 2 Peter 1:16-18, for what was revealed to him on that mountain was nothing more than what had been said before and what he already knew. So such an interpretation takes Jesus' powerful prophesy in Matthew 16:24-28 and turns it into a rather bland forecast of a revealing of an already known truth.

    I'll put up the link.

    Best wishes to you and yours.