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 TwainMark 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)