This entry is part 45 of 114 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Mt 16:27f – “The Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Mk 8:38-9:1 – “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Lk 9:26f – “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you most certainly, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God”
The very difficulty of this saying argues for its authenticity.
Some think that Jesus is referring to:
(a) The Parousia. This is suggested by what immediately precedes this saying, which in all three Synoptic Gospels refers to the Son of Man coming in glory with his angels in judgement.
According to this view, Jesus is here affirming that the parousia would take place within the life-times of those present. Such an expectation seems to have been widespread in the early church (see 2 Pet 3:4, and also Jn 21:23 as a counter to this expectation). Of course, however, the parousia did not happen, and so sceptics argue that Jesus was mistaken in his prediction. According to atheist John Loftus, ‘no amount of theological gerrymandering can escape the conclusion that Jesus was wrong’ (God or Godless, p135).
Hooker (on Mark) inclines towards this view:
‘Christians have often been reluctant on doctrinal grounds to come to such a conclusion, though this reluctance could be seen as a failure to grasp the doctrine of incarnation and the limits of human knowledge which that implies. But this problem of the non-arrival of the Kingdom in power has tended to obscure the fact that the saying is not so much a prediction of a particular event as a confident declaration of the final establishment of God’s purposes. Although the affirmation that the Kingdom will arrive within the lifetime of some of Jesus’ hearers is repeated in Mark 13:30, both these promises lack any precise dating and contain none of the elusive references to future dating which are found in apocalyptic writings: the Kingdom is expected in the foreseeable future, but not on any particular day. Even if we conclude that Jesus was in some sense wrong, we may well wish to affirm also that he was in some sense right: the vindication he confidently expected took place—in the resurrection—but the final ‘coming’ of the Kingdom and of the Son of man still belong to the future.’
Hooker’s appeal to the doctrine of incarnation is unsatisfactory. It is one thing to assert that our Lord’s knowledge was limited (as he himself confessed that it was, on this very subject), and quite another to accuse him of being mistaken.
Morris (on Matthew) notes that Jesus
‘consistently refused to set dates, and in any case he said explicitly that he did not know when the End would come (Mt 24:36).’
(b) The transfiguration. Blomberg (NAC) thinks that the reference is to the Transfiguration, which is the next-mentioned event and is the foretaste of the Resurrection. 2 Pet 1:16-16 would seem to support this interpretation.
One problem here is that it is difficult to see why Jesus would talk about ‘some’ of those present not ‘seeing death’ until they had witnessed an event that was just six days away:
‘But recall the urgency with which Jesus is calling for response to his mission. Even his closest followers have tried to hinder him under the influence of Satan (16:23), and Judas will betray him under the possession of Satan (26:21-25, 47-50; cf. John 13:27). Taking up the cross in discipleship is not something that a person can put off, because death or the coming of the Son of Man will bring with it certain accountability and judgment. Jesus is saying, now to the Twelve, that they must weigh carefully whether or not they have truly taken up their cross, because judgment is sooner than they think.’ (Wilkins, Holman Apologetics Commentary)
(c) His triumph on the cross, confirmed by the resurrection, Col 2:15. Edwards (Pillar, Mark) notes that the context of this saying is not the parousia, but the death and resurrection of Christ, Mk 8:31, which did take place within the lifetime of those present. ‘The coming of the kingdom with power’ then refers specifically to the resurrection, which is anticipated in the story of the transfiguration which follows.
In his commentary on Luke, Edwards notes that
‘The placement of this logion in all three Synoptics between Jesus’ teaching on discipleship and the transfiguration (v. 27; Matt 16:28; Mark 9:1) relates it to suffering and exaltation, both of which are more analogous to Jesus’ death and resurrection than to his second coming.’
F.F. Bruce (Hard Sayings of the Bible) suggests that the following understand is at least consistent with the words of Jesus (if not actually required by them:
‘With the death and exaltation of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost following, some of those who were witnesses of his mighty works in Galilee and elsewhere saw the power of the kingdom of God manifested on a scale unmatched during his ministry. Within a few weeks, the number of his followers multiplied tenfold; his kingdom was visibly on the march.’
The Transfiguration, soon to follow, would anticipate this coming of the kingdom ‘with power’. Note that, according to Mk 9:9, Jesus instructed the disciples not to speak of what they had seen until after the resurrection.
(d) His ascension. France sees a clear connection between this saying and Daniel 7.
‘To speak of “the Son of Man coming” echoes the language of Dan 7:13–14 (as it did in 10:23), and here the added themes of glory, angels, judgment and seeing confirm that the words are to be interpreted in terms of Daniel’s vision. This is, then, a prediction of the vindication and enthronement of the Son of Man after his suffering and death, and that prediction is here given an even more explicit and emphatic time-limitation: it will be while some of those present are still alive. This time-limit is a remarkably persistent element in the allusions to Dan 7:13–14 in this gospel: in 10:23 this “coming” will be before the disciples have gone through all the towns of Israel; here it will be before some of them die; in 24:30,34 it will be before the present generation is over; in 26:64 it will be seen by those who are Jesus’ judges; and in 28:18 it is, after the resurrection, already a fait accompli. All this weighs heavily against the traditional Christian view that such language is meant to refer to the parousia. Indeed, we shall see in ch. 24 that when the parousia is explicitly spoken of it will be in clear distinction from the events described as the “coming of the Son of Man.” The “coming” is, as in Dan 7, a coming to God to receive power and glory, not a coming to earth.’
(e) The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Archer (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties) favours this interpretation. He cites Jn 14:18, where Jesus reassures his troubled disciples that he will ‘come’ to them. Archer notes that this promise comes just after he has spoken of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. This would be consistent with the ‘coming’ of Christ referred to in Rev 3:20.
Ian Paul favours (c) and (d) combined.
(f) The dramatic expansion of the church after the Resurrection. (Carson)
(g) The destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. According to Morris, this interpretation was favoured by Plummer. But it is difficult to see how this event, momentous though it was, could rightly be described as ‘a coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom’.
Given that Scripture often ‘telescopes’ future events, there is wisdom in the comment of Morris:
‘The Son of man comes in many ways. There is a good deal to be said for a reference to the events linked by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit that led on to the preaching of the gospel and the growth of the church.’
Morris cites Ridderbos as holding that
‘“coming in his kingdom” is a compressed way of referring to the whole exaltation and that it was not until after the resurrection that the disciples would see that there were two parts to the coming in of the kingdom. They would see the early manifestation in the resurrection and what followed immediately, though the final fulfilment of the words is yet future. Some such understanding of Jesus’ words is surely required.’