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Friday, May 6, 2011

What is the meaning of Matthew 16:27-28

Matthew 16:27-28 "For the son of man shall come in the glory of his father... There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom".

The key words here are 'some standing here". He is talking about a group of people in front of him, not a future group of people.It seems that every generation of Christians believes that the end of the world and the return of Jesus will happen during their lifetimes. The first prediction of this sort that I can find is from Saint Paul himself, in his letters, in 1st Thessalonians Chapter 4, when he predicts the prompt return of Jesus at a time when "…we also … are still alive." All you have to do is ask a Christian if Jesus will return during their lifetimes. People are taught by their priests and pastors that Jesus is "coming quickly", and that they should be prepared, because he might pop up at any moment.

If Jesus said he would be returning "quickly", and he said that 2000 years ago, what exactly is going on here? Do we have any information as to when the writers of the New Testament foretold the return of Jesus? Actually, we have very good information on that. We have nearly precise information. There is scriptural evidence that those who wrote about Jesus intended for him to come back during the lifetimes of those who first followed him. That's right... in the First Century.

First, let us look at the gospel of Mark, chapter 13. (When I reference the gospels, I will refer to them as "Mark" and "Matthew", even though these labels were attached to those texts by the Early Church-- the books are actually anonymous and no one knows who the true authors are). In this chapter, Jesus speaks of a "tribulation", nation rising against nation, earthquakes, and the coming of false Christs and false prophets, the stars falling from the sky, and the coming of the Son of Man "in the clouds with great power and glory". Then, in verse 30, he tells when this will happen. "Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done."

Second, let us look at Matthew (copied from Mark), which contains the same story. The same earthquakes, false prophets, darkening sun, falling stars, etc., and the return of the Son of Man, "coming in the clouds with of heaven with power and great glory." And then in verse 34, he says when to look for all of this commotion: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Pretty conclusive.

Now, there is a rebuttal to this interpretation. It can be found, among other places, in some evangelistic bibles as a footnote in Matthew and Mark.

"The word "Generation", though commonly used in scripture to those living at one time, could not mean here those who are alive at the time of Christ, as none of these things, i.e. the worldwide preaching of the kingdom, the tribulation, the return of the Lord in visible glory, and the regathering of the elect-- occurred then. The expression "this generation" here may mean the future generation which will endure the tribulation and see the signs. Or it may be used in the sense of race or family, meaning the nation of Israel or the Christians will be preserved until these things take place."

This apologist basically says: "It can't mean those living at the time of Jesus, because he would not have said that". They say that "this generation" means the generation that's alive during the tribulations. Let us take a good look at this "explanation". First, the claim that generation could mean race, family, or the nation or tribe of Israel.

What are the Greek words for Nation, Tribe, Family and Generation? Generation is "genea", the root of genealogy. "Family" is "patria". "Tribe" is "phule". "Nation" is "ethnos", as in ethnic. Next, we need to look up these words as they appear in the New Testament, and cross-reference the Greek words with the English words. I have done this. Every single occurrence for Nation that I looked up gave the word "ethnos". Every single occurrence for Generation that I looked up gave the word "genea". When the writers meant nation, they wrote ethnos. When they meant generation, they wrote genea. They were apparently very clear in this. They never used "patria" or "phule" in any of these instances. To prove his case, the evangelistic writer who wrote the "explanation" above must find one instance of the word nation translated from the Greek word genea. Furthermore, if the word genea could have been translated as nation, then why wouldn't the translators have written it as nation? It would certainly have made more sense, if that's what they intended, and they could have prevented a major theological problem. But that's not what they wrote.

So, the rationalization that the bible writers meant "the Nation of Israel" falls to the ground. But what about the other "explanation" that is sometimes offered, that Jesus was speaking about those people who would be witnessing the tribulations in future times? Did he mean that that future generation would not pass until all those things came to be?

This rationalization fails as well. In the first place, Jesus does not say "that generation", he says "this generation". But in fairness, this is could be related to translation. Some have argued, ala Thomas Paine, that this sort of situation (the inability to accurately translate one language into another), is proof that the "Word of God" could never exist in print. Then again, the translation could be perfectly accurate. This is a thing that we can never know, however, since no original version of any of the gospels exist.

But there is more positive proof than this. Jesus makes it clear that he is speaking about the current generation of people. In Matthew 24:4 when the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the world, he "answered and said unto THEM", "Take heed that no man deceive you... ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars... Ye shall see the abomination... etc." He is clearly replying to them, telling them what they shall see. He says that THEY shall see these things. Read it for yourself. Then he concludes by saying: "THIS generation shall not pass" until he comes again. The evidence can be found in Mark chapter 13, starting from verse 5 onward. It is clear that he is speaking to his apostles, answering their inquiry. To say otherwise is to be dishonest.

And yet there is something even stronger than this. The same story is related in Matthew chapter 16. Yet this time, Jesus does not use the word "generation". He again describes how he will come in the glory of his father, with his angels, to judge men according to their works. Then he concludes by saying "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
That is the final nail in the coffin. Matt. 16:28 says there were some men standing there next to Jesus who will see his second coming, and it is totally clear that in Matthew 24:34 and Mark 13:30, Jesus believed the end of the world would come during the lifetimes of his apostles. Jesus says so himself. He thought that he was going to be returning in the First Century. He said: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1:15) Similar statements are to be found in Mark 9:1; 13:30; Matthew 10:23; 23:29-36; and Luke 12:49-50. Jesus' title of "Messiah" literally translated means "inaugurator of the end".
It is clear. There is no reason to doubt that the author of Mark wrote what he intended to write. Christian scholars claim that the book of Mark was written around the year 60 C.E., 35 years after the alleged death of Jesus, and well within the lifetimes of any of his followers. Whoever wrote the text believed that the Messiah would return during his lifetime. And as Matthew was constructed from Mark some decades later, whoever wrote Matthew simply copied this same information.

I was debating with a Christian over the meaning of this verse and pointing out that his opinion was not the only one on this topic. This website shows just how accurate this comment is.

G.R. Beasley-Murray (1954)

"we can now understand what Jesus meant when he spoke of his parousia as of an event which some of his contemporaries would experience (Matthew 10:23, 16:28, John 21:22): he was referring on these occasions to the fall of Jerusalem." (Quoting T. Zahn, Jesus and the Future, p. 130).

Theodore Robinson

" is clear that for some reason or other the first generation of Christians did expect his speedy return, and if this impression was not based on his own language, whence could it have come?" (The Gospel of Matthew, p. 195).

Dean Henry Alford (1868)

(This refers) "to the destruction of Jerusalem and the full manifestation of the kingdom of Christ by the annihilation of the Jewish polity." (in loc.)

Oswald T. Allis (1947)

"Here there is no room for doubt as to the meaning of the expression which describes those who are to witness the coming. It concerns some of those alive and present when the words were uttered. They are to witness the coming. Consequently, we may say with positiveness, that this coming must have taken place during the lifetime of the apostle John. The claim that these words of Jesus referred to the transfiguration is plainly inadequate. That event was too near at hand (about a week distant) to make the fact that some of Jesus' immediate followers would live to see it a sufficiently important matter to mention. The coming referred to seems most likely to be the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, at which time there was so far as we know no visible appearance of Christ." (Prophecy and the Church (Phillipsburg: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947, p 177)

Albert Barnes (1832)

"This generation, &c. - This age; this race of men. A generation is about thirty of forty years. The destruction of Jerusalem took place about forty years after this was spoken. See Notes on Mat. 16:28." (Notes, Matthew 24:34)

John Broadus (1886)

"Six months earlier (in 16:27 f.) he had declared that would come again in the glory of his Father, as the sovereign Judge of mankind; and that some of them then present would live to see him 'coming in his kingdom.' We there found it necessary to understand that the particular coming to which this last phrase especially refers took place at the destruction of Jerusalem, which made Christianity completely and manifestly distinct from Judaism, and established the Messianic kingdom in its permanent present state. The prediction then briefly made by our Lord is now (as a result of Matthew 24:30) more fully unfolded} (vol 1, Matthew, p. 479).

Geneva Marginal Notes (1599)

Matthew 16:28 "This was fulfilled in his resurrection which was as an entrie into his kingdome, and was also confirmed by sending the holie Gost, whereby he wroght so great and sondrie miracles." (in loc.)

S. Greijdanus (1940)

"Then this coming of God's dominion cannot refer to our Lord's resurrection, nor to the gift of the Holy Spirit which were to be realized within the year.... Nor can it refer to our Lord's coming in judgment which is yet even now in abeyance.. Nor can the powerful spread of the gospel be meant, for this already came about within comparatively few years.. We shall have to think of the destruction of Jerusalem.. In it God revealed his kingly dominion in his judgment, a precursor of his judgment of the last day. " (Het heilig Evangelie naar de beschrijving van Lukas, 1:424)

B.W. Johnson

"Till the Son of man be come. A reference primarily, no doubt, to the Lord coming into his kingdom. See #Mt 16:28. He was thus to come in the life time of some of the apostles. He did thus come in the establishment of his kingdom in power on the day of Pentecost. He also came in judgment on the Jews at the destruction of Jerusalem. This event ended Jewish persecution. There is also the final coming to judge the world, but the meaning here does not include that." (in loc.)

Johann Peter Lange (1857)

'emphatically placed at the beginning of the sentence; not a simple future, but meaning, The event is impending that He shall come; He is about to come.' (in loc.)

Philip Mauro

"After much deliberation, whether the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, or the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, was the Second Coming of the Son of God, Mr. Mauro finally made his choice and decided that the destruction of Jerusalem was the Coming of the Lord and that it fulfilled the definite and precise promise recorded by Matthew: —Verily I say unto you, that there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“ (Matthew 16:28)" - The Kingdom of God: What, When, Where? (PDF) - An Answer to Mauro's Gospel of the Kingdom

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910)

"Verse 28 adds, with His solemn 'verily,' a confirmation of this announcement of His coming to judge. The question of what event is referred to may best be answered by noting that it must be one sufficiently far off from the moment of speaking to allow of the death of the greater number of His hearers, and sufficiently near to allow of the survival of some; that it must also be an event, after which these survivors would go the common road into the grave; that it is apparently distinguished from His coming 'in the glory of the Father,' and yet is of such a nature as to afford convincing proof of the establishment of His kingdom on earth, and to be, in some sort, a sign of that final act of judgment. All these requirements (and they are all the fair inferences from the words) meet only in the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the national life of the chosen people. That was a crash of which we faintly realise the tremendous significance. It swept away the last remnant of the hope that Israel was to be the kingdom of the Messiah; and from out of the dust and chaos of that fall the Christian Church emerged, manifestly destined for world-wide extension. It was a 'great and terrible day of the Lord,' and, as such, was a precursor and a prophecy of the day of the Lord, when He 'shall come in the glory of the Father,' and 'render unto every man according to his deeds.'" (Exposition of Holy Scriptures, Matt 16:28)

Thomas Newton (1754)

"'The coming of Christ' is also the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, as may appear from several places in the Gospels, and particularly from these two passages; 'There are some standing here,' saith our blessed Lord, 'who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,' Matt xvi. 28, that is, evidently, there are some standing here who shall live, not till they end of the world, to the coming of Christ to judge mankind, but till the destruction of Jerusalem, to the coming of Christ in judgment upon the Jews. In another place, John xxi.22, speaking to Peter concerning John, he saith, 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?' what is that to thee, if I will that he live till the destruction of Jerusalem? as in truth he did, and long. 'The coming of Christ,' and 'the conclusion of the age,' being therefore only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, the purpose of the question plainly is, when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it?'" (Newton, p. 374)

C. Jonathan Seraiah

"It is true that the "eschatology" of the New Testament is predominantly preterist. For those unfamiliar with the preterist perspective, it is the ancient view that many of the eschatological passages of the New Testament were fulfilled (completely) in the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. This view may sound novel, but in reality there have been orthodox adherents to it throughout church history (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, John Lightfoot, John Owen, Milton Terry, Jay Adams). This interpretation does not deny the Final Coming of Christ; it merely finds that not all "coming" passages refer to that event. The preterist interpretation is actually the most faithful to the biblical text because it recognizes that Old Testament prophetic terminology was used by the New Testament authors. This recognition is helpful in distinguishing the prophecies of Christ's coming that were near, in the first century (Matt. 10:23; 16:28; 24:30; 26:64; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 1:7; James 5:7-9; 1 Pet. 4:7; Rev. 1:3, 7; etc.) and thus fulfilled in a.d. 70, from those that were far (John 5:28-29; Acts 1:11; 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:23-24; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Jn. 3:2; etc.) and thus not yet fulfilled even in our day. It also helps to distinguish between a spiritual "coming" (invisible for temporal judgment, as in a.d. 70) and a physical coming (visible for eternal judgment)." (End of All Things)

R.C. Sproul (1998)

"If the Olivet Discourse refers primarily to events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and if the word generation refers to a forty-year period, then it is possible, if not probable, that Jesus' reference to his coming in Matthew 16:28 refers to the same events, not to the transfiguration or other close-at-hand events." (The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 55)

C.H. Spurgeon

"If a child were to read this passage I know what he would think it meant: he would suppose Jesus Christ was to come, and there were some standing there who should not taste death until really and literally he did come. This, I believe, is the plain meaning." ("An Awful Premonition" in 12 Sermons on the Second Coming of Christ - Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976, 5)

Adam Clarke (1837)

"[Isaiah 65 refers] to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish polity; which in the Gospel is called the coming of Christ and the days of vengeance, Matthew 16:28; Luke 21:22." (Isaiah 65, p. 513)

Gary DeMar (1999)

"If we maintain that the event Jesus is describing is still in our future, then how should we interpret His statement that some of those with whom He was speaking would still be alive when He did in fact 'come in the glory of His Father with His angels'?" (Last Days Madness, p. 43)

Ken Gentry (1989)

"In Mark 9:1 Jesus promises that some of his hearers would not "taste of death" before witnessing the "coming of the kingdom with power." This almost certainly refers to the destruction of the temple at the behest of Christ..." (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. lii)

Henry Hammond (1634)

"V.28. Coming in his kingdome. The nearness of this to the story of Christ's Transfiguration, makes it probable to many, that this coming of Christ is that Transfiguration of his, but that cannot be, because the 27th ver. of the Son of mans coming in his glory with his Angels to reward, &c. (to which this verse clearly connects) cannot be applied to that; And there is another place, Joh. 21.23 (which may help to the understanding of this) which speaks of a real coming, and one principall person (agreeable to what is here said of some standing here) that should tarry, or not die, till that coming of his. And that surely was fulfilled in Johns seeing the pauoleoria, or famous destruction of the Jewes, which was to fall in that generation, Matt. 24. that is, in the life-time of some there present, and is called the kingdome of God, and the coming of Christ, and by consequence here most probably the son of mans coming in his kingdome, (see the Notes on Mat. 3:2, and ch. 24:3.b.) that is, his coming in the exercise of his Kingly office, to work vengeance on his enemies, and discriminate the faithfull believers from them." (in loc.)

John Lightfoot (1889)

"1. That the destruction of Jerusalem is very frequently expressed in Scripture as if it were the destruction of the whole world, Deuteronomy 32:22; "A fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell" (the discourse there is about the wrath of God consuming that people; see verses 20,21), "and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains." Jeremiah 4:23; "I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light," &c. The discourse there also is concerning the destruction of that nation, Isaiah 65:17; "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered," &c. And more passages of this sort among the prophets. According to this sense, Christ speaks in this place; and Peter speaks in his Second Epistle, third chapter; and John, in the sixth of the Revelation; and Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17, &c.

2. That Christ's taking vengeance of that exceeding wicked nation is called Christ's "coming in glory," and his "coming in the clouds," Daniel 7. It is also called, "the day of the Lord." See Psalm 1:4; Malachi 3:1,2, &c.; Joel 2:31; Matthew 16:28; Revelation 1:7, &c. See what we have said on chapter 12:20; 19:28." (Lightfoot, vol. 2, p. 319).

"The destruction of Jerusalem is phrased in Scripture as the destruction of the whole world; and Christ's coming to her in judgment, as his coming to the last judgment. Therefore, those dreadful things, spoken of in Matt. 24:29,30 and 31, are but borrowed expressions, to set forth the terms of that judgment the more.. v.30 - "then shall they see" - not any visible appearance of Christ, or of the cross, in the clouds (as some have imagined); but, whereas Jews would not own Christ before for the Son of Man, or for the Messias, then by the vengeance that he should execute upon them, they and all the world should see an evident sign, and it was so. This, therefore, is called "his coming," and his coming in his kingdom." [A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, ed. Rev. John Rogers Pitman (London: J.F. Dove, 1825), p.141]

"This generation shall not pass, &c. Hence it appears plain enough, that the foregoing verses are not to be understood of the last judgment but, as we said, of the destruction of Jerusalem. There were some among the disciples (particularly John), who lived to see these things come to pass. With Matt. xvi.28, compare John xxi.22. And there were some Rabbins alive at the time when Christ spoke these things, that lived till the city was destroyed, viz. Rabban Simeon, who perished with the city, R. Jochanan Ben Zaccai, who outlived it, R. Zadoch, R. Ishmael, and others." (vol 2., p. 320).

N. Nisbett (1787)

"While this work was in the press, a friend of mine put the sermons lately preached at Bapton's Lectures, by Ralph Churton, M. A. into my hands. I have been only able to run my eye over them in a very cursory manner; but he does not seem to interfere with my plan; except in applying Matt. xvi, 29, to his transfiguration; which I have referred to the time when the Jewish economy was to cease."

"His argument, that the ancients are unanimously on his side, has as little weight with me, as with the best commentators in modern times; for as Mr. Dodwell long ago observed; they fell far short of the solidity of the moderns, who excel them, not only in philosophy and learning, but in the knowledge of antiquity, and even of their own languages. The principal argument used by Mr. Churton, is the close connection of Matthew xvi, 28, and the parallel chapters of Mark and Luke, with the account of the transfiguration. But, with due submission, I think the connection is evidently, not with the transfiguration, but with the preceding context. We need only go back to the 27th verse, to perceive this, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there will be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." -The coming of the Son of Man in the former, and his coming in his kingdom, in the latter of these verses, clearly determines the connection between the two; for in the account of the transfiguration, which immediately follows, there is not a word said of his coming. Besides, to foretel that the disciples would not die till an event took place which was to happen but six days after, this, as Bishop Newcome observes, would be a prophecy unworthy of Christ. I have only to add, that the same connection is observable in mark ix, 2, and in Luke ix, 28." (An Attempt to Illustrate..)

"But though I cannot, upon a careful perusal of this part of his work, agree with him in every thing he says, concerning the different comings of Christ mentioned in the New Testament; yet it has given me great satisfaction to find him saying, "that the Apostles, by the coming of Christ, which they represented as at hand, when they wrote their epistles, meant his coming to establish his spiritual kingdom over all people, nations, and languages, and not his coming to put an end to the world; it is evident from what Christ himself told them, Matt. xvi, 28; There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." And agreeably to this account of the coming of Christ, and the end of all things, he observes, that every passage of their epistles, in which the Apostles have spoken of these things as at hand, may, with the greatest propriety, be interested of Christ's coming to establish his own everlasting kingdom over all people, nations, and languages, by destroying Jerusalem, putting an end to he law of Moses, and spreading the Gospel through the world." (APPENDIX)

James Stuart Russell (1878)

"This remarkable declaration is of the greatest importance in this discussion, and may be regarded as the key to the right interpretation of the New Testament doctrine of the Parousia. Though it cannot be said that there are any special difficulties in the language, it has greatly perplexed the commentators, who are much divided in their explanations. It is surely unnecessary to ask what is the coming of the Son of man here predicted. To suppose that it refers merely to the glorious manifestation of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, though an hypothesis which has great names to support it, is so palpably inadequate as an interpretation that it scarcely requires refutation.

"It is reasonable to suppose, therefore that had the evangelists known of a deeper and hidden meaning in the predictions of Christ, they would have given some intimation to that effect; but they say nothing to lead us to infer that their apparent meaning is not their full and true meaning. There is, in fact; no ambiguity whatever as to the coming referred to in the passage now under consideration. It is not one of several possible comings; but the one, sole, supreme event, so frequently predicted by our Lord, so constantly expected by His disciples. It is His coming in glory; His coming to judgment; His coming in His kingdom; the coming of the kingdom of God. It is not a process, but an act. It is not the same thing as 'the destruction of Jerusalem,'- that is another event related and contemporaneous; but the two are not to be confounded. The New Testament knows of only one Parousia, one coming in glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is altogether an abuse of language to speak of several senses in which Christ may be said to come, -- as at His own resurrection; at the day of Pentecost; at the destruction of Jerusalem; at the death of a believer; and at various providential epochs. This is not the usage of the New Testament, nor is it accurate language in any point of view. This passage alone contains so much important truth respecting the Parousia, that it may be said to cover the whole ground; and, rightly used, will be found to be a key to the true interpretation of the New Testament doctrine on this subject.

"The inference therefore is, that the Parousia, or glorious coming of Christ, was declared by Himself to fall within the limits of the then existing generation,- a conclusion which we shall find in the sequel to be abundantly justified." (The Parousia)

Milton Terry

"All sorts of efforts have been made to evade the simple meaning of these words, but they all spring from the dogmatic prepossession that the coming of the Son of man in his glory must needs be an event far future from the time when the words were spoken." (Apocalyptics pp.213-252

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