Jesus states His intention to return in power to judge, within that generation!
Matthew 16:27-28 – “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Jesus is clearly saying that within that generation, something would happen. What would happen?
Some people say that Jesus was speaking of the transfiguration. Some say the ascension. Most people seem to agree that it cannot be Jesus’ return.
A careful examination of the passage, however, especially in the light of the parallel passages in the other synoptic gospels, will show that Jesus is in fact speaking of His return.
|Matthew 16:27 – For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels,||Mark 8:38 “For whoever 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.”
|Luke 9:26 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him
when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
|and will then repay every man according to his deeds.|
|Matthew 16:28 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see
the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
|Mark 9:1-2 And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see
the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
|Luke 9:27 “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”|
There are three key parts to this (these) passage(s).
1. The Son of Man will come in the glory of His father with His angels…
If this statement were seen in any other part of the Bible, it would naturally be assumed that it referred to Jesus’ coming to earth.
Matthew 24:30-31 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
Matthew 26:64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Mark 13:26-27 “Then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.”
The verb used for “come”, erchomai, is also used for “go”, or travel. This way, I have argued that, for example in Acts, Jesus was going to go or proceed to His Father in heaven, rather than come down to earth from there, at least in that particular case. The context shows whether coming going is meant. People are adamant, however, that the passages all speak of Jesus’ coming down to earth…
… except in the case of Matthew 16:27-28 (and parallels). Why? Because Jesus puts an indisputable time frame on it: it would happen within that generation, while some of those living then would still be alive.
Suddenly, just because people cannot accept Jesus’ return in that generation, coming means going, and Jesus is talking about His appearing in the presence of His Father rather than His coming from there.
We must not get these round the wrong way! Matthew 16:27-28 is one passage that is clearly speaking of His coming, or appearing (parousia) in judgement.
How do we know? Because of the next key part.
2. …and will then repay every man according to his deeds.
The key word here is “then”. Jesus would repay every man according to his deeds. This is judgement, as in payback time. The phrase “repay every man according to his deeds” is found in various forms in the Old Testament, and means “judgement” or “retribution”. Paul cites the same idea when speaking of God’s judgement in “the day of wrath”:
Romans 2:5-6 – But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds.
So, there would be judgement. When? According to Paul in the above quote, this judgement would occur after his own writing. This was after the transfiguration, and after the ascension.
We already agree that the judgement would come after Paul; the issue here is that the day of wrath, when God would “repay every man according to his deeds”, was both after Paul, yet while “some of those standing” there were still alive.
Perhaps, you say, they would see the Son of Man in the glory of His father while they were still alive, but Jesus would “repay every man according to his deeds” much later: say, thousands of years later.
This is where “then” comes in, in “and will then repay”.
There are at least three words translated as “then”. One means “then” as in “if” something, “then” some inference. In other words, “therefore”.
Matthew 12:28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
So, the Son of Man will appear in the God’s glory, and therefore will repay?
It works in English, but it’s the wrong Greek word: ara
Another word translated “then” means after that time.
After that time is used, for example, when Paul says that “we who are alive and remain will be caught up…” This would happen some time after (not at the same time as) the dead in Christ will be raised:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 – For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
So, the Son of Man will appear in the God’s glory, and after that will repay?
This would work very well indeed for those who would like to believe that Jesus was talking about the transfiguration or ascension interpretation…
… but again, wrong word: epieta (litererally, thereafter)
Another word translated “then” is tote. It means “at that time”.
Matthew 24:10 – “At that time (tote) many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.”
It means concurrently. This is the word used in Matthew 16:27. Jesus would appear in the glory of His Father, and at that time would repay every man according to his deeds.
Not thousands of years later. At that time. Does it need to be spelled out further?
Therefore, make no mistake. When Jesus would come, the judgement would occur, and this would happen while some of those standing there were still alive, which leads us to the third point.
3. …the Son of Man coming in His kingdom
The terms “His kingdom”, “the Kingdom of Heaven”, or “the Kingdom of God” seem to mean whatever you like. The terms are almost interchangeable, as a quick study will show you. For example, when Jesus talks in Matthew’s gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, the other gospels call it the Kingdom of God. Jesus said the Kingdom of God was amongst the people; it was at hand (very near); it was the inheritance of the righteous; its arrival was to be prayed for. People refer to it as Heaven, as Earth, and as Jesus’ reign.
This is too big a study in itself. The point is, those who insist that Matthew 16:27-28 is talking about something other than Jesus’ Parousia do not take “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” to mean His coming from the Father in His glorious kingdom, the Kingdom we pray for when we say “Thy Kingdom come!”
However, the parallel passages cannot be ignored: Mark clearly states that some of those standing there would be alive and see “the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” Isn’t that what the disciples were to pray for: for the coming of God’s kingdom with power?
Revelation 12:10 – Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.”
These passages show yet again that the promises of Jesus: His return, the judgement and the coming of the Kingdom, were to be fulfilled in that very generation. Many have tried to redefine the term generation, but the way Jesus put it in these passages allows for no ambiguity.
Jesus would come in the glory of His Father and His angels, to deal out retribution, to that generation of Jews (Matthew 23:32-39), to “those who pierced Him” (Revelation 1:7 – see our study “Those Who Pierced Him”). They would feel God’s wrath, they and their children (Luke 23:28-30).
The worst thing we can do is to ignore the obvious. Jesus returned in judgement when He fulfilled all this at AD70 with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. It would be a mistake to then impose our own view of what must happen when Jesus returned. Christians assume that the end of the age is the end of the world, and the end of history.
Just as the Jews assumed that the coming Messiah would lead physical Israel into victory against her earthy enemies, Christians insist that the Messiah’s return would deliver an earthly New Jerusalem and freedom from earthly pain and death, when all earthly enemies would be conquered.
Look at how the Jews’ expectations held them back from the blessing of the Messiah’s work. Although Christians will always have salvation due to Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross, many Christians are so caught up in looking for signs of an earthly coming of the kingdom, they don’t recognize the fact that they are already inhabitants of the New Jerusalem. Some people in fact interpret world events in terms of mistaken expectations, and cannot clearly see their spiritual freedoms and obligations.
The church needs to undertake this eschatological reform, understand the consequences of fulfilled prophesy, and fulfill its responsibility in leading Christians in Spirit and Truth.