Section 9B .. The Future

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The Kingdom…When?

Carol Brooks

Edited by Vicki Narlee

Also See What Was the Message of Jesus?

And  What and Where is Heaven?

Matthew 16:27-28 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, have Jesus saying that some who were present there with Him would not die until they saw the coming of the kingdom...  These three verses are critical texts that, obviously, have a huge bearing on the sequence of end-time events therefore, unsurprisingly, have generated much controversy.

A very relevant, but little known, fact is that, in the original Greek, all three of the authors used different tenses for the word translated 'come' or 'coming', an important detail that has not been carried over into English Translations, which use exactly the same tense in all three accounts. But, as pointed out by Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, Luke has only "see the kingdom of God," while Matthew has "see the Son of man coming" (erchomenon, present participle, a process). Mark has "see the kingdom of God come" (eleluthuian, perfect active participle, already come) and adds "with power." [All Emphasis Added]

    For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes (Gk. elthe) in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. "But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom (Gk. basileia) of God. (Luke 9:26-27 NASB)

    (27) For the Son of Man is going to come (Gk. erchesthai) in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. (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 (Gk. erchomenon) in His kingdom (Gk. basileia). (Matthew 16:27-28 NASB)

    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." 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 (Gk. basileia) of God after it has come (Gk. elelythuian) with power. (Mark 8:38-9:1 NASB)

Note Young's Literal translation renders the Greek word basileia into the English "reign" instead of "kingdom" -  this because although basileia could sometimes refer to a physical location ruled by a king, in the first-century its primary meaning was reign, rule, authority, sovereignty.

However, the three accounts have, for all practical purposes, exactly the same lead in... Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, a brief prediction of His suffering and death, Peter's protest, Jesus' reprimand, and the necessity and benefits of taking up ones cross and following Him.

And while the Greek grammar in this case might be immensely complicated, the fact remains that Matthew, Mark and Luke used different tenses, for which there has to be a reason.

The Problem

It has been pointed out that if verses 27 and 28 in Matthew 16 refer to the same event (they do and they don't), then the pre-millennial doctrine cannot possibly be true because verse 28 unequivocally puts the kingdom in the lifetime of Jesus' audience.

Note: The Millennium refers to the period of 1,000 years mentioned six times in Revelation 20 when after binding Satan, Christ will establish His reign for a thousand-year period of peace and security. There are essentially three views regarding when Christ will return in relationship to the millennium ... The prefix "Pre" denotes before. In other words, Christ will come to earth after the Great Tribulation, and will Himself usher in the millennium. See The Millennium

There have been some clumsy, and even rather bizarre, explanations as to what Jesus could possibly have meant. Among others...

    Jesus Has Already Returned: Preterists believe that most Biblical prophecies were fulfilled in or around 70 A.D. at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They believe that since Jesus clearly said that He will return before some of His disciples died, He came in His kingdom at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., an event sometimes described as "Christ's coming in judgment." Apart from all the other problems with Preterism, this view completely disregards the bit where Jesus says He will, at His second coming, "repay every man according to his deeds". (Unless, of course, there are some 2000 plus year old people living on earth, who have not yet been repaid according to their deeds).

    Fulfillment at The Resurrection and Ascension: Jesus Himself referred to these two events as His departure, not His coming... Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. [John 16:7]

    Fulfillment at The Transfiguration: Many believe that the transfiguration was the fulfillment of verse 28. The transfiguration refers to the time when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray, and while He was praying He was transfigured in front of their eyes. His clothes became dazzling white and He was seen talking to Elijah and Moses. At this time God's voice came from a cloud calling Jesus... Son. (Note that the Greek word metamorphoo used by Matthew indicates a change in form, rather than simply a change of appearance). While the entire incident undoubtedly showed how Jesus would one day appear, and gave the disciples, who had only known Jesus in His human body, a greater realization of His deity, it was not exactly "the Son of man coming in his kingdom".

    The belief that the Transfiguration was a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy is largely founded on the fact that in each of the synoptic Gospels, it is the very next event mentioned, taking place just a week later. In fact, all three accounts connect Jesus' prediction and the Transfiguration. Matthew and Mark using the word "and" while Luke uses "and it came to pass" (KJV).

    However the problem lies in two areas. Jesus' statement that some disciples would be alive seems a little odd if He were speaking of the Transfiguration which took place just six days later. Also, Jesus saying that some disciples would be alive indicates that others would not be. We know none of the disciples died in the week after He spoke. Judas was the first to die... quite some time later.

    Fulfillment at Pentecost: Yet others believe that verse 27 speaks of the end times, while verse 28 speaks of the establishment of the kingdom on Pentecost, which certainly came with great power and was seen by all the apostles, except Judas. There is no question that the church exploded onto the scene after Pentecost, rapidly snowballing from a small and feeble bunch of believers to being an established force in a large part of the known world, including Asia, Rome, and Greece. However, it was the Holy Spirit that came on Pentecost, not the Son of Man. Besides which, if as is often claimed, Vs. 27 and 28 are a unit (and I once again state that they are related, but not exactly the same), Pentecost cannot be a fulfillment of the prophecy, since Jesus did not judge all men at Pentecost.

The Solution
The answer to this fascinating, but controversial, statement by Jesus that some of those standing there with Him would not taste death until they saw the kingdom is actually rather simple. But let's start with Jesus' main message... the one He was sent to earth to proclaim.

'Love" Was Not The Message Jesus Was Sent To Proclaim
All too many people picking out a random phrase or two, think Jesus' core message was about 'love'. Unfortunately, they are terribly wrong. While it is true that love figured prominently in His message, it was not the core of his proclamation, and it certainly wasn't what got Him crucified since neither the Roman nor the Jewish authorities would have been particularly bothered by a Jewish prophet who ran around telling people to love God and love people.

The very word "Gospel" means 'good news'. The 'good news' preached by both John and Baptist and Jesus Himself was that the Kingdom of God was on its way. John the Baptist told the crowds to "Repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:2], and after John was cast into prison, Jesus took over... preaching exactly the same message.

    From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  (Matthew 4:17 NASB)

    Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15 NASB)

In fact, the "kingdom of God", a phrase used over 50 times in the four Gospels alone, was at the heart of Jesus' ministry.

    (As an aside, Matthew used the phrase "kingdom of God" only four times, apparently preferring the synonymous "kingdom of heaven", which occurs over 30 times in his book. Why? Possibly because the Jews held the name of God in the highest respect and Matthew, whose Gospel was directed at the Jews, would have refrained from using the word "God" too often, only using "kingdom of God" when warning or rebuking his fellow Jews).

In fact, Jesus never stopped talking about this coming kingdom, which was at the heart of many of His parables. He not only likened the Kingdom to a mustard seed, a pearl of great price, a banquet given by a king, etc, but even said that the proclamation of the Kingdom was the reason He was sent to earth.

    But He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43 NASB)

Additionally, the disciples were sent out to preach the Gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom.

    but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' (Matthew 10:6-7 NASB)

    And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.  (Luke 9:2 NASB)

    But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. (Acts 8:12 NASB)

Please note that, with very good reason, Jesus was very careful to distinguish between "heaven" and the "kingdom of God/heaven". See The Word "Heaven" in The Bible and "Heaven" vs. The "Kingdom of Heaven" about halfway down THIS page.

The Kingdom of God... Strictly A Future Event?
Unfortunately, most people, including most Christians, assume that when Jesus used the phrase "the kingdom of God." (Greek... he basileia tou theou), He was strictly referring to the age to come or, in other words, the Heaven that Christians anticipate. While there is no question that the end of this age (which occurs before the Seventh Trumpet sounds) will signify the dawning of the Millennium Kingdom, followed by an eternity of God's rule, there were plenty of indications that this kingdom had already begun in Jesus' day.

More than once, Jesus told His listeners that the kingdom was at hand (imminent - close in time), and spoke of the coming of the Kingdom in glory, when He would be accompanied by His angels.

    but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' (Matthew 10:6-7 NASB)

    Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15 NASB)

    But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: [Matthew 25:31]

All of which makes it sound like the kingdom of God was something that would come about only at some future date... that it was strictly an end time message. However, Jesus also said the Kingdom of God was already in their midst...

    Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:20-21 NASB)

Since Jesus was speaking to the ritual bound Pharisees who's hearts were far from clean, He was unlikely to be referring to the kingdom being within them in any way, but to the fact that the Kingdom was already present among them...

So how could the kingdom be "at hand" and already in their midst.

Defining The Concept of "Kingdom"
The Aramaic word malkuta (kingdom) had a completely different significance to people of ages past than it does to the 21st century westerner. Only in isolated instances in the Old Testament does malkut mean real estate, instead it almost always denotes the government, authority and power of a king.

    The primary meaning of the Aramaic malku and Greek basileia is abstract and dynamic, that is, "sovereignty" or "royal rule." This is almost always the case in the OT and Jewish literature where the term is applied to God. The sense of realm, a territorial kingdom, is secondary, arising out of the necessity for a definite locus as the sphere for the exercise of sovereignty. The Gospels introduce the ministries of John the Baptist and of Jesus by stating that they proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom of God. No word of explanation is ever offered, and the conclusion must be that the idea of God's kingdom was well known [1]

Thus when Jesus used the Aramaic phrase malkuta dishmaya which, in the Greek of Matthew, is rendered as he basileia ton ouranon, He was not referring to real estate, but authority. As said by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

    The word basileia could sometimes refer to a locale over which a king ruled, but its primary meaning in the first-century was "reign, rule, authority, sovereignty." (The same was true of the Aramaic term, malku, the word actually spoken by Jesus.) We see this meaning clearly in one of Jesus' parables. He speaks of a nobleman who "went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return" (Luke 19:12, NIV; the NRSV reads "to get royal power for himself"). The Greek of this verse reads, literally, "he went to a distant country to receive a basileia for himself." He didn't go to get a new region over which to rule, but rather to get new and greater authority over the place he lived.

    So when Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near, he doesn't mean that a place is approaching like the giant comet in the movie Deep Impact, but that God's own royal authority and power have come on the scene. "God's reign is at hand. God's power is being unleashed," Jesus says. "Turn your life around and put your trust in this good news."

    Of course Jesus' announcement of God's reign didn't come in a vacuum. It was both consistent with, and a fulfillment of, a central theme in the Hebrew prophets." ... Though it begins humbly, in Jesus' own ministry, it will someday be gloriously large, a resting place for all creation". [See What Was the Message of Jesus?]

This is borne out by Young's Literal translation which, as mentioned before, uses the word "reign" rather than "kingdom" in all three accounts referred to in the beginning of this article. (In fact it was this message of the Kingdom, coupled with another watershed event, that led to his crucifixion).

Jesus' Kingdom... Not 'Of' This World
Jesus not only proclaimed the reign of God, but the many miracles He wrought demonstrated that God's kingdom, in terms of His reign, authority and power was now in this world but, as He told Pilate, not of this world.

    Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of (Gk. ek) this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."  (John 18:36 NASB)

Some have taken Jesus' words to Pilate to mean that His kingdom was not here on earth, but up in heaven (ie. not of this world). However, this is far from the case. In the sentence above, the Greek word translated of is "a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence motion or action proceeds)". (Strong's Hebrew and Greek lexicon). The Greek literally reads, "My kingdom is not from this world [ek tou kosmou toutou]. [3]

In other words, Jesus was telling Pilate that while his authority came from Caesar, Jesus' own authority was not from an earthly source, but came from God. He substantiates this thought in the second part of the verse, when He reiterates that His kingdom is not of this realm. This sentence literally reads "my kingdom is not from here" [ouk estin enteuthen]. [3]

In other words the authority of Jesus' kingdom does not stem from secular sources. Certainly it did not arrive all at one time.

Prophecy and Fulfillment
The promise of the kingdom was a major source of hope for the Jews and, consequently, never very far from Jewish thought. While it is true that there were differences of belief as to how the reign of God would come back to the earth, the one common factor between all the possible scenarios was the expulsion of the gentiles who ruled over Judea. But, in no case was the kingdom expected to be anything but an earthly one, which belief stems from the fact that God promised to give Abraham an entire country for an everlasting possession.

And, over and over again, the prophets prophesied of this coming kingdom... In fact, the idea of a restored and peaceful land inherited by the righteous, is a recurring theme in Isaiah's prophecies...

See What And Where is “Heaven”? Part II... The Location and Nature of Heaven HERE

However, it is imperative that we try and understand how the ancient Jews understood prophecy. The idea of one prophecy.. one fulfillment is a Western idea, not a Jewish one. The Hebrew idea of prophecy is slightly more complex. Most prophecies were fulfilled more than once, leading up to one ultimate fulfillment, each of the earlier fulfillments being a type (a representation, symbol or indication) of the ultimate fulfillment.

For more on the patterns of prophecy in Scripture, See Prophecy and Typology.

The prophecies about God's Kingdom are also fulfilled more than once, each of the two earlier fulfillments leading up to the one ultimate fulfillment, a process I call...

The Three Stage Emergence of the Kingdom

Stage One: When Jesus reiterated the message preached by John The Baptist, proclaiming that the kingdom was "at hand", or near (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17), He was simply saying that the initial stages of the kingdom had come... Its King had entered the world, verifying who He was by fulfilling prophecy, and demonstrating the arrival of the reign of God with mighty deeds. Which explains a rather perplexing statement made by Jesus in Matthew 11:11

    Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

In the words of Matthew Allen (The Kingdom in Matthew)

    Jesus was not suggesting that John was not a believer; rather, his point was that John was the last of the Old Testament saints and, as such, he stood on the threshold of the eschatological kingdom. This implies that the kingdom was yet future during John's public ministry". [4]

Note: eschatological relates to the ultimate destiny of mankind and the world

However there is no kingdom, earthly or otherwise, without subjects, so Jesus then proceeded to make disciples, thus establishing His reign in the earthly realm.

Stage Two: Shortly after Jesus physically left earth, His kingdom, which until that point had consisted of a handful of discouraged followers, took a gigantic step forward at Pentecost. It literally exploded onto public consciousness with the arrival of the Holy Spirit, causing a rapid multiplication of Jewish disciples.

However, this was but the beginning. The mission to the Gentiles followed Pentecost by a very few years. Philip visited Samaria (Acts 8:5-25) whose inhabitants were not of pure Jewish blood, but were a mix of the remnants of Jewish tribes who were not carried off in the Assyrian invasion, and the settlers who the Assyrians brought in from other parts of their empire. In fact the spread of the Gospel in Samaria was so rapid that Peter and John went down to assist Philip. Philip also preached the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch (apparently a high official in the Ethiopian government

The huge build up of Gentile churches did away with the possibility that Jerusalem would remain the center of Christianity, and that Christianity might never outgrow its Jewish Roots. In fact, Syrian Antioch, where the followers of Christ were first called Christians, was one of the earliest centers of Christianity, with the Gentile church, growing so large that it was able to give relief to the Jewish churches when they faced famine (Acts 11:26-30). Additionally, Paul's first and third missionary journeys began in Antioch (Acts 13:1. 18:22-23).

    See Luke's Historical And Geographical Accuracy as he described Paul's three missionary journeys. Luke included some very precise details about the places they visited, such as the titles of various local authorities, the language spoken by the people there, the religious beliefs, customs and structures in those cities etc.

Stage Three: However, God's kingdom (in every sense of the word) will only be fully realized when Jesus physically returns to earth and takes it over, destroying His enemies and ruling from Jerusalem. This final consummation, or fulfillment, of the kingdom of God on earth, has always been the ultimate goal.

    In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom (Heb. malkű) which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom (Heb. malkű) will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms (Heb. malkű), but it will itself endure forever. (45) "Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy." (Daniel 2:44-45 NASB)

Parable of the Mustard Seed
The gradual growth of the Kingdom was also illustrated in the parable of the mustard seed, which clearly shows that the Kingdom has past, present and future dimensions... it began as a small and insignificant mustard seed but would gradually grow into a huge tree that eventually gave shelter to the birds of the air.

    And He said, "How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? "It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade." (Mark 4:30-32 NASB)

The Kingdom has grown considerably since these words, but it is yet relatively small, not yet having attained its full size.

This parable usually brings up the question of why Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, when it is so obviously not. [SEE]

The Kingdom of God... defined as God's authority and rule, arrived with Jesus' preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. It established itself within the disciples who were the initial subjects of the kingdom, made huge strides among the Jewish community at Pentecost, then spread throughout the known world. God's kingdom exists wherever there are true followers of Christ. However, its final fulfillment, which is around the corner, will take place when Jesus makes His glorious return to establish His physical rule on earth.

So if there is a three stage emergence of the kingdom, we do not need to pin down Jesus' words to a particular event. The apostles apparently did not, using as they did, different tenses (as mentioned in the beginning of this article)...

    Luke has only "see the kingdom of God," while Matthew has "see the Son of man coming" (erchomenon, present participle, a process). Mark has "see the kingdom of God come" (eleluthuian, perfect active participle, already come) and adds "with power." [Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. All Emphasis Added]

They certainly all saw the beginnings of the Kingdom in the form of its King who both preached and demonstrated its arrival with ‘signs and wonders’. All the disciples, except Judas, lived to see the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which empowered and enabled the disciples to boldly begin preaching the Gospel.. first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. (One has to wonder if, in Mark 9:1, Jesus was referring to Pentecost, when he used the words "with power"... "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). Some of the disciples even lived to see the rapid spread of the Gospel after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.


End Notes
[1] Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. By Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall. Page 417-418.

[2] What Language(s) Did Jesus Speak and Why Does It Matter? by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts.

[3] Interlinear Bible. John 18:36. http://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/18-36.htm

[4] D. Matthew Allen. The Kingdom in Matthew. http://bible.org/article/kingdom-matthew


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