Comments on Matthew 16:27-28

Fourth Revised Edition

The Gates of Hell at Caesarea Philippi

A Leader’s Guide for a New Generation of Christians

by Mark Mountjoy

Introductory Remarks

 

Decisive efforts to define and establish normative parameters around our push to present the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth within a pristine context of real-world circumstances in the Second Jewish Commonwealth mean that we must revisit a string of proof-texts like 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 2 Peter 3:3-17 and Matthew 16:27-28.  These and others have long lain either dormant and in want of an explanation, or else have been used, without justification, to prove a point they were never intended to support.  Such is the case with this familiar passage of the New Testament which reads as follows:

27 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.

28 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.

So let us give this study to God and conduct it for his glory, for, as usual, when we come together for study, for prayer, to sing, and worship, our purpose is to woo men and women to Jesus by glorifying his person and name.  This intention will not only benefit people who are already Christians but be of keen interest to people who realize their need for redemption and long for the hope of eternal life.

“Heavenly Father we pray and ask that you bless our time together.  Give us understanding, wisdom, and knowledge to grasp Your word and how what it says lays the foundation and opens up the way for our comprehension of how Jesus Your Son conceived and preached of the coming of the kingdom of God in a Jewish world which had its own preconceived ideas about how those promises and prophecies would be fulfilled. 

Help us, dear Lord, realize that the promises of the second advent of Jesus point to the demonstration of Your Son’s Lordship over the civilization that named him a Liar.1  

We give You glory and honor and praise You, Your Son, and Your Holy Spirit and beseech that You lead and guide and deliver us according to Your holy will. 

In Jesus’s holy and matchless name.  Amen.”

Assumptions about a future Second Coming are challenged by the texts before us—which, at first glance, appears to be yet another return of Jesus prophecy.  However, this initial impression is quickly tempered by the apparent implication, within the very promise itself, that the event will be not only soon but very soon. 

Conventional interpreters, when confronted with what seems obvious about the text, must immediately decide what to do, what to think, and where to place the texts.  Should they blend it in seamlessly, with other Second Coming of Christ texts—Acts 1:11, Acts 17:31, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, and Revelation 1:7—or should it be differentiated and understood in a different light?

Upper GalileeA presumptive desire to keep the Second Coming at bay (not necessarily for any sinister reasons) demands (for some) that Matthew 16:27-28 be considered a prophecy about either the Transfiguration of our Lord (which was then about a week away) or else it could be considered a prediction about the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost which was at that time about two months away.2

In either case, we want to demonstrate that this prophecy cannot receive the justice it deserves.

First, for the apparent Danielic motifs that underlie Jesus’s promises, Daniel chapter 7 verses 1 through 27 portrays and captures the essence of our Lord’s own understanding of how his world would come to completion. 

But if we conceive of Matthew 16:27-28 as happening a mere week after Christ announced this promise we must, at the same time, conclude that the Second Jewish Commonwealth was also terminated at the Transfiguration of our Savior at Caesarea Philippi over a century before the actual end of the Jewish State and thirty-three years before the destruction of the Second Temple. 

But nothing in the tumultuous prophecy of Daniel’s fourth beast corresponds to the essentially surreal and serene circumstances of the dark enveloping cloud of Shekinah glory out of which the voice of God the Father Mount Hermonexpressed his approbation of his Son.  Nor does the appearance of Moses and Elijah, conversing about the impending death of Jesus, match anything descriptive of boastful rancor and blasphemy that we see foretold about the Little Horn in Daniel 7:8.3  4  

These are in no way the same situations!  

Additionally, the Son of man coming in the glory of his Father with his angels did not happen at the Transfiguration because in no case are we told that any angels appeared, nor was anyone judged.

Finally, Jesus did not reward any man according to his works either at Caesarea Philippi or Mount Hermon (thoroughly examine Matthew 17:1-8 pericope, and see that neither the kingdom of God, judgment or rewards to or for anyone can be found).5

Second, for the sense of immediacy, inherent within the promise itself (which makes a week’s time or even two month’s time entirely too soon).  Whatever else can be made of this promise, it will be nullified or made nonsensical and unintelligible without a legitimate and sufficient length of time to transpire.

When Christ said, “‘Some’ standing here shall not ‘die,’” we would think that more than one or two people would die within a week’s time.  But the only persons that would die within a week’s time were Judas Iscariot (by suicide) and then the Lord himself (by crucifixion). 

Third, Matthew 16:27-28 comes after the promise of Matthew 10:23 and before the promises of the coming of our Lord at the all-important Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15-31; Mark 13:14-27 and Luke 21:20-32).

Now, the significance of the Olivet Discourse should not be lost on anyone.  When we turn back to the pages of the Prophet Daniel and realize that the Second Temple’s existence forms the backbone of prophecies about the coming of Israel’s promised Messiah, at the very same time Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 make the disappearance of the Second Temple front and center to the monumental changes that were to comeMInistry of Jesus in no long time after Christ’s passion on the Cross of Golgotha.

Therefore, Matthew 16:27-28 is a poor prooftext if used to describe the Transfiguration or the Day of Pentecost, both being too soon to be what Jesus would have had in mind. 

In the final analysis, Matthew 16:27-28 represents yet another example among many instances where Jesus intentionally assured his contemporaries of an early Second Coming within the historical context of the existence of the Second Temple and the final days of the ancient Jewish State.6

Endnotes

1 See 1 Timothy 6:14-15 and its surrounding context.  There the Apostle Paul clearly understands Jesus’s return to be impending even in the lifetime of Timothy (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1). 

2 The Temptation, Transfiguration, and Golgotha form the highpoints of Jesus’s ministry.  The prophecy of Matthew 16:27-28 assumes that MOST of the people there will have tasted of death by the time Jesus comes in the glory of his Father with his angels, but nothing in the Gospels or the Book of Acts corresponds to the fulfillment of this promise.  Only events in the Book of Revelation directly point to this (Revelation 22:12).

3 See Luke 9:31 for the subject of conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

4 But compare the behavior of the fourth beast in Daniel 7:8 with the actions of the sea beast in Revelation 13:5-7 and these corollaries must lead us to conclude that Matthew 16:27-28 speaks of a time when a certain leadership faction in the Holy Land displayed open contempt of God while making a futile bid to seize the promised kingdom of God by sorcery and the force of arms.

5 But see Revelation 11:8-18 and Revelation 20:11-15 where the end of the Temple and the State (respectively) form the nexus where the appearance of Jesus and rewards are dispensed, according to their works.

6 Neither the Transfiguration nor Pentecost represent a judgment day in any way, shape, or form in the prophecies of Daniel 7:7-28 or in the many promises of return Jesus uttered in Matthew and Mark, Luke or John.

Image credits: The Gates of Hell at Caesarea Philippi (present-day Banias, Israel).  Caesarea Philippi was the setting for Jesus’s speeches and promises found in Matthew chapter 16 and nearby Mount Hermon was the scene where he transfigured before Peter, James, and John about a week later.  Source: divinity.com.  Map of the Upper Galilee.  Source: https://donnagawell.com/.  Majestic Mount Hermon, where God cast and imprisoned the fallen angels in antiquity.  Source: https://leefjougeloof.co.za/.

The final caption envisions the Second Temple twisted like a scroll.  This edifice, which was the sole State-Temple sacrificial access to the God of Israel, existed for 585 years—516 B.C.-A.D.70—was the subject of concern and numerous prophecies in the New Testament, including the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), accusations against Stephen’s (Acts 6:9-14), and the Apostle Paul’s prediction about the Abomination of Desolation (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). 

The Book of Revelation depicts the Second Temple as the citadel from which the beast and his followers dispense their forty-two month-long campaign of blasphemy against God, and blood-letting, and terror against the Christians and the Jerusalem Aristocracy (Revelation 11:1-18 cf. Revelation 13:5-18; Revelation 17:7-17). 

The Bar Kokhba coin represents the forty-two-month existence of the Jewish State in the second century where an illegitimate and ill-fated effort to materialize Messianic promises according to a preconceived Rabbinic rubric resulted in the first time ever disappearance of the Jewish State from the stage of world history. 

Now, conventional eschatology, which is quadfurcated into so-called ‘Four Views,’ errs by overlooking, denying, or repudiating what may be known or easily discovered about New Testament prophecy expectations (which makes their outcomes quite predictable—a zero success rate, predictive failure, and embarrassment each and every time). 

Indeed, no traditional Christian eschatology of a future Second Coming is connected or attached to any fundamental facts presented in either the Old Testament, the Deuterocanonicals, or the New Testament, and they, therefore, exist in tremendous strain and tension against the Word of God (which they claim to teach and explain).

 

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