22nd April 2023
Read (Matthew 16v28-17v13)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
The last verse of Matthew 16 records Jesus saying "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (16v28) This has long been a controversial verse and so I'll do my best to explain it today. The first half of the verse is actually quite simple. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and He told them that some of them wouldn't die until they saw a certain event. The event in question was "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." and therein lies the controversy.
Many have taken the meaning to be that some of the disciples wouldn't die until Christ's second coming. There are those who are often labelled as "preterists" who claim that this verse clearly teaches that Christ has already come back and you and I have missed it.The thinking goes that some of the Lord's disciples were still alive to see the actual physical return of Jesus when He came back at some stage in the first century.
Needless to say I'm not a preterist and I think we are still waiting for Christ's triumphant return. So what did Jesus mean by "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom"? It is my belief that some of the disciples did not die before they saw Jesus' complete humiliation at Calvary and His triumph over death by His resurrection. The Lord had been clear that the way of the Messiah was suffering and death. Therefore Jesus opened the gates of the kingdom by His death at the cross. He stood again upon the earth and He ascended to glory where He remains today and He must reign until He puts all of His enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15v25). Some of the disciples would not enter the grave until they witnessed the coming of the Kingdom and the King of kings taking His throne.
By this stage in Matthew Christ's road was clearly set. The Son of Man would slowly but surely make His way to the place of His humiliation and death and beginning with an important event on a mountain, the disciples would begin to see "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.". Six days after the Lord's rebuke of Peter and subsequent teaching, Jesus took Peter, James and John up to a high mountain by themselves (17v1).
What followed was the event called the "transfiguration" of Christ. Before the eyes of the disciples, Jesus was transformed with His face shining like the sun and His clothes becoming as white as light (v2). What happened? Remember that Jesus was and is true God, true man and without sin and so at the transfiguration Christ's "earthly human-ness became suffused by the splendour of Deity in advance of his horrific disfigurement on the Cross." (Hywel R. Jones). Let me try to say that simply. At the transfiguration Christ's human body was covered by the glory of His divinity causing His appearance to be temporarily but gloriously transformed.
If that weren't enough, both Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus (v3). Moses had received the tablets of stone at Mount Sinai and his face would shine after meeting with God (Exodus 34v29). Elijah had fled to Mount Horeb and it was there that the Lord passed by producing wind, earthquake and fire before speaking to Elijah in a low whisper (1 Kings 19v9-12). Yet on the mountain of transfiguration both Moses (the law) and Elijah (the prophets) focused on Christ who shone with a glory that wasn't borrowed but was His own.
In response Peter offered to make some temporary lodgings for the Lord and His visitors (v4) but while he was still speaking a bright cloud appeared and from it a voice said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (v5) If the path of suffering and death seemed ridiculous to Peter, he and the others now saw the reality of the Messiah and heard the Father's affirmation, so in response they fell on their faces terrified (v6).
Jesus urged them to “Rise, and have no fear.” (v7) and as they came down the mountain He commanded them to remain quiet about the transfiguration "until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (v9). With their increased understanding of Christ's Messiahship, the disciples wondered "why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" (v10). The scribes were correct and accurately taught what Malachi had predicted that “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4v5-6)
Jesus' response was clear. Elijah had already come and he had been treated abysmally (v12) and so the Son of Man would certainly suffer in the same way. With that said the penny dropped and Peter, James and John realised that John the Baptist was the promised Elijah (v13) and Christ was the promised Messiah.
Brothers and sisters, sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses. We often associate the Christian faith with the "stuff" we do. Christians go to church. Christians go on mission teams. Christians are out at meetings every night of the week. But let's stop for a moment. The object of our faith is and always has been Jesus. He was proclaimed by John the Baptist. He was born to a virgin. He was flesh and blood without sin. He was true God. He was perfectly obedient to the law's demands. He was despised and rejected by men. He was transfigured on the mountain. He was crucified for sin. He was dead in a tomb. He was raised again to life. He is alive for evermore.
Stop today and consider your Lord. Just as He was transformed so you will be too. God said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Q27 Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.