“27 ‘But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who SHALL NOT TASTE DEATH till they see the Kingdom of God., 28Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29As He rayed, the appearance of His face was ALTERED, and His robe became WHITE AND GLISTENING . 30And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31who APPEARED IN GLORY and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:27-31).
The TRANSFIGURATION was the event where Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain by themselves. That was when they saw Jesus TRANSFIGURED before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared to them and talked with the Lord about His soon coming decease at Jerusalem (Matt. 17:1-2; Mark 9:2-4; Luke 9:31).
While Christ was speaking a bright cloud overshadowed them. Suddenly a voice came out of the cloud saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34-35). The disciples fell on their faces and were afraid. But Jesus touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When the disciples looked up, they saw no one but Jesus only (Matt. 17:6-8; Mark 9:8; Luke 9:36).
The transfiguration was not the fulfillment to what the Lord had promised His disciples standing in front of Him just 6 days earlier in Matthew 16:27-28, and Jesus Himself tells them in the next verse of this transfiguration passage, Matt. 17:9, that the transfiguration was a vision of what was to come; however, if we do not slow down during this amazing passage of the transfiguration, we can miss even more of what it is trying to tell us. Peter makes this meaning clearer in (read) 2 Pet. 1:16-19, look at the significance of what the Holy Spirit inspires him to write: what was this vision representing – what did Peter/James/John see on the mountain – “they saw the power of the coming and a majestically changed Jesus Christ.”
- What “did” the apostles see on that mountain? – they saw the “power” of what Jesus’ coming was going to accomplish – the “power” of Messiah had superseding the authority of Moses and Elijah, and all that they symbolized and embodied, which was the very OC itself – the entire law and the prophets – and the power of Christ’s coming was to cause them to pass way (Moses and Elijah). They heard the Father speak after Moses/Elijah had been removed – “Here Ye Him! (The Greek emphatic is: ‘Him – Hear!’)” We have to stop and seriously ask the question of why were Moses and Elijah on the mountain in the first place? Why was it so important that they had to be there? What full and deep message was the Father wanting the Apostles to know?
- If the purpose of the transfiguration was supposed to be just about their seeing Christ majestically transfigured – then why have Moses and Elijah there, and then why did they disappear? The significance of this event is one of the most underappreciated and often ignored eschatological passages in scripture by all of the futurist camps. Peter, James and John literally saw a vision of the “power” of what would happen at the bringing in of the new heavens and earth and removal of the old, the old world order of animal sacrifices which had been epitomized in the OC temple and sacrificial system, and was now spoken of as “obsolete” and “ready to vanish away” in Heb. 8:13, 12:26-28 – they saw that old heaven and earth epitomized in those Old Covenant (law/prophets) “vanish” and the everlasting New Covenant was confirmed to be in Jesus Christ – confirmed by the Father Himself (which is stated to be everlasting in the church: Eph. 3:21).
- Do you also notice what they “did not” see? – They did not see any earth burning, cosmos dissolving, time ending event. We need to seriously ponder these passages. Peter said they saw what the purpose of the second coming signified, and it was most definitely an end/transition, but not the end of the cosmos – it was the end of the old heaven and earth world order of provisional forgiveness through animal sacrifices, and its codified epitome seen in the Mosaic Old Covenant (God to man relationship) à and the “full consummation” of the New Covenant world administration of heaven and earth (God to man relationship) through the blood of Christ in the church.
The TRANSFIGURATION occurred one week after Jesus told His disciples in AD 30 that some of them would still be alive and see Him coming in His kingdom, which occurred in AD 66-70. He said that His coming would be in the glory of the Father with His angels, and then He would reward each according to his works. (Matt. 16:27-28).
“27For the Son of Man will COME in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will REWARD each according to his works. 28Assuredly, I say to you, THERE ARE SOME STANDING HERE WHO SHALL NOT TASTE DEATH till they see the Son of Man COMING IN HIS KINGDOM.” (Matt. 16:27-28).
“38For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words IN THIS ADULTEROUS AND SINFUL GENERATION, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed WHEN HE COMES in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38); “1And He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that THERE ARE SOME STANDING HERE who will not TASTE DEATH till they see the Kingdom of God PRESENT WITH POWER.’” (Mark 9:1).
I believe a plain reading of Matt. 16:27-28 by any unbiased and unconditioned to already think otherwise person (meaning untaught in any denomination’s belief system, including those of the futurist persuasion) would never naturally result in someone saying these are not as they are plainly written – “before some of those standing there listening to Him speak would die – they would see Jesus Christ return in His glory and Kingdom with His angels to reward each person according to their works.”
In the past, some of those struggling to find an answer to this passage have tried to force it under the carpet of the transfiguration that is described in Matt. 17:1-9, so let’s try to objectively look at this and see if this could possibly be the answer? If we reread Matt. 17:1-9 we will notice:
- There are no angels at the TF – In Matthew 16, there were angels
2) Moses and Elijah were at the TF – in Matthew 16, there were no Moses and Elijah
3) No reward at the TF – in Matthew 16, there is a reward
4) The TF was close – Matthew 16 was a long way off (only some still alive)
5) In the TF none of them had died (7 days later) – by the time of Matthew 16:28 (40 years later), some will have died, as Jesus prophesied
6) In the TF Jesus is already there – in Matthew 16, He had not left yet. He has to leave the earth first (die), before they can see Jesus coming again
- In the TF Jesus said it was only a vision – in Matthew 16, Jesus said some would not die until they saw Him coming with His Father’s glory and the angels – not just a vision
For these 7 reasons alone, I believe we can safely conclude that they are speaking of 2 entirely different events!
One of the key components of proper Biblical hermeneutics is to study a scripture within its surrounding context, and another would be to interpret the meaning as it pertains to the audience to which it is being spoken by the speaker. We need to go back and take a look at Matt. 16:27-28 within the context and audience within the passage.
In Matt. 16:21, Jesus now reveals to His disciples clearly, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
- Within this context of the great sufferings and martyrdom that were all about to shortly happen to Christ, Peter, in Matt. 16:22-23 pulls Jesus aside and says he would not allow all of these horrible things to happen to Him. Jesus sternly and emphatically rebukes Peter. Jesus then turns back to speak to all of His disciples “and crowd” He had gathered (The parallel passage in Mark 8:34 indicates there was a multitude of people, which included His disciples), and to all of them standing right in front of Him He spoke the whole passage of Matt. 16:24-28, telling them plainly the life of hardship and suffering that would face them, as well as the very real potential of martyrdom that would be looming over any and all of them who chose now to follow Him to Jerusalem and stand with Him as His disciple, and to carry His message forward during their life.
- This entire passage is an intimate and personal prophecy and promise by the Lord to them. Jesus said to them that it was going to be a difficult road of suffering for those who would choose then to follow Him, but He then goes on to promise and encourage them in Matt. 16:27 that they should stand fast and endure because He was going to come back to reward them soon (Mello), and then in vs. 28 He emphatically tells “them” that He would be returning before all of “them” standing right there in front of Him had all died. This was the promise to His disciples and 1st century followers of their coming persecution for their stand of faith to follow Him, but also the promise of the “in their generation” to follow vindication and rescue and reward. (Matt. 21:33-45 and Matt. 23:33-36 Jesus plainly describes the vindication for all the martyrs with the coming judgment on those who were their murderers).
** Attempts have also been made to try and break up these two verses of Matt. 16:27 and 28 to try and impose a gap of 2,000+ years between them (and astonishingly enough, and with no hermeneutical or contextual or any supported biblical reasoning, it is vs. 27 that is the verse that is attempted to be pushed somehow over 2,000 years in the future?!). Besides the obviously untenable “reversing – then splitting/projecting” of the verses just mentioned, the other question you should ask yourself is if these attempts are made because the scriptures themselves are so obviously not connected and clearly indicate that these are different events, and exegetically different periods in time, or if the people trying to teach these things “must have it broken up in order to fit into a futuristic view they already come to these scriptures believing in”? Is this proper biblical exegesis to split these scriptures up with a massive gap, and also to reverse the order or occurrence – or, are these people already believing what they do, and now trying to squeeze and twist these scriptures to fit into their presuppositional view? Not only does this splitting/reversing/gap projecting completely ignore the entire audience context which we were just studying above, but it also ignores the unified link of this entire passage being spoken of by Christ to His living breathing disciples and 1st century followers who were standing in front of Him.
- Word for word literal translations of the Bible help clarify this unified passage by correctly showing each of verses 25, 26 and 27 all starting with the same word translated into English as “For” (YLT, ESV, NAS, NKJV, KJV to just name some). It is important to understand that there are no verse numbers or chapter breaks in the original manuscripts – these verses flow and are linked together in one unbroken and contextual thought and message, and to emphasize this message that Jesus is telling them, He then emphatically starts vs. 28 with the Greek phrase, “Amen lego hymin (Truly I say to you).” It is absolutely critical for us to understand that every single time this phrase appears in the Bible – it always is in reference to, and emphasizes the points just discussed immediately prior to it. To stress the importance of this point again: never, ever in scripture, is this phrase ever broken out of its context and applied to something unrelated to what was just being discussed in the immediate passage before it.
** Another untenable attempt to try and change the meaning of this passage that some people have tried to do is to say that the glory and the Kingdom spoken of in vs. 27 and 28 are not the same thing. However, as the Bible should always be our only answer, then we need to allow the Bible to interpret itself, and with some simple word and context study we can plainly see that no such distinction can be made in the scriptures, and in fact, we will find that the words “glory and Kingdom” are both interchangeable words that mean the exact same thing illustrated in these passages:
- Matt. 20:21 and Mark 10:37 are parallel accounts of James and John wanting to sit at the Jesus’ right and left hand in the afterlife. Matthew records them asking to sit in those positions “in Your Kingdom,” while Mark records the exact same event as them asking to sit in those positions “in Your glory.”
- The Kingdom is the glory. If Jesus came in His glory, then He came in His Kingdom.
- In Luke 21:27 and vs. 31 Jesus Himself uses these two words as interchangeable. He tells His disciples that, “…they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great ‘glory.’” Then, just a few verses later in vs. 31 He tells them that when they see all those signs He was just speaking about happening, “know that the ‘Kingdom’ of God in near.” (Greek: Eggus = near. To be brought near. Imminent, soon to come.)
- In Matt. 25:31 Jesus again describes to His disciples that the glory and His Kingdom are at the same time, interlocked as the same thing, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.”
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 7 Lesson 3b Matt. 16:27-28 & Transfiguration”]