Every attentive reader of the New Testament should pause when they read these words of Jesus:
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” (Matthew 16:27-28).
It has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus spoke these words, and we are quite confident all who heard them have tasted death, yet we are still waiting for Jesus to return with His angels. How can this be? Is this a failed prophecy, a bad translation, or, like many of Jesus’ teachings, do these words need some careful analysis to be understood correctly?
Kingdom Not of This World
Jesus explained to Pontius Pilate that His kingdom would not be a physical rival to the Roman Empire but was instead a spiritual kingdom. “My kingdom is not of 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). When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included this petition: “Your kingdom come.” He then described what constituted this kingdom: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
In responding to the accusation that He cast out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus challenged the Pharisees to consider what it meant if they were wrong: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The kingdom of God, then, is associated specifically with Jesus Himself, which is why Jesus said, “behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21).
The Apostle Peter saw the transfiguration of Christ, as well as His ascension into the clouds, and was filled with the power of the Holy Spirt at Pentecost. For these reasons he called himself both a witness and a “a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed….” As one who heard Jesus say that “some of those who are standing here … will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” Peter could say that He saw Jesus revealed in glory, rise into the heavens, and that he had partaken in the inauguration of Jesus’ kingdom.
Kingdom Yet to Be Revealed
Peter also said, however, that there is a part of Jesus’ kingdom that is still yet to be revealed. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Peter even explains why this expectation was not immediately fulfilled upon Jesus’ resurrection: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
We live in a time of deferred judgement, a hiatus as it were, between the inauguration of the King’s reign and the consolidation of His kingdom. It is an act of mercy and grace for the full consolidation to be deferred so that final judgment may also be delayed. The kingdom of God is being allowed to grow voluntarily, one surrendered heart at a time.The kingdom of God is being allowed to grow voluntarily, one surrendered heart at a time. – Loren Gjesdal Click To Tweet
So often as evangelists, preachers, and teachers in the church, we point to the cross, and emphasize Jesus as Savior, the forgiver of sins, but then neglect to clearly state that entry into the kingdom of God means Jesus takes His place on the throne of each heart as Lord. To receive the Holy Spirit, as promised to everyone who makes Jesus Lord and Savior, is to receive the power of God to live a life of purpose and commission under and within kingdom authority.
The fall of empires and emperors, along with the rise of democracy and the supremacy of the individual, has muted the power of the phrase, “Jesus is Lord.” Many paid with their lives for refusing to place Caesar above Jesus. With each confession that “Jesus is Lord,” the empire of Rome shrank a bit and the kingdom of Jesus expanded. With each confession of faith, God’s will increased “on earth as it is in heaven.” Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom found a home in that individual’s heart, in his or her “midst.”
There is now in the earth a spiritual kingdom, inaugurated at Pentecost, that has been growing ever since. It is a spiritual kingdom, but no less a kingdom of God and of heaven. There remains to come, however, a physical kingdom, an eternal kingdom, and a perfect reign of righteousness. There is a kingdom that is and is yet to come. We are saved and included in that kingdom only by the grace of the delay—”regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). May we live and lead as members of Jesus’ kingdom today!
- To learn more about how the Kingdom of God, the plan of redemption, the life of Jesus, and the teaching of the apostles all fit together, check out Artios Christian College here.
- Registration is open! To register for BIS 104 History and Literature of the New Testament, click here.
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