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There are a couple of questions I received that relate to the biblical subject of the Kingdom of Heaven, so I’ll answer both of them here. The first is, “Please explain Matthew 16:28. How could people with Jesus at that time not die until the judgment day?” The other is similar, “Please explain the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Doesn’t this mean that He will bring heaven down to earth?”
The first question is based on a common misconception about the kingdom. That is, that Christ will establish His kingdom at His 2nd Coming. Well, if that’s the case, then how could He tell those who were there listening to Him that they would still be alive to “see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom”? If the kingdom is still to come, then that would mean there are people out there nearly 2,000 years old. Either that, or Jesus was wrong! Or, maybe it is those who are still looking forward to a future kingdom that are wrong. Of the three options, which do you think is the most likely?
Matthew 16:28 says, “Assuredly, 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”” (Matthew 16:28, NKJV). Jesus made a very clear statement. There were some that were there listening to Him that day that would still be alive to witness the coming of His kingdom. The problem most people have with understanding this verse is that they don’t understand the what the kingdom is. They are looking for an earthly kingdom and such an earthly kingdom hasn’t come yet. The bad news for those looking for a physical, earthly, kingdom is that such a kingdom is never going to come. The kingdom of Christ was not, is not, never going to be, a physical earthly kingdom! Jesus told Pilate, ““Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here”” (John 18:36, NKJV). Even when people tried to make Jesus an earthly king, He refused. “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:15, NKJV).
The “kingdom” to which Jesus referred is clear when you look at the context of the statement He made in Matthew 16:28. Going back to Matthew 16:13, Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about who He was. They told Him all the misconceptions people had about Him (imagine that, people didn’t understand who Jesus really was). Then He asked them who they, the disciples, thought He was. Peter makes that great statement of faith in the deity of Christ – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus said that the rock solid truth that Peter had just confessed would the rock upon which He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). Immediately after telling Peter that He was going to build His church, He promised to give them, the apostles, the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 26:19). Why would Jesus tell them He was going to build one thing – His church – but give them the keys to something else – the kingdom of heaven? Obviously, He is the words “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably. The church is the kingdom of heaven on earth, a spiritual kingdom.
Right after this discussion of the church/kingdom that would be founded on the fact of His deity, He goes on to tell them of His coming death. It would be by this very sacrifice that He would establish His kingdom/church (Acts 20:28). That’s why He said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church/kingdom. His death wouldn’t prevent its establishment, it would actually facilitate it (Colossians 1:13, 14).
So, when He comes to Matthew 16:28 and says that there were some standing there that day that would see Him come into His kingdom, it was in the context of establishing His church. Notice the parallel passage in Mark 9:1, “there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” That reference to “power” is important to identify when this actually happened. In Luke 24:49, He told the apostles, “I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” As look continues his account in Acts, he says in Acts 1:4 that Jesus told them to “wait for the Promise of the Father,” but instead of referring to being “endued with power” he says they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The “power” Jesus referred that would signal the beginning of His kingdom was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that He promised the apostles. In Acts 1:8, He said, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” That happened in Acts 2:1-4. The gospel was preached, using the keys to open the way into the kingdom (Acts 2:37-41), and the Lord “added to the church those that were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
We will continue this discussion next time and I look forward to your feedback.