June 27, 2022
So, the question in Matthew 16:27,28 is a good one, and it took me a little while to finally “come around” and see that it is a word from Jesus about the upcoming fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
FIRST, there are THREE COMPONENTS within the IMMEDIATE CONTEXT that need to be recognized:
(1) A “Coming” of Christ/the Lord (“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels”)
(2) A “Coming” in Judgment (“And will then repay every man according to his deeds”)
(3) A “Coming” of the Kingdom (“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”)
I’m sure that each of these “elements” can be explained from an Old Testament backdrop or understanding. Let me explain . . .
Regarding the FIRST one, the idea of a “coming of the Lord” is very common to the Old Testament, particularly in “the prophets.” See Isaiah 19:1 or Micah 1:2,3, for example. Both of these texts (and hundreds of others) are APOCALYPTIC and present an IMAGE, but the texts specifically let us know that they intend to present an APOCALYPTIC IMAGE for the “fall” of the nation in view. In Isaiah 19:1, the text is VERY CLEAR and says that “the BURDEN/ORACLE OF EGYPT” is in view, and to present God’s “judging” Egypt, the APOCALYPTIC IMAGE of “the Lord” SURFING ON THE CLOUDS is presented by the prophet. The same is true in Micah 1:2,3, Nahum 1:1-ff., etc., etc. (Also, Rev. 2:5,16,25; etc.; those “comings” in judgment would be on the churches of Asia; Christ would “come” if they didn’t repent; the text means that He’ll “judge” them, not that the second coming will commence . . . And judge them, He did! Where are the churches of Asia now?!) To conclude this subpoint: a “coming” of the Lord is NOT always personally and with a body (as will be at the second coming [see Acts 1:9-11; Heb. 9:28]); here, we find in the Old Testament imagery/speech of judgment on nations, the IMAGE or METAPHOR of “the Lord coming representatively,” pictured as riding in on the clouds (through the vehicle of another people or nation).
Regarding the SECOND element, a “coming in judgment” is precisely what we find in cases like Isaiah 19:1 and/or Micah 1:2,3. I point this out simply because it is a component that we need to wrangle with. There ARE OTHER “comings” of the Lord that are representative or impersonal. For instance, do give John 14:23 or Revelation 3:20 a read . . . These texts are NOT about “the second personal bodily coming” of the Lord, but they, too, are representative/impersonal . . . BUT, they are not “judgment” comings; these are METAPHORICAL or REPRESENTATIVE or IMPERSONAL “COMINGS” in BLESSING! – BLESSING! But, the “coming” that we have in Matthew 16:27,28 is a “coming” in JUDGMENT, NOT BLESSING. And, again, the idea of METAPHOR/IMAGE/IMPERSONAL/REPRESENTATIVE “COMINGS” of the Lord are completely normal and usual, when understood appropriately.
Regarding the THIRD element, a MUCH LONGER DISCUSSION is required. Jim McGuiggan’s “The Reign of God” is ABSOLUTELY SUPERB and well-worth a good, hard read. (Here is a link to that book: https://extensionschool.com/the-reign-of-god/ ) McGuiggan, rightly, makes the point that the KINGDOM – simply, “the reign of God” (see the lexicons on the Greek word “basileia”) – is God’s “reign.” THIS “kingdom/reign” has MULTIPLE PHASES! What happened with Jesus Christ in Acts 2 and His coronation is an entry into the MESSIANIC PHASE! (In Acts 1,2, Jesus FINALLY, BY VIRTUE OF HIS HUMANITY, received the throne of David and the crown; He “became” king by means of beating death in His resurrection [see Acts 2:22-36].) NOW, here’s a question . . . Was God/Christ “king” or “lord of all the earth” BEFORE Acts 2????? YES! YES HE WAS! See, God/Christ has/have ALWAYS been king BY VIRTUE OF THEIR DIVINITY! So . . . BEFORE David’s line, we have something like the THEOCENTRIC PHASE, then, in David (2 Sam.), we enter into the DAVIDIC PHASE, and then in Christ, we enter into the eschatological/final MESSIANIC PHASE . . . BUT, in each of these “phases,” GOD HAS ALWAYS BEEN “KING” OF ALL THE EARTH (see Genesis 18:25; Psalm 95:3; 96:10; 136:3; etc., etc.). THESE ARE PRE-PENTECOST PASSAGES THAT INSIST THAT GOD WAS ALREADY KING!!!!! What happens at Pentecost (Acts 2) is ANOTHER MANIFESTATION OR DEMONSTRATION OR PUBLIC EXHIBITION OF THAT – THAT! – TRUTH, that God IS King. Christ has ALWAYS been “king” by virtue of His DIVINITY; Acts 2 exhibits that truth and makes Him “king” by virtue of his HUMANITY. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28 sees the second coming as being a time when Christ will “relinquish” or “surrender” the kingdom . . . BUT, AS GOD, He can’t do that! He’d cease to be God! [It’d be a serious philosophical problem for the God of the universe to “shed” His DIVINITY/LORDSHIP; He CAN’T do that . . . It’s ontologically IMPOSSIBLE, as it is for God to lie, cf. Heb. 6:18,19.] What is happening per 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is Christ’s “shedding” or “relinquishing” or “surrendering” his “reign/kingdom” to God BY VIRTUE OF HIS HUMANITY. As Adam also had a delegation (all over 1 Cor. 15:20-28) and “goofed it up” and FAILED to surrender to Jehovah, Christ (as a human) ON THE OTHER HAND also had a delegation/kingdom but will turn it over/surrender it to Jehovah, succeeding where Adam (human) failed. BUT, Christ, BY VIRTUE OF HIS DIVINITY, ALWAYS has been, is and always will be “king.” “KINGSHIP” or “LORDSHIP” is an INTRINSIC PROPERTY OF DIVINITY!!!!!!
I say all of that to say that “the kingdom came” in ways BEFORE Acts 2, and the Old Testament people “got it.” See Obadiah 21! That’s a passage BEFORE Pentecost that says that God’s kingdom was manifested over the fall of Edom. OR, see Luke 21:31 for a “coming of the kingdom” in A.D. 70 AFTER Pentecost. OR, see Revelation 11:15 for a “coming of the kingdom” of God AFTER Pentecost in Domitian’s fall in A.D. 96. All of these “temporal events” MANIFEST or EXHIBIT the same truth: GOD IS KING; CHRIST IS LORD. What we have in Acts 2/Pentecost, is a NEW PHASE, the Messianic phase, and the kingdom “comes” then in a new way, with the FINAL DAVIDIC HEIR ON THE THRONE (see Luke 1:31-33; Acts 15:14-ff.). To conclude this subpoint: we see “comings” of the kingdom – it refers to God’s publicly manifesting His power or “flexing His arm” (if you will) over peoples/nations – even BEFORE AND AFTER Pentecost . . . and these “comings” of God’s reign were familiar to the Old Testament people. (See also Psalm 29:10; He was “king” in the flood of Genesis 6-9.)
My point is that all three elements (coming of the Lord; coming in judgment; coming of the kingdom) can ALL be quite reasonably understood by the Old Testament people (Jews) in ways that do NOT force the interpretation of a “second coming.”
In fact, let me go further than that . . . the Old Testament people NEVER know anything about a “second coming” of the Messiah, and that is because they ONLY expected a “first coming” of the Messiah. Their “eschatological” view was that the Messiah would come, reestablish the Davidic monarchy that had fallen down in the Assyrian/Babylonian exile, rule from Jerusalem, conquer the opposing empires and rebuild a new temple/kingdom with a united Jewish people (like David or Solomon). The idea of a “second coming,” then, is an absolutely foreign idea to them.
SO, IF WE PUT OURSELVES INTO THE SHOES OF THE JEWS IN JESUS’ DAY, how do you think you/I would have understood Jesus’ remarks to the people in Matthew 16:27,28? Do you think that we would have thought of a “second coming” of Christ when He was before them, telling them that He was the Christ? Do you think we would have understood that He was going to die, resurrect and then come back AGAIN to planet earth? SEE, the Jews didn’t connect all of the dots well – BUT, the resurrection of Christ provided the hermeneutical key for them to “get” how to read the prophets (see John 2:22; 12:16). They ONLY thought of one “coming” of the Messiah, and Jesus was saying that He WAS the Messiah . . . This was his “one and only coming” as far as they were concerned . . .
So, again, how do you think that they/we might’ve understood Matthew 16:27,28? I think that they would have understood it – in light of the Old Testament APOCALYPTIC IMAGERY and MOTIFS – in the same way that they would’ve understood passages like Isaiah 19:1 or Micah 1:2,3 or Obadiah 21 . . . The Jews would have understood Jesus to be speaking AFTER THE MANNER/STYLE OF THE APOCALYPTIC OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS – who WERE His forerunners (see Matthew 21:37-ff.’s parable) – INTENDING TO PRESENT AN APOCALYPTIC PICTURE OF HIS JUDGING THE WICKED PEOPLE IN VIEW IN THE CONTEXT (as the OT texts present judgment pictures against the wicked in their contexts). This sends us to another question . . .
Who are “the wicked” in the context of Matthew 16:27,28??? (This is a lengthy question, but I’ll try to be brief.)
There is NOTHING in the IMMEDIATE CONTEXT of Matthew 16:24-28’s block/unit that says, “Oh, the ‘wicked’ are the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees” or anything of THAT sort. I mean to say that the IMMEDIATE CONTEXT of Matthew 16:27,28 is absolutely silent. BUT, this is where our familiarity with Matthew’s WIDER/REMOTE context MUST BE PRESENT. If we’re not acquainted with “Matthew’s Gospel,” then we can make all sorts of exegetical blunders as we read WITH OUR OWN LENS RATHER THAN THE LENS OF THE CONTEXT. Let me continue . . .
All of the commentators notice (rightly) – and even a surface reading of Matthew’s Gospel would prove the point – that MATTHEW’S GOSPEL IS STRIKINGLY JEWISH. (As an aside, all of the commentators right note similar things about the audiences of the other three Gospels; Mark is to the Romans; Luke is to a Gentile audience; John is more universal and timeless). BUT, for our purposes, here, MATTHEW’S GOSPEL IS JEWISH.
This makes me question TWO major things . . .
(1) Does Matthew present a “coming of the Lord” after the style of the Old Testament apocalypticism anywhere else? Does Matthew have any other texts about a coming of the Lord, where He judges the wicked and vindicates His kingdom?
(2) Does Matthew have any other texts that might help us identify who “the wicked” in the context are? Does Matthew present any other pictures of “two groups” that are separated in judgment?
On the first, I’d call our attention to Matthew 24,25, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, which is only too clear as INCLUDING ANOTHER REPRESENTATIVE, APOCALYPTICALLY-STYLED “COMING” OF THE LORD IN THE CLOUDS over the WICKED CITY OF JERUSALEM (see Matthew 23:32,38; 24:3,29-31). The answer to question #1 is YES. (And, the parallel, Luke 21:31 – still, the OLIVET DISCOURSE, has the kingdom being vindicated at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.)
On the second, I’d call our attention to Matthew’s CONSISTENT presentation of TWO GROUPS’ BEING SEPARATED . . . We have the WHEAT/CHAFF (Mat. 3:7-12); we have the WHEAT/TARES (Mat. 13:24-30,36-43); we have the CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM/CHILDREN OF DARKNESS (Mat. 8:11,12); we have the SHEEP/GOATS (Mat. 25:31-46). I am convinced that Matthew 24 is the backbone/spine for Matthew’s other apocalyptic presentations of Jesus’ teachings. AND, if we allow Matthew 24 (the most elaborate text of the one’s just listed, for sure) to comment on the other, shorter texts, we start to see that Matthew’s Gospel – strikingly Jewish – consistently concerns itself with a judgment upon the Jewish audience that had rejected their own Messiah. MATTHEW IN HIS GOSPEL IS CONCERNED TO SHOW JESUS AS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE MESSIANIC HOPE, DEMONSTRATING THAT THE JEWS WHO REJECT JESUS AS THE MESSIAH WILL BE JUDGED (CITY AND NATION) JUST AS THEY HAD BEEN IN JEREMIAH’S DAY (586 B.C.). I’ve detailed some of this elsewhere and filled in the Olivet Discourse and its motifs/images, which are NEARLY ALL taken from the Old Testament prophets’ imagery, used about the 586 B.C. destruction of the temple.
I think that “the wicked” to be judged in Matthew 16:27,28 (because of the wider/remote context) is the Jewish nation.
So, let me conclude . . .
As I see it, we have TWO alternatives to what I’ve set forth here . . .
FIRST, one could interpret Matthew 16:27,28 as being about “the second coming” and the end of time. BUT, this is extremely problematic because it requires a separation of Matthew 16:27 from Matthew 16:28, which I AM SURE should NOT be done. (Jesus is speaking one block/unit and is NOT being THAT confusing.) Again, we have THREE ELEMENTS, and Matthew 16:28’s remark about “the coming of the kingdom” is OBVIOUSLY restricted to the lifetimes of the apostolic group. We CAN’T look for a fulfillment of Matthew 16:27,28, then, that is AFTER the apostles’ lifetimes; the coming of the Lord in judgment in His kingdom is ALL WRAPPED UP TOGETHER; it is ONE EVENT, and NOT TWO SEPARATE ONES.
SECOND, one could interpret Matthew 16:27,28 as being in reference to Pentecost. This would certainly allow for the manifestation of the kingdom (16:28) WITHIN the lifetimes of the apostolic group, but it doesn’t satisfy my reading of Matthew 16:27, that the “coming of the kingdom” would be a “judgment coming.” (I don’t think Pentecost [Acts 2] was a “judgment coming” in this sense.) Nor, in my estimation, does it rightfully treat the APOCALYPTIC STYLE of the literature/remarks, as usually about nationalized judgments in the Old Testament.
I think we’re bound up to ONE INTERPRETATION. A.D. 70 fits the bill, handles all three elements, fits the apocalyptic style of the Old Testament prophets and fits with Matthew’s overall context quite nicely.
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