“Then he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the things that seems to mark wisdom gurus is the fact that they spout off things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. This is particularly true in the various religions of the East. I think about the child in the Oracle’s house in the first Matrix film (which was heavily influence by Eastern philosophy). He’s sitting there bending spoons with his mind and when he explains what he’s doing to Neo he says, “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try and realize the truth: There is no spoon.” Now, in the context of the movie, this eventually makes sense; as a metaphor for something outside of the movie, though, it is nonsense. One of the things that makes Jesus so different from the various New Age gurus with whom He is sometimes compared is the fact that He tended to say things that made sense. Most of the time. Sometimes He shot a little over our heads. Let’s wrestle with one such statement together this morning.
Jesus had just finished talking to the disciples and the crowd about the challenges that will be inherent with the decision to follow Him. We should not take up such a journey without first counting the cost for it will be high. There is much we must be prepared to lose if we are going to stick closely to the path He will take us on if we will let Him. But the payoff at the end will more than make up for what we have lost along the way.
He launches from those observations directly into this. Now, put yourself in the shoes of the folks standing there listening to Him. After having just revealed Himself to the disciples as the Messiah, but then turning their understanding of that completely on its head, He now says that some of them aren’t going to die before the kingdom comes in power. Huh? What on earth does this mean?
This is one of those things scholars have debated for centuries. This means we’re not going to solve it this morning. It also means the answers we uncover will have to be held with humility and an open hand. Scholars have generally identified and debated four possible things Jesus could have meant here when He spoke of the kingdom coming in power. He was talking about the forthcoming transfiguration (which we’ll talk about over the next couple of days), the resurrection and ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, or His eventual return to usher in the final kingdom at the end of human history. So, which one is correct?
Well, my take is that He’s probably not talking about the transfiguration. His statement that “there are some standing here who will not taste death” (emphasis mine) before the kingdom comes in power implies that there are some who will taste death. None of them died before the transfiguration happened a few days later. He’s also probably not talking about the end of days. All of them have since died and we’re still not there yet. This leaves us with the resurrection/ascension and Pentecost as the possible options. As for which of those two it is…I’m not sure. And I don’t think we need to clarify precisely which He meant in order to understand the bigger point for ourselves. If I was going to have to choose, I would go with Pentecost, but I could be wrong.
More importantly for now, what is this bigger point for us? Hope. Jesus said they would not die before the kingdom came in power. Whether He was talking about the resurrection or the ascension or Pentecost, or some combination of the three, they have happened. They have happened and that means God’s kingdom has come in power.
What does this mean? It means that while the final kingdom has not arrived, God’s kingdom isn’t merely some future promise toward which we are living. It is a present reality that we can live in and enjoy now. It is the taste of eternal life that comes from the Spirit which we can begin enjoying as a foretaste of what’s to come.
When we offer the hope of God’s kingdom to the people around us, we are not offering them something that is only a future reward. We are offering them present hope. God’s kingdom is here. It is now. We can begin living in it and experiencing some of the benefits of that right where we are. No waiting period necessary. Yes, there is still much hope ahead of us because this world is still broken in sin on the whole, but restoration has begun. It is moved forward through the church when she is staying on the mission she was given. Our salvation is not just a future hope, it is a present reality.
There’s more too. We need to be living in God’s kingdom because eventually it is going to win. The victory of Christ over sin and death isn’t some future thing that we are trudging through Hell now in order to experience after we are resurrected. It is a present reality that we can rejoice in today. Even when your basketball team gets absolutely trounced and embarrassed, the kingdom of God is still here and drowns out that disappointment with eternal life and hope.
When Christ’s final victory over sin and death arrives, it won’t be something that simply arrives as an invading force from another place. It will be a completion of the work that has been happening for centuries of human history and of which we can be an active part in our lives right where we are. There were indeed some who were standing there with Jesus that day who did not taste death before the kingdom came in power. Now that it is here, we can stand in that power and see it advance to cover the globe with the hope, life, light, and love of the Father. Let’s get to work.