You are hereDid the Transfiguration Fulfill Matthew 16:28?
Did the Transfiguration Fulfill Matthew 16:28?
Speaking to a "crowd…along with his disciples" (Mark 8:34, NIV throughout), Jesus said: "..the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Matt. 16:27-28)For those Christians who don't believe that Jesus has already come in his kingdom, taking this prediction at face value presents a problem because those who were "standing" there have all died. Many believe the transfiguration account immediately following Matthew 16 provides an adequate solution (Matt. 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36). This article presents a test of that interpretation.
The following is a synopsis of the transfiguration as recounted in Matthew 17:
1. Jesus takes three disciples up a high mountain
2. Jesus is transfigured (his face shines and his clothes appear white)
3. Moses and Elijah appear
4. A bright cloud envelopes the disciples
5. A voice says, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
6. Moses and Elijah disappear
How long after Christ's prediction did the transfiguration take place?
"After six days…" (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2); "About eight days after…" (Luke 9:28)
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Is this not a strange way to speak about an event that he knew would occur only about a week later? Probably, few if any of those listening were only one week away from death. The wording of Christ's prediction implies that at least some, but probably many, would be dead by the time he came in his kingdom. Only "some" would still be alive.
Who witnessed the transfiguration?
"Jesus took with him Peter, James and John…" (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28)
These would qualify as "some" out of the "crowd…along with the disciples," but Jesus later said, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead" (Matt. 17:9b). This raises another question: Why would Jesus have "let the cat out of the bag" so to speak before a "crowd" regarding an event he really didn't want anyone else to know about?
What did Jesus specifically mention they would see?
1. "the Son of Man coming in his Father's glory"
3. Each person being rewarded for what he has done (the judgment)
4. "his kingdom"
At the transfiguration, the Son of Man was there and he was changed to a certain glorified state (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29). However, strictly speaking, he was not "coming" -- he was already there. There were no angels present, nor was there any sign of a judgment taking place. In fact, very little in the account could be reasonably related to "his kingdom."
What else might one have expected to see in connection with "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom?"
"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thess. 4:16-17)
During the transfiguration, the Lord did not "come down from heaven." There was a command that came out of the cloud, but not necessarily a "loud" command (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34-35). There was no trumpet sound, nor any sign of the dead rising or the rapture. The disciples were enveloped by a cloud, but they were not "caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."
"...See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones…" (Jude 14b-15a)
"The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.'" (Rev. 11:15)
There was no sign of the "thousands upon thousands of his holy ones" and the voice in the cloud said nothing about "the kingdom of the world" becoming "the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ." Also, only Moses and Elijah were present with Jesus, but they are never mentioned as having an especially prominent position when Jesus was to return in his kingdom, so we must wonder why the vision includes only them.
What is the transfiguration all about? Why are just Moses and Elijah present? To answer these questions, it is necessary to begin at Mount Sinai:
"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'" (Exod. 20:18-19)
From that day, God spoke to the Israelites through Moses, and the people said, "we will listen." However, Moses would not live forever and was not even allowed to enter the promised land. Before his life was over, he warned the Israelites about the danger of taking up the ways of the heathen nations they would encounter (Deut. 18:9-14) and then specified how he would be replaced:
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him." (v. 15)
After Moses died, this prediction met an immediate fulfillment in Joshua:
"Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses." (Deut. 34:9)
Moses and the Prophets spoke for God under the Old Covenant. It's difficult to imagine a more prestigious calling. Israel was to "listen" to them. The Law came through Moses, and for hundreds of years God spoke to his people through prophets. The high regard for "Moses and the Prophets" as the two great authorities in the history of Israel continued right down to the time of Jesus. The New Testament contains numerous references to "Moses and the Prophets" or "the Law and the Prophets." Moses and the Law were synonymous.
Elijah was arguably Israel's greatest prophet after Moses (Deut. 34:10-11), having raised the dead (I Kgs. 17:17-24), and his name was associated with the arrival of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6). At the transfiguration, we see Jesus standing with Moses, who is representing the Law, and with Elijah, who is representing the Prophets. The voice from the cloud says "Listen to him!" Then, Moses and Elijah disappear leaving only Jesus. The transfiguration appears to have been a demonstration showing that Jesus was the successor to Moses and the Prophets. This is how the author of Hebrews understood Christ's role:
"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." (Heb. 1:1-2)
The command "Listen to him" clearly links Christ to Israel's prophets and the original prediction made by Moses. Peter makes this connection in Acts 3.
The transfiguration appears to have been quite unrelated to Christ's prediction in Matthew 16:28. There is very little evidence to qualify it as a preview of "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
Download this article and discover more at:
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademarks Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.
Copyright © 2004 by Michael A. Fenemore