PMW 2018-061 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
One of the more remarkable brief aside statements by Jesus, which impacts eschatology, is found in Matthew 16:27–28. Jesus’ declaration reads:
[v. 27] 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. [v. 28] 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.
As an orthodox preterist, I hold that this passage brings together the AD 70 judgment and the Final Judgment.  As orthodox preterists argue (following most conservative, evangelical theologians in general), the AD 70 destruction of the temple is a dramatic judgment of God in itself. But it is also a typological foretaste of the universal Final Judgment, which it pictures through the local judgment on Israel.  (This is much like the Israel’s Old Testament exodus event being an important act in itself, while serving as a type of coming redemption through Christ.)
Thus, many orthodox Christians state that AD 70 and the Final Judgment are linked. However, they are linked theologically, not temporally. That is, they are thematically related though historically distinct. The theological linkage lying behind their historical separation is important for understanding Jesus’ instruction in its context.
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by Ken Gentry
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Jesus brings together the AD 70 judgment and the Final Judgment for an important reason. As just noted, Matthew 16:27 refers to the Final Judgment, while v. 28 refers to Jerusalem’s judgment.
But how can this be? And why? These contiguous verses appear on the surface to refer to the same event (the beauty of this observation is only skin deep, as we will see). How can we hold that they actually speak of two distinct, widely-separated historical events? In this and my next blog article I will look carefully at the linguistic wording and the contextual flow of the passage to see what is going on here.
Many scholars see v. 28 as simply repeating v. 27, using different words. They view these two utterances as parallel. Hyper-preterists understand this as do higher-critical liberals: both argue that Jesus is predicting his parousia in the near future. In this view, v. 28 more fully explains v. 27. But whereas the liberal critic sees this as exposing Jesus’ prophetic failure, the Hyper-preterist sees it as undermining the historic, corporate, public, universal, systematic Christian faith, as reflected in the ancient ecumenical creeds.
Yet a close analysis of the passage undermines both the liberal and the cultic interpretations. It shows that these theologically related events are historically distinct, with one referring to the Final judgment while the other refers to the Jewish judgment. Let us consider the nuances of the distinct wording in each verse.
First, in v. 27 the Lord is said to come “in the glory of His Father with his angels.” But in v. 28 we read that he is “coming in His kingdom.” Thus, v. 27 speaks of His Father’s glory whereas v. 28 speaks of Christ’s royal authority. So the first verse emphasizes the Son’s coming in the Father’s glory, while the second emphasizes the Son’s coming in his own kingdom authority.
As exegetical theologian Charles Giblin puts it in his article “Theological Perspective and Matthew 10:23b” (Theological Studies [29:4]: 1968):
In Mt 16:27–28 we find another twofold perspective…. ‘Coming’ is predicated of the Son of Man twice in succession. The first occurrence (16:27) speaks of a coming in the glory of His Father with His angels and clearly indicates the scope of this coming in words referring to judgment (reward according to conduct). The second occurrence, however, which is immediately subjoined (16:28), takes the form of a solemn assurance that ‘some of those standing here’ will not taste death until they have a vision of the Son of Man coming in His (own) kingdom (or kingly power). Mt has reordered Mk 8:34 ff. to present an invitation to disciples to follow Jesus in self-denial in order to receive from Him their reward. But a twofold perspective of reward is indicated in terms of a twofold coming. One coming looks to the final judgment (16:27); the other (16:28), to an experience of the kingly power of the Son of Man prior to that judgment. The reason for regarding the latter coming as a prior coming is not only the reference to ‘some of those standing here’ but the reference to the kingdom of the Son of Man as His kingdom. For it is clear from [Mt 13:36–43] (the apocalyptic explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares) that a certain distinction obtains between the kingdom of the Son of Man and that of the Father. The former involves a process with several stages: the activity of the Son of Man in sowing the word of God, in letting the tares grow with the wheat, and in sending the angels to gather “from His kingdom” all scandals and those who act rebelliously. The kingdom of the Father occurs at the end of the whole process, consequent upon judgment and entailing a kind of transformation (“shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” 13:43; cf. 1 Cor 15:41b, 42). Thus, the kingdom has a complexive aspect, that of its growth and that of its final realization, the latter being the point at which it becomes the kingdom of the Father. More important, the kingdom as involving the coming of the Son of Man has a complexive aspect, covering everything from His public life to the judgment towards which it is ordered and which is par excellence His coming.
These two realities are not contradictory, of course. But they are distinct issues. Both involve Christ’s “coming,” but in different ways, one complexive and one univocal, though for related purposes (as we shall see).
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Second, in v. 27 we see the universal nature of his coming: he “will then repay every man.” Thus, all men will be involved in his judgment. This must be understood in terms of Matt. 25:31–46, a powerful pronouncement (distinctive to Matthew) regarding the Final Judgment (I will be demonstrating this in my forthcoming commentary on Matt. 21–25). This should also be compared to Matt. 13:36–43.
But in v. 28 the focus is drawn more narrowly. There Jesus limits the reference to “some of those who are standing here.” This does not imply that only the disciples will witness AD 70, of course. Yet it does show an intentional distinction of audience expectation in Jesus’ instruction. One audience includes all men, the other only the disciples for his present instructional and exhortational purpose.
As Jeffrey Gibbs (Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary) puts it in his book Jerusalem and Parousia (2000): the coming of the Son of Man has a “diversity of reference,” which is applicable in several different historical contexts. He sees v. 27 as referring to the Final Judgment and v. 28 to the AD 70 local judgment. Thus, he points out that in Matt. 16:27 Jesus “speaks of the end-time judgment of this man that will affect every person (‘to each one’),” whereas “in 16:28, Jesus declares that “only some of those standing with him in the story will see the predicted event before their death.”
Third, in v. 27 the coming is indeterminate, simply stating that “the Son of Man is going to come.” Here mello (“be destined to”) is followed by the present infinitive erchomai (“come”). This results in the statement meaning that he “will certainly come.” But it provides no indication of when that might be.
But then in v. 28 the (theologically-linked!) “coming” (which is spiritual or metaphorical ) is quite precisely limited. Here he states very specifically that “some of those who are standing here will not taste death until….” This shows that it will happen toward the end of the lives of the disciples. This fits nicely with Matt. 10:23 and their mission to Israel: “whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.”
We are seeing subtle evidences that Jesus is distinguishing his AD 70 (spiritual, metaphorical) coming from his (literal, glorious) Second Coming to effect the Final Judgment. In my next article I will present the “clincher” to this argument. This will involve the specific flow of the larger context. Stay tuned!
1. This view is not new to our time. Matthew Henry (in 1721) understands v. 27 to be referring to “his second coming to judge the world” (p. 240), while seeing v. 28 as “the near approach of his kingdom in this world” (p. 241). Thus he writes: “At the end of time, he shall come in his Father’s glory; but now, in the fulness of time, he was to come in his own kingdom, his mediatorial kingdom … which included “the destruction of Jerusalem, and the taking away of the place and nation of the Jews…. Many then present lived to see it” (p. 241). See the next note on Henry Alford, writing in 1844, who agrees with Henry.
John Gill (writing his commentary on the New Testament in 1746–48) sees this passage as referring to either “a second time to judgment at the last day, in the same glory as his father” or “in his power, to take vengeance on the Jewish nation” (p. 189).
Thomas Scott (1747-1821) follows suit in his Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments: The New Testament. Of v. 27 he writes: “he assured the, that he would at length appear ‘in the glory of his Father,’ displaying the divine perfections … exercising a sovereign authority over all creatures; and attended with the holy angels as his servants [even] though this event was distant” (p. 77). But of v. 28 he writes: “this referred especially to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the abolition of the Mosaic dispensation, when Christ came in his kingdom to destroy his most inveterate enemies” (p. 78).
Daniel Whitby, in his Commentary on the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament (1848), writes of v. 27: “I do not think that there is any necessity of interpreting these words of the destruction of Jerusalem, to make them comport with the verse following: they seem more plainly to relate to the day of judgment” (p. 126). Then of v. 28 he states: “this is spoken of Christ’s coming after forty years, to the destruction of Jewish church and nation, and to render to them according to their works; for this was to happen in that generation (Matt. xxiv. 34)” (p. 127).
John A. Broadus in his Commentary on Matthew (1886) continues this line of interpretation, noting of v. 27 that it is “the first distinct intimation of his second coming” (p. 367). But then he speaks of v. 28 thus: “the most reasonable explanation, especially when we comp. ch. 24, is to understand a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, forty years afterwards. This providentially lifted the Messianic reign to a new stage” and this is so despite “the sudden transition from the final coming for judgment (v. 27) to this nearer coming at the destruction of Jerusalem (p. 368).
John Peter Lange in his Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical (1865-1880), comments similarly on Matthew’s parallel passage in Luke 9:26-27 that regarding v. 26 “it is scarcely to be doubted that the Saviour directs His eye towards His last parousia, at the sunteleia tou aionos. But before the thought of its possibly great distance could weaken the impression of the warning, He concludes with a near revelation of His kingly glory” (p. 150) Then of Luke 9:27 he notes: “it cannot be difficult to decide which coming of the Saviour He wished to be immediately understood by this saying. He has here in mind, as in Matt. xxvi. 64, the revelation of His Messianic dignity at the desolation of the Jewish state, which should take place within a human generation” (p. 150).
A. Lukyn Williams writing in The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew (1889) agrees (see footnote 2 below).
Alfred Plummer (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to S. Luke, 1922) argues in Luke’s version of the text under consideration (Luke 9:26-27 = Matt. 16:27-28), that v. 26 refers “to the parousia … and is the first mention of it by Lk. of Christ’s promising to return in glory” (p. 249). Then of v. 27 he argues that it speaks of both the Transfiguration and “the destruction of Jerusalem” (p. 250).
R. C. H. Lenski, in his The Interpretation of Matthew (1943), holds that Matt. 16:27 speaks of “the final, public judgment … of the entire universe” (p. 648) and that the promise in v. 28 “refers to the destruction of Jerusalem with a definite transfer of the offer of the gospel from the obdurate Jews to the receptive Gentiles. The Parousia of Christ is here viewed in the wider sense and thus includes the divine judgment on the Jewish nation” (pp. 648-649). He then observes that “because v. 27 speaks of the judgment on the last day we are not compelled to make v. 28 do the same” (p. 649).
2. Regarding AD 70 as a theological type, we can note several older writers.
As Henry Alford (Alford’s Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, vol. 1, Part 1 Matthew-Mark [London: Oxford, 1844]) put this in 1844: This refers to “the destruction of Jerusalem, and the full manifestation of the Kingdom of Christ by the annihilation of the Jewish polity; which event, in this aspect as well as in all its terrible attendant details, was a type and earnest of the final coming of Christ…. The interpretation of Meyer, &c., that our Lord referred to His ultimate glorious parousia, the time of which was hidden from Himself (see Mark xiii. 32: Acts i. 7), is self-contradictory on his own view of the Person of Christ. That our Lord, in His humanity in the flesh, did not know the day and the hour, we have from His own lips: but that not knowing it, He should have uttered a determinate and solemn prophecy of it, is utterly impossible” (p. 177). Alford also sees Christ linking but distinguishing AD 70 from the Final Judgment in these verses: “our Lord doubtless joined the two” (p. 176).
A. Lukyn Williams, The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew (1889), p. 141 agrees that “the destruction of Jerusalem … was a type of the second advent, the two being closely connected by Christ with himself.”
Regarding Luke’s version of our text, Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to S. Luke (1922), states that “the destruction of Jerusalem was a type of the end of the world.”
Also regarding Luke’s parallel passage, John Peter Lange, in his Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical (1865-1880), states that AD 70 “is at the same time a type and symbol of His last parousia, that mentioned vs. 26″ (p. 150).
3. Williams, The Pulpit Commentary (see note 1 above) puts it thus regarding AD 70: “Not that he will personally appear, but his mystical presence will be seen by its effects, the judgment on the Jewish nation, the establishment of a spiritual, yet visible kingdom in the place of the old covenant” (p. 141).
JESUS, MATTHEW, AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!