THERE IS NO AVOIDING THE CROSS – EITHER FOR JESUS OR FOR HIS DISCIPLES
Grant Osborne: With “from that time on” (v. 21) we begin the second half of this narrative section (13:54 – 17:27), indeed, the second half of Matthew’s gospel. Immediately after Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus starts to prepare the disciples for the true meaning of that confession. The announcement of the passion had to await the realization on the part of the disciples that he is the Messiah, for the passion defines his messianic office. So now the movement of the narrative is downward, and the discipleship sayings that follow (vv. 24–28) flow out of the announcement, defining the true followers as those who “take up their cross” in imitation of the Messiah.
R. T. France: The Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry has reached its climax at the most northerly point of his travels. This substantial central section of the narrative, which essentially parallels that in Mark 8:31 – 10:52, now bridges the gap between north and south, bringing Jesus and his disciples out of their home territory in the north and, for the first time in the Synoptic plan, into Judea in the south, where they are in “foreign” territory and where they will confront the hostile power of the religious authorities of Israel.
This geographical transition coincides with a significant change in the pattern of Jesus’ activity and teaching, signaled by the formula “From that time Jesus began …” (16:21; see on 4:17). The declaration that he is the Messiah (16:16) leads him immediately to clarify what his messianic mission must involve, and the plain declaration in 16:21 that he must suffer, die and be raised again will be repeated in 17:22–23 and with added emphasis in 20:18–19. The shadow of the cross thus falls across this whole southward journey, as Jesus tries to get his disciples to understand the paradoxical and unwelcome nature of his mission.
William Hendriksen: Previously, in veiled utterances, Jesus had predicted his death (9:15), and even his death and resurrection (12:39, 40; 16:4). Now there was going to be a change. We see the Anointed One, as our chief Prophet, in plain unfigurative language foretelling his own demise; as our merciful High Priest, preparing to lay down his life, that he might “take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); and throughout it all, as our eternal King, being in complete control of every situation, so that the plan of God Triune, made before the foundation of the world, was being carried out in every detail, yet in such a manner that the human agents who took part in carrying out this plan – elders, chief priests, scribes, the common people, the soldiers, the presiding judge, the betrayer, etc. – were fully responsible for their actions (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23).
Leon Morris: For the Jews in general, and presumably for the Twelve up to this point, being Messiah meant unadulterated glory. The Messiah might encounter opposition and even hardship, but this kind of thing was no more than an unpleasantness that must be passed through on the way to majesty and splendor. For Jesus suffering was the essence of messiahship, and from this point on he brings it out again and again (cf. 17:9, 12, 22-23; 20:18-19, 28; 21:38-39; 26:2). Learning this was a lesson the disciples found very hard indeed.
David Thompson: JESUS CHRIST TEACHES HIS DISCIPLES ABOUT THE SUFFERINGS HE MUST ENDURE AS SAVIOR AND ABOUT THE LIFESTYLE THE DISCIPLES MUST ENDURE AS HIS SERVANTS.
I. (:21-23) THE PASSION AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CLEARLY REVEALED
A. (:21) God’s Plan of Redemption – Revealed by Jesus
“From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples”
Grant Osborne: “From that time on he began” (ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο) also began 4:17 at the start of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, so this introductory formula frames the two parts of Matthew’s narrative, the movement upward to the Caesarea Philippi confession, and the movement downward to the cross. The use of “to show” (δεικνύειν, present tense here for the ongoing nature of the demonstration) is also strong (Mark 8:31 has “teach”), connoting a visualization of the message and meaning he wants to make things crystal clear to the disciples.
D. A. Carson: This is not the first time he alludes to his death (cf. 9:15; 10:38; 12:40; cf. also Jn 2:19; 3:14), but it is the first time he discusses it openly with his disciples. The time for symbols and veiled language was largely over, now that they had recognized him as Messiah. That is probably the significance of the change from Mark’s didaskō (“I teach”) to Matthew’s deiknyō (“I point out,” “I show”—not, as in the NIV, “I explain”). Jesus had taught the passion earlier but in symbolic language. Now he shows these things to his disciples clearly. Matthew’s verb (deiknyō) is equivalent to Mark’s clause: “He spoke plainly about this” (Mk 8:32).
Donald Hagner: It is thus the compulsion of God’s will that lies behind the following four infinitives, which are together syntactically governed by δεῖ.
Daniel Doriani: His death and resurrection are essential to God’s design from all eternity. At the empty tomb, an angel reminded the disciples of Jesus’ words, that he “must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again” (Luke 24:7). This “must” reflects the eternal plan of the triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father planned, the Son achieved, and the Spirit empowered Jesus.
- Destination for Passion and Resurrection = Jerusalem
“that He must go to Jerusalem,”
John MacArthur: it is a must that is bigger than the moment in which we see it. It is a must that is older than the circumstances in which we hear it. It is a must that comes thundering out of eternity. It is not the must of human devotion to an ideal, it is the must of a divine imperative. It is an ageless must. It comes with the force of eternity. This is the plan of God, set in motion before the foundation of the world.
Four things made it necessary.
- First, human sin. He had to die because men are sinners and they must have their sin paid for.
- Secondly, because of the divine requirement, without the shedding of blood, there could be no remission, and so men needed a death and God required a death.
- And then you can add to that the divine decree, God by His determinate counsel and foreknowledge brought it to pass.
- And then you could even add the prophetic promise, the prophets had said the Messiah would die. It’s Matthew who records His death so beautifully, as the other gospel writers, but it’s the psalmist who describes centuries before.
- Degradation of Suffering at the Hands of Jewish Religious Leaders
“and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes,”
John MacArthur: The holy city is not holy. And the leaders of it are not holy, either.
Grant Osborne: a general summary of all the indignities and torment at the hands of the authorities. These are spelled out in more detail in the third prediction (20:19) and encompass all of the events from the arrest to the crucifixion. The three groups mentioned here are governed by a single article and so together constitute the Jewish leadership.
- Destiny of Crucifixion and Resurrection
“and be killed,”
Stu Weber: At the heart of the plan, Jesus must be killed—as the sacrificial lamb, the Son of Abraham, for the sake of Israel and all nations (Gen. 12:3; Matt. 1:2, 17). By this means he would redeem a sinful people. But he would be raised as the triumphant lion of Judah (Gen. 49:9), the sovereign Son of David (Gen. 49:10; Matt. 1:6, 17). Thus, he would restore his entire kingdom to its proper place, under his authority.
“and be raised up on the third day.”
Grant Osborne: The “third day” theme is connected to the “three days and three nights” of 12:40 and will be found again at 17:23; 20:19; 27:63. It became a major creedal affirmation in the early church, and 1 Cor 15:4 (cf. John 2:19) records that Jesus was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”; this is often linked with Hos 6:2 (“on the third day he will restore us,” cf. also 2 Kgs 20:5; Jonah 1:17) but is probably even broader, to the whole OT tradition of a third-day deliverance. Jesus was placed in the grave Friday afternoon and raised Sunday morning and by Jewish reckoning was in the grave “three days and three nights” inclusively.
B. (:22-23) Peter’s Resistance – Peter and Jesus Rebuke Each Other
- (:22) Peter Rebukes the Lord – Crucifixion and Messiahship Are Not Compatible
“And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying,
‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’”
D. A. Carson: How much of Jesus’ sayings about his death did the disciples understand before the events? The gospel evidence points in two complementary directions. On the one hand, the disciples understand perfectly well; otherwise, for instance, Peter could not possibly have rebuked Jesus (v.22). On the other hand, they cannot believe that Messiah will really be killed because their conceptions of the Messiah do not allow for a Suffering Servant. Therefore, Peter dares to rebuke Jesus, and the disciples begin to think that Jesus’ predictions of his sufferings must be in some way nonliteral (Mk 9:10; Lk 9:45). . .
Peter’s strong will and warm heart linked to his ignorance produce a shocking bit of arrogance. He confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and then speaks in a way that implies he knows more of God’s will than the Messiah himself.
R. T. France: that Jesus “was raised” by the power of God is not to be set over against his “rising” victorious. But the passive formulation perhaps encourages us to see in this event God’s vindication of his faithful Messiah. Jesus’ resurrection is predicted not only in the three passion predictions but also in 17:9; 26:32, in both of which it is not so much announced as taken for granted. His expectation of personal resurrection is not explicitly derived from the OT, but may have owed something to the influence of passages like Isa 52:13–15; 53:10–12; Ps 16:10–11; 118:17–18, 22, which link rejection, suffering and death with subsequent vindication. But despite these predictions the disciples still seem to have been unprepared for the event, perhaps because the idea of the personal return to life of the Messiah (or indeed of any other person except by temporary resuscitation as in 9:25; 10:8; 11:5) was so foreign to their world-view that they instinctively heard the words as a metaphor for future vindication rather than as a literal prediction. It was the suffering and death that stayed in their minds rather than the resurrection.
Leon Morris: Peter has just given expression to the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah and has been praised by Jesus for this. He has seen something of Jesus’ greatness, and because he has seen that greatness it is inconceivable to him that Jesus would undergo the humiliation of which he has just spoken. For Peter it is unthinkable that the one he has just pronounced “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” should be rejected and killed. How could the Jewish nation reject the Jewish Messiah? So he says forthrightly, “this will never happen to you”; his double negative is very emphatic (and with the future indicative rather than the aorist subjunctive even more so).
- (:23) The Lord Rebukes Peter – The Cross Cannot Be Avoided
“But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’”
Grant Osborne: Peter’s mind-set is not framed by God’s perspective but by the purely human expectations of Israel’s messianic hopes.
The two sources of spiritual failure (Satan and self) are both emphasized here. Jesus’ statement here has long been recognized as the heart of true discipleship in the sense of focusing on heavenly rather than earthly concerns and is closely linked in thrust with 6:19–21, which teaches us to seek treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth.
D. A. Carson: A few moments earlier, Jesus had called Peter a rock. Now he calls him a different kind of “rock,” a skandalon (“a stumbling block.”). This is one of several striking parallels between vv.13–20 and vv.21–23. As Satan offered Jesus kingship without suffering (4:8–9), so Peter does the same, adopting current expectations of victorious messianic conquest (Pss. Sol. 17; cf. Schürer, History of the Jewish People, 2:517–25, and bibliography, 488–92). Jesus recognizes the same diabolical source behind the same temptation. For him to acquiesce would be to rebel against the will of his Father. The notion of a suffering Messiah, misunderstood by Peter so that he became a stumbling block to Jesus, itself becomes, after the resurrection, a stumbling block to other Jews (1Co 1:23).
R. T. France: Jesus’ counter-rebuke of Peter is remarkably severe. Even the body-language adds to the effect: whereas Peter had confidentially “taken Jesus aside,” Jesus now “turns on him” to issue a public reprimand. The opening words directly recall the dismissal of Satan in 4:10, here strengthened by the addition of the words “behind me,” to emphasize Jesus’ dissociation of himself from Peter’s ideology. But whereas in 4:10 the “Enemy” (which is what “Satan” means) was the chief demon himself, here it is Jesus’ loyal follower. For Peter to be addressed by this obnoxious name must have been deeply wounding, especially after the accolade in vv. 17–19. There is no parallel to such an address to a human being. But this is not merely extravagant abuse; the choice of this epithet suggests rather that behind the “human thoughts” of Peter Jesus discerns an attempt to divert him from his chosen course similar to that which Satan himself had made in 4:1–11. The same Peter who had just spoken what God had revealed to him (v. 17) is now speaking for Satan. Just as the third temptation in 4:8–9 had been to achieve worldly power by accommodating himself to Satan rather than attacking him, so now Peter’s vision of Messiahship represents the easier way to power and authority, the gains without the pains. As long as he holds such a view, the “rock” on which the church is to be built proves instead to be a stumbling-block. The image goes neatly with the demand “get behind me:” as long as Peter stands in front of Jesus he is in his way, stopping him getting on with his mission. He gets in the way of God’s purpose for Jesus by his unthinking acceptance of “human thoughts.” Peter has expressed only what comes naturally to the human mind when presented with the idea of power and authority which the title “Messiah” suggests. But human thoughts are not God’s thoughts (Isa 55:8–9), and if they are not questioned they can stand in the way of God’s purpose and derail it. In much of the rest of this section of the gospel Jesus will be seen persistently trying to undermine the “human thoughts” of the disciples so as to get them to see things from the perspective of the kingdom of heaven (note especially 19:23–30; 20:20–28).
S. Lewis Johnson: Now it seems to me that we have an application of this in all of the many activities which in the local church impinge upon the priority of the word of God. It is possible for individuals who love the Lord to make diabolically hellish suggestions concerning the ministry of the local church. It’s sad but true. And often they are made out of the best human intentions. Peter’s human intentions were good. He didn’t like the concept of Jesus being slain by the rulers in Jerusalem. That was something that was very bad for him. And so he acted out of that human love for Jesus Christ, but it was not divine. It was not understanding. It was not enlightened activity. It was actually diabolical. And there are many things that happen in the local church in which substitutions are made for the primacy of the word of God.
John MacArthur: So we see the plan of God, presumption of Peter, protest of Christ, lastly, the principle for us. What does this say to us? Now listen very carefully. This is the point of all of this. The end of verse 23, here’s the principle, and He generalizes now out of the specific incident and He puts Peter’s action in a category that all of us are in from time to time. . . “For you are thinking along not the lines of God but the lines of men.” You are reasoning from the standpoint of humanness, not deity. You’re thinking the things of men, you’re not thinking the things of God. . .
What is the lesson for us? Two lessons, just two and I want you to remember.
- Lesson number one, the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God may not fit men’s definitions, but He is no less the fulfillment of God’s plan.
- There’s a second lesson, and that considers itself with not Christ but us. And it is that we must learn that for us there is pain in the refining process.
II. (:24-26) THE PRICE OF DISCIPLESHIP INCLUDES THE CROSS
John MacArthur: WINNING BY LOSING: THE PARADOX OF DISCIPLESHIP
There are some things that our Lord specially taught, some specially loved truths, which He went back to again and again and again. We see them over and over in the Scripture. And we will never understand salvation and we will never understand discipleship unless we understand this principle, so oft repeated. The principle is winning by losing. . .
God says the gain comes through the pain and the glory comes through the suffering. It has to. There’s no other way because you cannot put God, whether incarnate in the Son or alive in the hearts of His people, in the midst of an anti-God society without there being some suffering, without a reproach, without hostility. That’s why 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “All that will live godly in this present age shall suffer persecution.” And He says to Peter, “You don’t understand God’s thinking. You put holiness in the midst of an unholy society, and there has to be a reaction.”
A. (:24) Challenge to Embrace Self-Denial and Suffering
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me,’”
Leon Morris: Coming after me could mean simply walking behind Jesus as he moved along the road, but in a context like this there is no doubt that it means “be a disciple,” “be a committed follower.” Such a person must deny himself. The natural tendency of the race is to affirm oneself, to concentrate on what serves one’s own interests, to make oneself as prosperous as one can. Jesus calls on all his true followers to renounce such self-interest (NEB, “leave self behind”). It is not easy to understand that we must concentrate on meeting the needs of others rather than promoting ourselves (which is why people make utterances like the one Peter had just made).
Jesus brings out the truth that he is looking for the utmost in self-denial by saying that the disciple must take up his cross. We minimize the force of this with sayings like “We all have our cross to bear.” Jesus was not talking about minor discomforts. Those who heard him utter these words knew what taking up a cross meant; they knew that it was the prelude to that person’s crucifixion. Jesus was speaking about a death to a whole way of life; he was talking about the utmost in self-sacrifice, a very death to selfishness and all forms of self-seeking. We should not miss the force of his cross: there is a cross for every servant of God. And when we come to follow, we should not miss the present imperative: “let him keep on following me.” Jesus is talking about a discipleship that is a whole way of life.
3 Essential Aspects of Discipleship:
“let him deny himself,”
William Barclay: To deny oneself means in every moment of life to say no to self and yes to God. To deny oneself means finally, once and for all to dethrone self and to enthrone God. To deny oneself means to obliterate self as the dominant principle of life, and to make God the ruling principle – more, the ruling passion – of life. The life of constant self-denial is the life of constant assent to God.
D. A. Carson: Death to self is not so much a prerequisite of discipleship to Jesus as a continuing characteristic of it.
Craig Blomberg: Self-denial does not imply self-abuse or lack of self-esteem. As Jesus’ disciples believers should have a better self-image than any other people, but it should be based on God’s grace and not their merit. Self-denial does, however, mean putting God and his kingdom priorities first. This should have a visible impact on the nature of one’s financial commitments and service to church and world and should lead to the rejection of self-centered arrogance and pride. According to Allison and Davies, “Discipleship is a doing of what is right, no matter how irksome the privations, no matter how great the dangers.” The Beatitudes (5:3-12) provide as good a commentary as any on the concept expressed more concisely here.
John MacArthur: And when you lovingly and patiently bear any disgrace, any irregularity, any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with folly and extravagance and spiritual insensitivity and endure it as Jesus did, that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any money, any clothing, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. And when you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch after commendation from others, and when you truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self.
- Cross Bearing
“and take up his cross,”
John MacArthur: It is the willingness to endure persecution, rejection, reproach, shame, suffering, even martyrdom, for His sake. That’s all.
Grant Osborne: “Take up their cross” (ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ, see also on 10:38) is an incredibly powerful metaphor in a world where rebels and malcontents could regularly be seen dying on crosses. The disciples had to know, with all the opposition to Jesus by the officials, that this was a real possibility for them. In the Roman world it was common for the condemned criminal to carry his own cross to the place of execution, so this is an apt analogy. It is likely that there is a twofold thrust: cross-bearing as a symbol of the total denial of self, and a willingness to die for Christ if necessary. Again Jesus is the supreme model who has done both.
Application: Make certain your true followers understand the God-given path for your ministry. Jesus’ entire ploy at Caesarea Philippi was to confront the disciples with his messianic reality and to correct any misunderstanding they had. The true test was about to occur as they moved along the road of destiny and faced many obstacles, moving ever closer to Jerusalem and the cross. Jesus wanted them on the same wavelength as much as possible as they faced the certain dread of that destiny. Such communication of purpose is essential for a united movement. . .
The Path of Self-Denial and Suffering:
Jesus could not be more clear on this. To follow the human rather than the divine way is antithetical to discipleship. God demands that we seek the things that are above, not the things on earth (Col 3:1–2). This means a radical surrender and a radical abrogation of the world’s ways and priorities. To “gain/find” the one, we must “lose/forfeit” the other. This involves living for the eternal future reality, not the temporary present desires. This distinctly involves wealth, possessions, and status (“gain the whole world”), a major concern of all three Synoptics but especially Luke (Luke 1:51–53; 3:7–14; 4:18–19; 6:20–26; etc.). Every Christian must come to grips with worldly possessions vs. serving God.
- Following Jesus
“and follow Me.”
John MacArthur: The third ingredient in the principle of discipleship is loyal obedience. “And follow me.” “And follow me.” The text literally says, “Let him be following me.” It’s a way of life. It’s a submissiveness to the Lordship of Christ that becomes a pattern of living. It can even relate to the word “to imitate.” If we say we belong to Jesus, 1 John 2:6, we ought to walk as He walked, putting our feet in His footprints, loyal to the divine will.
B. (:25) Cost of Discipleship Gains Everything
“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it;
but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.”
R. T. France: the willingness to risk one’s own life. It means putting loyalty to Jesus before self-preservation. . . Loss of life as such is no gain; it is life lost out of loyalty to Jesus which ensures that true life is gained.
William Barclay: In our day and generation, it is not likely to be a question of martyrdom, but it still remains a fact that if we meet life in the constant search for safety, security, ease and comfort, if every decision is taken from worldly-wise and prudential motives, we are losing all that makes life worthwhile. Life becomes a soft and flabby thing when it might have been an adventure. Life becomes a selfish thing when it might have been radiant with service. Life becomes an earthbound thing when it might have been reaching for the stars. Someone once wrote a bitter epitaph on a man: ‘He was born a man and died a grocer.’ Any trade or profession might be substituted for the word grocer. Those who play for safety cease to be truly human, for human beings are made in the image of God.
People who risk all for Christ – and maybe look as if they had lost all – find life. It is the simple lesson of history that it has always been the adventurous men and women, bidding farewell to security and safety, who wrote their names on history and greatly assisted human progress.
C. (:26) Calculation of Discipleship Prioritizes Eternal Destiny
“For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?
Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
J. Ligon Duncan: Jesus’ argument with His disciples is that those who do not deny themselves temporally, deny themselves eternally. If you will not deny yourself now, you have by that very choice denied yourself for eternity. Selfishness causes the soul to contract. But love makes it expand, enriches it, fills it to overflowing with assurance in peace and joy. That’s why men like Jim Elliott could repeat that ancient quote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Do we truly value the soul in that way? Do we truly believe that the rewards that are worth having are the rewards to come? Or, are we satisfied with the trinkets of this age? That is the question that Jesus is pressing. Not just to His original disciples, but to you and me. How does it make a difference? Because if you really believe that the rewards that Christ promises are eternal, and if you really believe that those rewards are only experienced in relationship with him and will in some cases have to await the future manifestation of the kingdom, it changes the whole way you approach the things and the blessings of this life.
Charles Swindoll: 3 “nevers” we must never forget:
1) (:21) We must never think that just because something is unexpected, it’s unacceptable.
2) (22-23) We must never think that the Lord should alter His plan to fit our preferences.
3) (:24-26) We must never think that being a close follower of Jesus can happen without self-denial.
Jesus encouraged them that though the demand for discipleship was high, the rewards were inestimable. Yes, those who gripped their lives with white knuckles would lose them in the end. And if they didn’t surrender their souls to Christ, everything they held onto would be lost forever. But those who let go in self-denial and opened themselves up to whatever God had for them would be rewarded beyond imagination (16:25). This reward wouldn’t necessarily come in this life, however. A person could gain the “whole world” yet forfeit his or her soul. What person, when faced with an eternity of damnation, would not wish to have given up everything previously held dear on earth for the joys of heaven? That’s the argument Jesus was making as He urged the disciples to a life of total abandon when it came to following Him.
III. (:27-28) THE PAROUSIA OF THE SON OF MAN BRINGS GLORY, REWARD AND DOMINION
A. (:27) Promise of End Time Second Coming with Judgment, Glory and Reward
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels;
and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.”
John MacArthur: And that leads us to the parousia, that’s the word for “coming.” We use it speak of the second coming, and that’s what verse 27 talks about. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels and then He shall render to every man according to his works.” And what He’s saying is, “Look, you better decide what decision you’re going to make because there is a day of accounting coming. There’s a day when the Judge is going to come.” And do you remember John 5 says that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son and He is coming to judge, and He will be coming in the full radiant glory of God the Father, manifesting and revealing that ultimate glory, along with angels who are the instruments of judgment. And then He will render to every man according to his works.
Leon Morris: Jesus makes it clear that there will be a final reckoning and that those who have exchanged their essential being, their “life,” for ephemeral profit or pleasure will receive the recompense that is due. In the end there will be a righting of all wrongs.
David Turner: Disciples today likewise often do not grasp that their present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to future glory (16:27; cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Tim. 2:11–13). Those who seek to follow Jesus still need periodic reorientation to kingdom values (cf. Matt. 20:20–28). Glory and rewards await faithful disciples (19:27–29), but these come only after a life of self-denying service that follows in the steps of Jesus to the cross, as 16:24–28 shows.
B. (:28) Promise of Preview Experience of Kingdom Majesty, Victory and Dominion
“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
John MacArthur: And may I suggest to you an interesting thought? This same promise, “Some of you are not standing,” and so forth – “Some of you standing will not see death,” appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And in all three cases where it appears, it is immediately followed, every single time, by the same incident so that what the Lord is simply doing is interpreting what He just said by what happens. “Some of you standing here shall not die till you see the Son of Man in regal splendor.” You know what they were about to get? A personal, private preview of second coming glory. It’s exactly what they were going to get.
Do you want to get in on it? Verse 1, “After six days, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John his brother” – that’s it, just those three; that’s the “some” who didn’t die till they saw Him in regal splendor. The rest died, folks, before they saw Him in regal splendor, because they haven’t – He hasn’t come in regal splendor yet.
But these three weren’t going to die until they saw this. And it only came six days later; brought them into a high mountain privately. “And He was transfigured before them; and His face did shine like the sun, and His garment” – or raiment –“was as white as the light.” You know what happened? God flipped the switch and turned on deity on the inside. And the blazing light came from the inside out. And then to add to this, there appeared Moses and Elijah talking with Him. Now, this was an overwhelming scene.
Leon Morris: In his commentary on the equivalent passage in Luke Alfred Plummer lists seven principal ways of understanding the passage that have been put forward:
(1) the transfiguration,
(2) the resurrection and ascension,
(4) the spread of Christianity,
(5) the internal development of the gospel,
(6) the destruction of Jerusalem, and
(7) the second advent.
D. A. Carson: It seems best to take v.28 as having a more general reference—namely, not referring simply to the resurrection, to Pentecost, or the like, but to the manifestation of Christ’s kingly reign exhibited after the resurrection in a host of ways, not the least of them being the rapid multiplication of disciples and the mission to the Gentiles. Some of those standing there would live to see Jesus’ gospel proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire and a rich “harvest” (cf. 9:37–38) of converts reaped for Jesus Messiah. This best suits the flexibility of the “kingdom” concept in the Synoptic Gospels and the present context. Thus, v.28 does not refer to the same thing as 10:23. . .
it is likely that Matthew (and Mark and Luke, who use the same awkward phrase about “some of those standing here” and equally closely link that saying with the following account of the Transfiguration) saw in this vision at least a proleptic fulfillment of Jesus’ solemn words in v. 28, even though the truth of Jesus’ kingship was to be more concretely embodied in later events following his resurrection.
William Barclay: There are two quite distinct sayings here.
(1) The first is a warning, the warning of inevitable judgment. Life is going somewhere – and life is going to judgment. In any sphere of life, there inevitably comes the day of reckoning. There is no escape from the fact that Christianity teaches that after life there comes the judgment; and when we take this passage in conjunction with the passage which goes before, we see at once what the standard of judgment is. People who selfishly hug life to themselves, people whose first concern is their own safety, their own security and their own comfort, are in heaven’s eyes the failures, however rich and successful and prosperous they may seem to be. Those who spend themselves for others, and who live life as a gallant adventure, are the men and women who receive heaven’s praise and God’s reward.
(2) The second is a promise. As Matthew records this phrase, it reads as if Jesus spoke as if he expected his own visible return in the lifetime of some of those who were listening to him. If Jesus said that, he was mistaken. But we see the real meaning of what Jesus said when we turn to Mark’s record of it. Mark has: “And he said to them: ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”’ (Mark 9:1).
It is of the mighty working of his kingdom that Jesus is speaking; and what he said came most divinely true. There were those standing there who saw the coming of Jesus in the coming of the Spirit at the day of Pentecost. There were those who were to see Gentiles and Jews swept into the kingdom; they were to see the tide of the Christian message sweep across Asia Minor and cover Europe until it reached Rome. Well within the lifetime of those who heard Jesus speak, the kingdom came with power.
Again, this is to be taken closely with what goes before. Jesus warned his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and that there he must suffer many things and die. That was the shame; but the shame was not the end. After the cross there came the resurrection. The cross was not to be the end; it was to be the beginning of the unleashing of that power which was to surge throughout the whole world. This is a promise to the disciples of Jesus Christ that no human action can hinder the expansion of the kingdom of God.