by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Matthew 16:21-28; Mark 8:31-9:1; Luke 9:21-27
To the dismay of his disciples, Jesus began to speak of his pending death. Peter and the other disciples did not realize the importance of that death in God's plans. Peter went so far as to declare that God would never allow such a thing to happen to Jesus. For this, Jesus sharply rebukes Peter for thinking about his own desires and not God's desires.
Jesus was willing to submit to death to rescue mankind from the clutches of sin. He then tells his disciples that they, too, must be willing to sacrifice everything. Saving your life for the moment is a small payment for losing your life eternally.
However, Jesus was not going to just die, he also promised that he would be resurrected. Jesus would be coming in glory with his angels and when he does come every man's deeds would be justly recompensed. So the wise man will begin acting like a follower Christ, even if it means following him into death so that he might share in the glory of his king. The decision could not be put off because some standing in Jesus's audience would live to see Christ coming in his kingdom.
One mistake many people make in dealing with the New Testament prophecy is assuming most statements dealing with the future are dealing with Jesus's second coming. While the New Testament does speak at length about Jesus's return, it is not the only thing of which is spoken. There are prophecies dealing with the founding of Christ's church, the struggles of the early church, the fall of the church's enemies, and the fall of the church itself. To determine what is being predicted, the student must let God define his terminology through other passages in the Bible instead of assuming the meaning.
These last two verses (verses 27 and 28 in Matthew 16) cause some difficulties with students of God's Word. Matthew 16:27 sounds like the second coming of Jesus, which has not happened yet. However, Matthew 16:28 speaks as if this and the kingdom would come within a few years of Jesus's statement. Those of us who have been studying the Bible awhile recognize that Jesus's statement in Matthew 16:28 is speaking of the foundation of the church, but then is the prior verse a completely different topic or is it related to verse 28?
Matthew 16:27 is an allusion to a prophecy in Daniel 7. After seeing a vision of four terrible beasts, Daniel sees:
"I kept looking until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire.A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened. Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time" (Daniel 7:9-12).
It is a majestic vision of God sitting on His throne bringing judgment on the boasting beasts. As terrible as the vision of the beast was to Daniel, he was given to know they would not last. However, the vision continues:
"I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)
We know from the Gospels that Jesus frequently called himself the Son of Man. So here is a vision of Jesus approaching the throne of God to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will not end.
We do not have to guess as to when this great event would take place. The vision was explained to Daniel, at least in part:
"I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 'These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.'" (Daniel 7:16-18)
The eternal kingdom would come during the fourth empire from Daniel's time. This is similar to the message of an earlier vision that Daniel interpreted for King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:31-45. The first empire we are told is the Babylonian Empire, the second, we are told elsewhere, is the Mede-Persian Empire (Daniel 5:28), the third empire would be the Greeks (Daniel 8:21; 10:20), and the fourth is unnamed, but the description closely matches the Roman Empire which succeeded the Greek Empire. Hence we know that the Christ would receive an eternal kingdom during the Roman Empire.
Daniel was curious about the fourth kingdom and especially its boastful horn. Further details were given to him:
"I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. Thus he said: 'The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it.As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.'" (Daniel 7:21-27)
The boastful horn would persecute the people of God, but God would bring judgment against that king (for that is what the horn represents). The empire represented by the fourth beast would be destroyed, but the eternal kingdom would continue to serve their king.
With this great prophecy in mind, take a look at I Corinthians 15:23-28:
"But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all."
Paul clearly states that Jesus Christ is now reigning and will continue to reign until death is conquered. This matches Ephesians 1:22-23 which tells us that all things were put in subjection to Jesus when he became head of the church. Not only did Christ receive a kingdom, but he also received glory (Ephesians 1:18-21). Jesus has a kingdom in which he holds the preeminent position (Colossians 1:18). Hence to Jesus belongs eternal glory, honor, and dominion as prophesied by Daniel (I Timothy 6:16; I Peter 4:11; 5:11; Revelation 1:6; 5:13). If this wasn't clear enough that Christ's kingdom is the church over which Christ currently reigns, take a look at Matthew 16:18-19. Just prior to Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 16:24-28, Jesus promised to build his church, which he also calls the kingdom.
Jesus promised his audience that the kingdom would come during their lifetime. When the kingdom comes, it would come with power (Mark 9:1). After Jesus's resurrection, he told his disciples that they would be clothed with power (Luke 24:49). Just before his ascension, Jesus said that power would come with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Jesus's promise was fulfilled in Acts 2:1 when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost and the Lord's church was established (Acts 2:41).
Jesus, just prior to his death, established a memorial feast and stated that he would not join them again in that feast until his kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Paul quotes Jesus's words as justification for the partaking of the Lord's supper in the worship of the church (I Corinthians 11:23-26).
We still need to address the statement that Jesus would come in his glory with his angels to render each man according to his deeds. The idea of rendering to each man according to his deeds is simply another way of saying he would bring judgment. For example, the phrase is used of the final judgment in Romans 2:5-6 and II Corinthians 5:10.
Similarly, the phrase "coming with his angels" is also a reference to judgment, such as in Jude 14-15. Yet not all judgment is the final judgment. In Zechariah 14:5-8, God promises to come to Jerusalem with his angels to bring judgment, yet it talks of people fleeing Jerusalem to avoid that judgment. After the judgment, living water is depicted flowing from Jerusalem. Neither of these can happen in the final judgment as the world will cease to exist (II Peter 3). The same event described in Zechariah 14:5-8 is also described by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-31, only in Matthew Jesus describes himself coming with the clouds. Again, we are not necessarily describing the final judgment. God described himself coming with the clouds to bring about the destruction of Egypt in Isaiah 19:1. Jesus promised the High Priest that he would see Jesus in power coming on the clouds.
The description in Matthew 16:27 is that when Jesus comes in glory and his kingdom, he will also bring judgment. His exalted position gives him the right to judge and to execute that judgment. It could be that Jesus is referring to his right to bring judgment at the end of the world or it could be referring to his right to judge Israel for rejecting him and his kingdom. Jesus' glory, his dominion, his right to judge, and his judgment against Jerusalem all came within the lifetime of those listening to Jesus' words. A third possibility is that Jesus is talking immediately about the judgment that will take place against Israel but he worded it generally enough so that we understand that such judgment will remain true when he returns for the final judgment.
Loyalty to the King
Jesus warned his followers that if they wished to share in his glory and avoid his judgment, they must be loyal to their king, even to death. Jesus promised only to recognize his followers (Luke 12:8-9). As Paul later stated:
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (II Timothy 2:10-13)
Will you not pledge your loyalty to the great king this day?