FULFILLED AT THE TRANSFIGURATION?
Don K. Preston
“Very I say unto you, there are some standing here that shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 16:27-28 continues to be a source of great consternation to Bible students. Jesus’ emphatic statement about the time of his coming, the judgment and the kingdom challenges all futurist eschatologies. The number of “explanations” that have been offered to mitigate the power of Jesus’ words is amazing. Most of these explanations are so patently ridiculous that one has to wonder at the desperation of traditionalists who make them. See my book Can You Believe Jesus Said This? for a discussion and refutation of the leading objections to Jesus’ prediction. That book is available from this website.
The most common objection to Jesus’ straightforward words is that his prediction was fulfilled just eight days later in the Transfiguration vision. We are told that the Transfiguration fulfilled Jesus’ prediction, but, that in fact, his parousia– that which was predicted in Matthew 16:28 will occur at the end of the current Christian age.
So, what this means is that Matthew 16:28 was not actually fulfilled in the Transfiguration at all. It was a visionary forecast of the true fulfillment. It is even widely admitted that the Transfiguration was not the event itself that Jesus predicted but was somehow a typological, or symbolic vision of the fulfillment of what Jesus predicted.
Think about that for a moment. This means that Jesus was saying, “There are some standing here that shall not taste death until they see a vision of the yet future coming of the son of Man.” This will not work, especially in light of Mark 9:1. When one examines the Greek of the text, notice the literal translation: “Verily I say to you, That there are certain of those standing here, who may not taste of death till they see the reign of God having come in power” (Young’s Literal. Notice also the RSV and other translations).
In other words, some standing there that day would not die until they saw that the coming of the Son of Man in the kingdom had come in power! They would live until that event. They would live through that event. They would look back on the fulfillment of Jesus’ words.
Jesus was not saying, “Some standing here will not taste of death until they see a vision of the future coming.” He said, “There are some standing here that shall not taste of death until they see that the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (NASB). The literal Greek of Mark totally dispels and destroys the idea of the Transfiguration being the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction.
Jesus’ words “Some standing here” demands that the majority of those standing there would die before the parousia. The event he was predicting was to be sufficiently far off temporally that most of that audience would die, but some would survive to see his coming. Did only a handful of that multitude survive the next eight days until the Transfiguration? This “explanation” of Jesus’ prediction is patently false on this fact alone, but, this is not nearly all.
Notice that only three men– three men!!– witnessed the Transfiguration. So, what we are being told is that Jesus, standing in the midst of a huge multitude, said “Some standing here will not die until the see the Son of Man coming” and what he meant by that was that “three of you standing here will not die until they see me coming.” By the very nature of the case, this argument falls because it is so ludicrous.
It is argued that Peter’s referent to the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:16 proves that Matthew 16:28 was fulfilled on the Mount. But this simply is not true. (See my in-depth study of the Transfiguration in my The Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat, available on this website. The Transfiguration proves that the parousia was truly imminent in the first century, and was to be fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem).
Peter did appeal to the Transfiguration as a vision of the parousia. Of this there can be no doubt. And, he even said that that Transfiguration made the prophetic word more sure. But, he did not say that the Transfiguration fulfilled Jesus prediction in Matthew 16:28! To claim that Peter did say this is a gross mis-use of 2 Peter 1:16f.
Finally, it is argued that the Transfiguration proves that the Lord is to come at the end of the current (Christian) age. Nothing could be more false!
Now, it is true that the Transfiguration was a vision of the end of an age, of this there can be no doubt. But, of what age was the Transfiguration a vision of the impending or future end? It patently was not the Christian age. The Christian age has no end, so this fact alone destroys the argument, but, the Transfiguration vision itself defines the end that was to end.
What really happened on the Mount? Did the disciples witness a visionary end to planet earth? Did the see a vision of the end of time? Nothing in the vision even remotely suggests such a thing. Did they witness the end of the Gospel? Well, since Jesus said that his word– and thus the gospel age– will never pass away (Matthew 25:35) it is patently wrong to suggest that they saw such a thing. So, what did the disciples see? What age ended in the Transfiguration vision?
We have only to remember that in the vision, Moses and Elijah– who do not by any stretch of the imagination represent the current Christian age– appeared to Jesus. In his enthusiasm, Peter wanted to establish three tabernacles in honor of Moses, Elijah and Jesus. But what happened? Moses and Elijah vanished away, and the voice from heaven, the Bath Qol, said “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him!”
What happened on the Mount was that the disciples saw a vision of the passing of the Old Covenant age of Moses and Elijah! If the claim that Matthew 16:28 was fulfilled in the Transfiguration is true, then the vision itself does not match. The disciples should have seen Jesus fade away. Instead, they saw a vision of the establishment of the age and word of Jesus! The glory of Christ was established– not terminated– in the vision. The New Covenant age was depicted as transcendent over Moses and Elijah. The Transfiguration was not, in any way whatsoever, a vision of the passing of the current Christian age. Those who claim that the Transfiguration was a vision of the end of the Christian age must be able to show how and why the vanishing of Moses and Elijah represented and communicated the idea of the end of the Christian age. This cannot be done.
What all of this means, and I present much, much more in my book Can You Believe Jesus Said This?, proves beyond any doubt that Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 16:28 was not fulfilled, typologically or in vision form, on the Mount of Transfiguration. That mountain top vision did confirm Jesus prophetic word as more sure, but, it did not fulfill his prophecy. The fulfillment of his
words took place at the end of the age of Moses and Elijah, and that was at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The futurist “explanation” of Matthew 16:28 is false.