Some Will Not Taste Death Until They see the Kingdom of God

This is about the kingdom, not the second coming.

Luke 9:23-27 (ESV)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

This is one of those passages where you have to pay attention to every word. At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is saying that His second coming will happen before the last Apostle dies. Not only is that not what happened; it doesn’t fit with the point He’s making.

The key word here is, “for,” which is the first word of verses 24, 25 and 26. The Greek word is “gar.” The Bauer Arndt Gingrich and Danker (BAGD) Greek lexicon defines, “gar” as, “a conjunction used to express cause, inference, continuation, or to explain.”

Jesus is explaining, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” At this point in His ministry any reference to “taking up a cross” is going to shock His listeners. Crucifixion was the death-by-torture penalty at the top of a brutal criminal justice hierarchy. There’s no reason for any normal person to think about taking up a cross.

Jesus is saying that the Romans are going to kill them for following Him. The three “for” verses are explaining why it’ll all be worth it. He’s saying, “This is what you’ve got to do guys.” It’s a tough, tough message.

Then verse 27 begins with “but” (“de” in Greek). BAGD says “de” is, “used to connect one clause with another when it is felt that there is some contrast between them.” Jesus is saying, “But here’s the good news.” The other important word in verse 27 is, “see.” The good news is that they will see the kingdom of God that Jesus has been saying is coming.

Notice that He doesn’t say that they’ll see “this” – the Son of Man coming in glory. No, what they’ll see is the kingdom of God. Some think this refers to Pentecost. Seeing people filled with God’s spirit is a pretty good picture of the arrival of His kingdom. Others think it’s about the transfiguration. Experts aren’t sure.

Whatever Jesus was referring to here, the kingdom of God did show up and could be seen. Those who saw it were encouraged enough to endure great suffering without recanting.

We owe an incredible debt to those first Christians. Their witness built a solid church. Peter is the rock on which Jesus built His church, but the rest of these Christians are the stones that formed the foundation.

The torture they endured, and the way they endured it, stands forever as a witness to the truth of their eyewitness reports.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.