“till they have seen the kingdom of God come” (Mark 9:1).
John and Jesus taught that the kingdom was “at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). They obviously believed it was forthcoming.
Some followers were so convinced of it, they attempted to force Jesus to lead a coupe d’état to declare Israel’s independence from Rome (which, by the way, he rejected, cf. John 6:15). Nevertheless, Jesus continued preaching about the kingdom’s imminent arrival.
Did it ever come? Was it only metaphor? Is it yet future?
On one occasion, Jesus told a group of followers,
Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1, NASB).
Some suggest that Jesus’ transfiguration, which was witnessed only by Peter, James and John, and which took place in relative proximity to these words, was the fulfillment of them (Matthew 17:1-13).
Is there any reason to assume that Jesus’ glorious transfiguration was the coming of the kingdom about which he spoke?
The evidence is lacking. The saying and the transfiguration are relatively close in proximity, just six days (Mark 9:2). Beyond that, there is little else to connect the transfiguration to this saying. One would have to assert that Jesus’ transfiguration is the kingdom; or, at the best, a foreshadowing of the kingdom – a sort of, kingdom-in-earnest presentation, as it were. That is quite a stretch, and we believe it an unnecessary one.
Some who propose this theory also suggest that the kingdom has yet to come at all, that we are yet waiting for it. Which is it? Did the kingdom come metaphorically when Jesus was glorified before Peter, James and John, or is it yet to come? It can’t be both, but it could be neither.
Interestingly, Barnes gave an answer that fits the evidence perfectly and eliminates the mental gymnastics. He wrote:
The meaning evidently is, “till they shall see my kingdom,” i.e., my church…All this was accomplished. All these apostles, except Judas, lived to see the wonders of the day of Pentecost; some of them, John particularly, saw the Jewish nation scattered, the temple destroyed, the gospel established in Asia, Rome, Greece, and in a large part of the known world.
This is the best argument, that the kingdom Jesus promised to usher in, and the church Jesus promised to build – which came into being on the first Pentecost following his resurrection – are precisely the same entity. They are not complementary entities. They are not consecutive entities (the church first, then the kingdom). They are the one and the same.
The only reason to interpret this prophetic promise of Jesus as being fulfilled in his transfiguration is to avoid the fact that the church and the kingdom are the same entity.
Notice also that Barnes alludes to the fact that this came to fruition, not a few days hence, as is assumed by the transfiguration theory, but on the day of Pentecost – when the gospel was preached, people repented and obeyed the gospel, and were added to the church (Acts 2:47). This fits perfectly with what Jesus told his disciples just before his ascension:
And, behold, I send the promise of my father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).
Some disciples then living saw the Lord’s kingdom come with power. That power was the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles and giving them the ability to miraculously communicate with all dialects the gospel of Christ on the Day of Pentecost.
When people obeyed the gospel that day, and since, they entered into that kingdom (Colossians 1:14), which is the church (Acts 2:47).