Read Matthew 17
We left Jesus in the region of Caesarea Philippi. That was almost a week ago by the timeline provided by scripture. That last chapter ended with an interesting verse.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Chew on that one for a moment. First, the group identified was small, probably only the 12, and not all of the 12 but a subset—some who are standing here.
This small group will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Jesus had been preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand, but surely Jesus is talking about something else.
What does it mean that they will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom?
One possibility is that some in that small group of followers are still alive on this world, waiting for Jesus to come in this kingdom. Think to Simeon who knew he would live to see the Christ born. Could there still be men on the earth from the time that Jesus walked on land and water?
The problem is that we think we can account for the death of all of the disciples. So, were there some straphangers not listed?
Another option is that Jesus came in this glory and we missed it. Jesus came in his glory, in his kingdom, in his righteousness—King of Kings and Lord of Lords—and we missed it.
There was a new heaven and a new earth but we got left on the old one. If you thought that you got the sorry end of the stick with that $600 stimulus, then you wait until you realize that Jesus came back and set up his kingdom and you got left in Burns Flat.
On a totally unrelated note, I will be taking a 3-month sabbatical to teach gender studies in Pakistan. How hard can it be? That’s a boy. That’s a girl. That’s a boy. That’s a girl. Ooh! Those kids lived too close to where they keep the nukes.
Back to reality. Another possibility was that Jesus was talking about the 40 days that he walked the earth after his resurrection. He would come again in much more glory, but this seems better than we missed the boat.
The hangnail here is that Jesus said that some who are standing here would witness what was to come before they died. All witnessed the resurrected Jesus. Technically, all could be the prescribed subset described as some, but why would Jesus confuse his disciples who managed enough confusion on their own?
The most common interpretation is that what Jesus spoke of at the end of chapter 16, took place 6 days later in what we read as chapter 17. Jesus, Peter, James, and John went with Jesus up a mountain and Jesus was transfigured before them.
It was as if light itself was emanating from Jesus. The disciples did not note that they were blinded. This was perhaps the light that we read about in Revelation.
But is it the same to come in his kingdom and to be transfigured in his glory?
I told you that you would have something to chew on. Consider this as you masticate. The original word that Matthew used for Kingdom was basileia. This word includes not only the physical landscape of a kingdom but sovereignty and royalty and glory of the king from which the kingdom is derived.
Of all the likely interpretations of what Jesus meant, this seems to be the simplest and most direct. It requires the fewest assumptions. Realize that this is a New Year and I might just be the first pastor on the planet to have used Occam's razor as an analogy in a sermon this year.
All things considered, I like this interpretation much better than we missed the boat!
Jesus wasn’t alone. He was joined by Moses and Elijah. Here’s the fun part. How did the disciples know that these two men were Moses and Elijah? It had been over 800 years since anyone had seen Elijah and Moses had never been seen before within the Promised Land.
How did they know? Did someone have an old student ID? Were there pictures in the textbooks of that day?
In any case, they knew. Today, we generally equate Moses and Elijah to the law and the prophets. This was more than a few disciples getting a glimpse of Jesus in his glory that would come. It was a final coordination meeting.
Jesus would not go to the cross and then find out at the after-action brief that 3 prophecies had not been fulfilled. Before Jesus would cry out, it is finished, all would be finished.
Somehow, they knew and Peter thought they should do something special. Erecting some shelter would be a good thing, right?
Peter didn’t get to follow through. A bright cloud—shouldn’t that be an oxymoron—covered them and God spoke from heaven.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Those words should sound familiar from chapter 3. This time we see 3 more words.
Listen to him!
You think by this point the disciples would know to listen to their Master, but just in case, they got to hear it from a bright cloud.
I will cut to the chase on the remainder of this pericope.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The disciples can’t grasp this whole raised from the dead business because all the blocks have not been checked. The prophet Elijah must come first before any thing like this can happen.
Long story short—Elijah did come in the person of John the Baptist.
Transfigured into the glory that would come.
A high-level meeting with Elijah and Moses.
A voice from heaven.
An understanding that Elijah has come.
And finally, instructions not to speak of any of this until Jesus was raised from the dead.
I don’t have a single quip for you to chew on this week. I gave you the whole section. If your faith is strong and you like running down rabbit trails, it’s a good section to contemplate.
If you don’t like cleaning up loose ends, then just be happy to know that Jesus, Elijah and Moses made sure that all of the boxes had been checked so that Jesus could head to Jerusalem and the cross.
Just one tidbit to chew on…
When these men—Moses and Elijah were with Jesus—did Elijah look like John the Baptist?
There’s nothing here to impact your salvation or challenge your discipleship, but there is plenty to chew on.