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Did Jesus Get It Wrong?

January 21, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 9:26-27 (NRSV)

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.

Focus

In Luke 9:27 Jesus said that some of those standing with him would see the kingdom of God before they died. Some people believe Jesus was simply mistaken when he said this. But they fail to realize that the kingdom of God is not only something coming gloriously in the future. It is also the reign of God present on earth in the ministry of Jesus, in his death and resurrection, and in our lives as we live under God’s authority and for God’s purposes. We can see the kingdom of God right now, even as we look forward to seeing the glorious kingdom in the future.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man in glory (Luke 9:26). Then he adds, “But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27). This is a peculiar saying of Jesus, to say the least. It seems to assert that his glorious coming, what Christians refer to as the second coming of Christ, would be something that some of those who were with him at that time would see with their own eyes before they died. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that we’re still awaiting the glorious second coming of Christ, and all of those who were with Jesus in this scene from Luke 9 died almost two millennia ago.

I remember worrying about this saying of Jesus when I was in high school while making my first attempt to read through the whole New Testament. My theology said Jesus wouldn’t have been mistaken in what he said, but I could not figure out how else to make sense of that episode in the gospels. Then I got to college and took a Bible class. There I learned that some scholars solved the riddle of Jesus’s curious statement by claiming that he did in fact believe his second coming was imminent. In this belief, they argued, Jesus was just plain wrong. He didn’t understand God’s timetable for his future. This was presented in class as if it were the only reasonable explanation for Luke 9:27.

That was deeply concerning to me. It didn’t fit my view of Jesus’s nature as one who was both fully God and fully human. Nor did it support my belief that Jesus always spoke the truth. Yet, what I was reading for my class seemed on the surface to be right.

Back in 1976, when I was struggling with the content of my Bible class, I started doing research into how people understood the perplexing claim of Jesus that some of those standing with him would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God. I learned that there was no scholarly consensus about how to understand what Jesus had said. What I learned in class was one of many possible explanations. Other options included: the kingdom of God was revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus; the kingdom of God was present in the ministry of Jesus; a preliminary glimpse of the kingdom of God would be seen in the next story in Luke, the so-called Transfiguration.

Today, 45 years later, I’m not distressed by Jesus’s statement in Luke 9:27. I have not decided which explanation is the best. I’m quite sure Jesus was not mistaken in what he said, however. For him, the kingdom of God was not only something coming gloriously in the future. It was also something present in his messianic ministry (see Luke 17:21, for example). Plus it would be seen, paradoxically, in his death on the cross, followed by his resurrection (see John 12:23ff). And, as many scholars have claimed, some of those with Jesus as he spoke were also there when he was transfigured. The transfiguration revealed for a moment the future glory of Jesus and the kingdom of God (see Luke 9:28-36).

The main point I wish to make here, aside from the fact that Jesus was not mistaken, is that the kingdom of God is not one simple thing. Yes, it is God’s reign, sovereignty, and power. But the reign of God is both present and future. It is revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which leads to the defeat of sin, death, and Satan. The kingdom of God is something we look forward to in the future, and it is something we can experience each day as we live with God as our king, or, as we often say, with Jesus as our Lord.

P.S. – If you want to learn more about Jesus’s understanding of the kingdom of God, you might want to read an article I wrote: “Jesus and the Kingdom of God: What You Need to Know.”

Reflect

When you come across a passage of Scripture that is worrisome to you, what do you do?

If Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully God, do you think he ever could have been mistaken about anything?

When have you experienced God’s power and reign in a particularly powerful way in your life?

Are you willing to live with God as the King of your entire life? What encourages you to say “yes”? What holds you back?

Act

Talk with your small group or with a wise friend about Luke 9:23-27, one of the most challenging and perplexing passages in the Gospel of Luke.

Pray

Lord Jesus, you taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And so I pray today.

Let your kingdom come, God, and your will be done in my life, in my work and family, in my friendships and professional relationships, in my thinking and feeling, in my finances and volunteering. In all that I do, may you be sovereign.

Let your kingdom come, God, and your will be done in my church, as we seek to worship you in all we do. Let your kingdom come as we reach out to the world with your gospel and your justice.

Let your kingdom come, God, and your will be done in our hurting, broken, angry world. May all authorities in this world acknowledge you and the one true King, seeking to obey and honor you in all things.

Let your kingdom come, God, and your will be done in the future, when you reveal the full glory of the Son of Man. Bring all things together in Christ, making the whole creation what you intended it to be from the beginning.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

Friends, next fall I will begin another D.Min. cohort focusing on Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation. This degree program includes three years of course work plus a doctoral project. It’s intended for pastors and other leaders with a theological master’s degree. If you are interested, you can learn more here. Or you can reach out to me personally if you have questions. Alternatively, you might know somebody for whom this would be a great opportunity. Please let them know. Thanks so much.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Kingdom of God is Near!


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4 thoughts on “Did Jesus Get It Wrong?

  1. Margie Tomlinson says:

    Obadiah verse 21 “The deliverers will ascent Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, AND the kingdom will be the Lord’s.”
    Which Kingdom will we choose. The Kingdom of my heart can be the Lord’s now. Lord we pray that Your Kingdom come, Lord we pray that Your will be done; on earth as it is in Heaven; let Your Kingdom come. Yes, Mark we will pray that God’s Kingdom will reign in our lives today even as we wait for it’s fullfillment in the future. Thank you.

  2. This passage troubled me when I was a new Christian without any support (my family didn’t attend church regularly, and I had no Christian friends throughout junior high and high school; in fact, a high school teacher asked if I was “born again,” and I had NO idea what he meant!). I doggedly read the KJV Bible my parents gave me, understanding little but pushing through anyway. And seeming contradictions like this one blew my mind more than a little. I never doubted God and never thought Jesus could make a mistake, but I was definitely confused.

    I think that you expressed the “then, now, and always” quality of God’s Kingdom very well. It’s where I landed after attending a Christian college (Nazarene) and a Christian graduate school (Catholic)–which makes my current position right in the middle of these two modes of Christianity via the Reformed Episcopal Church quite understandable. 😉

    God’s Kingdom has no beginning and no ending: it has always been present, was present in Jesus’ time, is present now, and will continue to be present always. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we are praying for a particular manifestation of the Kingdom coming when Jesus returns to earth–but that is not the Kingdom as a whole. The Kingdom is bigger than Jesus’ return and will continue past His return. The Kingdom is God working through people to manifest Himself.

    I may be off here, but that has become my understanding. Just as God is too vast to ever fully comprehend in our humanity, so the Kingdom of God is as well.

    Anyway, that’s where this muddled English teacher has landed … at least for now. 😉

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Susanne, thanks for your input. Great thoughts even from a muddled English teacher 🙂 I appreciate your contribution.

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