What does Matt 16:28 mean? Didn’t they all get martyred? (Except John who died of old age.) So, they all died before Jesus came back. Does the phrase “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” mean when he establishes the new Jerusalem?
This is an example of where a chapter break actually breaks the continuity of thought. Let’s see what this passage reads like if we ignore this break.
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.Matthew 16:28–17:3
Reading through the chapter break gives a better understanding of the force of what the Lord Jesus was trying to convey to His disciples. So, the Lord Jesus was talking about the transfiguration on the mount as a preview of “his kingdom.” But, let’s look at this more closely.
Just before this passage, the Lord had been telling His disciples of His crucifixion (Matt. 16:21, which they did not understand) and the importance of faithfulness in view of the trial that would follow for them (Matt. 16:24-26). Then, He speaks of the judgment that would follow (Matt. 16:27). But, we need to notice in this connection it is the “Son of Man” coming with “his angels in the glory of the Father.” This contrasts with the view given in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, where believers are waiting to be caught up “to meet the Lord in the air.” Instead, the view here in Matthew looks on to the “coming of the Lord” in judgment described in Revelation 19:11–21. These two events are distinguished in Titus 2:13 as “our blessed hope” and “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”1
So, “our blessed hope” is not included in the sequence of events described in Matthew. The narrative goes from crucifixion to tribulation for the saint to judgment of the wicked without a mention of that special event. It is not uncommon for Scripture to leave out events which are not part of the present purpose. See, for example, the Lord’s ministry at Nazareth recorded in Luke 4:16–19. The Lord’s abrupt break in reading from Isaiah in the middle of the verse shows that the “day of vengeance of our God” had not come. The reason for the sequence in Matthew is that the focus of Matthew is the kingdom. This kingdom is now manifested in the Christian profession as a “mystery” (Matt. 13:11). But, after the Church is removed God will again take up His earthly people (Rom. 11:17–24) which will culminate in the Millennial kingdom which is the hope of the Jewish nation.
Consequently, Matthew records the transfiguration as the illustration of the Millennial blessing that would be given to the faithful. Peter, James, and John represent those who are faithful during the time of trial (Jer. 30:7; Matt. 24:13; Rev. 12:17; 20:4). They are given the experience on the mount of transfiguration as a premonition of Millennial blessing which will be realized during the kingdom. Thus, they saw in part “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” on the mount.
It is interesting to note that there are two classes of saints represented on the mount. Moses and Elijah represent believers who have been raised. I do not say that they have been raised, but that they represent those who have been raised and who “live and reign with Christ” during the Millenium (Rev. 20:4). Peter, James, and John represent those who are not martyred during the tribulation but “endure to the end”(Matt. 24:13) and go unharmed physically into Millennial blessing.
1. For a detailed discussion of this subject see William Kelly, Lectures on the Second Coming and Kingdom of the Lord Jesus and Savior Jesus Christ (Sunbury: Believers Bookshelf, 1970 (reprint)).