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What are the possible interpretations of "will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God"? Which is most likely correct?

Luke 9:27:

But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Mark 9:1:

And Jesus was saying to them, “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.”

Matt. 16:28:

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

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Are you looking for interpretations as to what event is anticipated by "the kingdom of God" coming in power? – Soldarnal Oct 5 '11 at 18:52
@Soldarnal: Exactly. – jrdioko Oct 5 '11 at 18:53
The Kingdom of God is often used to refer to the Church as established by Peter on the day of Pentecost after the death of Christ. It is more inclusive of the group that is standing there when this teaching is taking place and also fits in with the fact that some will die before the ushering in of the Kingdom with the Holy Spirit being sent upon those in the upper room and then Peter preaches his sermon in Acts 2. – David Boswell Oct 5 '11 at 20:08
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Popular interpretations as to what event is anticipated by "the kingdom of God" coming in power include the following:

  • The transfiguration
  • The resurrection
  • The ascension
  • The day of Pentecost
  • The second coming

A couple things stand out in the passage that are worth noting. First, Jesus has just given indication that the disciples may end up soon forfeiting their lives for his sake. Moreover he links this to his own impending death. Second, Jesus says that "some" will see this event, likely indicating that not all present will experience it. And third, the transfiguration story immediately follows this statement in each of the synoptic accounts. The connection is especially clear in Luke's account where he notes that "eight days after Jesus said this" they went up to the mountain.

Together these indicate that the transfiguration is likely the event anticipated. Unlike the second coming, it was fairly imminent. (And of course if it was the second coming, Jesus seems to be wrong.) The reference to "some" indicates that likely the resurrection, ascension or Pentecost are not in view since essentially all present to hear these words were present at those events as well. Judas is of course an exception, but "some" probably indicates a smaller group still. In contrast, only Peter, John and James were present at the transfiguration. The proximity of the pericopes is probably the most telling.

Outside of the synoptics, probably the most deciding passage comes from 2 Peter 1:16-18:

2 Peter 1:16-18 (NIV) Emphasis added
16For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

It is evident in these verses that Peter links the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power" with his witness of the Majestic Glory displayed in the transfiguration. If, as is thought, Peter stands behind Mark's gospel and if Peter is the author of this epistle, this provides pretty strong evidence that Mark intends for his readers to link the statements made by Christ with the event that follows.

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Thanks for bringing in 1 Peter to this discussion. I had never noticed the connection before! – Frank Luke Mar 23 '12 at 13:49
Bringing in the verse from 2 Peter nailed everything. Thanks indeed for clearing my doubts. – Olanrewaju T Jul 28 '15 at 10:14

it could mean that for some the real death will come with the coming of God's Kingdom.

if those who actualy heard this verse are actually still alive today,... the verse says: "you will taste death, when the Kingdom comes".

the verse does not actualy imply that some will live as long as the kingdom doesnt come, but that they will 'taste death' only when it comes.

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The original of this passage is in Mark's Gospel, simply because it is the strong consensus of New Testament scholars that Mark was written first and was the main source used by the authors of the other two synoptic gospels. Thus, the most reliable way to establish the original meaning of this passage seems to be to look in Mark. The term 'kingdom of God' can tend to hide meaning and, in Mark as Story, Rhoads, Dewey and Michie suggest a better translation to be 'rule of God', the Greek being capable of either meaning but 'rule of God', although less regal, a more straightforward reading in the English language.

In Mark 9:1, Jesus is prophesying his second coming, a prophecy he repeats in more dramatic detail in chapter 13. Mark has the ability to create relationships between events by the use of several rhetorical literary devices, including intercalations (literary sandwiches), chiastic structures, parallel structures and proximity. In this case, the prophecy in Mark 9:1 is linked, as pair X, in a proposed parallel structure of Mark, a literary relationship that demonstrates authorial intent. Mark 9:1 also follows seamlessly after a prophecy of the crucifixion in verse 8:31, with just a short intervening passage that hints of Peter's feelings of shame after the three denials.

Mark 8:31: And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:1 (KJV): And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

Mark chapter 13 opens with a graphic description of the events of the First Roman-Jewish War and the civil war that erupted within Jerusalem even as it was being besieged. Then they are told that Jesus will come with great power and glory before his present generation had passed:

Mark 13:26-30 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

Jesus did not literally prophesy his return on clouds within the lifetimes of some to whom he spoke, because had he done so, he would have been wrong. But the author of Mark had seen the tumultuous events of 70 CE and believed they were a portent of the second coming. This is what was meant by "will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."

By the time the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written, it was becoming clear that Jesus' generation had passed away without having seen Jesus return to establish the kingdom of God, so in copying Mark chapter 13, they emphasised that no one knew when Jesus would return, but they did copy the less obvious prophecy in Mark 9:1.

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