Witnesses to the Kingdom
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’ ”- Mark 9:1
We come today to one of the most difficult passages in the book of Mark. At the close of chapter 8, Jesus remarked that at His return, He would be ashamed of any who are ashamed of Him (v. 38). Mark 9:1 then records that Jesus said to those who were standing with Him that some of them would not die before seeing the kingdom of God come in power.
Many critics of the Bible have pointed to this verse as proof that some of what Jesus said did not come to pass. Such a claim is based on the assumption that our Lord was referring to His coming at the end of history to judge the living and the dead. Since that did not happen during the lifetimes of His original disciples (the “some standing here”), critics reason that Christ was wrong in His prediction.
Yet while Mark 8:38 seems to refer to the final, visible return of Jesus, there is good reason to believe that Mark 9:1 does not have that event in mind. While the Gospels give us accurate biographical information about Jesus, they do not always present their material chronologically. In keeping with the standards of their day, the gospel writers sometimes organized their accounts thematically. Many commentators believe Mark did this here, and that Jesus’ comment about His return got the evangelist thinking about the power of God’s kingdom and led him to place this saying of Jesus in today’s passage.
So, if Jesus did not have His final return in mind, to what was He referring when He talked about the kingdom’s coming in power before the death of His disciples? Scholars have suggested everything from the trans guration to the resurrection to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when the Roman general Titus conquered the city. One commentator argues that we need not choose between these events, that Jesus could have been referencing all of them collectively. Dr. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary Mark, argues that Jesus was most likely referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The similarity between Mark 9:1 and Mark 13:30 helps confirm this interpretation. When we get to Mark 13, we will look at Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in more detail. Today, we conclude by noting that the city’s destruction represented a visible confirmation of the coming of the kingdom, of God’s rejection of unbelieving ethnic Israel and approval of a new Israel made up of ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles united by their common faith in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord.
Whatever view we take of the specific event to which Jesus refers in Mark 9:1, we are left without any doubt that the kingdom of God came in power in the first century. The birth of Christianity changed the course of human history, and our Lord continues to build His kingdom as we await His return. We serve a mighty God who will not fail to accomplish His purposes.
Passages for Further Study
1 Chronicles 29:11
1 Corinthians 4:20