Mark 9:1 (NIV): And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Jesus had just shocked His inner circle by predicting His death at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and a whole crowd by insisting that those who wanted to follow Him must be willing to consciously lay down their own lives, to take up their own crosses. In essence, all of Jesus’ followers must be willing to follow Him all the way, even if that way lies through the valley of death.
The mood was pretty somber as they all processed this news. It was a lot to think about. But then Jesus made this announcement that turned their minds into another channel altogether: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Many have taught that Jesus was referring to the transfiguration that was to occur six days later, and which comes immediately after His statement in all of the synoptic gospels. But there are a few problems with this view. First, Jesus’ statement strongly implies that at least one of His followers would die before the event that He was predicting, and there is no hint of that death anywhere in the gospels. Second, only three people, Peter, James, and John, were witnesses to the transfiguration, whereas Jesus seems to be predicting something much larger. Finally, although Jesus’ transformation was stunning to those who witnessed it, it cannot be said that anything appreciable changed that would be able to be described as “the kingdom of God coming,” or that any additional power was evident afterwards. The miracles that Jesus did after the transfiguration were of the same quality as before; His teachings were of the same kind and on the same subjects. The only reason that the transfiguration comes immediately after Jesus’ statement in the gospels is not that it was the fulfillment of that promise, but it was the next significant event to happen.
So what was Jesus pointing to with this statement? On the day of Jesus’ ascension, He told the gathered disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV) This promised power filled the disciples (120 of them) on the day of Pentecost, and in a matter of hours, God’s kingdom exploded onto the scene and grew to over 3000 people (Acts 2).
This fits Jesus’ predication much better. Although the kingdom of God, the people who follow God as their Sovereign in the new life of the Spirit, awaits its final consummation at Jesus’ return, it definitely began and started its exponential growth on the day of Pentecost. It also came with the power that Jesus promised. From that day on, signs and wonders, miracles, and powerful witness that brought dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people at a time into the kingdom, were all experienced by the Church. But all of Jesus’ disciples did not live to experience this coming of the kingdom of God with power. One of them had indeed tasted death before the kingdom became a reality. Judas had hanged himself in remorse over betraying Jesus into the hands of His enemies, just as Jesus Himself had predicted.
Ever since that day, the same Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of those who trust in Jesus for salvation, providing the same power to be a witness everywhere we live, everywhere we work, everywhere we go. Since that day, all of us who have come to the Lord by faith have come into His kingdom. We have become His subjects, doing His will. And we wait eagerly for the final consummation of the kingdom when Jesus returns.
Father, thank You for this truth. A single sentence from Jesus, but it points us to a powerful reality that we get to experience in our own lives. Help us, Lord, to live as the people of Your kingdom. Help us to serve You every day with our whole hearts. Amen.