Matthew 16:27-28 – DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE … TOO LATE!
As the first seal is broken an ant trails its way through the polished ridges of the page, across the clear lines of the image; detecting only the light and dark and acute movement of the unrolling scroll, it’s feelers detecting the chemicals of the glue and coloured wax, the air currents and vibrations. It is brushed away as the manuscript is unrolled from side to side across the huge table.
As each section is exposed, another seal is broken, separating each particular aspect of a continuous and meticulously illustrated manuscript. At first, only very limited depictions from the images are understood with any clarity, just ant-like impressions of the page and variations of the artist’s subjects. How is each event depicted on the scroll related? It only makes sense when the last seal is broken. Suddenly, each individual page is revealed to be part of the whole. Undeterred the ant returns to the first page feeling its way along the edge before venturing out across the coloured intricacies of the lines and eventually making its way to a particularly luminous section of the scroll where it stops. At the very end everything is explained, … but not yet to one so small, so limited in understanding, so tiny in the scheme of things.
In Matthew 16:26-28 (NLT) Jesus says to His disciples “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.”
The picture of Matthew 16:28 has proved to be a quandary for many. What does Jesus mean when He says He will judge the world and that “SOME STANDING HERE RIGHT NOW WILL NOT DIE before they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28 NLT) The first part about Him coming to judge the world is clear and foreboding, but it doesn’t seem to connect with this last part? What does He mean when He says they “will not die” before it happens? Is He talking about two different events? Coming to judge in the future but coming in His Kingdom now? When did this happen? Has it happened? One thing is sure; it is related to the soul, losing it or keeping it.
We need to get beyond an ant’s eye view to understand the scroll as it is unrolled in the life of Jesus. When He speaks about “Coming in His Kingdom” He speaks about His rule and reign as the King of kings which is relentlessly approaching; a Kingdom which prophets have painted in countless words since ages past. His Kingdom has always been coming and is already here (Luke 17:21) but its expression is not as openly and personally manifest as it will be in the future (Luke 17:22-24).
Peter has already received the keys to such a kingdom as He hears the voice of God rather than the voices of the world around him. His acknowledgement that Christ is the Son of the Living God is tantamount to coming under His authority as the King of kings. Nothing will withstand such a Kingdom. Not the gates of hell. Not death itself. (Matthew 16:13-19).
This kingdom is revealed in the images on the pages of the scroll in a thousand ways, masterfully illustrated, unrolling the mysteries of His reign. We see it in the face of a leper healed, in the hope of a woman who touches the hem of His robe, in the feeding of 5000, in the gracious influence of His teaching, but mostly in the sparks of belief that set hearts on fire for God. It is confronting at the Cross for a thief and Roman soldier, victorious at the Resurrection for a woman at the tomb, empowering for Peter at Pentecost and all-consuming for a world facing His coming judgment. The Kingdom of God is present here and now in the world, but not of this world, and yet it is coming to the world, big time.
When Jesus speaks about the coming kingdom in Matthew 16:28 it is a picture found on that particularly luminous fragment of the scroll in Matthew 17:1-3; His Kingdom would come to a few who were standing there who did not comprehend what was happening yet some of them would personally experience a glimpse of His glory, magnificently revealed in shards of brilliant light at His Transfiguration. They would not be consumed by it as would be expected at such an event.
The Transfiguration was a foretaste of heaven’s reign; a downpayment of what is to come, an ant’s eye view of something bigger than we could ever imagine, and most of all an invitation for us to come under the authority of Jesus and be saved. Not because an angry Father is saying “Don’t make me come down there!” but because a loving Saviour is saying “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV) “Come to Me … find life … and unfailing love” (Isaiah 55:3 NLT).