Such turns of a phrase are known elsewhere in Scripture, indicating the personal reception of a promise. Take, for instance, the account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-26
Matthew 16:27-28 is NOT a “Preterist Time Indicator” Pointing to AD70
By Todd Dennis
- 1995:Dennis, The Everlasting Covenant of Christ
- 1995:Dennis, Christ’s Ministry Of Reconciliation
- 1995: Dennis, Were the Seventy Weeks Fulfilled in the First Century?
- 1995: Dennis, Who Are God’s Chosen People
- 1998: Dennis, Dear Dispensationalist Friend…
- 2003: Dennis, Foreword – The Consummation of the Ages
- 2006: Dennis, Hebrews 12, AD70, and our New Creation in Christ
- 2007: Dennis, The (New) History of Full Preterism
- 2008: Dennis, Israel’s History a Type – From Beginning to Very End
- 2008: Dennis, The Lord Jesus Christ : Telos and Eschaton
- 2008: Dennis, Matthew 10:23 is NOT a “Preterist Time Indicator”
- 2008: Dennis, Matthew 16:27-28 is NOT a “Preterist Time Indicator”
- 2008: Dennis, Matthew 26:64 is NOT a “Preterist Time Indicator”
- 2009: Dennis, AD70 Storyline Fundamentally Different From Christian History
- 2009: Dennis, Hebrews 9 is not about Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem
- 2013: Dennis, Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation – An Introduction to Russell
- 2016: Dennis, Preterist Idealism, A Hermeneutic for Today
After having been a futurist, a partial preterist, and then a full preterist, I came to the realization that attempting to limit the redemptive and prophetic acts of God to a single moment in time is the cause of most confusion regarding eschatology.
Why would we expect the Lord to perform His acts of power and glory just once — be it at a moment in time in the past or the future? What good does that do for all other generations? That incredibly narrow focal point robs every generation of so much contemporary strength — by saying either that “it hasn’t come yet” (Futurism) or “it is already over” (Preterism). It seems to me that all prophecy ultimately finds its accomplishment in Jesus Christ Himself, as Scripture states (Gal. 3:16, II Cor. 1:20, Col. 2:9, etc.).
The work of our Lord Jesus – translating His people from darkness to Light, and from old to new — happens internally and personally for each, as opposed to externally and historically for a single generation of people. Even the cross must be received, and each follower must bear it in their own day. TODAY is the day of salvation, and TODAY if you will harden not your heart, etc.
An example of the mistaken external/historical realignment of eschatology can be found in commentaries on Matthew 16:27-28, which is a passage nearly all preterist systems apply to AD70.
The Stoning of Stephen
Consider the “son of man” passage of Matthew 16:27-28 in light of its immediate textual context : persecution and martyrdom.
The typical preterist interpretation of this passage dates back to the beginning of the movement in the 1600s. In this view, Jesus tells His audience that some will live long enough to see Him destroy Jerusalem. However, there is much more being said in this passage than just ’40 years from now Jerusalem will fall’.
But what, exactly, is it about Matthew 16:27-28 that would lead a person to think “AD70” unless they were already thinking it? That is, unless one was already assuming that AD70 was the coming of the son of man?
C.H. Spurgeon noted the same trend in the biblical scholarship of his day:
[C]arefully read through the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, and you will find nothing about the siege of Jerusalem there. Yet, this is the interpretation that finds favor at present. (When Christ Returns, p. 11)
Indeed, there is not the slightest breath of the fall of Jerusalem in any of Matthew sixteen ; rather, there is much talk (in the immediate context) of perseverance and potential martyrdom in bearing the cross of Christ.
So why would we not consider “martyr eschatology” as the major focal point of verse 28’s declaration that some would not “taste death until they see” their redemption? After all, scripture says “it is appointed unto men once to die and AFTER THAT the judgment” — the very judgment talked about in v. 27!
Rather, I believe the immediate context reveals this passage to be about laying down one’s life for the sake of the gospel, with the attendant rewards which follow. It is my belief that this suffering / vindcation motif (called “martyr eschatology”) revealed throughout the New Testament finds one of its most encouraging defenses in Matthew 16.
The theme of self-sacrifice is developed consistently through the second half of Matthew 16, with the pivotal passage just a few verses prior to the important “son of man” reference —
Matthew 16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Accordingly, we might hear Jesus saying “There are some standing here who will be laying down their lives for my sake (and, Peter, you are one). However, fear not, because you will not have perished until you see me coming for you in my kingdom, vindicating you to your great delight.” etc..
Such turns of a phrase are known elsewhere in Scripture, indicating the personal reception of a promise. Take, for instance, the account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-26
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Here we see how Simeon was promised that he would behold the object of his delight before he should taste of death. This is precisely what Jesus is promising his hearers in Matthew 16:27-28!
For evidence to support the idea that individuals would behold the kingdom in power and glory, take a look at Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7:
Acts 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
Might this not be a perfect example of the “son of man” being revealed in power and glory personally to Stephen prior to his tasting of death? Of all the Providential signs of God’s power and glory in that generation, this seems like it would be the most likely to inspire the type of comfort of which Jesus spoke. And wouldn’t it be a huge comfort for all subsequent witnesses to see that they too would be personally ushered into the kingdom by the coming of their King? (And wouldn’t it also be terrifying for those who brought unrighteous judgment against the witnesses? Every eye shall see Him, including all of those who pierced Him — not just those few, if any, still living 40 years later who had somehow wounded the physical body of Jesus.)
It is very possible that Luke is consciously drawing from Jesus’ discourse through the conspicuous use of the theologically electric “son of man” reference.
Notice again that the immediate context of the coming of the son of man passage in focus is persecution and martyrdom:
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life’?
Now, what is it about this context that would lead a person to think of a single, impersonal event 40 years in the future?
It just isn’t there.
Instead, the similarities between the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 and the earlier reception of the promise in Matthew 16 – as seen in Luke 9:27 – are plainly revealed by their common author.
PROMISE/FULFILLMENT IN LUKE/ACTS
Luke the Physician, who all agree wrote the book of Acts after his gospel, no doubt fashioned the Stephen account to reflect (and fulfill) the promise of Jesus presented in his presentation found in Luke 9.
Here is the Lucan version of the passage, with context:
24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
25 For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.
27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
Note the shared terminology that is used in both passages:
- “Glory” (Doxa 1391) Lk. 9:26 & Ac. 7:55
- “Father/God” (Pater 3962) Lk. 9:26 & (Theos 2316) Ac. 7:55
- “See/Saw” (Eido 1492) Lk. 9:27 & Ac. 7:55
- “Son of Man” Lk. 9:26 & Ac. 7:56
- “Standing” (Histemi 2476) – Lk. 9:27 & Ac. 7:56
This is a pretty significant connection, and yet it has been entirely unexplored (to my knowledge) by the preterist community throughout its 400 years of work. I have no doubt many more connections could be made, particularly if we consider recent ‘seminar scholarship.’
However, we don’t have to go outside of the Word of God to see how consistent and personal Luke’s personalizing interpretation of the promise of Jesus became .
Consider also, for instance, how this coming passage compares with Acts 1, where the description of the angel fits Stephen’s circumstances (look into the heavens and behold Him coming in like manner, etc.). Also, there is the overt “coming again” explanation of Jesus, which also does not contemplate AD70:
John 14:3 I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
Is this not precisely what has happened to Stephen? Perhaps we have uncovered a whole new horizon in fulfillment studies by seeing the transition from old to new as being a process all generations endure.
It should be obvious that Jesus is not only referring to those few listening – or some distant generation – by saying that His saints will be brought to Him. Rather, that EVERYONE of his saints will experience the same blessed delight in the fullness of their times.
Now, most systems assume a singular coming of Christ for a (very small) collective group of people alive at a particular apocalyptic generation ; however, I believe that scripture teaches that EVERY EYE shall see Him, not just those alive at a particular moment in time.
That is, I believe that whereas Jesus’ first coming was to a very limited group of people, that his coming again is to everyone (whether in judgment upon the wicked or salvation upon the righteous). Here is a passage which speaks to that:
Hebrews 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
And, with this passage in mind, note the immediate context:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (v. 27)
Put together, read this entire passage:
Hebrews 9:27-28: And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
Is not this the identical promise of Jesus as found in Matthew 16:27-28?
Again, it is often assumed that this passage regards an apocalyptic event at a singular moment in time ; however, I believe that a reading of Paul and others shows consistently their expectation was that they would be fully redeemed from the world at the time of their demise, and then be given the full blessings of eternal kingdom life as promised, and as given in earnest through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:12-13).
This “martyr eschatology” with resultant blessing was consistently the primary point of encouragement that Paul and others used in the face of the brutal persecution Christians were facing:
Philippians 3:8: Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may .. know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
Philippians 3:20: For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
In all such passages, Paul’s focus and consolation is always that the Lord comes for His own in power and glory (he and James, among others, warn of the horrid type of meeting it will be for the wicked). There is not a breath of AD70 being a goal of ANY sort. Nor does Paul make the consolation corporate at a moment in time (as do dispensationalists and universalists). What we are being promised is the reception of the salvation and redemption from all at the personal coming of Christ, as Jesus Himself had promised in the gospels!
There are numerous other passages that inform this idea, but here are a few other keys :
- Ephesians 1:13: In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 1:14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
- 1 Thess. 5:8: But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Romans 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
Though there are many such passages, Matthew 16:27-28 remains my favorite. This is because fulfillment of the same promise of Jesus is so plainly revealed by His coming again ‘to receive’ Stephen before he had tasted death. Stephen, in return, uses the exact same language to confirm the fact that Jesus had kept His word.
Christian friend, will you please do the same?
The promise given by Jesus is for all who hear His Word. Jesus is coming again, for absolute certain. He has promised – and He will fulfill His promise – to receive His flock to Himself when they die. Additionally, you will see it if earnest anticipating His return to usher you into His everlasting kingdom.
As they say in Baptist circles, that will preach!
That is why, when I see someone denying that there is a coming of Christ past AD70, or denying that there is any judgment past AD70, I bristle at the stumbling block being placed in front of the flock. This has had the sad effect of overthrowing the faith of some. To me, full preterism is modern Hymenaenism for that very reason.
Jesus is assuredly coming again!
Individual in Time; Collective in Eternity
The prophetic event known as the Last Judgment is coming for all who are alive and remain, yet it is important to remember that this scene is not going to take place within the confines of a single generation of Earth’s history.
Much more could be said to explain this personal transaction (such as by pointing out the collective nature of his coming into the eternal realm with his people, al a Daniel 7). However, my only real goal is to forward the idea that the idea of manifesting to a single generation (whether past or future) is not at all the intent of the Lord’s coming, as revealed in Scripture, but it is very personal in nature.
II Peter 1:11: And so a triumphant admission into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be freely granted to you.
It is my contention that the majority of New Testament eschatology is about bearing the cross of Christ in persecution and martyrdom, with our resultant glorification. To focus on historical chronologies and time lines is to really miss the focus of all prophecy, I believe. This Age/Age to Come dichotomy is not about some line in the historical sand at all, but is a declaration that leaving this realm is a personal matter which is appointed unto all men. No man knows the day or hour, but it is surely coming as a thief.
Death – The Final Apocalypse
Finally, please notice that in Matthew 16:28 the context is “death”.
‘Shall not taste of death until..’
So, in the very verse in question, the death of the individual is where the focus lies . What takes place prior to that death is ‘seeing the kingdom of God come with power’. Only some of those listening would be given this privilege, whereas some would reject His return. If you look at the verse immediately prior to 27-28, this rejection is exactly what it implied by the reference to the soul:
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
As noted, the same focal point of leaving this world in the comfort of Jesus’ promise of glory is seen in many passages. Perhaps the most blatant is Luke’s recollection of the thief on the cross:
Luke 23:42-43: And he [thief on the cross] said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Dispensationalists and full preterists alike baulk at this idea, believing that the Lord will gather all people on a particular calendar date. But I’m here to promise both groups that this is not declared by the text itself.
The text focuses on the reader.
Conclusion: ‘Let him that readeth understand’
If the living Word of God is to be taken personally, then there is no escaping the reality that every man is rewarded according to his works when he dies.
To unlock the generational typology of this reality, notice how the ‘then’ of all these verses means at their time, as our present scripture says:
It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment. (Matt 16:27 “reward (“requite” in Weymouth) every man according to his works”)
If AD70 figures into the imagery of Matthew 16:27-28 at all (even though it is not mentioned, nor even so much as hinted at in the text), it would be as a visible, external show of these very personal revelations (per Israel’s entire role as visible schoolmaster of invisible things). [TD: This is partly what is meant by the term generational typology.]
Both Jesus and Paul’s correlation of the fall of the temple with the death of the body (John 2:19 ; 1 Cor. 3:17)
At any rate, there is no question that we have vastly underestimated the significance of persecution and martyrdom in its coloration of New Testament eschatology.
So then, with the complete lack of any references to AD70, and with abundant references to the personal work as testimony conflicts with rejection, Matthew 16:27-28 stands with Matthew 10:23 as an example of:
A) (Opposition) The eisegesis of the Preterist “AD70 coming of the Son” view of Matthew 16
B) (Advocacy) Jesus Christ warning and then comforting those who live godly in Him that they will be persecuted for providing testimony of the gospel, but will be glorified for their endurance to the end.
If nothing else, the complete lack of AD70 reference might be enough to bring those teaching dogmatic HyP to a bit of a pause.. because if it has been assumed that Matthew 16:27-28 is about AD70, then what else might have been assumed?
The tragic fact is this: the only reason we believe a lot of what we believe is that we haven’t come up with anything better yet. Though 400 years has accomplished much to define Augustine’s view, there is much work to be done. Prejudices can prevent the immature from getting the true picture of the Word for many year, particularly if unwilling to allow the Holy Spirit to move in new directions.
PAUL, THE MARTYR
For a final support of the contention that the majority of New Testament eschatology is about bearing the cross of Christ in persecution and martyrdom, check out one of Paul’s more blatant eschatological “time texts” :
“the time.. is at hand” – II Tim 4:6
(now, without the dots)
“the time of my departure is at hand.”
Note: Though certain modern preterists agree with full preterism on time texts, to a certain degree, it is never in the same context. None would agree that the resurrection, judgment and coming found their ultimate expressions in AD70. This is also true of historical writers. For instance, when John Lightfoot uses Matthew 16:28 to refer to AD70 below, for instance, he is not saying that AD70 was the only judgment, coming or resurrection of Christian eschatology… just that this passage doesn’t necessarily point to a future beyond that event.:
John Lightfoot: “Was not the judgment and sad conflagration of Jerusalem, and destruction of the Jewish church and nation, an assurance of the judgment to come ; when the expressions whereby it is described are such as, you think, meant nothing else but that final judgment? As, ‘Christ’s coming: coming in clouds, in his glory, in his kingdom : — the day of the Lord; the great and terrible day of the Lord : — the end of the world ; the end of all things : — the sun darkened ; the moon not giving light: — the stars falling from heaven, and the powers of heaven shaken: —the sign of the Son of man appearing in heaven: — heaven departing as a scroll rolled together, and every mountain and hill removed out of its place,’ &c. You would think, they meant nothing but the last and universal judgment; whereas their meaning, indeed, is Christ’s coming in judgment and vengeance against the Jewish city and nation; but a fore-signification also of the last judgment.” — Works, Vol. vi., p. 354.
Date: 10 Feb 2011
“I’ve probably always been a PP, and didn’t know it, because I was always concerned about FP being taken too far, and myself being considered a UNI. I would always question prets on their UNI stance.
I’ve considered myself a ‘full Preterist’ for 15 years. I feel like I’ve struggled to get uphill to AD70, and now I just have to relax and coast to where He leads me -or- coast back down to where I left Him.
Coming to ‘full preterism’ is like finding myself at the end of the road with full access to U-Turns. PTL
Even though I am saved, I have my own individual generation of blessings & tribulations to go through, within the mercy & grace of God, before I meet my own ‘It Is Finished’. Is that not something more to look forward to? I must continue to make it personal.
‘One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.’ Psalm 27:4…If you think there’s nothing else to come, then what have you to inquire about?
I covet your prayers, for I’m still a work in progress…”
Thank you Todd. Fulfilled in Christ, May
Date: 2 Feb 2008
Been away for a while and I felt moved to see where you were at. Your recent essay on Matthew 16:27-28 and what it means strikes me as a deeper, truer understanding of what Jesus was promising (not merely prophesying, but promising… well spotted, Todd!)