By Todd Dennis
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.
In the typical HyP version of this passage, Jesus is telling 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 Jeursalem 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?
Fact is, there is not the slightest breath of the fall of Jerusalem in any of this passage ; rather, there much talk (and in the immediate context) of perserverence and potential martyrdom in bearing the cross of Christ. So why would we not consider that as the major focal point of verse 28’s declaration of some not “tast(ing) death until they see”? 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 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.. and not just those few still living 40 years later.)
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 in Acts 7 and the promise in Matthew 16 are staring us in the face:
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. “
Notice the shared terminology that is used in both Matthew 16 and Acts 7:
“Glory” (Doxa 1391) 16:27 & 7:55
This is a pretty significant connection! Taken with recent “Seminar scholarship,” I’m sure even more connections could be made. However, we don’t have to go outside of the Word of God to see how consistent this personalizing interpretation actually is.
Consider, 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:
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?
Jesus is not only referring to those few listening – or some distant generation – by saying that His saints will be brought to Him.. but that EVERYONE of his saints will 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. “
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 was 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 win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 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 (to do so is Universalism, in my opinion) ; it is the reception of the salvation and redemption from all at the personal coming of Christ.
A couple of other passages which inform this idea :
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.
There are dozens and dozens of such passages.
Matthew 16:27-28 is one of my favorites, because we see such a beautiful fulfillment of the promise of Jesus coming again “to receive you unto (Him)self” before tasting of death in the life of Stephen. He, using the exact same language, confirms the fact that Jesus came for him to receive him into the eternal kingdom. Talk about motivational!
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 that they are trying to place in front of a brother/sister. Talk about overthrowing the faith of some! It is absolutely modern Hymenaenism for that very reason.
There is much more than could be said (such as the collective nature of his coming into the eternal realm with his people, al a Daniel 7) – and Lord willing I’ll do that when able. 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.
Finally, please notice that in Matthew 16:28 the context is “death”. “Shall not taste of death until..” – and so the death of the individual is where the focus lies in the very verse in question. 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 priviledge, whereas some would reject Him. If you look at the verse immediately prior to 27-28, this is exactly what it is saying:
“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?”
The same focal point of leaving this world in the comfort of Jesus’ promise of glory is seen in other passages as well, perhaps most blatantly regarding the thief on the cross who was about to die:
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 Hyper Preterists alike may baulk at this idea, believing that the Lord will gather all people on a particular calendar date.. but this is not declared by the text itself. If it is to be taken personally, every man is rewarded “then” meaning at their time, as the 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, or 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). This is also likely considering 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 Hyper Preterist “AD70 coming of the Son”
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?
Fact is, the only reason we believe a lot of what we believe is that we haven’t come up with anything better yet. Sadly, our prejudices really work against us getting the true picture of the Word if we are unwilling to allow the Holy Spirit to move us in particular directions.
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.”
[Important Note: Though certain partial preterists agree with Hyper Preterism on time texts, to a certain degree, it is never in the same context that the resurrection, judgment and coming found their ultimate expressions in AD70. When John Lightfoot uses Matthew 16:28 to refer to AD70, for instance, he is not agreeing with Hyper Preterism 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. Therefore, he is not using the passage in a Hyper Preterist context, nor is he teaching a Hyper Preterist message, even though some shared opinions of advocacy might be found.]
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.
What do YOU think ?
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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!)