Did Jesus’ Apostles See the Kingdom of God in their Lifetimes?

In his last speech to the American public on April 3, 1969, before his untimely death by assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared a very prescient and compelling message. He said: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Consider it interesting that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chose the metaphor of the mountain. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God chose to make Himself known to His people on a mountain. This article will specifically focus on His appearances to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus’ apostles, which fulfilled His promises.

Moses

Exodus 33:19-20; 34:2, 10-11 state: “And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’…Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain.’…Then the LORD said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you. Obey what I command you today.’”

Elijah

1 Kings 19:11-13 states: “The LORD said, Go out and stand on a mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great a powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

In the passages above, both Moses and Elijah covered their faces so as to not see the face of the LORD. In the passages surrounding these, the prophets lamented many of their Israelite peers who had succumbed to weaknesses and other gods, and the LORD gave them instructions on how to proceed to fulfill His commandments. He made His mercy, justice and love clear. And the LORD fulfilled His promises to Moses and Elijah both during their lifetimes and during Jesus’ transfiguration.

Jesus’ Transfiguration

In Mark 9:1, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’

The passages immediately following this passage fulfill His words.

Mark 9:2: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him.’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.”

Why did Jesus select Moses and Elijah instead of other prophets and people from the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Joshua, or David? One reason could be that both Moses and Elijah had witnessed the LORD on Mount Sinai, and both were prevented from seeing the LORD’s face while there, and both never made it to the “Promised Land” in their lifetimes.

Since the Word became flesh, Jesus showed Moses and Elijah His face in human form. The LORD glorified Jesus in His transfiguration and displayed the power of the kingdom of God and the Promised Land high up on a mountain. Moses and Elijah witnessed Jesus in His full glory before leaving His presence and that of Peter, James, and John.

Elijah, whom Malachi prophesied would return to reconcile God’s people (Malachi 4:5-6), had earlier appeared as John the Baptist (Luke 1:17) to pave the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23). Like Elijah, John the Baptist preached messages of repentance in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1) and withstood the challenges of very powerful men (1 Kings 18:17 and Matthew 14:2).

In Mark 9:11-13, Jesus’ apostles questioned Jesus about Elijah. “‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’”

Conclusion

Skeptics have often produced Mark 9:1 to claim that Jesus did not fulfill His promise that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Yet the verses to follow demonstrate His fulfillment.

Many great people have followed the footsteps of Biblical prophets up the proverbial mountaintop. And God has given them the opportunity to look over into the Promised Land. We can all get there; Jesus has made that possible. It only takes faith in Him.

Thank you for your time.

 

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