“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 8:38–9:1).
Obtuse interpretations of this verse and its several parallels in the other gospel narratives abound but in light of what we have seen up to this point it is difficult to avoid the obvious fact that Jesus is here pointing up the fact that He will visit (“come” upon) those very people who then stood before Him with glory and judgment. Jesus is indicating that this judgment will befall them before they are allowed to pass away from old age.
If it is true that the consistent usage of the term “come” in the Hebrew Law and Prophets was given to confer the idea of a divine visitation in judgment or a royal display of power (and assuredly this is the case) then it is difficult to understand Christ as intending anything very cryptic by His constant warnings concerning His “coming” upon the people with which He conversed.
Many things Jesus communicated in veiled form or in parable but His warnings that judgment was at the door for those who would not repent and believe on His kingdom abound on nearly every page of the gospels.
The thing which trips up so many 21st century readers is the assumption that when Christ speaks of His “coming” He must always be talking about His Second Advent; the physical and visible return of Christ at the consummation of human history. Betraying the incorrect nature of this assumption is the fact that Jesus speaks about his “coming” throughout His earthly ministry while He is still with the people. Undoubtedly His audience did not grasp the reality of His future death, resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God the Father.
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It appears highly doubtful that Jesus is teaching in an unclear fashion regarding things yet far distant in the future. The simple truth lies right on the face of the text. In passages such as Mark 8:38-9:1, Jesus is not speaking of His post-session Second Advent. He is rather explaining what will be a defining factor of His inter-advental kingdom!
Consider also Matthew 10:23; it says,
But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
Again Jesus employs the language of “coming” in a way that would appear descriptive of an event imminent for the Apostles themselves. To tell His disciples that they would not finish the ministerial work in their own homeland before “the Son of Man comes” would be a misleading statement if He were actually talking about something thousands of years off in the distant future. The much more simple explanation is that Jesus is drawing upon the Old Testament idea of “coming” to give comfort to His disciples that He will accompany their earthly ministry with spiritual display of power and glory on the part of His heavenly kingship. The context of Matthew 10:16–23 is certainly one of Jesus promising comfort and strength to His followers and this interpretation renders Matthew 10:23 a close parallel to Matthew 28:18–20.
Another example of Jesus’ obvious expectation of the imminent nature of His “coming” are His word’s in Matthew 16:27–28:
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Once again we find the words of Jesus plainly indicate that He will visit His audience in judgment in their own day. Is Jesus teaching that the people would witness His physical Second Advent before the end of the First Century? Obviously no! Paul refutes this exact line of thought in First Thessalonians and Second Timothy; assuring his readers that the end is not upon them.
In order to properly understand Jesus’ words in all of these New Testament texts we must realize that what He is speaking of is the fact that once He ascended to the right hand of the Father He would not be cut off from the affairs of this earth but would, in fact, be its direct spiritual governor.
As Paul would preach on Mars Hill, the times of ignorance had passed. As the book of Hebrews communicates in its tenth chapter, how swift and sore is the punishment for those who scorn or ignore the Son of God? This recurring teaching of the Apostles, that judgment lies at the door for those who obey not the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8), is rooted in the teaching of both Jesus Himself and the Old Testament concerning His invisible, spiritual, and quite frequent comings.
The teaching of Jesus in the gospels makes plain that He would “come” in judgment upon the very generation with which He conversed. This expectation of His meshes perfectly with the consistent biblical employment of the term “coming” to evince the direct, spiritual, and invisible government which God exercises over His creation. That this spiritual government of all things now belongs to Jesus, the head of the Church, is the great comfort of the Saints in all ages. Our Lord reigns. May He come swiftly!
Implications and Imprecations
Consistently I observe that due to the misunderstanding pervading modern Christianity on the subject of Jesus’s coming people often take what has been presented above as an affront or challenge to the idea that Jesus will one day make a visible and physical return in judgment to bring history as we know it to its climactic close. Thus it behooves me not only to flatly reject this insinuation but to also go a little further in pointing up the implications of what has been presented thus far.
It is the plain teaching of the Bible that Jesus will one day make a visible and physical return (Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4). The physical return of Jesus is also codified in Christianity’s most ancient creed. The Apostles Creed says,
He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of the Father. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
The fact that Jesus “comes” in a spiritual sense constantly does not challenge the fact that He will one day make a visible appearance. In reality, the two doctrines support each other. Christ’s invisible “comings” are the earnest of His eventual visible return.
Too often the Church in our day is paralyzed by a materialistic worldview that sees all things come to pass as the result of natural causes. God is just a clockmaker observing His creation wind down and Jesus isn’t coming back until the clock winds all the way down. This post-enlightenment way of thinking is wrong and it has dramatic effect on the prayer, worship, and expectation of the Church.
If it’s true that God isn’t really involved directly in human affairs then why pray? And by this measure isn’t worship a little goofy? Perhaps or perhaps no but such speculation is a waste of time because the premise is untrue! God is directly involved in the affairs of men. More specifically Christ has ascended on high, led captivity captive, distributes gifts to His Church, and actively executes His office as the King of Power in order to buttress His office as the King of Grace. Christ has the pre-eminence over all things so that He might properly shepherd His Church.
Christ’s Church can have the daily comfort of knowing that all men must prepare to meet their King because He coming is (Psalm 96:13; 98:9). Christ will one day make a dramatic and climactic return yes, but that glorious event will not be a radical departure from the course of history. It will rather be the consummation of a series of spiritual and invisible divine comings. Divine comings which have been trademark of Christ’s kingdom since the very generation of His ascension to power and glory.
Ramifications flowing downstream from the doctrine of Christ’s imminent supernatural government of all things are abounding. Most readily on display is the impact which should be felt in the prayer and worship of the Church.
Far too often the Church engages in worship and prayer which is inherently passive and effeminate. This is in stark contrast from the reality of John’s prayer, “come quickly Lord Jesus,” which is an invocation of Christ’s spiritual coming in judgment and deliverance. John’s prayer is uttered against the backdrop of Biblical worship, such as the Psalms, which frequently turns on themes of Divine hatred against the wicked (Psalms 5 and 69), judgment coming unto the enemies of God’s people (Psalms 2, 9, 45, 137, 140), and supernatural protection for Christ’s Church (Psalms 3, 23, 46, 101).
We previously saw that Moses employed the idea of God’s coming when describing the destruction which God poured out upon the enemies of Israel. Isaiah used the same language in reference to the imminent danger which wicked Assyria was in. The Psalms frequently invoke the idea of God coming to judge with equity, avenge His afflicted and punish evil-doers. And Jesus Himself warned constantly about the immanent nature of His “coming” to destroy those who would not hearken to His message. Over and over again the true worship ascribed to God in Scripture includes asking God to vindicate His glory and righteousness and calling upon Him to destroy wickedness and those who do wickedness.
Prayer and worship of this nature are referred to as imprecation or imprecatory. The true character of John’s closing prayer in the Apocalypse is that of imprecation. He is inviting Jesus to come in deliverance and in judgment.
How often does the Church ask Jesus, her master, to come in judgment today? Easy answer: not enough. Is the Church in the 21st century characterized by asking God to vindicate His holy Name by pouring out wrath upon the wicked? Does the Church engage in worship and prayer which is imprecatory?
Do we as Christians ask Jesus to visit this world in spiritual judgment? Do we pray asking Him to destroy His enemies (Psalm 2)? Why not? This is the biblical example given us.
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In closing, I readily admit I have done little to open John’s Apocalypse at a deeper level. Only one verse has been touched upon. But the example which John leaves for us in Christian imprecation deserves such treatment. In fact, it deserves far more! It deserves to be taken up and used by every single church in the world today! Oh, that we had a Church that would truly worship before God and lift up prayers worthy of His majesty, His holiness, and His wrath upon wickedness! Oh that we had a Church which could truly invoke, Come quickly Lord Jesus.
Robert Hoyle resides on the family farm in Dinwiddie Virginia. He and his wife Rachel currently have four sons and a daughter.