In Luke 9:27 Jesus claimed that at least some of the Apostles would be alive to see the coming of the Kingdom of God. Misunderstanding what Jesus meant has led some folks to believe Jesus was wrong, and the writers of the New Testament were wrong to expect Jesus to come in their lifetimes. Moreover, misunderstanding the signs of this event has led many to falsely claim Jesus would return on certain dates, and the world as we know it would end at that time. This slant on the Scriptures has always proved to be wrong and has led many to take for granted that Christianity is just another of the world’s religions and has no basis in reality. What can we say about these things, and what did Jesus really mean in Luke 9:27?
According to Dr. Bob Utley’s commentary, seven theories have been offered to show what Jesus meant, “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” (Luke 9:27 KJV). The theories are:
- Jesus’ ascension (cf. Acts 1:9 and Daniel 7:13)
- the Kingdom already present in Jesus (cf. Luke 17:21)
- the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4)
- the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (cf. Mark 14:62)
- expectation of Jesus’ early return (cf. Romans 13:11; 1Thessalonians 2:19: 1Peter 1:7)
- the rapid spread of Christianity (cf. Acts 2 through 28)
- the Transfiguration (cf. Luke 9:28-35)
Dr. Utley concludes that only the Transfiguration is able to fulfill the meaning of Jesus’ words at Luke 9:27. Nevertheless, I see a problem with this conclusion, and I hope to show this beyond reasonable doubt in this study.
Later in his ministry, Jesus concluded in a parable that he needed to go into a far country (we can interpret this country as either Jesus’ death or his ascension into heaven) and then, after the Kingdom was acquired, he would return (cf. Luke 19:11-15). Since Jesus had not obtained the Kingdom prior to his ascension into heaven (cf. Acts 1:6-7), and if we use the criterion we have in Luke 19:11-15, we can eliminate numbers 2 and 7 above. That is, the Apostles couldn’t have seen the Kingdom present in Jesus public ministry, nor could they have seen the Kingdom in his Transfiguration. While they did see Jesus’ glory in vision at his Transfiguration, they couldn’t have seen the coming Kingdom of God (Luke 9:27). Moreover, Jesus implied that some of the Apostles would not live to see the Kingdom of God come, but, obviously, all the Apostles were living both when Jesus was transfigured and throughout Jesus’ public ministry. So, unless Jesus’ words are meant purposefully to deceive, some Apostles would be dead when the Kingdom would come.
If we take into consideration that the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), we can probably eliminate anything that occurred before the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, which would not only eliminate numbers 2 and 7, but also Jesus’ ascension (number 1). Unless the Apostles had the Holy Spirit, how could they experience righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) before he came? After all, the implication of Luke 9:27 is that, when the disciples actually saw the coming of the Kingdom, they would be able to discern what they were seeing.
We should be able to eliminate #3 above (i.e. the coming of the Holy Spirit), because, although Peter claimed that the phenomena the people witnessed proved Jesus was made the Messiah (Acts 2:36), it did not bring Jesus back with the expected Kingdom (Acts 3:19-21; cf. Luke 19:15). Using this same criterion we could also eliminate number 6, because the rapid growth of Christianity didn’t bring Jesus back either.
This leaves us with only numbers 4 and 5 in Utley’s list of theories of the Kingdom of God, which some of the Apostles would see before they died.
The only way an expectation of Jesus’ early return could be understood as the coming of the Kingdom of God, would be if Jesus actually returned in the Apostles’ expected lifetimes. Did he? If he did, when did that event occur? What about 70 AD? Didn’t Jesus tell the high priest that he would see him coming in the clouds and didn’t that mean not only that Jesus was the promised Messiah but also that he would return to judge Jerusalem and the Temple (cf. Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62)?
I believe it comes down to this simple fact, either the Apostles understood what Jesus told them in Luke 9:27, or they didn’t. If they didn’t, why did they later, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, claim Jesus’ return was near (cf. Romans 13:11; 1Thessalonians 2:19: 1Peter 1:7)? If the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35), and if what the Apostles wrote is Scripture (2Peter 3:16), then what they wrote (cf. Romans 13:11; 1Thessalonians 2:19: 1Peter 1:7) must be true. I don’t mean to imply that Jesus has returned in the sense of Acts 1:11, but he has returned in the sense of Revelation 11:15-18, and Matthew 24:3, 29-30. Jesus rules from heaven and judged Jerusalem in 70 AD and has judged the nations from that time until today. He shall one day restore the Kingdom to Israel and rule from the earth (cf. Acts 1:11; Acts 3:19-21; Luke 19:15), but, for the present, he rules from heaven.
 None of these Scripture references pointing to the 7 theories are in citation. I added them for clarity.
 Judging Jerusalem and the Temple was the **sign** that Jesus was in the heavens. That is, he came into his office as Messiah, and his judgment upon Jerusalem and the Temple was the sign of that coming (Matthew 24:3; see also Luke 21:7, 20-21, 27-28).
 I intend to elaborate more about this when we come to Luke 17:20.