Let’s open your Bibles to John 3. I appreciate your prayers while I was in Canada, everything went well. I did not get arrested, I’m happy about that. And if you’re interested in prophecy teaching I’m doing a two part series, just for this week only, at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston and part 2 is tomorrow night at 4:45. I think you can catch it on their live stream; just go to the College of Biblical Studies student page I think is what it is. You should be able to find it.
Let’s take a look at John 3:3-5 and as you know we’ve been continuing our series on the whole subject of the kingdom, laid out what the Bible teaches on the kingdom, how the kingdom literally interpreted it’s currently in a state of postponement as God is at work through the church. A lot of people today are challenging that and they’re trying to make it look like we’re in the kingdom now. And of course to do that you have to change the definition of the kingdom.
So what are the verses that people use to argue that we’re in the kingdom. We’re looking at a collection of verses from Christ’s ministry. And the last time I was with you, I think we spent three weeks on this, Luke 17:20-21 which we’re leaving that subject tonight which says, “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21, “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed;  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”]
In the last three lessons I tried to explain this verse does not say the kingdom is within you; what it’s actually saying is the kingdom is being offered to Israel. And some would say the kingdom is in your midst, basically what that means is the kingdom is certain, it’s certainly coming one day, it’s not arguing that it’s present. We spent about three weeks on that because that’s probably the main passage that people use to argue that we are currently in the kingdom.
And what I’d like to do tonight is move on into another passage that people typically use and that’s, I call it the “Nic at night discourse,” where Jesus has a conversation with Nicodemus at night and He tells him he must be born again to see and enter the kingdom. So let’s take a look at those verses, John 3:3-5.  “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
So you’ll notice the twofold repetition of “kingdom of God” there, “he cannot see the kingdom of God” unless he is born again, and then in verse 5 he says he can’t even “enter into the kingdom of God” unless he is born again. And of course this is a big deal because unless a person is regenerated at the point of faith alone in Christ alone, meaning that the Holy Spirit enters them, then they’ve never been born a second time. If they’ve never been born a second time then they can’t enter the kingdom of God.
Now “kingdom now” theologians use this to say once you’re born again you enter the kingdom of God spiritually speaking. I would say most people understand the verse that way. So people use this to argue that we are currently in the kingdom because people are born again and they see the kingdom and they enter the kingdom, therefore Jesus set up a spiritual form of the kingdom when He was here the first time. That’s basically what people do with this verse.
And what I’d like to communicate to you is this: Jesus, in this discourse, was not dealing with the subject of when is the kingdom coming; He’s leaving that whole discussion untouched and He’s leaving what the Old Testament has already said about that intact. He’s not talking about when, He’s talking about how; He’s re-emphasizing a point of how someone enters the kingdom once it comes. He’s not saying we’re in the kingdom now.
So you’ll notice, was the word kingdom here, basileia, defined at all? It’s not defined so what meaning should we pour into that word? What the Old Testament says! And this is what people aren’t doing in their Bible interpretation, they’re just coming to the word “kingdom” and filling it with whatever definition they think is appropriate but that’s not how the Bible is to be interpreted. When you see something undefined in the New Testament you have to pour into it the meaning that was already developed in the Old Testament. See that? It’s like the word redemption, when I see the word redemption in the New Testament I can’t just make it mean what I want it to mean, I have to go back into the Old Testament and figure out what redemption meant in the Old Testament. And in the Old Testament you have the story of the Exodus where God liberated His people from 400 years of Egyptian bondage through the Passover Lamb, the blood of the Passover Lamb. That’s what redemption means.
So when the word redemption shows up in the New Testament it’s expecting us to carry with it that whole meaning that’s developed in the Old Testament. See that? So it’s the same thing here with this expression “the kingdom of God.” Clayton Sullivan, in his Book, Rethinking Realized Eschatology says… and Realized Eschatology, does anybody remember what that is? That’s what kind of eschatology or theology? Kingdom now theology, it’s just a fancy name for saying kingdom now theology. Clayton Sullivan is a very interesting guy, he is as liberal as they come theologically. But he wrote a book which is very helpful, saying we’re not in the kingdom right now; we can’t manipulate the Bible to teach that. So you can’t really accuse the guy of bias because he’s very liberal, he’s just a good scholar.
So Clayton Sullivan says this concerning John 3. He says, “Because in these verses the Kingdom is not dealt with extensively, it is impossible to use such references to reach a meaningful understanding of the basileia.” So a few just casual references made by Christ is not enough to build a whole doctrine on that we are in the kingdom now and prophecy has been realized. See that? So what Jesus is doing in this conversation is He’s not changing the definition of the kingdom one iota; He’s simply reiterating a point that the Old Testament makes concerning not when the kingdom comes but how one enters once it comes. The spiritual birth is absolutely necessary to enter the kingdom once it takes place on planet earth.
And that is how the gospel of John, that’s how the New Testament is set up. When you get to the New Testament it’s sort of expecting that you’ve already read the Old Testament and so it’s sort of expecting that when it throws words and phrases at you you’re not just reading whatever you want into those words and phrases, you’re developing them from meaning that’s already been explained in the Old Testament. See that?
So Jesus in this same discourse says this, John 3:14-15, He says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;  so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Now if you don’t know anything about the Old Testament this seems like a very strange statement here. But if you do know the Old Testament suddenly the whole statement that Jesus makes in these verses makes a lot of sense.
Why is that? Because in Numbers 21, remember the story? The children of Israel had come out of Egypt, they had made their way, after 400 years of bondage in Egypt they had made their way to Mt. Sinai to receive the Law, and then they just had an eleven day journey into Canaan. And sort of along the way they started to pass through the east of Israel, an area called the Transjordan, and you remember what began to happen was the people started to complain. And if I remember the story right snake bites out of judgment started to kill all the people. And so Moses cries out to God for mercy and He basically says, God says to Moses okay, put a serpent on a pole and all the people have to do to be preserved from the judgment of God and the snake bite is to look at the serpent on the pole and they would receive immediate healing.
So Jesus, in His conversation with Nicodemus uses that same story which you would think Nicodemus would know a lot about since he was a scholar of Hebrew Bible, and the point of it is in the same way there’s a snake bite that’s killing all of the human race, which is the snake bite of the serpent because of original sin in the Garden of Eden. Right? So we’re all dying, aren’t we? So how do we get spared from that curse? We, just as the Old Testament characters looked at the serpent on the pole what are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to look at the Savior on the tree who died in our place; after this story happened Jesus would die in our place and we, 2,000 years later are looking backward to what Jesus did. And how are we saved from the ultimate snake bite that’s killing all of us? We believe in Christ; we look at Him and what He’s done and we trust in Him and just as the Old Testament characters were saved from poisonous venom we’re saved from the poisonous reality of sin.
So He’s basically using that story to preach the gospel and you’ll notice that He is making use of the Old Testament which He is assuming that Nicodemus already understands. When you understand that you understand why He says just a few verses earlier, “Truly, truly, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Just as Nicodemus would fill the story that Jesus told with the Numbers 21 history Jesus is expecting in the same way Nicodemus to fill the expression “the kingdom of God” with the meaning that’s already developed in the Old Testament, that we’ve spent many, many lesson developing.
But Nicodemus, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to get it, does he? He doesn’t even get the analogy, “How can a man be born when he is old,” [John 3:4, “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’”] How can he enter his mother’s womb a second time? He doesn’t even understand the essentials of the new birth. So look at how Jesus sort of rebukes him in John 3:9-10, “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’  Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?’” See the definite article in front of “teacher”? Nicodemus was not just a teacher within the nation of Israel; he was THE teacher, he was in a place of authority over all the other teachers and Jesus rebukes him and says you’re in this position and you don’t understand this rudimentary truth that you have to be born spiritually to enter the kingdom of God?
So why didn’t Nicodemus get it? Why didn’t he just go back into the Old Testament and understand what Jesus was talking about. And I’ll take you in just a moment to the exact passage that Jesus had in mind from the Old Testament when He talked about the new birth. It’s Ezekiel 36. So why didn’t Nicodemus understand Ezekiel 36? Well, it has to do with where first century Judaism was. First century Judaism was wrapped up, not with the Word of God but with a bunch of man-made traditions. In Mark 7:13, and He says, “thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.’”
So first century Israel was not reading the pages of God’s Word, the leadership wasn’t, they were all worried about their extra-biblical traditions that had really come into existence in the intertestamental time period, because what sent the nation into captivity in the Old Testament? What sin? It was sabbath violations. In fact, the captivity was … the number 70 is not just a random number, it was ascertained based on how many sabbaths the nation of Israel rejected. They were to work the land for six years and to let the land have a rest on the seventh year. I think that’s all in Leviticus 25. So they ran right over God’s sabbath for seventy sabbaths and so God says okay, every year that you rejected My sabbath principle is a year I’ll send you into captivity.
And you can see where I’m getting that from, you might just want to jot down 2 Chronicles 36:20-21. [2 Chronicles 36:20-21, “Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia,  to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.”]
So what happened is Pharisaism developed and they said to themselves we’re never going to let that happen again, we’re never going to go into captivity based on rejecting the Sabbath so what we’re going to do is we’re going to pass so many laws, man-made laws that no one will ever break the sabbath again. So Pharisaism started off very well-intentioned but eventually what happens is the tail starts to wag the dog and manmade traditions become more important than actually what God has said. So that’s why Jesus is always running into conflict with the religious crowd. He’ll heal someone on the sabbath, for example, and everybody will get all bent out of shape at Him for doing that because He’s not supposed to work on the sabbath. So who passed a law that says you can’t heal someone on the sabbath? Man passed that law, but Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath was not following their traditions, He was following God’s Word and the sabbath was designed to be a blessing for man. Right?
So there’s always this conflict between Jesus and the Pharisee related to this issue of manmade traditions. And so that’s why Nicodemus is the teacher of Israel and yet he doesn’t understand the new birth to enter the kingdom. So what passage should Nicodemus, in this conversation what passage should have immediately come to his mind, that he wasn’t thinking about because he was all focused on man-made regulations. What should have immediately come to His mind was Ezekiel 36, remember that famous passage? Notice Ezekiel 36:24-28, the spiritual birth to enter the kingdom all the way back in the 6th century B.C. is very clearly spelled out by the prophet, Ezekiel, right.
What does Ezekiel 36:24-28 say? It says, “For I will take you from the nations,” God speaking to Israel, “and gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.” So that’s their political restoration. And then what does verse 25 say, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” Look at this, “I will give you a new heart,” verse 26 and “put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” And look at verse 27, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. [28, “You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”]
So Ezekiel 36 is very, very clear that before the kingdom of God comes to the earth the nation of Israel must be born spiritually. Right? And it’s the same for us, if we’re going to have any hope of entering the kingdom one day, we can’t get in unless we’re what? Born again, born spiritually. So before I was a Christian, before I got saved, let me put it that way, I used to not understand born again Christianity, I used to think it was a sect within Christendom. So you have the Presbyterian Christians, the Baptist Christians, the Methodist Christianity, and oh yeah, the born again Christians. But if what Jesus is saying here is accurate (and it is) there’s only one kind of Christian, the born again Christian, because if a person has never been born by the Spirit of God then they’re not saved, it doesn’t matter what church they go to. But if you are born again then you are saved, regardless of what church you go to. Right? You could be a Metho-Catho-Bapterian, or a Bapticostal Fundamatic, or whatever, the issue is have you been born spiritually?
And this is the kind of conversation Jesus was having with Nicodemus; Nicodemus should have immediately said oh yeah, it teaches all that back in Ezekiel 36, but he was so wrapped up in all of these sabbath laws and manmade things that they were invalidating the Word of God and that wasn’t where his focus is. And that’s why he was the teacher in Israel and yet did not understand such a basic thing. See that?
So what Jesus is affirming here is not when the kingdom comes; that’s already been established in the Old Testament. What He’s reaffirming is the necessity of the new birth to enter the kingdom once it comes. That’s what he’s dealing with. He’s not at all preaching here a present spiritual form of the kingdom. How do I know that? Because I can keep reading the Book of Ezekiel and see Ezekiel trace this.
The Book of Ezekiel, you might be interested to know, is symmetrically structured, and these are sort of some of the clues that you look for when you study a book of the Bible, especially a big book like Ezekiel that’s got 48 chapters in it. The things that happen, and you look for these big structural clues, you try to get the big picture, the things happening at the beginning of the book, chapters 1-24 are repeated at the end of the book. So in Ezekiel 1-3 he is commissioned, his mouth is closed, in other words, he can’t talk unless God allows him, and in Ezekiel 33 he’s recommissioned and his mouth is opened. In the early part of the book he preaches judgment coming on Judah; he’s making predictions about the Babylonian captivity which in his day was imminent. But in chapter 33-48 he’s recommissioned to preach restoration. And that’s where he starts to describe the kingdom coming to the earth yet future.
In the early part of the book the Shekinah glory of God leaves the temple, remember that, just before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple in Ezekiel 8-11? In the last part of the book, chapters 40-48 the Shekinah glory of God doesn’t leave the temple but it enters the millennial temple. And that’s why, when people say well the millennial temple is not literal, well how could that be, that would destroy the symmetry of the book. I mean, is the temple that the Shekinah glory of God left, was that a literal temple? Well of course it was. So the Shekinah glory of God going into the millennial temple is a literal temple as well. And the fulcrum there in the middle that counter-balances the two sides is chapters 25-32 which is predictions of imminent judgment on the surrounding nations. And so that’s the big picture of the Book of Ezekiel. I’m indebted to my former professor Dr. Charles Dyer for helping me with that because once I saw the big picture of sorting through the Book of Ezekiel it’s sort of easy, now that you have a few structural clues.
But what I’m trying to get at is the kingdom restoration stuff is in that final third, that final part of the book. So when Jesus says, “You must be born again” to enter the kingdom of God He’s not tampering with that structure at all. He’s leaving it intact. The only thing He’s doing is re-emphasizing the point that Ezekiel makes in Ezekiel 36 that you have to be born spiritually to enter the kingdom. So Ezekiel 33-48 is a unit and what you have in chapter 33 is the recommissioning of Ezekiel. Chapter 34 you have the prophecies of the millennial David, David is actually going to be resurrected and function under Christ in the millennial reign. Chapter 35 is Edom’s destruction. Chapter 36 , which we just read, is the political and spiritual restoration of the nation of Israel.
Chapter 37 is an illustration of that restoration. Chapter 37:1-11 is illustration one; chapter 37:12 through the end of the chapter is illustration number two. What is illustration number one? Ezekiel sees the valley of the dry bones and God says to Ezekiel, can these bones live? And I love Ezekiel’s answer, the best answer you could give, Well, Lord, You know… You know, I don’t know! So he was told to prophecy to the bones and the bones assembled themselves so that they formed a human skeleton and then he saw skin and muscles and sinews and things like that forming on this skeleton, so it formed a living human being.
But then what does it say there in chapter 37:8, “But there was no” what? “breath in them” in the skeleton in the human being. The word “breath” there is ruach in Hebrew which is the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit. In other words, what you have with Israel was just a carcass, it wasn’t a living person although the body was formed. And see, as you look at the nation of Israel today that’s exactly what you see. You see a political structure in existence, you see a very religious people, but except for a very small minority of them there is no ruach, there is no spirit, there is no regeneration.
Verse 9, “Then He said to me, “‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Come from the four corners of the earth, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.’  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.’”
Now I’ve been in countless churches where the preacher will say well, this is the church on the day of Pentecost. But if you just keep reading in verse 11 what does it say? “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are” the First Baptist Church of Houston. It doesn’t say that, “These bones are the whole house of Israel;” this isn’t talking about God’s work in the church. I praise God for God’s work through the church and people getting saved, but that’s not what this is talking about. This is talking about the nation of Israel coming back, not just to political life but to spiritual life and unless the Spirit of God comes into them where they’re obeying God from the inside out through the new spiritual birth called regeneration, God’s kingdom can’t come to the earth. So the Nic at Night discourse Jesus is saying you are the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t even know what Ezekiel 36 and 37 says, because you’re so wrapped up in all of these manmade traditions.
So that’s illustration number one. And then when you get outside of Ezekiel 37 and you go verse 12 to the end of the chapter it’s got the two sticks coming together. That’s illustration two. And one stick is the southern kingdom and one stick is the northern kingdom because you remember that when Solomon left the throne in 931 B.C. what happened to the kingdom? It was divided between the north and south; so you go through the Book of Kings, and why is it called “The Book of Kings”? Because there are a lot of kings in there and it get confusing because this southern king did this and this flashes over to the north because the kingdom was divided at that point. And what Ezekiel 37 is predicting is when God does this work here, of regeneration, there won’t be any more division in the land of Israel; there’ll be one united kingdom under the reigning millennial David, under the delegated authority of Christ from that day onward.
But none of these things can happen unless Israel is regenerated. See that? So chapter 36 has the context, that’s why Jesus is not commenting on when the kingdom comes, that’s already being explained here; He’s just reiterating the simple truth that the spiritual birth is necessary for anyone to enter the kingdom.
Ezekiel chapter 37 is followed by chapters 38 and 39, and that’s what I’ve been teaching at the College of Biblical Studies Tuesday night and part two Thursday night, the great end time battle of these surrounding nations Put, Persia, Magog, Rosh, Meshach, Tubal, Gomer and Torgarmah and I explain in that class how you can identify those with modern nations today that are coming against Israel. And so what the Bible predicts is all of these nations are going to invade the land of Israel and Israel, when she doesn’t have a friend in the world will finally turn to God. That’s how she gets saved. Proverbs18:24 says, “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The problem is, Israel doesn’t really recognize in her pride and arrogance that she needs God yet. It’s just like we were, weren’t we like that before we got saved? So He’s got to put us into a crisis where we’ve got no friends in the world but God, so we say well Lord, I guess I’ll have to trust You. And once that happens He’s got you right where He wants you. Right? Now you’re open to the gospel.
So this crisis has to develop for Israel to experience the new birth that Ezekiel 36 and 37 are talking about. So you see, this new birth thing, there’s a context that goes with it that Jesus is expecting the teacher of Israel to understand. So 36 is the new birth, chapter 37 are two illustrations of this coming kingdom through the new birth. Chapters 38 and 39 is the mechanism that God is going to use to bring Israel to a place of crisis. And then once she’s saved what will God do? He will establish His long awaited kingdom on the earth. That’s why we couldn’t be in the kingdom right now, because Israel is not saved. Right? She’s still an unbelieving nation.
So once that happens then He will establish, chapters 40-46, the millennial temple, which is described with mind-numbing accuracy in those chapters. And that’s the temple that the Shekinah glory of God goes into, just like it left the Solomite temple. And then chapter 46 is followed by chapter 47:1-12 where you have a description of the millennial river, and you say well what is that? It’s a river, read it for yourself, I’m not making this stuff up, it’s a river that basically flows from the temple and it goes into the Dead Sea. And by the way, why do we call the Dead Sea the Dead Sea? Because everything in the sea is dead because of the high salt content. In fact, when you go to the land of Israel, and I say “when” because you’re going to get there one way or the other, when the kingdom is established you’ll have to go there to worship Jesus so I suggest you go now just to kind of check out the neighborhood. And if you’re on a good tour they’ll let you float in the Dead Sea. The high salt content, not only does it kill everything but it buoy’s you up, I thought I would be the first person to sink in the Dead Sea and I floated and bobbed along quite fine, (thank you very much). In fact they actually have life guards there and I thought what do these guys do, you can’t drown, so if I retire one day and look for a cushy job I might apply to be a lifeguard on the Dead Sea. But anyway….
The river is going to come out of the temple, it’s going to go into the Dead Sea and the Dead Sea is going to come back to biological life and it’s going to team with fish and all kinds of sea creatures and it’s all described in chapter 47. And what is being revealed here is this is what the kingdom is going to look like.
Speaking of the millennial temple, it’s going to be huge. That’s how big it is in comparison to the temple that existed in the time of Christ called Herod’s temple. And that’s what it looks like next to the tabernacle, that’s what it looks like next to a modern day football field, etc. And then God is so specific with His promises He’s going to keep all of the land promises that He’s made to the various tribes. The various tribes are each going to receive a land portion in the millennial kingdom and the land of Israel is going to extend from modern day Egypt to modern day Iraq basically from the Nile or near the Nile, the Wadi ell-Arish all the way to the Euphrates. And today everybody is all upset that Israel has the West Bank, everybody’s upset about the West Bank and if I’m understanding my Bible correctly when the kingdom comes not only will Israel have the West Bank but she’ll have the East Bank as well, the east side of the Jordan River. So these are all descriptive, and there’s another picture, I think Gabe did that one for me, what the tribal land portions are going to look like.
And then when you go to chapter 48:30-35 they’re just very short verses, it says the nation of Israel will be completely and ultimately restored and the city of Jerusalem will be God’s special city from that time forward. And that’s very special because during the tribulation period Jerusalem is called Sodom in Egypt, Revelation 11:8. [Revelation 11:8, “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”] She’s influenced by the wicked forces of Sodom and Gomorrah and Egyptian bondage. And today you look at the land of Israel and gay rights parades and those kinds of things are very common in the city of Jerusalem and that won’t be the case any more in the millennial kingdom because the nation of Israel will be spiritually restored.
So what am I trying to get at? The very kingdom which spiritual restoration or regeneration is a mandatory prerequisite for entrance into is a future reality. How do I know it’s a future reality? Because it’s in the context of all of these other things coming into existence, in the final third part of the Book of Ezekiel.
The only thing Jesus is doing in the Nic at Night Discourse is He’s not re-teaching all of this stuff, He expect Nicodemus to know all this, He’s just re-emphasizing the simple fact that you’ve got to be born spiritually to enter. That’s all He’s emphasizing; He’s not commenting, He’s not rearranging the deck chairs at all. Everything that’s been revealed He’s building on, He’s just re-emphasizing the fact that you’ve got to be born spiritually to enter. So that’s how to handle John 3:3-5, the two references to the kingdom of God. He’s not answering the when question, that’s already explained. He’s just answering the how question, how one enters.
Let me take you (as time permits) to a second passage folks use and let’s go over to Matthew 16:27-28. Here’s a second passage that kingdom now theologians use. Jesus says, “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.” So He’s speaking of the kingdom there. And then He says in verse 28, “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.” So what He’s saying is some of you are going to see the kingdom come before you die. So you can see what kingdom now theologians do with this; they say ah, Jesus is saying that kingdom’s got to come very fast before these people die that He’s talking to, so therefore He set it up in spiritual form in the first century.
But Matthew 16 is followed by Matthew 17; have you read what’s going on in Matthew 17? The transfiguration. It’s where Jesus appeared in His glorified state and which two prophets were with Him? Moses and Elijah, so Moses and Elijah have a tendency to show up related to imminent appearances of the kingdom and when you understand that then you start understanding who those two guys were in Revelation 11. They look a lot like Moses and Elijah to me; one of them shuts up the heavens so that it can’t rain—who did that in the Old Testament? Elijah, for forty-two months it says Elisha did. And the other one turns water to blood.
So in the transfiguration Jesus transfigures Himself; He appears in His glorified state with Moses and Elijah right there with Him. And this happens, according to Matthew 17:1-13 six days later. [Matthew 17:1-13, “Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.  And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”  And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.  As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”  And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”  And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things;  but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”  Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.”]
So six days after Jesus made this statement the transfiguration happened. What was the transfigureation? It was a foretaste of the kingdom. It was a token of the kingdom. It was a prefigurement of the kingdom. What He’s saying is if the nation accepts Me as their King here’s what you can expect, and He transfigures Himself in His glorified state and Moses and Elijah are right there with Him. So since that story immediately follows what Jesus said in chapter 16, verse 28, that helps us understand its meaning. Right. What does he say? “There will be some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” He’s not talking about the establishment of the kingdom; He’s talking about a foretaste of the kingdom which would happen six days later. Through which event? The transfiguration!
And the problem is… now do we all understand this, that when you read your Bible these chapter divisions that are here, the Holy Spirit didn’t put those chapter divisions in there, right? The chapter divisions are not divinely inspired. Well, who put the chapter divisions in? A guy named Stephen Langton put them in on a very bumpy carriage ride and he put those in to organize the Bible. Now I think generally speaking Stephen Langton did a pretty good job, you know, with the chapter divisions but you see, sometimes the chapter divisions in your mind it cuts off one section of the Bible from the other. Chapters 16 and 17 are meant to be understood together. The chapter division gives the impression that the two units are separate. See that?
So how do you interpret chapter 16,verse 28? You interpret it by what immediately follows in the next unit, the next paragraph. If you want a fancy name for a Greek paragraph it’s called a perikope, it’s a Greek word for paragraph, he explains what is meant by chapter 16, verse 28. And they didn’t die because six days later the transfiguration happened and they saw a prefigurement of the kingdom.
So E. R. Craven, a scholar I keep quoting on this, says, “The declaration of Jesus, “There be some standing here,” etc., Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27. This, according to the opinion of Chrysostom” an ancient church father, “and others may find its fulfillment in the immediately following Transfiguration. In this event the Basileia” now what’s the Greek word for kingdom? Basileia. “In this event the Basileia was not merely symbolized, but in all its glory was for a moment set up on earth.” In other words, here’s what it’s can be like, here’s what the kingdom is if you accept Me as your King and of course as we know the nation of Israel turned down that offer.
So Matthew 16:28 is not saying the kingdom was set up in the first century; what it’s saying is a token or a prefigurement of the kingdom was given in the next perikope. And that’s all he’s saying here. You can’t build a whole kingdom now theology on that passage.
By the way, who were the three apostles that saw the transfiguration? Who was the inner circle? Peter, James and John! Now Peter, didn’t he write a couple of books in the New Testament? They’re called what? 1 Peter and 2 Peter. And then 2 Peter chapter 1 Peter talks about the transfiguration, because he was there to see it and he’s talking about this about sixty years after it happened; this was just before Peter died. We think, based on church tradition he was crucified upside down.
But just before his death it says “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased ‘” That’s what the heavenly voice said when the transfiguration happened.  “And we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” What holy mountain? It’s called the Mount of Transfiguration, which is a fulfillment of Matthew 16:28. [Matthew 16:28, “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.”]
Alva J. McLain, a very good scholar says concerning Matthew 17, “the conjunction,” now what’s a conjunction? Do you guys remember School House Rock? How does that go? Conjunction, conjunction, what’s your…. I must be really having a fever here. [Laughter] And I am a little bit feverish so praise the Lord I’m even teaching. “The conjunction with which chapter 17 begins clearly establishes the unbroken continuity of thought between 16:28 and 17:1, as also in the accounts of Mark and Luke where no chapter division occurs.” So if you look at Matthew 17:1 which follows Matthew 16:28 in your English translation what’s the word that begins chapter 17? What does it say? It says “And,” doesn’t it? It doesn’t say that in some of the English translations but I looked it up in Greek today and that sentence begins with kai, or “and.”
So when it begins with kai, or “and” it’s linking that paragraph or perikope back to what? The information at the end of chapter 16. In other words, the information at the end of chapter 16 is meant to be understood in harmony with the information in chapter 17. We just don’t think of it that way because Stephen Langton dropped a Christmas present off to us under our Christmas trees; he put these chapter divisions in the Bible and because of these chapter divisions, which are very helpful, we unnaturally bifurcate material in the Bible. But McLain is saying because chapter 17 begins with a conjunction the two units, periscopes, are meant to be understood together.
McLain says, ““the conjunction with which chapter 17 begins clearly establishes the unbroken continuity of thought between 16:28 “ which he says some of you will not die until you see the kingdom, “and 17:1, as also in the accounts of Mark and Luke” now Matthew, Mark and Luke, we call those the synoptic gospels, s-y-n in Greek means same, you recognize the word “optic” right, sight, look, so we call those the Synoptics because they have a similar look. In other words, they follow the same literary pattern. They start off with an infant Jesus, they track His rejection by Israel, take us into the Passion Week, and so they all kind of follow the same plot line or story.
And they didn’t get this common story through Que. You say what is Que? It means quell in German source, so liberals will tell you that they got this plotline from this document called Que and so they are all borrowing from Que. And then you say to them, well can I see Que so that I can examine it and what they say is oh, we haven’t discovered it yet but we know it’s there because there’s no way they all could have gotten the same plot line independently of each other. Yes they could have… it’s called the Holy Spirit! I believe in a supernatural God; I don’t believe that each of these guys borrowed from some source called Que which by the way no one has ever found. It’s like dealing with an evolutionist, they keep going on and on about the missing link between humans and apes and they haven’t been able to find it. So if missing links are all over the place we should have them everywhere, right? So they’ve constructed the whole theory of evolution on basically no evidence. That’s what’s going on with this document called Que.
So in the Synoptics the gospels with a similar look, Mark and Luke, record the same story of Jesus prediction of the coming of the kingdom and the transfiguration with no chapter divisions. So what he’s saying is you understand the end of chapter 16 by what’s revealed in chapter 17.
Thomas Ice writes, “All three accounts,” and he’s writing here against preterists; preterists believe in realized eschatology, they believe that Jesus set up the kingdom in the first century and he’s refuting their use of Matthew 16:28. He says, ““All three accounts of the prophesied event speak of seeing and the kingdom. Matthew says they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,’ emphasizing the person of the Son of Man coming. Mark says, ‘they see the kingdom of God’ and he adds that it will come ‘with power.’ Luke simply says that ‘they see the kingdom of God.’
The transfiguration fits all aspects of the various emphases found in each of the three precise predictions. Matthew’s stress upon the actual, physical presence of the Son of Man is clearly met in the transfiguration because Jesus was personally and visibly present. . . . Mark’s emphasis upon a display of the kingdom with ‘power’ was certainly fulfilled by the transfiguration. No one could doubt that the transfiguration certainly fit the definition of a ‘power encounter’ for the disciples. That Jesus appears dressed in the Shekinah glory of God upon the Mount (Mark 9:3) is further evidence to the disciples that He was God and acted with His power. Luke’s simple statement about some who will ‘see the kingdom of God’ is vindicated also by his account (17:28–36). Twice Luke records our Lord describing the transfiguration with the term ‘glory’ (17:31, 32).”” [Thomas Ice, “Preterist ‘Time Texts,’” in The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming under Attack, ed. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 88.]
His point, a lot of words but his point is in all the Synoptics, whether it’s Matthew with its chapter divisions, Mark or Luke without the chapter division you’ll see the author linking the two pericopes. All that to say Matthew 16:28, the coming of the kingdom, has already been fulfilled with the transfiguration which was a token of the kingdom. That’s the point. So Matthew 16:27-28 does not teach, any more than the Nick at Night discourse teaches that the kingdom was established in spiritual form. It just teaches a token of the kingdom was given a few days later, six days later, at the transfiguration.
So that’s sort of how to handle John 3:3-5, Matthew 16:28, and the next time we’re together we’ll take a look at Matthew 21:43, John 18:36 and then Matthew 28:18-20 and then we’ll be finished looking at the passages from the teachings of Christ that kingdom now theologians use and from then we’ll move into the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is a big deal because everybody says in Acts 2 Jesus started reigning on David’s throne. And I’ll be showing you that’s not what Acts 2 says at all. So that’s the direction we’re going.