Why Jesus had to die

Why Jesus had to die to save people to eternal life: What problem was solved by His death? Did He die to pacify an angry God? Or was Jesus the Lamb of God whom God used to reconcile all things to Himself?

Summary of this article

The Qur’an teaches that some Israelites conspired to kill Jesus, but Allah rescued Jesus.  In other words, Jesus did not die.  The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that people are saved to eternal life only through the death of the Son of God.  If Jesus was not killed, then the entire Christian faith is futile and in vain.  The primary purpose of this article is to explain why Jesus had to die.

Similar to the Qur’an, the Bible teaches that God is one.  The Bible clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus and teaches that Jesus is completely dependent on God.  However, the Bible also teaches that Jesus created everything, upholds all things, has all the fullness of Deity in bodily form, is the Judge, has life in Himself and gives life to whom He wishes.  This contradiction we are unable to understand because humans are unable to understand God. 

A Muslim would disagree with the notion that God would allow His Son to be killed.  However, one of the fundamental principles of the Christian religion is self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.  This is a Christian principle because that is how God is.  He humiliated Himself to become a human being, and even humiliate Himself to die in the hands of evil man. 

Christians agree that Jesus had to die, but disagree on why Jesus had to die.  His death is the solution to a problem.  To understand why Jesus had to die, one needs to know what the problem was.  The typical Christian understanding of the problem is that God is angry because of our sins.  Jesus then died to placate His anger.   But since the Bible is clear that it was God that sent Jesus, and that He did it because of His love for the world, the problem is defined below as follows:

Firstly, sin originated in heaven in a large rebellion against God. This rebellion later spilled over to earth.

Secondly, God allowed sin to developed because He created His intelligent beings with the ability to choose against Him, for the only worship that He accepts is the worship of love. He therefore grants His creatures full freedom, which is freedom without fear of retribution.

Sin caused terrible conflict in heaven. Satan argued that God’s laws are deficient; that it is not possible to comply with His laws in all circumstances, and that it is therefore unfair of God to forgive some sinners but condemn others.

God was not able to prove conclusively to the heavenly beings that Satan’s accusations were false. He therefore had to allow Satan to continue until Satan’s character and purpose were fully revealed.

To protect the creation God must destroy sin and sinners, but since God is accused of unfairness, if sin and sinners are destroyed before His intelligent creatures fully understand the truth, rebellion would erupt again in the future.  God wishes to make an end of rebellion once and for all.

The problem is therefore much larger than simply that human beings sin.  The problem affects the entire universe; not only this microscopic planet.  Christ’s death, which is the solution to the problem, similarly has a much wider impact than only this earth:

The Son of God became a human being to make an end to the war in heaven.  Christ’s life demonstrated that it is possible to comply with God’s law in all circumstances.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with God’s law.  His death was the full demonstration of this fact, and also revealed Satan’s cruel nature and the self-sacrificing nature of the Son of God.

Pakmamin Wrote:

Picture of the Qu'ranThe position of the Qur’an about the mighty Messiah Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the belief of Muslims in this respect: The Qur’an tells us that some of the Israelites rejected Jesus, and conspired to kill him, but Allah (God) rescued Jesus and raised him to Himself by swapping him.  Allah says in Qur’an that they neither killed Jesus nor crucified him, but it was made to appear so unto them.

Quoting the Qur’an: “and their saying: we killed Christ Jesus, son of Mary, The messenger of Allah – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them so … For surely they killed him not; but Allah took him up unto Himself”.

The Muslim belief is that Allah changed the face of the person who betrayed Jesus, showing to the rulers the place where he was hiding, into a face resembling Jesus.  So, they crucified that betrayer instead of Jesus.

Response:

Since this article responds to a comment by a Muslim, it does not provide full Biblical evidence for the concepts discussed, but explains certain very complex Christian concepts as briefly and as clearly as possible.

The Bible teaches that people are saved to eternal life only through the death of the Son of God.  If Jesus was not killed, as claimed by the Qur’an, then the entire Christian faith is futile and in vain. 

A Muslim would object to a number of issues in the Christian viewpoint.

God Is One

The Bible teaches that God is One.The Bible teaches that God is one (Deut. 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-30; James 2:19) and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus (e.g. John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:5).  On the other hand the Bible refers to Jesus as “God” (e.g. John 1:18; Titus 2:13-14).  How do we reconcile these facts?

The first thing we have to say is that humans are unable to understand God.  He exists outside time, space and matter.  He is simultaneously in all places and in all times; past, present and future.  He exists without cause.  In fact, He is that which exists.  Things exist because God exists.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.  It is our privilege to study about Him, but we must do it with humility, for “the secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29).

According to the Bible His Son Jesus is completely dependent on God, but also:

  • Existed before He became a human being, was sent by God and descended from heaven;
  • Is “the Beginning“ and created everything; both in the heavens and on earth;
  • Upholds all things;
  • Has all the fullness of Deity in bodily form;
  • Is the Judge and has authority over all flesh;
  • Has life in Himself and gives life to whom He wishes;
  • Must be worshiped as we worship God;
  • Is the visible image of the invisible God and the exact representation of God’s nature;

The Bible and Jesus teaches that God is One.The contradiction, namely that the Bible on the one hand teaches that God is One, and maintains a clear distinction between God and His Son, but on the other hand says that “all the fullness of Deity dwells in Christ in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), I personally explain as follows:s:

This universe consists of time, space and matter.  The universe was brought into being by the Father’s will.  God the Father is therefore not limited or defined by time, space and matter.   He is everywhere in the universe, but also everywhere outside the universe.  Humans are not able to conceive of something that exists outside the universe, but the Intelligence and Power that created the universe exists outside the universe.

Jesus created everything and therefore existed before all things, but in my view He exists within time, space and matter.  He is the exact representation of God’s nature within the universe.  Jesus did not exist before the universe came into being because time did not exist before the universe came into being.  Jesus is also “the Beginning“ of time, space and matter.  The “big bang” was an immense explosion of Energy that brought this universe into being.  In my view Jesus is the Power behind the big bang.  He guided the energy to convert to particles, and He guided the particles to form stars, galaxies and planets.  There never was a time that He did not exist because time came into being with Him. 

These are very difficult concepts.  Perhaps I am trying to explain something which cannot be explained.  Perhaps it will be better to simply say that, during the millions of years ahead of us, we will continually learn more about God.  But since He is infinite, we will never be able to understand Him fully.  Please see the article Son of God for an analysis of the relevant Bible texts.

Son of God Killed

The Cross of ChristA Muslim would also disagree with the notion that God would allow His Son to be killed.  However, that is one of the fundamentals of the Christian religion, namely that it is according to God’s character that He would humiliate Himself to become a human being, and even humiliate Himself to die in the hands of evil man.  Paul wrote to the Philippians that Christ Jesus “existed in the form of God”, but “emptied Himself … being made in the likeness of men” and further “humbled Himself … to … death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

That is how God is revealed in the Bible.  He is not an authoritarian.  He does set laws and He does execute judgment, but always His motive is love.  He so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Jesus was genuinely humble. On one occasion, He washed the feet of His disciples, a service usually performed by a lowly servant.

Why Jesus Had to Die

A Muslim might also object to the statement that the Son of God had to die to save people to eternal life.  Christians generally agree on this point, but they disagree on HOW the death of the Son of God saves people.  His death is the solution to a problem.  To understand why Jesus had to die, one needs to know what the problem was:

Many Christians define the problem as that our sin angered God, and that He needs a sacrifice to placate His anger.   Or to state it slightly different, the righteousness of God required death as a penalty for sin, and Jesus became a human being so that He Himself would die in our stead, so that our sins can be forgiven.

This website objects to the concept that God demands penalty for sin.  Rather, the purpose of His laws is to be for our good.   God does punish people for their sins, but the purpose is then to teach them.  His punishment is forward-looking; to ensure a better future

God is Love - His every motive is loveThis website also objects to the idea that God is angry.  That seems to be a horrible distortion of the Bible message.  Throughout the Bible we find evidence that it was the Father that loved the world and sent His Son to die for us, that we may live.

I would like to present to you a different explanation for why Jesus had to die for people to be saved to eternal life.  This is based on a different definition of the problem.

1. Sin originated in heaven in a large rebellion against God.  This rebellion later expanded to earth.

Few Christians are fully aware of this fact.  The Bible is essentially a history book of events on earth, written by many different authors over thousands of years.  For that reason it gives very little information about the events in heaven.  But sprinkled throughout the Bible one finds evidence of the heavenly source of evil, for instance the statement that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places“ and that God made peace with things in heaven, by the blood of his cross.  Please refer to the article Origin of Evil for a discussion of the evidence from the Bible. 

In the Bible we find evidence of a massive rebellion in heaven against God.  Satan, the leader of the rebellion, later expanded the rebellion to earth by tempting our first parents into sin.  Sin did not originate on earth.

Sin is defined here as anything that harms the well-being of God’s creation.  Since God’s laws are designed to ensure the happiness of His creation, one can also define sin as disobedience to God’s law.  God’s law does not change, but is explained differently to different people, just like you would explain a law differently to a three year old than to a wise old man.  Also, different laws apply to angels and people, just like the maintenance manuals for cars and computers are different.  The Sabbath commandment, for instance, is unique to this planet, and angels do not have to honor their fathers and mothers because they do not have fathers and mothers.

2. God allowed sin to developed because He created His intelligent beings with the ability to choose against Him, for the only worship that He accepts is the worship of love.  He therefore grants His creatures full freedom, which is freedom without fear of retribution.

Some think that God decides who will be saved irrespective of what the person is or wantsOne then may ask why God allowed sin to develop in heaven, and why He allowed the rebellion to spread to earth.  Again, this is not a question that Christians often think about.  It is proposed here that God allowed sin to develop because God grants His creatures full freedom.  Many Christians would object to this idea.  They believe that God decides who will be saved and who will be lost.  In their view God controls the minds of people, and that people (and angels) have no real freedom.  But if God controls intelligent beings in that manner, then it also follows that God created evil; that sin was God’s invention, which we cannot accept.

In contrast it is proposed here that God grants His intelligent creatures full freedom.  That was why God, who has all power and all knowledge, allowed sin to develop in the first place.  That is also why He did not destroy sinners immediately and why He even allowed Satan access to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Full freedom means freedom without fear of retribution.  Lucifer understood this.  He had a very high position in God’s kingdom.  He was God’s main spokesperson to His creatures, and he knew that God will not penalize His creatures for their sin.

If we have full freedom, why did God say to Adam and Eve that, if they eat of the tree, they would die?  It is proposed here that that was not a threat, limiting their freedom, but a warning, intended to protect their freedom.  As already stated, God’s laws are not arbitrary, but designed to ensure the happiness of His creatures.  Created beings have the freedom to act contrary to His laws, but there are natural consequences.  The cruelty, sickness and death that we see around us today are not God’s penalty for disobedience, but the natural consequence of acting contrary to His command.  God therefore warned Adam and Eve against the natural consequences of sin.

3. Sin caused terrible conflict in heaven.  Satan argued that God’s laws are deficient; that it is not possible to comply with His laws in all circumstances, and that it is therefore unfair of God to forgive some sinners but condemn others.

Sin, which originated in heaven, caused war in heaven, represented in the Bible as Michael and his angels at war against Satan and his angels.  This was a terrible war, not fought with physical weapons, but with much more terrible weapons than we can imagine.

But what was the war about?  I do not think we are able to understand what the angels disagreed about.  It was a being of wonderful power and glory that had set himself against God.  The Lord says of Lucifer, “You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12).  He was “the anointed cherub who covers” (v14), which means that he once stood in the light of God’s presence.  He was the highest of all created beings.  He was the one who taught the universe about God.  How could we hope to understand the arguments which Satan presented to the angels?

Satan accused the High PriestHowever, we have some indications in the Bible of what the war was about.  In Revelation 12 Satan is called the accuser of the brethren.  In Zechariah 3 he stands next to the high priest to accuse him.  It is therefore implied that there was disagreement about God’s judgments.   God judged Satan and his angels as guilty, but forgave certain sinners, such as Moses.  Therefore, the once mighty angel Lucifer, now called Satan, accused God of inconsistent and unrighteous judgment.  He seems to argue that the sins of God’s people cannot be forgiven; that mercy was inconsistent with justice; and if God should cancel the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice.  Please see the article Disarmed the rulers and authorities for more information.

There are also indications in the Bible that Satan argued that it is not possible for created beings to always and fully comply with God’s laws:

Job tormentedThe oldest book in the Bible tells the story of a man named Job.  Job was a “blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil”, but Satan said to God “touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face”.  God then allowed Satan to destroy everything that Job owned, even his children, but Job remained faithful.  Then Satan went back to God and said “put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face”.  Satan obtained permission from God and “smote Job with sore boils”.  Satan also incited Job’s wife to say to Job, “Curse God and die”.  This is what Satan hoped Job would do.  Satan also sent Job’s friends to him to tell him that God has rejected him (Job).  The purpose of this message was to sever the link of faith and trust that joined Job to his Creator.  But “in all this Job did not sin with his lips”.  Satan’s purpose with this test seems to be to show that, given the right circumstances, everybody will lose his hold on God and sin against God

That also seems to be the purpose of the test which Adam failed.  When man defied the will of God, Satan exulted.  It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed, and since man could not be forgiven, that the human race must be forever shut out from God’s favor.

Two of Satan’s arguments were therefore:

  • That it is impossible for created beings to always and fully comply with God’s laws.
  • That it is therefore unfair of God to forgive some sinners but condemn others.

Ultimately, the War in Heaven is about God’s judgments.

4. God was not able to prove conclusively to the heavenly beings that Satan’s accusations were false.  He therefore had to allow Satan to continue until Satan’s character and purpose were fully revealed.

The book sealed with seven sealsAs already stated, God does not force His beings to accept His judgment.  But neither was He able to conclusively convince the loyal angels of the error in the accusations of the super-brilliant accuser.  This was a terrible time in heaven.  It seemed as if Satan had the upper hand, and as if evil would exist forever.  In the last book of the Bible the inability to understand these things is symbolized by a closed book which nobody was able to open.  See the discussion of the Introduction to the Seven Seals for more information. 

If God destroyed Satan and his host at that point in time, before Satan’s character and purpose was fully revealed. it would not have been apparent to heavenly beings that the destruction of Satan and his host was the inevitable result of sin.  Doubt of God’s goodness would have remained in their minds as evil seed, and the rebellion would arise again in the future.  Satan claimed that his principles are superior to God’s principles.  Since God’s purpose is to secure the eternal safety of the universe, He had to allow Satan time to continue until the principles of his system of government has been fully developed, that they might be seen by all the universe. 

5. To protect the creation God must destroy sin and sinners, but since God is accused of unfairness, if sin and sinners are destroyed before His intelligent creatures fully understand the truth, rebellion would erupt again in the future.  God wishes to make an end of rebellion once and for all.

God will eventually destroy sin, including every creature that is permanently corrupted by sin, but not as retribution or penalty for sin.  He will destroy sin to protect His creation.    As stated in Revelation, He will make all things new.

However, even though sin destroys, and even though God can very easily destroy Satan and his followers, God cannot destroy sin and sinners unilaterally because God never forces anybody to agree with Him.  To compel opposition is found only under Satan’s government.  The Lord’s authority rests upon principles such as truth, goodness, mercy, and love.  These are the means by which the Lord overcomes evil.  The Lord can only destroy sin if His intelligent creatures, in full freedom, agree with Him and ask Him to do it.

The five points above are the proposed definition of the problem which Christ’s death had to solve.  The problem is therefore much bigger than simply that human beings sin.  The problem affects the entire universe; not only this microscopic planet.  Christ’s death, which is the solution to the problem, similarly has a much wider impact than only this earth:

The Son of God became a human being to make an end to the war in heaven.  Christ’s life demonstrated that it is possible to comply with God’s law in all circumstances.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with God’s law.  His death was the full demonstration of this fact, and also revealed Satan’s cruel nature and the self-sacrificing nature of the Son of God.

Jesus as human babyWith the war of accusations in heaven still raging heavily, God sent His Son as a human being to this planet, which Satan claimed as his own; as a vulnerable baby in a world controlled by Satan. 

At first Satan did everything in his power to physically destroy the little One, but God protected His Son. 

Then Satan changed His tactics; he tried, in every possible way, to lead Jesus into sin, to discourage Him, to get Jesus to act selfishly; to get Jesus to use His power or position to benefit Himself.  The Bible records an incident where Satan tempted Jesus: 

After fasting for forty days Jesus was very hungry, and Satan tempted Him to use His power to turn stones into bread, but Jesus refused. 

Then Satan tempted Him to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple to prove that He is the Son of God, but Jesus refused. 

Lastly Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world if He would fall down and worship Satan, but again Jesus refused. 

This was simply one example of Satan’s strategy throughout the earthly life of the Son of God.  The cross was the ultimate test.

The story of Job helps us to understand why Jesus had to die to end the war in heaven.  Perhaps Satan similarly went to God and said that, if you allow me full access to Jesus, including to His life, I will show you that Your Son will “curse You to Your face”.  We know from the Bible that God did give Satan full and unlimited access to Christ; including to kill Him.  God’s Holy Spirit was always close to Jesus, but on the Cross Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  During His last days God withdrew His protection and support from Jesus.  The “rulers and authorities” (Col. 2:15), elsewhere called the powers of darkness, assembled around the cross, bombarding Christ with thoughts of unbelief, resulting in cruel depression and despair.  Just like God, on the basis of His principle of freedom, allowed Satan access to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a test, God allowed Satan full access to the Son of God.

This was a test.  Could one sin be found in Christ, had He in one particular yielded to Satan to escape the terrible torture, the enemy of God and man would have triumphed.  But in spite of the physical, emotional and spiritual agony, Jesus did not use His power to relieve His agony.  Satan was allowed to use every means available to him, but Jesus did not sin in a word or a deed or a thought.  The more mercilessly Satan’s wrath fell upon Him, the more firmly did the Son of God clung to the hand of His Father, and press on in His bloodstained path.  All heaven was filled with wonder when Christ prayed in the midst of His terrible suffering,–“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Christ revealed God to the universe. 

We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings” (1 Cor. 4:9 NIV).  All heaven witnessed the controversy with intense interest.  They watched the Son of God enter the garden of Gethsemane, His soul bowed down with a great darkness.  They heard His bitter cry, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39).  As the Father’s presence withdrew from Him, they saw Him filled with a sorrow that is worse than the last great struggle with death, causing bloody sweat to fell in drops to the ground.  Heaven saw Satan’s frenzied work, and his power over the hearts of men, causing them to deride, torment, condemn, and crucify the Son of God, while the daughters of Jerusalem wept and the mob jeered. 

Satan was defeated.  The evidence which Jesus gave through His life and death brought an end to the war in heaven (See War in Heaven).   There-after the consensus of the loyal angels was that Satan is wrong and God is right, and they requested God to banish Satan from heaven. 

Christ’s life, including the Cross, which was the highest test which Jesus had to go through, but still only one of a continuum of tests during His life, revealed at least three things:

It showed that this human being (Jesus) would remain faithful to God’s principles in all circumstances, showing thereby that it is possible for human beings (and angels) to comply fully with God’s law in the most agonizing circumstances.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with God’s laws

Christ’s death revealed the cruel nature of Satan and his evil angels.  Not until the death of Christ was the character of Satan clearly revealed to the heavenly beings.  The exalted position which he had gave him power to deceive.  Satan had so clothed himself with deception that even holy beings could not understand his principles or the nature of his rebellion.  But the Cross torn away his disguise.  His administration was laid open before the heavenly universe.  He had revealed himself as a murderer.  By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he lost any remaining sympathy he still received from the heavenly beings. 

Lastly, His life and death revealed the character of the Son of God.  When nothing else was able to end the war in heaven, He was willing to humiliate Himself to becoming a human being, and to run the risk of eternal loss through a torturous death to save sinners.  Throughout His life His concern always was with the people around Him.  These things revealed His true character.

It was for this purpose that He became a human being and this is why Jesus had to die; not only a normal death, but a voluntary slow death through torture.  His death was voluntary, for if He gave the command, legions of angels would have come to His aid.

But Satan also had another argument, namely that God is unfair when He forgives one sinner but condemn another.  Jesus’ death did not fully answer all of Satan’s accusations.  For that reason God has not yet made an end to sin.  There is more to be revealed.  For the sake of the future happiness of the universe, Satan was allowed to continue his work, but only on earth (Revelation 12).  Man as well as angels must see the contrast between the Prince of light and the prince of darkness.

In Conclusion

Sin caused terrible conflict in heaven.  Satan, the highest of all created beings, used the sins of people—their inability to keep God’s law—as evidence to prove that God’s intelligent creatures are unable to fully keep God’s law, arguing that God is therefore inconsistent and unfair when some of His sinning creatures, such as Adam and Moses, are forgiven while other people and sinful angels are condemned.  Even the loyal heavenly beings could not conclusively answer Satan’s accusations against God.  The problem is therefore much bigger than simply that human beings sin.  The problem affects the entire universe; not only this microscopic planet. 

Christ’s came to the earth to validate God’s judgments.  Jesus, as fully human, showed that human beings (and angels) are able to comply with the Law of God in all circumstances.  If Jesus did not really die, as the Qur’an maintains, then we have no hope.

God’s Children

So, who are God’s children?  To call yourself a Christian does not make one His child:

The person that views God as an authoritarian tyrant, and is pleased with that view of God, will himself be an authoritarian tyrant, and is therefore not a child of God. 

God’s people are those that admire God’s willingness to suffer for His creatures.  They find joy in the thought that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to become a human being to suffer for our benefit.  God’s people are those that want to be as humble as God, and those that want to serve other people, particularly lesser people.  They find joy in the concept of freedom, and they grant other people freedom to differ from them.  They do not act selfishly, but are willing to suffer for the benefit of others. 

God will judge each person according to his circumstances.  To be saved by the blood (death) of Christ does not require one to know His name.  Even a person that rejects Christ, but accepts His principles, is one of His people.  God does not belong to Christianity.   There is only one true God, and He loves and talks to all peoples, through His written word, through nature, through other people and through His supernatural communication with each human being.  Each of us will be judged relative to what we have received.  From the one that has received much, much will be expected. 

TO: General Table of Contents

Christ’s Return ToC

Table of Contents of the Articles on Christ’s Return

Second Coming in the New Testament – When and how will Jesus return, and what will happen? – An analysis of the Second Coming verses in the New Testament to determine what Jesus meant when He said He will come soon.

Return of Christ in the book of Revelation – The Return of Christ in the Seven Last Plagues in the book of Revelation – The Return of Christ will not be an isolated event, but will be preceded and followed by a series of profound events; the “Day of the Lord”.

The End of the Age – What did Jesus mean by the End of the Age? – The end of the age is the return of Christ, when those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, and when those who commit lawlessness are thrown into the furnace of fire, while the righteous receive everlasting life.

This generation will not pass away – Who is “this generation” that will not pass away until all these things take place? – An analysis of how the gospels use the phrase “this generation”

Little Apocalypse – The Little Apocalypse; distinguish between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Return of Christ – An analysis of Christ’s teachings with respect to end-time events, as recorded in the Little Apocalypse

Little Apocalypse Support – The Olivet discourse: The Destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the Return of Christ –

Matthew 10:23 – “You will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes”.  What is the meaning of the phrase, “the Son of Man comes” in Matthew 10:23?

What is the “Kingdom of God”? – A study of the phrase “kingdom of God” in the New Testament

Some standing here will not die – An analysis of the phrase “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” in Matthew 16:28 – Does this refer to Christ’s Physical Return?

The Lord is coming soon – Jesus said and His disciples believed that the Lord is coming soon. – Shows that the entire New Testament teaches that the Lord is coming soon.

Was His promise to return soon was fulfilled in His Resurrection, Ascension and Enthronement? – The Apostles still expected His soon coming after His resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Was His promise to soon return fulfilled in the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70? – Or was A.D. 70 merely a type of the fullest destruction at the return of Christ, or only the consequence of the end of God’s covenant with Israel?

Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised? – The 490 Years of Daniel 9 and Christ’s Return – Christ’s Return was promised before some of His hearers have died.  Starting with the dispensational view of why this promise did not come true, this article analyses the 490 years of Daniel 9 to develop an understanding of the delay in Christ’s Return.

TO: General Table of Contents

Matthew 16:28 – Christ’s Physical Return?

Jesus said, “some standing here shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming” – Is this Christ’s Physical Return?

Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 16:

27 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. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

This seems to say that some of the people listening to His words will live to see Christ’s physical return.  But those people are all long dead.  The purpose of this article is to address this conundrum.

The Context is Judgment

The saying in verse 28 is found in the immediate context of judgment (verse 27), but judgment is also the context of the entire paragraph:

After Peter confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v16), Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day, be raised (16:21). Peter then rebuked Jesus for saying this, but Jesus showed him that this is the only way (vv. 22–23).  Jesus then told his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow Him because it is foolish to gain the world and lose one’s soul (vv. 24–26), and concluded with verses 27–28, as quoted above.

The message of the entire paragraph is therefore that one must take up your cross and follow Him, “for the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done”.  The point is that it is not possible to separate the “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” from the judgment.

The Same Phrase

In the NASB the exact same phrase “Son of Man coming” is found in the Little Apocalypse, which is recorded in three of the gospels, and which is analyzed in a separate article.  In all three gospels His coming will be preceded by “signs in sun and moon and stars”.  Then He will come on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory, to gather His elect from the people of the world.  To quote one of the gospels:

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Mat 24:30, 31; compare Mark 13:24-27 and Luke 21:25-28)

Similar Phrases

Variations of the phrase “Son of Man coming” are found in the gospels.  These also point to Christ’s physical return in glory, with His angels, to judge the peoples of the world:

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.“ (Mt. 25:31-33)

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” (Mt. 16:27).

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” (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26).

In all the previous verses His return is the day of judgment, but it is phrased differently:

  • Gather together His elect from the four winds (Little Apocalypse)
  • Separate the nations from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Mt. 25:31-33)
  • Repay every man according to his deeds (Mt. 16:27)
  • Be ashamed of him (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26)

In the following instances it refers to His movement from elsewhere to the earth.

When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

The concept of the judgment is also reflected in the words “find faith” and “receive you to Myself”.

In the following verse, which is discussed in a separate article (Matthew 10:23), it is not explicitly stated to be Christ’s physical return, but due to the similarity of the phrase and other reasons, it was concluded that this verse also refers to Christ’s physical return.

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” (Matthew 10:23).

This verse, like Matthew 16:28, also emphasizes the soon return of the Lord.

For these reasons it is concluded that the claim in Matthew 16:28, that the Son of Man will come before all His hearers have died, refers to Christ’s physical return in glory, with His angels, to judge the world.

The Kingdom of God

It is sometimes argued that Matthew 16:27-28 should be understood as the coming of “the kingdom of God”, as opposed to His physical return to this world.  This view is justified by pointing to the parallel passages in Mark and in Luke, where the wording is different. Mark and Luke both speak about seeing the “kingdom of God”, rather than seeing “the Son of Man coming see coming in His kingdom”:

Mark 9:1. And He was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Luke 9:27 “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” 

It is therefore suggested by some that the “coming of the Son of Man” is simply another way of saying “the coming of the kingdom of God”, which is not Christ’s physical return, but rather His return from death, or the coming of His kingdom when the Holy Spirit was poured out, or His coming to the Father, as predicted by Daniel 7, when He ascended to the Father’s throne.

This is discussed more fully in a separate article (See What is the “Kingdom of God”?).  In that article it was concluded that the “kingdom of God” is similar to an earthly kingdom, in that it has a King, laws and citizens.  Its King is God.  Its laws are given in the Bible.  Its citizens are the saved.  It always exists, but is visible only to believers.  For these reasons, when Jesus said, “the kingdom of God comes”, we should always allow the context to determine the meaning, and the context of 16:27-28 is Christ’s physical return in glory, with His angels, in judgment; to repay every man according to his deeds. And Mark 9:1 describes this coming as “with power”; it is not simply an invisible coming of the “kingdom of God”.

The Transfiguration

Christ's TransfigurationMatthew 17:1 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain … 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. … 5 … 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!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.

Some argue that the statement that “some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom”, was fulfilled by His transfiguration, justified as follows:

  • In all three synoptic gospels this statement is followed immediately by the description of the transfiguration of Jesus (Mt 17:1–8; Mk 9:2–8; Lk 9:28–36).
  • The transfiguration was only six days after He made this statement.
  • At the transfiguration “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light”.
  • This was witnessed by Peter, James, and

However, in the following passage Peter refers to being eyewitness of His transfiguration, and describes the transfiguration as a foretaste and confirmation of the reliability of His promise of Christ’s physical return, when all believers will see Him come in power and great glory (cf. Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7):

2 Peter 1:16we 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. 17 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”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

Furthermore, an event that was to happen in only six days is hardly compatible with the statement that some would live to see it.  One does not normally use such language to refer to something that is to take place in a week’s time. 

The transfiguration also cannot be the coming of the Son of Man “in the glory of His Father with His angels”, and it was not “the day of judgment”, as required by the verses quoted above.

The Proposed Solution

Many other solutions have been proposed by Bible students.  The proposals discussed above are intended to address the Matthew 16:28 conundrum specifically, but actually do not adequately solve the questions raised by that verse.  In the article The Lord is coming soon it is shown that there are many other statements throughout the New Testament promising that Christ’s physical return will be soon.  Other proposals, that attempt to address all these statements as a collective, as well as the solution proposed by this website, are discussed in the article Why did He Not Return in the First Century as promised?

TO: Table of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Contents