“Amen,” Jesus says, “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come in power” (Mark 9:1).
If we read this without faith, it could read like an embarrassingly mistaken prediction of the time of the second coming – rather like all those doomsday dates that regularly get rolled out by various apocalyptic and fundamentalist groups – especially, I think, in this country.What can this mean? This verse baffled me for years. How could it be, I thought, that people living at the time of Jesus have not yet tasted death? Surely all of them died by now.
The next date coming from Dr. F. Kenton Beshore is 2021. So, get ready, I guess. His previous prediction was 1988, but that embarrassment has not dissuaded him from making another prediction. I’ll not go into his calculations.
The Lord is coming we know not when. Yet various Christians throughout the ages have made predictions as to what that date will be. Even some saints have gotten in on the act and made some predictions that turned out other than they expected.
But unlike all this merely human guesswork, surely the Lord Jesus Christ knows what he is talking about. And Jesus says to those standing with him almost 2,000 years ago that some of them will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come in power. We know that everyone who was there all those years ago has by now tasted death. And we know that Jesus Christ, who is Truth himself, is not making an error here. He does not make errors. This leaves only one other possibility, that some who were standing there with Jesus did indeed see the kingdom of God come in power.
The Blessed Theophylact makes bold to name those Jesus means when he says “some standing here” and also to name the moment when they see the coming of the kingdom of God. He writes,
Namely, Peter, James, and John, shall not die until [they see] at the Transfiguration the glory with which [Jesus] shall appear at the second coming. For the Transfiguration was nothing else than a foreshadowing of the second coming, and as he appeared shining then, so will he shine at the second coming, as will also all the righteous.
To see the light of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor is to see the coming kingdom of God as already come.
The Venerable Bede sees the coming kingdom of God also in another place. He writes,
The present Church is called the kingdom of God, and some of the disciples were to live in the body until they should see the Church built up, and raised against the glory of the world.
If we could see the Church for what it really is, not obscured by the sin and corruption into which its worldly aspect has sunk, we would see it as the bride of Christ – one body with her bridegroom, who is the king of heaven and of earth.
To look upon Jesus on Mount Tabor and see in him the light of his Transfiguration; to look upon the Church and see in her the body of Christ; today, to look upon the cross and see there the king of glory enthroned upon the cherubim; to see any of this, it is necessary to have eyes that see.
It’s not a question of whether or not the Lord Jesus was right about the timing of the coming of the kingdom of God. It’s a question of whether or not we have the eyes to see the truth that’s all around us. It’s a question of whether or not we have faith, which is the only way to know what’s really going on. It’s a question whether or not we have experienced the apocalypse.
We’ve forgotten what does the word apocalypse means. It doesn’t mean the coming cataclysmic events surrounding the end of the world, at least not originally. The word apocalypse means “revelation” or, even more literally, an “unveiling.” Some of you may remember a time when the Book of Revelation was commonly known as the Apocalypse of John. Apocalypse means Revelation. God revealing himself to us here and now.
Because he is here now. If we do not see him, it is not because he is not here, but because there remains a veil over our eyes, waiting to be lifted by his grace with the assent of our faith.
Today, we know from Jesus that there are some who have already seen the coming of the kingdom of God. So, why can’t we see it? To that I say, who says we can’t?
This is what this whole Byzantine Catholic way of life we’re trying to follow is meant to accomplish: the experience of God. This tradition is not a list of intellectual propositions to which we assent nor a series of rote behaviors we perform out of obligation or habit. It is tradition, not traditionalism, we have on offer here. “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living,” as Jaroslav Pelikan writes.
Our tradition passes on to us a bright and lively, warm and living experience of God. It opens our eyes to see the kingdom of God come in power. All this unceasing prayer and fasting, liturgy and sacrament, reading of scripture and the fathers is meant to unveil our eyes; to open our eyes to the light of Mount Tabor shining in all creation; to help us see the truth that God is with us and that his coming kingdom has come among us.
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed. They will not say, “behold, here it is!” or “there it is!” for behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).