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To say that some who are now present will not die before a certain event takes place is the same thing as saying that the event will take place within "this generation." What, then, is the event in question--the coming of the kingdom of God "with power"?
The kingdom of God, the new order which Jesus came to inaugurate, had drawn near when he began his public ministry in Galilee; this was the burden of his preaching at that time (Mk 1:14-15). Its presence was manifested by his works of mercy and power, especially by his healing of the demon-possessed: "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons," he said, "then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Lk 11:20 RSV). But evidently it had not yet come "with power" as it would come one day in the foreseeable future. At present it was subject to limitations, but the time would come when those limitations would be removed and it would advance unchecked.
What, we may ask, had Jesus in mind when he made this prediction? And can we recognize its fulfillment in any event or development recorded in the New Testament? We can; but before we try to do so, let us think of a parallel set of sayings. Jesus sometimes spoke of the kingdom of God; he sometimes spoke of the Son of Man. He rarely used the two expressions together, but each implies the other. It is the Son of Man who introduces the kingdom of God, the Son of Man being Jesus himself. There are two sets of sayings about the Son of Man in the Gospels which stand in contrast to one another. In the one set the Son of Man is exposed to humiliation and suffering; in the other he is vindicated and glorified. His vindication is sometimes described pictorially as his being enthroned at the right hand of God. This expression is derived from Psalm 110:1, where the divine invitation is extended to a royal personage: "Sit at my right hand"--the right hand of God being the position of supreme honor and power. Thus, standing before his judges, on the point of receiving the death sentence from them, Jesus assures them that "from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God."
His death marked the end of his humiliation and suffering and, with his resurrection, ushered in his vindication. As a later Christian confession put it, he "was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit" (1 Tim 3:16 RSV). And this transition from the Son of Man's humiliation to his vindication corresponds exactly to the transition from the kingdom of God subject to temporary limitations to the kingdom of God now present "with power." The same phrase "with power" (or "in power") is used by Paul when he speaks of Jesus as "descended from David according to the flesh" but "designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4 RSV).
With the death and exaltation of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost following, some of those who were witnesses of his mighty works in Galilee and elsewhere saw the power of the kingdom of God manifested on a scale unmatched during his ministry. Within a few weeks, the number of his followers multiplied tenfold; his kingdom was visibly on the march.
This, at any rate, is an interpretation of his saying about the kingdom of God having come with power which makes it intelligible to us. Whether or not this interpretation coincides with his intention when he spoke in this way is a question to which it is best not to give a dogmatic answer.
The three Evangelists who record the saying (in varying terms) go on immediately to describe Jesus' transfiguration, as though that event bore some relation to the saying (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). It cannot be said that the transfiguration was the event which Jesus said would come within the lifetime of some of his hearers; one does not normally use such language to refer to something that is to take place in a week's time. But the three disciples who witnessed the transfiguration had a vision of the Son of Man vindicated and glorified; they saw in graphic anticipation the fulfillment of his words about the powerful advent of the kingdom of God. Matthew, strikingly, in his report of the words speaks of the Son of Man instead of the kingdom of God: "there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Mt 16:28 RSV). This is an interpretation of the words, but a true interpretation. And Matthew follows Mark in saying that when the disciples had seen the vision, Jesus forbade them to speak about it to anyone "until the Son of man should have risen from the dead" (Mk 9:9 RSV). His rising from the dead would inaugurate the reality which they had seen in the vision on the mount of transfiguration, and would at the same time herald the coming of the kingdom "with power."
One final point: the coming of the kingdom of God is essentially the coming of God himself. In the Targum (the Arabic rendering of the Hebrew Bible used in synagogue services) the wording at the end of Isaiah 40:9 is changed from "Behold your God!" to "The kingdom of your God is revealed." The documentary evidence for this rendering is much later than the New Testament period, but it reflects rabbinical usage when the God of Israel overruled the course of events so as to bring his people home from exile, it might be said that his sovereign power (his "kingdom") was manifested, but what the prophet said was more direct: "Behold your God!" In the course of events which led to Israel's return from exile, God himself was to be seen. So again, when the new deliverance was fully accomplished by the death and triumph of Jesus, the sovereign power of God was manifested--God himself came with power.
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The Psalms have long served a vital role in the individual and corporate lives of Christians. The church fathers employed the Psalms widely—as hymns, Scripture readings, counsel on morals, forms for prayer, and apologetic and doctrinal wisdom. In this ACCS volume readers will find rich comment and theological reflection from more than sixty-five ancient authors.