2020-12-02

Who Will See “The Kingdom of God Coming with Power” in Mark 9:1?

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by Neil Godfrey

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” — Mark 9:1

We know what follows so we read on to see “the fulfilment” of that saying six days later with Peter, James and John on the mountain witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus. But look what happens when we ignore the chapter breaks and read that passage in the context of the preceding verses.

8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” 

He said to the crowd along with his disciples, “If any of you are ashamed of me then the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in glory and with the angels”, and, “some of you who are standing here will see the kingdom coming….”

The promise — or is it a warning? — that some of his audience would be alive to see the coming kingdom is spoken as an immediate follow-on from his warning that he would come in glory and with angels to judge that sinful and adulterous generation standing before him.

If you are one of those who have balked at this saying of Jesus hinting at Peter, James and John you are not alone. The message of “some who are standing here will not taste death before….” becomes a mock saying if it pointed to what was to happen only six days hence.

9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” 2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

A better paragraph break would be,

8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” 

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

Daniel 7:13-14 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

At his point, it is of special interest to observe that the same prophecy of the coming kingdom is repeated twice more, with all three times being a throw-back to Daniel 7:13-14. Moreover, the threefold saying is a distinctive feature of the Gospel of Mark, a tool by which the author held his story together, each repetition and accompanying setting alerting readers to unifying themes moving towards the crescendo of the crucifixion.

The first repetition is in Mark 13:26 where we are informed that those who see the kingdom coming in power and glory are the entire generation alive at the time:

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

(There is some debate over the identity of whom Jesus says will see his coming in this verse, but one thing is clear, and that is that Jesus is made to avoid directly referencing the disciples at this moment as he does in other selected passages.)

The third time the prophecy is put in Jesus’ mouth, Mark 14:62, it is directed at the high priest:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Thomas Hatina

If one prefers to shy away from Jesus pointing personally to the high priest as the prophesied witness of events then it is less easy to avoid the view that he is addressing the temple establishment whom the high priest represented.

I have posted a similar viewpoint before but here I am expanding on it somewhat by reference to a thesis and a related article by Thomas Hatina. Since much of the above is a very abbreviated paraphrase of Hatina’s viewpoint it is time to hear him in his own words. He expands on the idea that in the above passages Jesus is claiming that it is the sinful generation, his opponents, who would be the ones to witness the coming kingdom:

That the antagonists of the story should “see” the manifestation of God would not have been an unusual anticipation for an early Jewish Christian like Mark. There were certainly enough precedents upon which to draw. For example, in Isa 64,1-2 the prophet says that God reveals himself, through acts of judgment, to the adversaries “that the nations may tremble”. And in Nah 1,5 when the prophet says that the “earth is up heaved by his [God’s] presence”, he is metaphorically describing the experience of judgment by the adversaries. A similar motif also appears in early Jewish and Christian martyrological tradition, in which the adversaries “see” the vindication of their victims (e.g. Wis 5,2; Rev 11,12; ApcEl 35,7). Vindication, once again, presupposes some kind of violent overthrow of the adversaries. A closer parallel to Mark is found in 1 Enoch 62,3-5 which foretells that the unrighteous worldly leaders are the ones who will “see” the son of man:

On the day of judgment, all the kings, the governors, the high officials, and the landlords shall see and recognize him — how he sits on the throne of his glory, and righteousness is judged before him…. They shall be terrified and dejected; and pain shall seize them when they see that son of man sitting on the throne of his glory”.

With respect to the language which conveys the power of God’s rule, Mark’s imagery in 9,1 is not unlike that which is found in the Septuagint where references to divine judgment commonly depict God in terms that assert his complete superiority over the enemies of the righteous — whether the enemies are human or divine, foreign or domestic.

The highlighting above is mine. For the implication that a metaphorical interpretation has for the “apocalyptic passages” of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark see When they saw the Son of Man coming in the clouds. Cosmic collapse is a metaphor for the destruction of Jerusalem just as the same metaphor spoke of the destruction of Babylon.

After a comment on the expression “kingdom of God” Hatina continues,

Assertions of God’s “power” (usually in the LXX as δύναμις, δυναστείο!ς or ισχύς) are often found in contexts of war or destruction. And in most cases, those who are condemned to witness the devastation (i.e. the power of God’s strength), be it in terms of “seeing” or “knowing”, are the enemies of Yahweh. . . . The display of divine power coheres more immediately to judgment than it does to blessing.

The precedent can be extended to other writings in early Judaism where terms like “glory’ and “power” are likewise used of divine acts of judgment.

Hatina cites supporting verses from both the Jewish Scriptures and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Contexts, both within the gospel and external to it, allow a good case for “the promise” of seeing the coming kingdom is being directed as a warning to those who do not follow Jesus.

The question remains, of course: Where does the coming of the kingdom of God fit in? I’ll set out my thoughts on the answer in another post.


Hatina, Thomas R. 2005. “Who Will See ‘The Kingdom of God Coming with Power’ in Mark 9,1 — Protagonists or Antagonists?” Biblica 86 (1): 20–34.


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Neil Godfrey

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22 thoughts on “Who Will See “The Kingdom of God Coming with Power” in Mark 9:1?”

  1. The notion of a coming kingdom, in power, is an apologetic. Judaism and later Christianity, had made huge promises of countless miracles, and a powerful kingdom for believers. But looking around, often, no such things were in sight.

    Miracles were rare. And Israel and Judah were often overrun by larger foreign powers. From Egypt, to Babylon, Assyria, to Rome.

    So? To apologize or excuse these apparent failures in our religions, hundreds of excuses, apologetics, sermons, were developed. One of them is that the promised powerful Judeo Christian kingdom will come – eventually.

    On earth. Or in the mind or spirit, etc..

    For believers.

    1. I find it very hard to accept that any culture from any period can hold on to some sort of “messianic hope”, generation after generation (of whom? elites? masses? both?) only to somehow become “exhausted” enough at some generational point and look for rationalizations to their supposedly centuries-long dream. The whole idea strikes me as contrary to the way each generation and each cultural entity functions.

    2. The notion of generations of Jews pining for a victorious “end of time” and finally having to had their hopes transformed into a spiritual meaning by Christianity comes across to me as a Christian myth rather than real history.

      Are there any other peoples who can be said to fit such a pattern of behaviour?

      Yes, we do have ritualistic sayings, “Next year in Jerusalem”, and “Thy Kingdom come”, etc — but they are nothing more than ritual sayings and are not evidence of some sort of mass-psychic hope that motivates the same behaviours generation after generation.

  2. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

    Neil, is this a reference to a literal cross, do you think?
    If so is it a coincidence or maybe a later interpolation?

    1. In the narrative level the saying points to the literal cross that Jesus is nailed to along with the two crosses either side of his with the substitutes for James and John: Mark 10:35-45. At the same time it is used as a figure for suffering and death (by whatever means) with Jesus.

      I don’t know where you are coming from when you ask if it might be an interpolation. Do you mean that it was not originally spoken by a historical Jesus and the saying was later attributed to him? I read the gospels as narratives and nothing more. There are no grounds that I know of for assuming that the authors were drawing on memories or oral traditions of historical events. (Compare http://vridar.info/bibarch/arch/davies2.htm) The gospel Jesus of the narratives, his deeds and sayings, were for the most part created by the evangelists.

      1. ”Do you mean that it was not originally spoken by a historical Jesus and the saying was later attributed to him?”

        Exactly. This is what I meant. Sorry, rereading my comment it does sound a bit odd.

      2. Neil, re “In the narrative level the saying points to the literal cross that Jesus is nailed to along with the two crosses either side of his with the substitutes for James and John: Mark 10:35-45.” “Substitutes for James and John …” meaning they get a free pass? They don’t need their own crosses, nor their own sufferings? The references to the “thieves/robbers” I thought was meant to demean Jesus or, more likely, to associate him with other insurrectionists (sicari, et. al.), which were often described as “robbers.”

        Or was this another set of three Mark was so fond of?

        1. I read Mark and this saying as figurative. James and John were crucified with Jesus but in the figures of the two thieves. The reference to theives/lestes is to “complete” the saying in Isaiah 53 about being associated with the lawless. The way I read Mark is that it makes little sense if read literally. Jesus is not meant to be understood as addressing two historical persons and announcing their literal fates. James and John are figures who are set up as a parable and lesson for all — that we all have to bear our metaphorical crosses. At least that’s always been my reading. Maybe there are more satisfying interpretations out there.

    2. The passage refers to the cross as a metaphor. This is consistent with the teaching (in Paul and elsewhere in the gospels) that the follower must deny himself, mortify himself, his desires and will, in order to obey Jesus. The metaphor is possible because Jesus’ cross is both depicted as literal in the narrative and symbolic — it is also his throne of glory. By being crucified he was ironically overcoming the demonic forces, as his resurrection proved. The cross is sometimes even called the throne or beginning of Jesus’ reign over the cosmic forces of evil by the early Christians.

    1. I agree with Neil, that seeing a mere spiritual or mental sensation as the realization of the promise of a kingdom, is not Jewish. Jews now and then had a real, earthy kingdom, centered in Jerusalem. And they wanted the same thing, only bigger, more permanent, probably. Where their enemies were finally, totally defeated .

      But when Rome took over Jerusalem? There might have plausibly been some (Romanized, Platonic Jews?) who took some consolation in the assertion that they could at least image, see the kingdom, in their minds or spirits. And inwardly obey it.

      Was that enough? Not completely. So there developed a dualist notion. Of 1) a kingdom “now”; in our spirits. With hope of 2) that heavenly kingdom, ALSO coming down to be a real place in this earth. Some day.

      1. I actually question the idea that there was a defining or characteristic notion of “kingdom of God” and related “messianic figure” among “Jews” prior to the rabbinic era of late antiquity.

        1. Good question. But if Propp and others were right, most cultures had stories about “heroes.” Some of whom would die – albeit in combat – to save their people. (Cf. Socrates though).

          But were there “Jews” etc? There were many Semitic languages. Eventually one group centered in Jerusalem. A small fortification. Protecting a local population. A kingdom?

          When? Hard to say. Archaeology and historical linguistics could help.

          1. The gospel story of Jesus is not a folk tale. Each gospel has been distinctively woven together as a theological retelling of the story of a renewed Israel from the Jewish Scriptures.

  3. We have to look at Mark as an author with an real purpose, in a real context. If we want to understand his purpose, we can’t infer it by treating him as an anonymous and contextless mosaicist of Scripture. That’s been tried countless times and the resulting biography of Mark has advanced not at all.

    Accept, for a moment, the theory that the Gospel of Mark was a performed play. The prediction in 9:1 is addressed to the crowd and disciples, but overheard by the audience. Since nothing is superfluous in a (competently written) play, the audience can expect the prediction to be referred to again, in dialogue or enacted.

    It is referred to again, sort of,* in 13:26, in the Olivet Discourse, I place the prediction at the center of the chiasm of Jesus’s original speech (which has been significantly padded by editors). This prediction, after all, refers to Jesus’s ascent to the heavens after his time on earth. Jesus’s farewell speech/last words should lead up to a ‘high’ point. 😉

    14:62 is the climax of the Passion. A climax is the act by the protagonist that irrevocably sets the action for the remainder of the play. Jesus tells the high priest that Jesus is the Son of Man (in my view, that means the [true] heavenly high priest as in Hebrews). This is a direct and unbearable challenge to the earthly high priest’s authority. Furthermore, Jesus says that the high priest will see Jesus in the heavens. The audience again overhears this prediction.

    After this build-up, especially the fact that the climax of the Passion features Jesus’s promise to appear in the heavens, it is impossible that the play ended without the fulfillment of his promise, i.e., an ascension scene. I propose there was an ascension scene, and the high priest, and everyone else on stage, including Peter, saw Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven.

    *What does Mark mean at 9:1 when he says that some here will not taste death until they will see the Kingdom of God coming with power? I doubt this verse is original. Why? The next two predictions that arguably are related to it refer to a strictly physical scene: Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven. That prediction can be fulfilled by stage action. 9:1 can’t, which weighs against its authenticity. But if 9:1 is original by Mark, I think it was meaningful in the world of the audience. Perhaps it was characterization of the Jesus figure. Mark could have quoted it from an existing text used by the congregation. Or it was a well-known line used by another sect. We shouldn’t make too much of it. It was acceptable within the congregation’s belief system, whether Mark wrote it or an editor wrote it. It was inside a play, where it was peripheral to the action. That’s all.

      1. Yes, Hatina does think that GMark was a performance, an oral performance. (Though at one point he does refer to the Jesus character as though he was a separate person.) Oral performances are quite different from plays. Both have their own rules of theatricality. Not to get off the topic of this post, but I suggest readers who are interested in the maximum theatricality possible in oral performance look at the dramatic enactment (physical, not just spoken) of the text of GMark by actor Max McLean https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWSVdFUs6XZsvctzBa8ExetKwYrjDi7by and my comments on it at http://www.thetwogospelsofmark.com/2020/10/08/dramatic-enactment-of-the-gospel-of-mark-by-max-mclean/ . McLean’s performance is more theatrical than any oral performance I have seen proposed by biblical performance critics like Hatina. Yet the same limits of oral performance are apparent. In particular, GMark as written does not give extra duration to scenes that are important to the plot, or potentially highly dramatic. The healing of the leper 1:40-45 is 150 words and the Transfiguration 9:2-9 is 182 words. A writer intending oral performance would give more words to the Transfiguration scene. McLean has lights, sound effects, and a stage, so he can do better than a storyteller, but the problem remains. (In a staged play, the duration is provided by the director and actors.)

        I noted that Hatina said that the verb in 9:1 is in the aorist (preterit/passé simple) and the verbs in 13:26 and 14:62 are in the future. I think this weakens the case that all three sayings are about the same thing, or are all original, and strengthens my proposal that 9:1 is by an editor.

    1. Nice account. The old religious paintings were also visual storytelling.

      So that leaves Mark at the empty tomb? Maybe an add-on theatrical ascention. But one that reads like a theatrical convention.

      And no gods, no kingdom on earth.

      Though life on earth is pretty good, if not perfect, 2,000 years later. For now.

  4. For the author of 1 Pet 1.7-8, the faith of his readers will be vindicated “at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him…” (cf 1.13).

    One could easily read a celestial Jesus into that, especially with verse 20 which reads, “[Jesus] was revealed in these last times for your sake.” He was “revealed”, not “lived among us.”

    Although it’s judged to have been produced by others later on, 2 Peter still exhibits a celestial, mystical understanding of what it meant for the pillars to be the first witnesses of Jesus’ coming. I wonder why he avoids citing the seemingly more powerful resurrection appearances. Is this epistle later than the Gospels? For some reason he favors a powerful Moses-like mountain “coming” as his proof of being authentic. It reads: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Pet 1.16-18).”

    1. Earl Doherty wrote in The Jesus Puzzle, p. 13

      Dating many of these documents is notoriously difficult, and wide leeways are allowed. Traditional scholarship has tended to date Hebrews and James early—possibly before the Jewish War of 66-70. 1 Peter and the three Johns come perhaps in the 80s or 90s. 2 Peter tends to be dated late, 100-120; this requires Jude to be earlier, since some of its passages have been inserted into 2 Peter. Finally, Revelation, written by a prophet named John who is no longer identified with the Gospel apostle of that name, is placed most often in the mid 90s. Taken as a whole, then, most of the epistolary corpus predates the Gospels; virtually all of it predates the wider dissemination of those Gospels.

      You will probably be wondering about the “transfiguration” scene in 2 Peter that is often assumed to be drawn from the gospels. Again Doherty,

      Here we can make an intriguing comparison outside Hebrews, for one is
      reminded of a very similar passage in the epistle 2 Peter. Briefly put, the scene in
      1:16-18, traditionally presumed to be derived from the Transfiguration episode
      in the Synoptic Gospels (dubiously so, since important elements are missing and
      the text tells us otherwise), presents the reader with the report of a visionary
      experience by Peter and others in which the displayed power and glory of Christ
      is meant to prefigure his Parousia, his arrival at the End-time. For the writer of 2
      Peter, this was a vision of what is to come. (And an analysis of the text indeed
      identifies it as a vision, not an experience of those apostles with an historical
      Jesus during his ministry.)

      He goes on in verse 19 to say something very incongruous: that this visionary
      experience of Christ “confirms for us the message of the prophets,” the biblical
      prophecies and guarantees about the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom.
      Yet it can hardly be thought that an incident like this, if part of Christ’s life on
      earth witnessed to by his followers, could be placed in a position of secondary
      importance to the general promises of scripture, which the writer styles “a lamp
      shining in a murky place until the day breaks.” Scholars admit the incongruity in
      such a way of putting things, that the experience of Christ’s own person and life
      on earth has not taken over first place to that of scripture in inspiring Christian
      hopes. The continued existence of a murk awaiting the break of day would
      hardly be possible; it would surely have been dispelled, at least partially, by the
      recent life of the Son of God on earth. (This alone reveals 2 Peter’s lack of an
      historical Jesus.) In the same way, Hebrews’ arrival of the New Covenant would
      hardly have been so murkily portrayed or transferred so thoroughly to Heaven,
      nor would scripture be held up as the sole lamp of the community’s knowledge,
      had the vivid events of the Gospels just taken place. (Compare this to Paul’s
      similar way of speaking about the coming End, as in Romans 8:38; see ch. 5.)

      For a thorough examination of this passage in 2 Peter along with the epistle’s
      other indicators that no historical Jesus is known to the author, see my website
      Supplementary Article No. 7, “Transfigured on the Holy Mountain” at:
      http://www.jesuspuzzle.com/jesuspuzzle/supp07.htm

      Jesus Neither God Nor Man, p. 736

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