"Ye Shall Not See It"

Contrary to a popular misconception, Jesus forewarned his disciples that they would not live to see His Second Coming.


Luke 17:20-30

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.
24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.
25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

In the above passage, please especially note verse 22: 

"And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it."

What did Jesus mean by these words? That the time would come when the disciples would long for the "good old days" when Jesus walked among them, but they would not see them again? That's what I used to think, until I noticed that just four verses down in this passage, Jesus uses the term "days of the son of man" to refer to his second coming, not his first:

 "And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man." 

Whenever the meaning of an expression is defined by it's usage in nearby verses, especially in the same discussion, it's best to use that definition when interpreting it. To do otherwise is bad hermeneutics. Note, as well, that the term "days of" is used in this passage to refer to one's visible presence on earth: 

26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

This indicates that the term "days of the Son of Man" refers to a time when Jesus will visibly return to Earth.

Someone might object, "What about the Kingdom coming without observation in verse 20? Doesn't that indicate that Jesus will not return visibly?" Not at all. Jesus answered the demands of the Pharisees by pointing out that during the present time, the kingdom advances not by outward physical force, but within the hearts of men. The word "cometh" in verse 20 is in the present tense, indicating how the kingdom of God is currently advancing. However, He further clarifies to his disciples in verse 24, "For as the lightning that lighteneth one part under heaven shineth unto the other part under heaven, so shall also the Son of Man be in His day." The word "be" here is in the future tense, indicating how the kingdom will come at a future time. At that time it will be visible. If lightening lighting up the whole sky doesn't indicate extreme visibility, I don't know what does. That's how the Son of Man will be in His day. "Every eye shall see Him".

But wait a second! If "days of the Son of Man" refers to the second coming, what was Jesus telling his disciples? That they would not live to see His second coming! How depressing that statement must have been to them! At least they were warned of what to expect in advance by our Lord.

I can hear someone objecting, "Jesus meant that they will not see one of the days of the son of man during those days." 

But we must ask, "During those days of what?" Of desiring to see one of the days of the Son of Man!  Just how long do you suppose those days of desiring to see the revealing of Christ lasted? Surely, after Christ's ascension, the disciples longed to see Christ again for the rest of their lives! We see evidence of this throughout the book of Acts and the epistles. The disciples were constantly longing for the return of Christ, and encouraging believers to be ready for it. Although Jesus had prepared the twelve by saying, "ye shall not see it," the twelve still would have encouraged Christians to be ready for His coming, since for all they knew, He might return shortly after their deaths. And living in constant threat of death as they did, they knew that they could depart this earth at any time. 

The second problem with the idea of Jesus implying, "ye shall not see it during those days," is that he simply did not say it that way. He merely said, "ye shall not see it." He added no qualifications. The words have such a force and finality to them that it reminds me of the last verse of that old song by Jimmy Webb, By the time I get to Phoenix:

By the time I make Oklahoma she'll be sleepin'
She'll turn softly and call my name out loud
And she'll cry just to think I'd really leave her
Tho' time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn't know I would really go.

Apparently, the singer really meant what he told that poor woman. Jesus really meant what he told his disciples, here, too. The fact that Jesus plainly told the twelve, "Ye shall not see it" ought to shake up Full Preterists, who believe that Jesus returned in 70 AD. The apostle John was still alive in 70 AD, so if Jesus returned then, John saw one of the days of the Son of Man, and had his desire fulfilled.

But didn't Jesus tell his disciples that he would return within their lifetimes in Luke 9:23-28?

[Author's note: Bill Grimes has done an excellent job of demonstrating the connection between the First Coming and the Mount of Transfiguration event in his article, Matthew 16:28 -  A Time Statement For What?. which I highly recommend you read. Below, I add some further observations supportive of this idea as it relates to the parallel passage, Luke 9:27.]

Luke 9: 23 And He said to them all, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.
25 For what is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world, and lose himself or be cast away?
26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory and in His Father's and of the holy angels.
27 But I tell you in truth, there are some standing here that shall not taste of death till they see the Kingdom of God."
28 And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up onto a mountain to pray.

In verse 27, does seeing the Kingdom of God refer to the Second Coming of Jesus, or to the manifestations of the Kingdom of God which accompanied his First Coming?  I think it refers to the First Coming, for the following reasons:

One of the keys to understanding how to group Bible verses lies in the conjunctions which precede them. Notice that verses 24 - 26 begin with "for," meaning that they go with the preceding verses. The idea behind it is, "take up your cross and follow me, because if you try to gain your life, you will lose it when I return and judge you."

Verse 27, however, begins with 'but I tell" (lego de), meaning that it stands, at least to an extent, in contrast to the preceding verses. If Jesus meant that some of the disciples would see His second coming during their lifetimes, it would have been more logical for him to have begun verse 27 with 'for,' or "and" instead of "but". 

Interestingly,  the Mount of Transfiguration account begins immediately following this verse. This appears to be more than mere coincidence, because in Peter 1:16, Peter cites the Mount of Transfiguration event as evidence of the validity of the First Coming of Jesus:

2 Peter 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

And so both 2 Peter 1:16 and Luke 9:27-28 indicate a significant connection between the First Coming of Jesus and  the Mount of Transfiguration event. What might that connection be?

Moses and Elijah represent the Law and Prophets. They are the two olive trees of Zechariah 4:3. Their supportive appearance attests to the validity of the first Parousia of Jesus. But even more importantly, the First Parousia was attested to by the testimony of God the Father when he said, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him." 

In response to Peter's reckless suggestion to build booths for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, God the Father did not say, "Listen to Jesus along with Moses and Elijah," as though the three were equal in authority. But rather, "Listen to Him," testifying to the superiority of Jesus over Moses and Elijah, and to the authority of the teachings of Jesus.

Wherever a King and his subjects come to, his Kingdom comes as well:

Matthew 12:28 But if I cast out the demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come on you.

Luke 10:9 And heal the sick in it, and say to them, The kingdom of God has drawn near to you.

Luke 10:11 Even the dust clinging to us out of your city, we shake off against you! Yet know this, that the kingdom of God has drawn near to you!

When Jesus came to the earth and walked among us, the Kingdom of God also came to us. It came with spiritual power and authority over His followers, demons, angels, sin, sickness, and death. The disciples who denied themselves and faithfully followed Jesus literally got to see Jesus coming in his Kingdom (not to his Kingdom) when he won over men's hearts, gave them eternal spiritual life, healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons.

But in the First Coming, Jesus did not come with military might or political power. This is why he came, in fulfillment of Zechariah  9:9, riding peacefully upon a donkey, rather than upon a war steed:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he [is] just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

When Jesus comes the second time, however, it will be with military and political might and power, for He will come riding upon a war steed:

Rev 19:11 -16 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. 

Jude 1:14-15 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

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 worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Currently however, out of God's great mercy and patience, just as when Jesus walked the earth, Jesus and His Kingdom do not advance by military or political power, but within the hearts of men:

Luke 17:20-21 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh [this word is in the present tense, indicating how the kingdom of God is CURRENTLY advancing] not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

The disciples did live to see God's kingdom come with spiritual power, however. First, as we have already seen, in the person of Christ himself, and then after the Holy Spirit gave spiritual power to the church on the day of Pentecost:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

And thus, through Jesus, and through the church - the assembly of the citizens of the Kingdom of heaven - the parallel passage, Mark 9:1, was fulfilled within the lifetime of the apostles:

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.

 

But didn't Jesus say "this generation will not pass away before all of these things take place" in Matthew 24:34?

Yes, but the question is, which generation was Jesus referring to? The generation He was talking to, or the generation He was talking about? There is very convincing linguistic evidence that Jesus was referring to the generation he was talking about. For more information regarding this, see "Did Jesus Wrongly Predict a First Century Return in Matthew 24:34?"

Conclusion

Jesus told his disciples that they would not see even one of the days of the Son of Man, referring to his Second Coming. When Luke 9:27 and Matthew 24:34 are interpreted according to sound grammatical and hermeneutic principles, we see that they do not contradict this statement at all.

Rusty Entrekin

Copyright 2001, 2010 Marshall "Rusty" Entrekin" This article may be reproduced and distributed freely, provided this copyright notice remains intact, the contents remain complete and unaltered, and a link to the website is provided so that readers my look for the latest updates.

 

Rusty Entrekin is a theology graduate of Louisiana College. He and his wife Julie have seven children, with four still at home, and four grandchildren. Currently, he resides in Kennesaw, GA. He writes apologetic and theological articles to help people come to know Christ and grow closer to the Lord. If this article has blessed you, and you would like to free him up to write more, you may make a donation below.

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