I know my frequent critics here won’t believe this, but I do think that it is rational to believe in the Bible and Jesus. I haven’t spelled out the full story of my conversion from atheism here, but it’s accurate to say that I eventually concluded that the hypothesis of Jesus’ divinity was the best explanation for the facts.
Since I actually think religion should “make sense,” I want the Bible to be historically accurate and logically consistent. For those reasons, one thing that has long troubled me was that Jesus (in three of the gospels) says (e.g. Luke 9: 27), “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”
I am pretty sure (though not positive) that this statement (and perhaps there were others) prompted some of the early Church to think that Jesus’ return was imminent. Up until today, I had never seen a good explanation of this, and it bothered me a lot more than some of the other “contradictions” in the Bible that atheists tout. It clearly sounds as if Jesus is saying, “Just hold on for a few more decades at most, and this world will end.” I couldn’t see any way to get around the plain meaning of His words. Sure we could say He was being metaphorical, or that He meant “believers are born again” and in that sense the sting of death is removed, but in that case maybe we’re totally misunderstanding all of His other promises too?
Well today in church the assistant pastor covered this and cleared it up to my satisfaction. In retrospect this seems pretty obvious to Biblical scholars but for whatever reason, I had never heard it before.
If you read the context (Luke 9: 27-36) we see that Jesus wasn’t being metaphorical at all. He was presumably referring to this:
27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”
28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son.[a] Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
This placement–where Jesus says some who are hearing His words will live to see the kingdom of God, and then the very next event is the transfiguration on the mount–occurs in all three gospels (Mark 9: 1-13 and Matthew 16-17 are the other two spots). So it seems the gospel writers themselves interpreted this event as fulfilling Jesus’ prediction.