26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Most commentaries link v.27 directly into the Transfiguration. They do this because taken on its own, the verse is a difficult one to reconcile, as it outright states that at least one of the disciples will see the Kingdom of God before they die. And given the context of where this verse is, immediately after a discussion of Christ coming with the glory of the Father and the holy angels, it lends an apocalyptic connotation to the promise.
So the Transfiguration, in which, Christ’s glory is revealed and He is glorified by the Father is an easy thing to link to this statement, as it resolves our dilemma of Jesus uttering a statement that, taken literally, was not true. All of the disciples did die and we’re still here 2,000 years later with no kingdom of heaven other than the church.
Before we embrace that idea that the Kingdom of God referred to hear is the church exclusive, Matthew’s version of this is even more apocalyptic in nature.
Matthew 16:27-28: “27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Also, only one of the disciples present tasted death before the arrival of the church on Pentecost, so I doubt the spiritualized version of the Kingdom of God was what Christ meant.
So the Transfiguration is a decent explanation.
Another possible explanation, if you accept St. John the Apostle’s authorship of Revelation (along with an earlier late 1st century date) is that John saw via prophetic revelation, the coming of the Lord with His saints and angels at the end of days in Revelation 19. I think it’s the one I prefer.
28 Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. 33 And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.
But in this case, we have the account of the Transfiguration. Jesus had taken His inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John alone up a mountain to pray, leaving the rest of the disciples to minister to the people. As they are praying, the veil between our world and the divine is peeled back and the disciples see Jesus for who He is. Though veiled in flesh, Christ possessed all of the power, glory, and nature of divinity, and they have a brief moment, when the nature of the poor rabbi from Galilee is overshadowed by the Divine nature. For in this, we see the Incarnation and its mystery, that a human body of flesh and blood could contain the everlasting Glory of God. They are both co-existent, one does not supercede the other. It is simply that the disciples can, for the first time, see Jesus as both.
The Law and the Prophets in the persons of Moses and Elijah also appear and begin to converse with Jesus. They are described as appearing in glory as well. Their eternal state is one in which they have communion with God and Christ and in which His glory is theirs as His life is theirs. The symbolism is of the Law and the Prophets being fulfilled in the person (and death and resurrection) of Jesus, because that’s what they’re talking about.
Also of note is that God granted Moses his request to see His face and that Moses, in Christ, gets to stand in the Promised Land. The penalty of our sins is fulfilled in the death of Christ, and the curse of death is lifted by His resurrection.
Peter, rather than listening more attentively, opts to speak up and offer to build shacks here for all three of them. Peter ascribed to the idea that if you don’t know what to say, say something. Not that I think I would have done any better in that situation.
But Peter’s idea is to hold on to the moment. It is one of stagnation. Christ must go forward and face death, not simply sit on top of a mountain for the rest of eternity. There was still work to be done.
So a cloud envelops them. The idea of the cloud, harkening back to the Exodus when the presence of God was described as a cloud by day. The author wants us to know that this is the presence of Yahweh (or Jehovah), who speaks to the disciples and tells them that: Jesus is His Son, He is indeed the Messiah, and they really need to listen to Him (instead of talking.)
And just as quickly, the veil was back in place, and they were alone with Jesus of Nazareth, their Friend and Teacher.