While this is not specific to John, Mark also reported this saying but added more substance to what Luke reported:
Of course, the kingdom of God had already come in the person of Jesus Christ and he certainly demonstrated power. But he did not come in power. Quite the contrary.
The coming of Jesus Christ was about as humble an entrance as one could imagine—born in an animal keep, basically a barn or cave, surrounded by hay!
However, Jesus’ coming in power would not come until a much later date. This is verified when the Lord spoke to his apostles of his second coming:
However, the same problem exists in all three verses by the thee different authors and that is the use of the word “some.” “Some” would imply there would be more than one who would not taste of death.
The other problem here is that all the apostles’ deaths are accounted for—all except John. Of course, both problems would be overcome were there more than the twelve apostles present. But a previous, more intimate conversation earlier in Matthew 16, would indicate Jesus was alone with his chosen twelve.
On the other hand, Mark 8:34 indicates that other people were present during this major pronouncement:
There is no indication between this verse and Mark 9:1 that Jesus had separated his disciples from the crowd. However, the passage in Luke, while reporting on the same conversation as in Matthew 16, was very clear that Jesus had separated the twelve and was speaking to them privately.
So, when it comes right down to it, we’re left with the same conundrum of the usage of the word “same” in this great, if not shocking, pronouncement regarding the prolonging of death for some.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Greek#5100), the word for “some” in all three of these instances is tis. Strictly speaking, tis means “some or any person or object.” Therefore, we could easily say that ”some,” in these three instances, means “some person standing here shall not taste of death until . . .” The translators applied any number of different meanings to tis in various places, including, but not limited to, “somebody” and “something.” Therefore, it is my conclusion, for better or for worse, that tis in these three instances, is referring to “some person” rather than “some,” as in many.
On the other hand, we have the problem of the use of “they” in verse 28, referring back to the use of “some” previously. There could be several reasons for this:
- Jesus never did say either “some” or “they”; and the translators just took some liberty;
- The translators were merely matching “they” with their interpretation of tis as “some”; and
- There really was more than one person who was not to taste of death until Christ comes in power.
Nevertheless, regardless of what the authors meant, it was up to impetuous Peter to drag a little more information out of Jesus regarding this tarrying business.
It seems obvious that something was different about John, or Peter wouldn’t have bothered to ask what he did. And here we find the best evidence yet that it was John who would not taste of death:
The Greek word for “tarry” is mĕnō, meaning “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy” (Strong’s). mĕnō has been translated variously as “abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand” (ibid.)—all meaning pretty much the same thing.
Thus we can see that Jesus had in mind that John, in some state, would be present, presumably on earth, until such time he would return in glory. And this is not without precedent.
While not specifically mentioning translation, we have the case of Enoch, the father of Methuselah. Enoch lived only 365 years during a time when the Patriarchs were living seven to nine hundred plus years. In fact, Methuselah, was the oldest man on record at 969 years.
Paul, several thousand years later, knew of this and testified to the Hebrew saints:
While it is not specifically mentioned as a translation, it appears that Elijah, and perhaps Moses as well, were translated. Elijah, according to the reports, was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, while “there appeared a chariot of fire” to distract Elisha from seeing him taken away. (See II Kings 2:1-11.)
We also know that the burial place of Moses was never found, although it is said that he died and was buried by the Lord. (See Deuteronomy 34:5-6.) Still, we have no proof of that.
It is not so much important that Elijah and Moses were translated, but rather it be understood that translation was a known fact among the early apostles. Presumably, each of these translated men yet had special missions to perform, for which they needed some version of their physical bodies.
While the word “translation” was not mentioned in the context of John, the circumstances surrounding his tarrying and Enoch’s translation are too close to consider mere coincidences. It is therefore my belief and contention that John the Beloved was translated that he might not taste of death so he could perform a special mission for Christ, whatever that might have been.
The question may then be asked: If John was indeed translated, does that mean he’ll never have to die? The answer to that is a simple, “No.”
Remember, Jesus did not say that John should not die, only that he was to tarry. Paul also talked about death in his discourse on the resurrection:
Here, we see that Paul made no exceptions for translated beings, and we have seen that he was aware of beings who were translated. I suspect, however, that the deaths of translated beings will be more like what Paul explained a few verses later:
Apparently, John yet has an important role to play in the days that lead up to Christ’s coming in power and glory. If not, why have him tarry until he comes?
In summary, John was beloved of Jesus; an apostle and special witness of Jesus Christ, his works and mission; a prophet; a great revelator; and a lover of all mankind. We would all do well to emulate this great man.