On the night he was betrayed, there was a dramatic confrontation between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. Picture the scene: Caiaphas, the high priest is fishing for evidence they can use against the Lord. Many false witnesses come forward but their lies are transparent and useless.
Finally someone says, “I heard this man say he could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.” Caiaphas rubs his hands in anticipation.
“This is a serious claim, Jesus. How do you respond?”
Jesus says nothing.
Caiaphas is fed up. He knows they can’t make their charges stick. In desperation he wags his finger at Jesus and says, “I command you to tell us if you are the Son of God.” Jesus finally breaks his silence:
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64, NIV)
And what happens next can only be described as a self-inflicted wardrobe malfunction. Caiaphas rips his robes, yells “Blasphemy! Blasphemy!” and Jesus is as good as dead.
“You will see,” said Jesus. But what exactly did Caiaphas see and when did he see it? And why was he so mad to hear about it?
Answer #1: A Return
“Jesus was referring to the Second Coming,” says the futurist. “On Judgment Day, when the Son of Man returns in power, men like Caiaphas will look back with regret. On that day the self-righteous will say, ‘What fools we were to dismiss Jesus.’”
This isn’t a bad interpretation for it captures the situation facing Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. But it’s an imperfect one for Jesus says they will see him sitting, not coming. And they will see it “from now on,” not in the distant future.
Answer #2: A Judgment
“Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem,” says the preterist. “Having threatened the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and prophesied the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24, he’s pointing ahead to AD70 when divine vengeance will be dispensed at the hands of the Romans.”
There are numerous problems with this interpretation not the least of which is that it contradicts the gospel, it confuses human vengeance with divine vengeance, and it portrays God as covenantally inconsistent.
In the prophecy Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God; he’s not coming in judgment. The phrase “coming on the clouds” is an Old Testament reference to the ascension. So this has nothing to do with either an imminent or future judgment.
But the biggest problem with the AD70 interpretation is that Caiaphas and the old men of the Sanhedrin will be long dead before it happens. They won’t be around to see it, yet Jesus said they would. “You will see.” So what was Jesus referring to?
Answer #3: A King
Jesus was talking about his imminent coronation.
Jesus told the Sanhedrin that he was the Son of God. They laughed in scorn, but Jesus said, “You will see.” This prophecy came to pass almost immediately. Consider what they saw the following day, which was the day of Christ’s death.
They saw darkness covering the land, and the temple veil torn from top to bottom. They experienced a rock-splitting earthquake and tombs breaking open (Matthew 27:45, 51). Within 24 hours of Christ saying “you will see,” they witnessed a massive demonstration of supernatural power. And that was only the beginning.
On the third morning, there was another earthquake. The stone guarding the tomb was rolled away by an angel, and tough Roman soldiers wilted with fear (Matthew 28:2–4).
The news feeding into the Sanhedrin would have been tough to deal with. Not only were dead saints wandering the streets of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52), but Jesus himself had been seen in various places. What was going on? Had Jesus risen from the dead? Was this the promised sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39–40)?
A few weeks later they heard the uproar of Pentecost. Illiterate fishermen were declaring God’s wonders in a variety of languages (Acts 2:8). How was this possible? One of the fishermen even said Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34).
Was it true, they wondered? Had Jesus’ words come to pass?
Then a disabled man was healed on their doorstep. The Sanhedrin summoned the men who did it and realized that Peter and John “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
You remember Jesus, the guy we crucified last month.
You will see
They tried to nip this thing in the bud – this movement, this groundswell, this gnawing sense that they had been wrong – but Jesus wouldn’t stay dead.
One of his followers was brought to them and he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
Mercy! These were the same words Jesus had uttered in the privacy of their court. How could Stephen know this?
Then one of their own, a Pharisee of Pharisees called Saul, encountered the Lord and turned into a completely different person. He wrote letters about Jesus sitting at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:13).
The prophecy had been fulfilled. Everything Jesus said had come true.
“You will see,” said Jesus, and they did see – numerous tokens of Christ’s victory; piles of proof that Jesus was who he said he was.
Extracted from chapter 28 of Paul’s forthcoming book AD70 and the End of the World.