In Matt. 16:27-28 (cf. Mark 8:38-9:1; Luke 9:26-27), Jesus tells his disciples,
Here, a judgment of recompense is directly connected with Christ’s coming (erchomai) in his kingdom (Christ’s emphatic words, “truly, I say to you,” need not be understood as introducing a new subject, but rather as authoritatively reiterating the same subject). While Christ’s words conjure up for many readers the image of every person who has ever lived being summoned before a literal throne in a vast courtroom in heaven to receive their individual sentences, this is probably not what Christ had in mind when he uttered these words, as the prophet Jeremiah had used similar language in view of the judgment that God was going to bring upon the nation of Babylon after Israel’s 70 year captivity (Jer 25:12-14). Similarly, the author of Hebrews spoke of divine retribution as taking place under the Old Covenant dispensation (Heb 2:2). In light of texts such as these (which speak of rewards and punishments being meted out by God in this state of existence) we need not understand Christ to be referring to anything other than a this-world judgment.
While some try to explain v. 28 as referring to Jesus’ transfiguration (an event which follows chronologically in all three synoptic accounts), a careful consideration of Christ’s words reveals that the transfiguration could not have been the fulfillment of this prophecy. The transfiguration took place only six days later, and none of Christ’s followers died within the span of that brief, six day period. If “some” (tis, which can denote “one or more” but not “all”) of the men standing there would not “taste death” until they saw Christ coming in his kingdom, then logic dictates that those not included in the “some” among the group of disciples to whom Christ spoke would, in fact, die before his coming. Otherwise, his use of the word “some” - and his reference to them “tasting death” - would be emptied of rational meaning.
Elsewhere, Christ told his disciples that, in the near future, they would begin to be persecuted, and that some would, in fact, be put to death (see Matt 23:34; cf. 1 Thess. 2:14-16; Revelation 6:10-11,17; 16:6, 15; 18:5, 20). Matt 10:1-23 (which speaks of this period of persecution) is especially relevant to the verses under consideration. There, Christ told his disciples,
These prophetic words indicate not merely an imminent coming (i.e., one that could happen at any time, but may not happen for perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years), but instead one that would be within the very lifetimes of the men to whom Jesus spoke. Moreover, Christ links this coming of the Son of Man with a time that he calls “the end” (v. 22), which likely refers to the end of the Old Covenant age (cf. Matt 24:1-3, 34). And in the context of the above passage Christ refers to a judgment that would come upon those Jewish towns that would not receive or listen to the words of the apostles (Matt 10:5-6, 14-15), and shortly after speaks of people being destroyed “soul and body” in “Gehenna” (Matt 10:28), which should have conveyed the image of a severe judgment coming upon the nation of Israel to those Jews who were familiar with their inspired Scriptures (Jer 7:30-34; 19).
What further supports our interpretation of Matt 16:27-28 are Christ’s final words to Peter before his ascension, as recorded in John 21:18-22. There, we read,
Even at this time (which was right before Christ’s ascension to heaven) it would seem that neither Christ nor his apostles understood the transfiguration to have been the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy that “some” (one or more) would not “taste death” before his coming in his kingdom. Peter understood that Christ had taught him and the other disciples that some, but not all, of them would live to see this event. Hence, he is understandably curious when he learns that he would most likely not be among the “some” who would “not taste death” before this anticipated event took place (for Christ was speaking of Peter’s future martyrdom under Nero). When Peter sees John, he then wants to know if he is going to be among the “some” who will live to see Christ’s coming. Christ’s response to Peter (vv. 22-23) is undeniably pregnant with the suggestion that, unlike Peter, John wouldn’t “taste death” before his coming.