This Generation – Who Is It?

One of the most important statements in the Olivet prophecy concerns what Christ calls “this generation.” After warning His disciples of the cost of discipleship, and the coming catastrophe in Jerusalem, Christ closes with this statement – “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”[1] The meaning of this statement is of great importance, and in the minds of Full Preterists, it forces everything Christ describes within the scope of the contemporary audience. The question is whether such a conclusions is warranted? I would suggest that the phrase this generation has a more robust meaning, and this must be considered when exegeting this passage. I would contend that the phrase “this generation” speaks to a perpetuation of a sort of people (wicked/righteous), yet is manifest in the contemporary audience. So when Christ says “this generation”, He is speaking to the contemporary audience in particular, but more broadly to the group they belong to as well.

The concept of the wicked versus the righteous is as old as Cain and Able. In fact, these two brothers (both religious in nature), represent the architypes of this age old battle. We see this as Moses faces off with the magicians of Pharaohs court and Elijah stands down the prophets of Baal. We, in fact, see just such a conflict in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, as Christ stands face to face with the scribes and pharisees. Just like Moses’ rod and Elijah’s fire, Christ puts forth His prophetic word as the seal of His prophetic office. Jerusalem will be judged. It is interesting, however the language that He uses in this prophetic pronouncement.

He says at one point of His rebuke, near the end of His prophetic message:

Matt 23:29 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.

This is an interesting indictment, and I believe it sets the context and tone of what follows. Why is it important that they are the “children of those who murdered the prophets”? I suggest that it is because this identifies them in continuity with the wicked generation. They are already admitting a lineage that descends from this wickedness, now they only need to live up to their fathers. Perhaps this draws upon the song of Moses when we read that the people that God had chosen were, in fact, a wicked generation:

They are corrupt and not his children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation[2].

And also:

“I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.

Here it is clear that Moses does not mean only the contemporary audience, as his prophecy seems to be an outline of the time of Israel’s covenant. Here the wicked generation is the whole posterity of Israel. Christ calls them, at one point, children of their father – the devil. St Paul says of them, quoting the prophet:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;

in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[3]

The important point here is that this cannot be limited to a contemporary audience. This generation is inclusive of all those who had rebelled against God and the covenant. It is all those who made themselves an enemy of truth and loved unrighteousness. This is why Christ can say:

That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.[4]

Note that He says to them that you murdered Zechariah, son of Berechiah. How could the contemporary audience have murdered this man who many think was stoned to death during the siege of Jerusalem in 598 BC? Then He says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”[5] How can this be to the contemporary audience only? How could those alive at the time of Christ have killed all the prophets? How could they have murdered everyone from Abel to Zechariah? This is impossible, and it demands that we see this generation in a way that encompasses the contemporary audience, but is not limited to the contemporary audience.

What we see then, is that the contemporary audience is a present-tense manifestation of the wicked generation. They are counted with the “generation of His wrath.”[6] Christ calls them “the children of the world in their generation” and compares them with “the children of Light.”[7] Christ’s indictment reminds us of the challenge that Moses put forth to Israel “who is on the Lord’s side among you!”[8] The sons of Levi gathered to Moses. In the same way the royal priesthood of the New Covenant gathered with Christ, while the rebellious took their place in the wicked generation. What we must take away from this, however, is that this generation is much more than the contemporary audience. It refers to an age-old battle between the seed of the woman and the serpent. A battle that emerges in every age, with that very important generation being a type or icon. The battle is still being waged. Who is on the Lord’s side among you!

[1] Matt 24:34; Luke 21:32; Mark 13:30

[2] Duet 32:5,20

[3] Rom 3:11-18

[4] Matt 23:35,36

[5] Matt 23:37-39

[6] Jer 7:29

[7] Luke 16:8

[8] Ex 32:26

Does Fulfillment Equate to Futureless?

Futurism. A term that has become pejorative in preterist circles. While there are many things that preterists disagree on, one thing it seems that all agree on is that futurism is bad. But what is the basis of that assumption? Typically when discussing preterism, the key apologetical points revolve around what was fulfilled in the first century. To arrive at the preterist position it is essential to establish that chronological events of the first century directly correlate to prophecy. In most cases these are the very same events that so-called Futurists say have yet to be fulfilled. Preterism to some degree becomes nearly the mirror image of futurism, and this leads to a tendency to dismiss everything in the New Testament as being fulfilled without qualification. This is however a lazy hermeneutic, and yields down right odd results.

Is the broad-brushed dismissal of ongoing and future implications of the New Covenant warranted? The contributions of those who have taken this approach have produced little to substantiate such a claim. Yet in spite of the weaknesses in their approach, and the mountains of supposition that are used to substantiate claims, we are still given a list of propositions that seem utterly absurd prima facie. Are we to believe that the events of the first century leave no covenant body, no ongoing actions of the Holy Spirit, nothing to instruct or guide our present age? Are we to believe that the entire witness of scripture is to take us in an arbitrary circle back to the days of Judges 21:25 where “every man did that which was right in his own sight”? Was random spirituality really the ultimate purpose of the Christ? The same Jesus that says “this generation shall not pass” also says “upon this rock I will build my Church.” The same Jesus that says “some standing here shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in power” says “my words shall not pass away.” The version of fulfillment presented by some seems more like failure.

Lets consider the situation a moment. What took place in the first century? Did time and space cease to exist? Did the physical laws of this cosmos give way to a new supreme physical order? No. Was there any indication of a mass “rapture” of Christians? No. Did humanity suddenly come to a grand revelation of God by which all men everywhere are now fully enlightened to His majesty and power? No. So what actually happened? A religion was born. I know in our present climate of “religion is bad”, the idea that the results of Christ coming was establishing a religious movement seems distasteful. But from a strictly empirical standpoint, this is what was produced. I could perhaps choose other terminology and put some frustration to rest. Perhaps if I had written “a new spiritual path was born” or “the supreme spiritual path was revealed.” Perhaps this phraseology would seem more in line with our cultural climate. However one might phrase it, what came from the first century was Christianity. Which makes it difficult to understand why so many reject out right the one thing that we can point to as emerging from the events of the first century. Two things beyond question take place in the first century: the Temple in Jerusalem falls and the Church emerges to a level that the Mosaic system never came close to achieving.

Is fulfillment futureless? I suppose we might need to ask what fulfillment is. It cannot mean the end of time, a secret rapture or even an instantaneous, perfect revelation of all God is to all humankind. Because we see no evidence of any of that from the first century. The only thing fulfillment can possibly be is something pertaining to the initiation of a religious/spiritual movement. In fact this concept of restored order and renewed priesthood is woven throughout the New Testament. The believers are a royal priesthood, made kings and priests unto God. The New Covenant is the restored order of Melchizedek; with Christ its high priest. The Christians are the “tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.” They are a house being built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. The Church is the New Jerusalem and Heavenly City. The New Jerusalem is not going into heaven, but coming down from God out of heaven. What is spoken over it? “The tabernacle of God is with men!” God with us. This is the beginning prophetic announcement of the New Testament, and the vision by which it is concluded.

I would then contend that fulfillment is not only not futureless, but that it in fact demands a future. The Kingdom is a mustard seed, leaven, salt and light. It infiltrates, changes and grows. It is a spiritual institution that has been commissioned to remain in the earth and to enlighten the world. The nature of the Kingdom – the Church – may be a subject for discussion, yet its reality is undeniable. This particularly for those who contend for a first century fulfillment. The emergence of the Church – His Body, is the only tangible evidence of the coming of Christ. Christ came in flesh, and then came to the world in His Body the Church. This is the only tenable position for fulfillment. Fulfillment then secures the future, it does not eliminate it.