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