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An Exposition of “This Generation” (Matthew 24:34) Part 2

By Michael J. Sullivan

We ended part 1 of our exposition of Matthew 24:34 by examining the strong lexical evidence that genea should be understood as the first century contemporary generation that Jesus was speaking to and therefore the language of Christ coming on the clouds, gathering His elect, and the de-creation cosmic imagery (“all these things”) should not be interpreted with a strict literalism.  Brown understanding the analogy of Scripture, was even forced to say that  such passages as 2 Peter 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4 could be interpreted through the lense of a first century “historical judgment.”  In other words, the more clear passages such as “this generation” should guide the exegete into understanding some of the seemingly more difficult passages that use apocalyptic language as being fulfillled as “historical judgments” – ie. AD 70, and not an end of time event.

We now turn our attention to examining some of the false interpretations of genea.

False Interpretations of “This Generation” Considered

1) “This race” will not pass a way

Of the 27 translations I looked at for genea, only one (WUESTNT) sought to translate it with having no regard to the context and with a futurist bias, “This nation shall by no means pass away until all these things take place.” And although the reader may find some documentation somewhere giving genea a meaning of “nation, stock, or race,” even those sources will or should admit that the predominant meaning is, “The whole multitude of men living at the same time” or “a period of “30 – 40 years.” It is difficult to understand how so many can be led astray in translating or interpreting genea as “race” when even the KJV and Strong’s Concordance admits that the word is used 42 times with the predominant translation being “generation,” – 37 times as “generation,” 2 times as “time,” 2 times as “age,” and only 1 time as “nation.”

This particular interpretation and translation has been popularized by the dispensationalist Scofield Study Bible and commentators such as Adam Clarke.  Not  only have dispensationalists embraced this false definition of “this generation,” but even amillennialists such as Anthony Hoekema. Hoekema quoting F. Buchsel states,

“It should be noted that the word “generation (genea), as commonly used in the Synoptic Gospels, may have a qualitative meaning as well as a temporal one: ‘This generation is to be understood temporally, but there is always a qualifying criticism. Thus we read of an ‘adulterous’generation (Mark 8:38), or an ‘evil’ generation (Matt. 12:45; Luke 11:29), or an ‘evil and adulterous’ generation (Matt. 12:39; 16:4), or an ‘unbelieving and perverse’ generation (Matt. 17:17; cf. Luke 9:41; Mark 9:9).’” “By ‘this generation,’ then, Jesus means the rebellious, apostate, unbelieving Jewish people, as they have revealed themselves in the past, are revealing themselves in the present, and will continue to reveal themselves in the future.”[1]

This is just a ridiculous interpretation. Just because there is an adjective describing how sinful Jesus’ contemporary generation is because of their rejection of Him does not in the slightest bit change the “temporal” meaning of genea to a 2000 + years and counting “qualitative” one!

Adam Clarke seeking to defend this interpretation writes of Matthew 24:34,

“…this race; i.e. the Jews shall not cease from being a distinct people, till all the counsels of God relative to them and the Gentiles be fulfilled.” “…till all the nations of the world should receive the Gospel of Christ, after which the Jews themselves should be converted unto God, #Ro 11:25…”[2]

But what is extremely puzzling, is that Clarke doesn’t interpret genea outside of the Olivet Discourse this way and even concedes that a preterist interpretation indeed can be the “true” one since it fits not only the context, but corresponds nicely with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere,

“But still it is literally true in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. John probably lived to see these things come to pass; compare #Mt 16:28, with # Joh 21:22; and there were some rabbins alive at the time when Christ spoke these words who lived till the city was destroyed, viz.Rabban Simeon, who perished with the city; R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who outlived it; R. Zadoch, R. Ismael, and others.” (Adam Clarke, Ibid.).

It is also puzzling that Clarke believes “race” should be the novel interpretation here because the Great Commission wasn’t fulfilled to the nations of the world and yet he clearly believed the Great Commission of Matthew 24:14 and Romans 10:28 was fulfilled prior to AD 70,

“Perhaps no more is meant here than the Roman empire; for it is beyond controversy that pasan thn oikoumenhn, # Lu 2:1, means no more than the whole Roman empire: as a decree for taxation or enrolment from Augustus Caesar could have no influence but in the Roman dominions; but see on # Lu 2:1. Tacitus informs us, Annal. l. xv., that, as early as the reign of Nero, the Christians were grown so numerous at Rome as to excite the jealousy of the government; and in other parts they were in proportion. However, we are under no necessity to restrain the phrase to the Roman empire, as, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem, the Gospel was not only preached in the lesser Asia, and Greece, and Italy, the greatest theatres of action then in the world; but was likewise propagated as far north as SCYTHIA; as far south as ETHIOPIA; as far east as PARTHIA and INDIA; and as far west as SPAIN and BRITAIN. On this point, Bishop Newton goes on to say, That there is some probability that the Gospel was preached in the British nations by St. Simon the apostle; that there is much greater probability that it was preached here by St. Paul; and that there is an absolute certainty that it was planted here in the times of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem. See his proofs. Dissert. vol. ii. p. 235, 236. edit. 1758. St. Paul himself speaks, # Col 1:6, 23, of the Gospel’s being come into ALL THE WORLD, and preached TO EVERY CREATURE under heaven. And in his Epistle to the Romans, #Ro 10:18, he very elegantly applies to the lights of the Church, what the psalmist said of the lights of heaven. Their sound went into ALL THE EARTH, and their words unto the END of the WORLD. What but the wisdom of God could foretell this? And what but the power of God could accomplish it?

Then shall the end come. When this general publication of the Gospel shall have taken place, then a period shall be put to the whole Jewish economy, by the utter destruction of their city and temple.” (Adam Clarke, Ibid.).

Since Clarke failed to interpret genea from it’s immediate context and sought to run to Romans 11 for his support, we should briefly turn our attention to this important eschatological passage.
Romans 11 “all Israel will be saved.”

There is of course great debate between Amillennialists, Premillennialists and Postmillennialists on the salvation of “all Israel” in Romans 11:25-26. Postmillennialists such as Gentry and Mathison argue that “all Israel” being saved refers to a mass conversion of ethnic Jews before Christ comes in our future. Amillennialists understand “all Israel” being saved to refer to the salvation of the church as the new Israel of God.

As for the view that “all Israel” refers to ethnic Jews in our future, we can immediately know that this view is incorrect. With the passing of the old covenant in AD 70, there is no covenantal Israel other than the united Jew-Gentile church. So the covenant promises in Romans 11 cannot refer to the modern nation of Israel or to the modern Jewish race or community. The only “Israel” in the New Testament that was to be cleansed from sin is the church, the body of Israel’s Messiah. This is the “Israel” (“all” of it) that entered into the Holiest of Holies in AD 70 (Heb. 9:8). Let us briefly summarize Paul’s argument in Romans 11.

Even though God’s old covenant people in their last generation were being hardened and excluded from the coming inheritance, that did not mean that God had rejected old covenant Israel (Rom. 11:1-2). Although it may have looked like Israel was being utterly cut off in her last generation, the truth was that old covenant Israel was being saved in her last days. God was actually saving “all Israel” —fulfilling His promises to “the fathers”— partly by means of the hardening of its last generation. Here is how:

1. By means of old covenant Israel’s transgression/failure and rejection in her last days, riches and reconciliation (through the gospel) were coming to the gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:18). As Paul said, “They are enemies for your sakes” (Rom. 11:28).

2. The salvation of the gentiles was making last-days Israel “jealous,” so that a remnant was becoming zealous for righteousness and being saved (Rom. 11:2-10,11,13,14).

3. The hardening, or reprobation, of old covenant Israel in her last generation was to continue until the fullness of the gentiles came in, i.e., came into Israel (Rom. 11:25).

4. In this manner, or by this process, all of the saints of historic, old-covenant Israel were going to be saved (resurrected) along with the last-days remnant and the believing gentiles who had been grafted into historic Israel. The consummation of this process took place in the Parousia of Christ in A. D. 70, according to the promises made to the fathers (Rom. 11:26).

This is when Israel died, was resurrected, and made new. This is when all of the elect (the Old Testament saints, the last-days Jewish remnant, and the believing gentiles) were consummately united in Christ and became the fulfilled “Israel of God.” It was at Christ’s return to close the Old Covenant age in AD 70 that all Israel was saved.

If Jesus wanted to give the meaning of “Jewish race,” here in Matthew 24:34, He would have used the Greek word genos which means,

“1) kindred 1a) offspring 1b) family 1c) stock, tribe, nation 1c1) i.e. nationality or descent from a particular people 1d) the aggregate of many individuals of the same nature, kind, sort.”[3]

Although interpreting genea as “race” has no solid contextual or lexical evidence, this interpretation does not necessarily contradict ours in that Jesus is addressing the Jewish race, to be for sure, but it is clearly His contemporary Jewish audience which He is holding responsible for the blood guilt of the nation of Israel and therefore she will see her nations house/temple destroyed and her Old Covenant age brought to an end (cf. Mt. 23:30-24:34). And of course we agree that the Jewish race did pass away with the destruction of the temple. Pastor David Curtis sites several impressive sources which demonstrate that the Jews as a “race” today indeed did pass away in AD 70,

“But for those who attempt to translate it as “this race of Jews will not pass, till all these things are fulfilled,” it must be understood that THERE IS NO JEWISH RACE TODAY.

Many people today still consider the Jewish people as a race. Numerous verses identify Israel, in New Testament prophecy, in terms of their tribal associations; however, these associations do not extend beyond the first century. One example of this is Matthew 24:30, which we looked at last week, where Christ declares that “the tribes of the (land) shall mourn.”

After the destruction of Jerusalem, however, the nation of Israel, after the flesh, was scattered throughout the earth, and lost all tribal relations. This scattering was made immutable due to the fact that all tribal genealogical records were destroyed with the Temple in A.D. 70. The simple fact is that there is no existing Jewish race.

Consider the following quotations:

The Encyclopedia Brittanica (1973)
“The Jews As A Race: The findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to the popular view, there is no Jewish race. Anthropornetric measurements of Jewish groups in many parts of the world indicate that they differ greatly from one another with respect to all the important physical characteristics.” (vol. 12, page 1054)

Encyclopedia Judaica Jerusalem (1971)
“It is a common assumption, and one that sometimes seems ineradicable even in the face of evidence to the contrary, that the Jews of today constitute a race, a homogeneous entity easily recognizable. From the preceding discussion of the origin and early history of the Jews, it should be clear that in the course of their formation as a people and a nation they had already assimilated a variety of racial strains from people moving into the general area they occupied. This had taken place by interbreeding and then by conversion to Judaism of a considerable number of communities. . . .”

“Thus, the diversity of the racial and genetic attributes of various Jewish colonies of today renders any unified racial classification of them a contradiction in terms. Despite this, many people readily accept the notion that they are a distinct race. This is probably reinforced by the fact that some Jews are recognizably different in appearance from the surrounding population. That many cannot be easily identified is overlooked and the stereotype for some is extended to all – a not uncommon phenomenon” (Encyclopedia Judaica Jerusalem, 1971, vol. 3, p. 50).

Encyclopedia Americana (1986)
“Racial and Ethnic Considerations. Some theorists have considered the Jews a distinct race, although this has no factual basis. In every country in which the Jews lived for a considerable time, their physical traits came to approximate those of the indigenous people. Hence the Jews belong to several distinct racial types, ranging, for example, from fair to dark. Among the reasons for this phenomenon are voluntary or involuntary miscegenation and the conversion of Gentiles to Judaism” (Encyclopedia Americana, 1986, vol. 16, p. 71).

Collier’s Encyclopedia (1977)
“A common error and persistent modern myth is the designation of the Jews as a ‘race! This is scientifically fallacious, from the standpoint of both physical and historical tradition. Investigations by anthropologists have shown that Jews are by no means uniform in physical character and that they nearly always reflect the physical and mental characteristics of the people among whom they live” (Collier’s Encyclopedia, 1977, vol. 13, p. 573).

Today, being a Jew simply means that one is of the Judaistic religion or a convert to it, or else in a “brotherhood” of those who are. Therefore, being a Jew has nothing to do with race. We are familiar with a number of notable figures, such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, and Tom Arnold, in fact, who became Jews by conversion to the religion of Judaism.

John Bray said, “Many Christians do not know that the vast majority of so-called Jews in the world today are the Ashkenazim Jews, while the remainder of them are the Sephardim Jews. The Ashkenazim Jews have as their background not the nation of Israel but a country called Khazaria, which country at one time was the largest country in Europe. The settlers of Khazaria were Turks and Huns. In A.D. 740 King Bulan of Khazaria decided to adopt the Judaistic religion for his country. A number of Jews were already living there. So he converted to Judaism, along with all his officials, and whole nation ended up being known as a nation of Jews. In 970 Russia came in and dominated the situation, and the Khazars were scattered, many of them going down into Poland and Lithuania. Where at the dawn of our modern civilization the largest concentration of Jews were found. Today, the largest percentage of so-called Jews in the world have as their background this group of people.” (This information is fully documented in detail in John Bray’s book, Israel in Bible Prophecy)

Funk and Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia (1970)
“In 1970 the Israeli Knesset adopted legislation defining a Jew as one born of a Jewish mother or a convert.” (vol. 14, p. 214)

H.G. Wells
“There can be little doubt that the scattered Phoenicians in Spain and Africa and throughout the Mediterranean, speaking as they did a language closely akin to Hebrew and being deprived of their authentic political rights, became proselytes to Judaism. For phases of vigorous proselytism alternated with phases of exclusive jealousy in Jewish history. On one occasion the Idumeans, being conquered, were all forcibly made Jews. There were Arab tribes who were Jews in the time of Muhammad, and a Turkish people who were mainly Jews in South Russia in the ninth century. Judaism is indeed the reconstructed political ideal of many shattered peoples – mainly Semitic…. The main part of Jewry never was in Judea and had never come out of Judea” (The Outline of History,p. 505).

Therefore, we can clearly and confidently assert that there is no such thing as a Jewish race, nor ever can there be.

These facts are devastating to Dispensationalism. Obviously, if the nation that they call the heir of Israel is shown to have no relationship to the pre-desolation nation, there is no credibility to that system. There are no twelve tribes today, there is no Jewish race today.

We know that there is no possibility that this passage of the Olivet Discourse has any relation to a future Jewish race, since there is no such thing. Since the fall of Jerusalem, and the scattering of the nation of Israel in the first century, the nation calling itself Israel has consisted of a collection of people from nearly every nation in the world, with no relation to the twelve tribes of the historical nation known as Israel. Any attempts to state that there is, or will ever again be, a race of Israelites are proven to be futile and of no force. There is no Jewish race. So, as you can see, to try to translate the word genea as race, does not fly.”[4]

Let’s now move on to some more erroneous interpretations of “this generation,” and one that I see as the most dangerous for the Church today.

[1] Anthony Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, (Eerdmans pub., 1979), 116-117, (emphasis added).

[2] Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary by Gary Gallant, Online Bible Software Version 2.10.06.

[3] Greek English Online Bible Greek Lexicon, Online Bible Software, Ibid, (emphasis added).

[4] David Curtis, MATTHEW 24-25 FULFILLED AND APPLIED, www.treeoflifeministries.info See also David’s site, www.bereanbiblechurch.org

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