The phrase "this generation" used by Jesus has been misunderstood by many Christians, leading to some sadly mistaken conclusions. Some have concluded that God punished that particular generation, those alive when Jesus lived, for the sins of previous generations! Would that be fair? Luke 11:49 - 51:
Therefore also said
the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of
them they shall slay and persecute:
That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;
From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
Jesus used the words "this generation" here, but does not explain why the blood of all those slain prophets and saints would be required of that particular generation alive in the early 1st century AD. Note that Jesus does not say the blood of the prophets would be required of the Jews of that generation, but some have taken it to mean that. They think the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD, and the suffering of the Jews at that time, was the punishment that came upon the Jewish race in retribution for all the murders of God's prophets from previous generations, along with the crucifixion of Christ. Yet on the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers. Luke 23:33 - 34:
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
Would God renege on forgiveness? Some of the early Church fathers apparently thought so.
In the fourth century, Chrysostom wrote regarding the fulfillment of the Olivet prophecy, and his perception that the destruction of Jerusalem was God's judgment on the Jews:
For I will ask them, Did He send the prophets and wise men? Did they slay them in their synagogue? Was their house left desolate? Did all the vengeance come upon that generation? It is quite plain that it was so, and no man gainsays it. (Homily LXXIV, Sec. 3, A.D.347)
Origin wrote that the destruction of Jerusalem had come upon the Jews because they crucified Jesus:
I challenge anyone to prove my statement untrue if I say that the entire Jewish nation was destroyed less than one whole generation later on account of these sufferings which they inflicted on Jesus. For it was, I believe, forty-two years from the time when they crucified Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem. (Contra Celsum, 198-199)
Athanasius (A.D. 340) wrote:
Now observe; that city, since the coming of our Savior, has had an end, and all the land of the Jews has been laid waste; so that from the testimony of these things (and we need no further proof, being assured by our own eyes of the fact) there must, of necessity, be an end of the shadow. For as soon as these things were done, everything was finished, for the altar was broken, and the veil of the temple was rent; and although the city was not yet laid waste, the abomination was ready to sit in the midst of the temple, and the city and those ancient ordinances to receive their final consummation. (Athanasius, Festal Letters, VIII)
However, bringing veangance on that generation for the sins of past generations, including Cain's murder of Abel, is not what Jesus was saying here. Rather, the saying means that the sins of all men, since Cain killed his brother Abel, were borne by Jesus, when he died on the cross. He died, that they might be forgiven and become reconciled to God! Those Church fathers quoted above misunderstood, not perceiving the scope of the sacrifice Christ made for all men. They viewed the saying of Jesus, not from the divine perspective, but a human one. These ideas can be characterised by their having "eyes like the eyes of a man."
The phrase "this generation" is also used in the context of questions concerning the timing of the prophecies Jesus gave. Jesus said (Luke 21:32):
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
All things were to be fulfilled, he said, before that generation would pass away. Preterists have supposed that this means everything Jesus said would happen, was to occur in the 1st century, before all his listeners had died. The doctrine of Preterism, a claim that the prophecies of the bible are fulfilled already, is based on that interpretation. But Jesus, who was a member of that generation, was raised from the dead, and remains alive today. So that generation still exists! It is a unique generation; because Jesus remains alive, it has not passed away. This removes one of the basic pillars of Preterism. It is based on a flawed understanding, a misinterpretation of the words of Jesus.
Copyright © 2005 by Douglas E. Cox
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