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This Generation: The Last Days According to Jesus with R.C. Sproul


In our study of the crisis of eschatology
in our day we have placed great emphasis on the criticisms that have been launched against
the Bible and against the credibility of Jesus with respect to unfulfilled prophecies that
Jesus, as well as the apostles, made with respect to the coming of Christ. And the critics have argued that Jesus’ predicted
coming did not occur within the timeframe that the New Testament gives for the fulfillments
of that event. And as we’ve seen so far in our study, the
critical phrase in the Olivet Discourse is the reference to “this generation,” where
it is said “this generation will not pass away [I’m going to use the phrase pass away]
until all these things are fulfilled.” Now, an ordinary prima-facie understanding
of this text as Bertrand Russell made it in his critique of Christianity, as well as the
higher critics in biblical scholarship say that this generation must refer literally
to that group of people who were the contemporaries of Jesus, and a generation lasts approximately
40 years, and that the “pass away” refers to their demise, that is that this group of
people will not all die or pass away until everything in this prophecy comes to pass. The “all these things” is then thought to
be all inclusive. Now, we also see that the whole problem is
exacerbated by our knowledge, as I’ve mentioned, that that which precipitated the whole discourse,
Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and the destruction of
the city of Jerusalem, did, in fact, take place within the timeframe of 40 years as
these events unfolded in AD 70. So I think again we see and feel the weight
of the problem. Now, I labor this point for this reason: I’m
not convinced that evangelical Christians really do feel the weight of this problem,
and that’s part of the problem of ignoring higher criticism and simply preaching to the
choir and talking among ourselves and not really listening to this criticism that is
raised, and we have to give an answer to these critics that have devastated Scripture and
the person of Christ. And so, I think it is our obligation as Christians
who believe in the deity of Christ and the inspiration of the Scriptures to feel the
weight of this burden and to address it as we encounter it. Now, there are many scholars who feel that
the escape-hatch from all of this difficulty is found in verse 32 of Mark 13. Immediately following the timeframe reference
that Jesus gives, again in verse 30 He says, “Assuredly [most certainly] I say to you this
generation will by no means pass away until all these things take place.” Again, let me remind you that the statement
that Jesus makes here is made in emphatic terms. I can’t conceive of Jesus being any more emphatic
about the timeframe than He is here when He says, “Assuredly, I say to you that this generation
will by no means pass away until all of these things take place.” Then He goes on to amplify that by saying,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” So Jesus is hanging an awful lot of His own
credibility on what He’s saying here. These are My words and My words will last
longer than the heaven and the earth. So, then we hear the escape-hatch in verse
32. “But of that day, and hour no one knows, not
even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Now, that verse 32 is one of the most controversial
verses in all of Mark’s gospel; because, among other things it’s a verse in which Jesus puts
a limit on His own knowledge when He said that the day and the hour knows nobody, not
even the angels, not even the Son, just the Father. And, that’s provoked all kinds of Christological
debate, but obviously Jesus is referring here to His human nature, and the human nature
is not omniscient. It would be heretical to assert that the human
nature of Christ knew everything. The divine nature did, of course; but the
human nature knows only what a normal, ordinary human being could know or a human who is informed
by the divine. I mean, there are times when there is knowledge
communicated from the divine nature to the human nature — we’re not separating them,
but we are distinguishing them — but I don’t want to get carried away on that. That’s a Christological issue. But with respect to this problem that we’re
dealing with, many scholars come to verse 32 and they say obviously Jesus here is qualifying
His prediction by saying, after all, nobody really knows the day and the hour, including
Me. So in a sense Jesus has a get-out-of-jail-free
card here for being wrong about stating that it would all take place within the timeframe
of this generation. And so since He has this disclaimer that nullifies
or reduces the import of His previous statement that it would come in this generation. Well, I think this is another one of those
examples of where a text is problematic, sometimes scholars use torturous devices to try to solve
the problem. There’s no reason to see that verse 32 would
nullify Jesus’ broader statement earlier when He says simply, “This generation will not
pass away until all of these things take place.” And then He qualifies it by saying what? — I don’t know what day in this generation. I don’t know what hour it will be, but I do
know this, it’s going to be within the timeframe of this generation. But sometime within this generation, before
this generation passes away all these things will come to pass, but don’t ask me for the
day and the hour. That would seem to be a much more sober understanding
of what Jesus is saying here, and we don’t want our Lord to put them on and take them
off, as it were, to assert what’s going to happen within a timeframe with His left hand
and five minutes later (less than five minutes later), say it’s not going to happen in that
timeframe. Once He’s made the statement as emphatically
as He had that it will take place most definitely, most assuredly within the timeframe of a generation. We have to live with that. We have to say OK, what does He mean by generation? What does He mean that this generation will
not pass away? Again, the critics, including Bertrand Russell,
understand the phrase “this generation” to refer to a group of people who were the contemporaries
of Jesus, those people who were alive at that time, referring to an age group of human beings. So, when Jesus qualifies it, as it were, in
verse 32, He is saying, I can’t be any more specific than it’ll be this generation, but
keep this in mind that does not mean that He’s any less specific that it would be within
the timeframe of that generation. Now, again this business of passing away we’re
assuming that it refers to the death of those who are alive. Now, that is consistent with the other timeframe
reference that Bertrand Russell used to refute the New Testament and to refute Jesus when
Jesus said, “Some of you will not taste death until you see the Son of Man coming in power
and so on.” Now, there the ‘passing away’ becomes ‘taste
death.’ So, there’s a consistency here that we’re
talking about that some people are going to survive long enough to see certain events
that Jesus predicted fulfilled. What else could He mean when He says some
of you will not taste death. Now, again, in an effort to deal with that
problem, that’s found in Matthew 16, we are told by certain scholars that that was fulfilled
in either the transfiguration or the resurrection, because in the transfiguration people did
see Jesus manifested in glory, because on the Mount of Transfiguration His divine nature
shown through and the disciples, Peter, James, and John, had that awe-inspiring encounter
there with the transfigured Jesus where they beheld His glory. And so maybe what Jesus was referring to was
either to the manifestation of His glory in the transfiguration, or the manifestation
of His glory in resurrection or ascension, not to His coming later. Now, there’s a problem with that, and that
is that the transfiguration, according to Matthew, took place six days after Jesus gave
that timeframe reference, and the resurrection only a couple of weeks, and so on. So it doesn’t seem very reasonable to me for
Jesus to say some of you aren’t going to die until this takes place, unless He was expecting
the majority of His disciples to die in the following week. What He was simply saying some of you are
going to survive long enough to see this come to pass. It just doesn’t seem likely to me that our
Lord would say — would speak in terms of surviving death in an event that’s going to
take place in the next week or the next couple of weeks. Unless, of course, they were faced with an
impending battle where survival was not expected or something of that sort which we obviously
don’t have at this point. So my point is this: that to apply that text
that some of you will not taste death to the transfiguration or to these other events related
to it in the short term, I think it’s too near a time. I think Jesus when He says that some of you
will not taste death He’s obviously thinking longer term than one week or a month or so. Well, now another way, in fact the most common
way in which scholars try to answer the critics with respect to the unfulfilled prophecy of
the New Testament and of Jesus is by interpreting the word generation in a way that does not
make it refer to that group of people who were alive at the time Jesus made the prophecy
and who were the contemporaries of Christ, but rather the term ‘generation’ is used to
described a kind, type, or sort — a kind, a type, or a sort of person. That’s like Jesus is saying people like this
will not pass away until all of these things come to pass. And again, that’s the most common. Now, some scholars say that the type of person
that Jesus is describing here is the believer or the righteous ones, that some of you who
are faithful and believing and trusting in Me will not pass away until all of these things
will be fulfilled. In other words, there will be believers still
around whenever I return at the end of the age. That’s one of the interpretations. And of course that interpretation gets everybody
off the hook because then generation doesn’t refer to a 40-year period and restrict the
fulfillment to the first century and allows for the possibility of what Schweitzer called
‘parousia delay’ down through the centuries that we can wait 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 years
for these things to take place. Now, more commonly the generation that is
described as a type or sort of people refers not to the righteous or to believers but to
unbelievers, those who were of a wicked sort, a wicked generation. And Herman Ridderbos, whom I’ve already talked
about who gave us the ‘all ready and not yet’ timeframe approach to the kingdom of God teachings
in the New Testament; Ridderbos takes the view that the Greek word here, ‘genea’ that
is used to interpret — or to translate a generation, is a description not of timeframe
but of mind-frame. That is, it’s a mind frame reference saying
people of this frame of mind will still be around until all of these things come to pass. Again, this ilk, this sort, this type of person
will abide until all of these things are fulfilled. Now, again, that is the most common view that
conservatives and evangelicals take to the Olivet Discourse to escape the guns of higher
criticism. And I personally, frankly, find this less
than exegetically satisfying. I do know that there are rare occasions in
the Septuagint and in extra-biblical documents where that word ‘genea’ can be used to refer
to sort or kind or type of person. But the usage of it in the New Testament overwhelmingly
and consistently refers to a group of people who are alive at the particular time. And I want to take some time now to look at
some of these passages. The first passage we look at is in Matthew
23, verse 36. Now, in this context Jesus is giving His final
address that He gives presumably on the very same day that He gives the Olivet Discourse,
and He said, quote, “All of these things shall come upon this generation.” Now, to my understanding, I’m not aware of
any commentator or any Matthean scholar who’s ever interpreted that reference to anything
other than those contemporaries that were alive at the time when Jesus talks about the
things that will befall that generation. In Matthew 11 He says, “Whereunto shall I
liken this generation?” Again the commentators all agree that that
referred to the existing generation of Jewish people. In Matthew 12:39, 41, 42 and 45, listen to
what we read. “The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment
with this generation.” Obviously the men of Nineveh were an earlier
generation. “The Queen of the South shall rise up in the
judgment with this generation. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked
generation.” This can only refer to the then current, existent
generation of people that Jesus was warning. Again, Luke 11 verses 50 and 51. “That the blood of all the prophets may be
required of this generation.” Again, “it shall be required of this generation.” Mark 8:38: “Whoever shall be ashamed of Me
in this adulterous and sinful generation.” And Luke 17:25. “The Son of Man must be rejected of this generation.” Now, if we understand the biblical context
in which our Lord makes these statements, He’s clearly talking about the decisive point
in redemptive history where God has visited the nation of Israel in the person of His
only begotten Son. And it was that generation that was alive
at that time that had on the one hand the unspeakable privilege of seeing the Messiah
come in the flesh, and yet at the same time it was that generation who were convicted
of the greatest guilt in Jewish history because that was that generation that rejected the
One who had come to their own, and they received Him not. And so Jesus again and again in the New Testament
warns that existing generation about the severity of judgment that will be on their heads because
their judgment will be far greater than those earlier generations in antiquity such as were
seen in the days of the Queen of Sheba and in other periods, because the decisive crisis
point has been reached with the coming of the Messiah. And He talks about the judgment that will
come upon this generation. And the plain sense of those warnings refers
to the judgment that will befall that last final generation of apostate Israel at that
time. In fact, apart from the use of this word ‘genea’
(the generation), that we find in the Olivet Discourse there are 38 other references to
this word in the New Testament, and every one of them refers to a contemporary group
of people that were then alive. Now, it’s possible linguistically that ‘genea’
could mean sort or type, or as Ridderbos suggests a mind-frame rather than a timeframe. But what I’m saying to you is that the exegetical
and linguistic evidence against that is overwhelming, and one would have to have a compelling reason
to interpret the phrase “This generation shall not pass away until all of these things be
fulfilled,” to have to be a compelling reason to interpret that other than the ordinary
usage of the term. And the question is do we have that compelling
reason? Well, of course, we have a compelling reason
according to many evangelical people, and the compelling reason is the end of the age
hasn’t happened. Jesus hasn’t come. So obviously if Jesus is telling the truth
then we have to interpret ‘genea’ in a way other than the ordinary sense in which it
is used in the New Testament. But what if the end of the age has come? What if what Jesus is talking about here is
not the end of history but the end of the Jewish age? What if Jesus is talking about not His final
consummate coming to fulfill all prophecy about the final renovation of heaven and earth,
but what He’s talking about is His coming of judgment on Israel, which is manifested
in the destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem. What if that’s the focal point of His warning
on the Mount of Olives? I believe it is. I’m not positive, but I am — I do believe
that that’s what He was talking about there. And in our next session we’ll look further
at the reasons for that.

Otis Rodgers

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Electric Boogie Posted on September 9, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    I like RC but some of it is not good.

    Reply
  2. Ashton Velasquez Posted on September 9, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    This is awesome

    Reply
  3. Lawrence Stanley Posted on September 10, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Preterists insist that Matthew 24 was fulfilled in 70AD, and yet, Jesus's own prophecies there incorporate those of Daniel in Daniel 9:24 and following, and, if we do our math correctly, and if the preterist assumes that all of the years of Daniel's prophecy are sequential years, that would place its fulfillment in 39AD – that would be 490 years from the decree of Artaxerxes in 458BC. But nothing happened in 39AD. Not only this, but the Didache, which was penned between 70-100AD treats Matthew 24 as yet future events. So, the preterist has a lot of explaining to do.

    Reply
  4. Leroy Brown Posted on September 11, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    I believe Jesus is talking about a future temple in Mark 13. The 3rd temple that is yet to be built. The wailing wall from the second temple still stands. Jesus said " not one stone here will be left on another, ever one will be thrown down". When Jesus says "YOU must be on your guard. YOU will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues" he is not talking about the disciples. He's talking about future Christians living in the end times. If you read it like that , it all lines up.

    Reply
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