Ian Hicks has a novel interpretation of the meaning of “this generation.” While he believes the phrase applies to the generation of Jesus’ day, he also claims it refers to “trans-historical people [that] includes (past generations) tied to Cain, through to the contemporaries of Jesus, and will extend down until the return of Christ. My view of genea,” Hicks argues, “is not limited to a singular group identified in the New Testament, my view extends and encompasses what I believe is more of the biblical data.”
As I’ve shown in my previous article, and will show in this and my next article, the use of “this generation” by Jesus only refers to the generation of His day because only that generation was guilty of the covenantal evil of crucifying “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). This is why Peter described his generation as “this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40; also Matt. 12:45; 17:17; Phil. 2:14–15). Only that generation was guilty of this singular sin.
Matthew 23-25: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary
While many commentators argue in terms of historical fulfillment by appealing to sources like The Jewish War by Flavius Josephus (c. 37–100) (not in itself wrong), an eyewitness to the destruction of the temple and judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70, Jordan concentrates on the biblical literary connections. He does this by putting Matthew 23–25 in the full context of Matthew’s gospel and the rest of the Bible. This way, the forest can be seen within the context of the trees.Buy Now
It’s important to understand how “this generation” is used by Jesus because He is the one who states that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). Jesus always used “this generation” in reference to His contemporaries (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32), and it doesn’t mean any other generation. The use of “this,” a near demonstrative, identifies the generation of Jesus’ day as the one Jesus was addressing. Hicks isn’t the only person to make what is clear unclear. Henry Morris, who insisted the Bible should be interpreted literally on issues related to the creation, does not take the same approach when he interpreted the meaning of “this generation”:
The word “this” [in Matt. 24:34] is the demonstrative adjective and could better be translated “that generation.” That is, the generation which sees all these signs (probably starting with World War I) shall not have completely died away until all these things have taken place.”
I bring up Morris (there are others) because he like Hicks skirts the obvious and formulates an alternative theory because his eschatological presuppositions force him to extract what’s not there in the text or anywhere else! Prior to comments in his Defender’s Study Bible, Morris wrote the following extended comments on Matthew 24:34 in his book Creation and the Second Coming:
In this striking prophecy, the words “this generation” have the emphasis of “that generation.” That is, that generation—the one that sees the specific signs of His coming—will not completely pass away until He has returned to reign as King. Now if the first sign was, as we have surmised, the First World War, then followed by all His other signs, His coming must indeed be very near—even at the doors! There are only a few people still living from that generation. I myself was born just a month before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Those who were old enough really to know about that First World War—“the beginning of sorrows”—would be at least in their eighties now. Thus, we cannot be dogmatic, we could very well now be living in the very last days before the return of the Lord.
Here’s the thing, the near demonstrative “this” is always used to describe what is near in terms of time and place. “The demonstrative[s] … are of two kinds: near and distant. The near demonstratives, as the name denotes, points to someone or something ‘near,’ in close proximity. They appear as the singular word ‘this’ and its plural ‘these.’ The distant demonstratives, as their name suggests, appear as ‘that’ (singular), or ‘those’ (plural).”
The near demonstrative always refers to something present-day as Greek lexicons and grammars demonstrate in their definitions.
• “This” refers “to something comparatively near at hand, just as ekeinos [that] refers to something comparatively farther away.”
• “Sometimes it is desired to call attention with special emphasis to a designated object, whether in the physical vicinity or the speaker or the literary context of the writer. For this purpose the demonstrative construction is used…. For that which is relatively near in actuality or thought the immediate demonstrative [houtos] is used…. For that which is relatively distant in actuality or thought the remote demonstrative [ekeinos] is used.”
F.F. Bruce makes the important point that “[t]he phrase ‘this generation’ is found too often on Jesus’ lips in this literal sense for us to suppose that it suddenly takes on a different meaning in the saying we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the end-time had been intended, ‘that generation’ would have been a more natural way of referring to it than ‘this generation.” The use of “this” and the contemporary audience reference of “you” (24:33) ties “this generation” to Jesus’ contemporaries.
In addition to making “this generation” mean something broader, Hicks quotes Neil D. Nelson in an attempt to prove that the use of the second person plural (“you”) does not only refer to those alive in Jesus’ day. For Hicks, “this generation” means more than Jesus’ generation, and the use of “you” means more than His contemporaries. “But the contemporaries of Christ did not murder Zechariah son of Berechiah (23:35–36),” Nelson claims. Contrary to Hicks and Nelson, Jesus said that the people Jesus was addressing did murder Zechariah son of Berechiah. Jesus said, “whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (23:36). You will look in vain for any mention of a Zechariah son of Berechiah in the Old Testament who was murdered. You will find a Zechariah “son of Jehoiada” in 2 Chronicles 24:20–21 who was murdered, and you will find “the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah” (Zech. 1:1, 7) who was not murdered. Zechariah and Berechiah are common names in the Bible. I don’t have the space here to go into detail on this point. For a full explanation see my book Wars and Rumors of Wars (pages 19–27) and my article on the same topic.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation alone. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. Everything Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.Buy Now
If Jesus meant the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles 23, who was killed “in the court of the house of the LORD” (2 Chron. 23:21) — not “between the temple and the altar” (Matt. 23:35) — then why didn’t He say, “the son of Jehoiada”? He didn’t say it because he had a contemporary Zechariah in mind. Remember what Jesus said of them: “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:31).
The Jewish religious leaders were not shy about wanting to eliminate their religious competition (Matt. 12:14; 26:4; Mark 9:31; 14:1; Luke 22:2; John 5:18; 7:1, 30; 11:53; Acts 2:23). They worked overtime to get the Roman government to execute Jesus. The book of Acts is filled with examples of bloodthirsty Jews wanting to kill Christians (Acts 7:54–8:1–3). Because of Paul’s preaching that Jesus was the promised Messiah, he said, “some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death” (26:21; also 21:27–31; 2 Cor. 11:24–26). There was a conspiracy to murder Paul (Acts 23:12–14).
Craig L. Blomberg comments:
The qualification “this generation” [Matt. 23:33, 36] should also warn us against the tragic abuse of this verse by many throughout church history who have not limited Jesus’ words to the generation of A.D. 70 and have thus condemned Jews of all subsequent eras as well. “On earth” [v. 35] translates “upon the land” and is probably limited to Israel as the places in which its ancestors dwelt.
There isn’t any indication in what we see in Matthew’s gospel and parallels in Mark and Luke in their use of “this generation” that expands the meaning and application of Jesus’ use of “this generation” either to the past or the future. “This generation” referred exclusively to the generation of Jesus’ day and no other. This truth is so fundamental that Hicks and others must create novel interpretive arguments to obscure the obvious. I’ll deal with his novel and complicated interpretation next time.
“And Jesus answered and said, ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me’” (Matt. 17:17).
“Do all things without complaining or arguments; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil 2:14–15).
Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: World Publishing, 1995), 1045.
Why does “near” mean “even at the doors” for Morris in his day, but it did not mean “near” for Jesus’ contemporaries in His day?
Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 183. Morris died on February 25, 2006, at the age of 87. More than 100 years have passed since 1918.
Cullen I K Story and J. Lyle Story, Greek To Me: Learning New Testament Greek Through Memory Visualization (New York: Harper, 1979), 74.
William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4th ed. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1952), 600.
H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York; Macmillan, 1957), 127–128, sec. 136.
F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 227
Attempts to explain this problem are legion and very complicated. See James B. Jordan, Matthew 23–25: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2022), 69–72.
Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 349.