Saved From a “Wicked Generation”
“O faithless and twisted generation, how long must I continue with you and put up with you?”—LUKE 9:41.
1. (a) What do our calamitous times portend? (b) What do the Scriptures say about survivors?
WE LIVE in calamitous times. Earthquakes, floods, famines, disease, lawlessness, bombings, horrendous warfare—these and more have engulfed mankind during our 20th century. However, the greatest calamity of all threatens in the near future. What is that? It is “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:21) Yet, many of us may look forward to a joyful future! Why? Because God’s own Word describes “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues . . . ‘These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation . . . They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore . . . And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.’”—Revelation 7:1, 9, 14-17.
2 The inspired record at Matthew 24:3-22, Mark 13:3-20, and Luke 21:7-24 introduces Jesus’ prophetic description of “the conclusion of the system of things.”* This prophecy had an initial fulfillment on the corrupt Jewish system of things of the first century of our Common Era, culminating in an unprecedented “great tribulation” on the Jews. The entire religious and political structure of the Jewish system, centered at Jerusalem’s temple, was thrown down, never to be restored.
3. Why is it urgent that we heed Jesus’ prophecy today?
3 Let us now consider the circumstances that surrounded the first fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. This will help us better to understand the parallel fulfillment today. It will show us how urgent it is to take positive action now in order to survive the greatest of tribulations that threatens all mankind.—Romans 10:9-13; 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 15:58.
4, 5. (a) Why were God-fearing Jews of the first century C.E. interested in the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27? (b) How was this prophecy fulfilled?
4 About the year 539 B.C.E., God’s prophet Daniel was given a vision of events that would occur during the final “week” of a period of “seventy weeks” of years. (Daniel 9:24-27) These “weeks” began in 455 B.C.E. when King Artaxerxes of Persia ordered the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. The final “week” started with the appearance of Messiah, Jesus Christ, at his baptism and anointing in 29 C.E.* God-fearing Jews of the first century C.E. were well aware of this time feature of Daniel’s prophecy. For example, concerning the crowds that flocked to hear the preaching of John the Baptizer in 29 C.E., Luke 3:15 states: “The people were in expectation and all were reasoning in their hearts about John: ‘May he perhaps be the Christ?’”
5 The 70th “week” was to be seven years of special favor extended to the Jews. Starting in 29 C.E., it included Jesus’ baptism and ministry, his sacrificial death “at the half of the week” in 33 C.E., and another ‘half week’ until 36 C.E. During this “week,” the opportunity to become Jesus’ anointed disciples was extended exclusively to God-fearing Jews and Jewish proselytes. Then in 70 C.E., a date not known in advance, the Roman legions under Titus exterminated the apostate Jewish system.—Daniel 9:26, 27.
6. How did “the disgusting thing” move into action in 66 C.E., and how did the Christians respond?
6 Thus the Jewish priesthood, which had defiled Jerusalem’s temple and conspired in the murder of God’s own Son, was wiped out. Gone, too, were the national and tribal records. Thereafter, no Jew could legally claim a priestly or a kingly inheritance. Happily, though, anointed spiritual Jews had been separated as a royal priesthood to “declare abroad the excellencies” of Jehovah God. (1 Peter 2:9) When Rome’s army first besieged Jerusalem and even undermined the temple area in 66 C.E., Christians recognized that military force as “the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place.” In obedience to Jesus’ prophetic command, the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea fled to the mountainous regions for protection.—Matthew 24:15, 16; Luke 21:20, 21.
7, 8. What “sign” did the Christians observe, but what did they not know?
7 Those faithful Jewish Christians observed the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy and were eyewitnesses of the tragic wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and lawlessness that Jesus had foretold as part of the “sign . . . of the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3) But had Jesus told them when Jehovah would actually execute judgment on that corrupt system? No. What he prophesied about the climax of his future royal presence surely applied also to the first-century “great tribulation”: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.”—Matthew 24:36.
8 From Daniel’s prophecy, the Jews could have calculated the timing of Jesus’ appearing as the Messiah. (Daniel 9:25) Yet they were given no date for the “great tribulation” that finally desolated the apostate Jewish system of things. It was only after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple that they realized that the date was 70 C.E. However, they had been aware of Jesus’ prophetic words: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matthew 24:34) Apparently, the application of “generation” here is different from that at Ecclesiastes 1:4, which speaks of successive generations coming and going over a period of time.
“This Generation”—What Is It?
9. How do lexicons define the Greek word ge·ne·aʹ?
9 When four apostles seated with Jesus on the Mount of Olives heard his prophecy about “the conclusion of the system of things,” how would they understand the expression “this generation”? In the Gospels the word “generation” is translated from the Greek word ge·ne·aʹ, which current lexicons define in these terms: “Lit[erally] those descended fr[om] a common ancestor.” (Walter Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) “That which has been begotten, a family; . . . successive members of a genealogy . . . or of a race of people . . . or of the whole multitude of men living at the same time, Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 1:48; 21:32; Phil. 2:15, and especially of those of the Jewish race living at the same period.” (W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) “That which has been begotten, men of the same stock, a family; . . . the whole multitude of men living at the same time: Mt. xxiv. 34; Mk. Mr xiii. 30; Lk. Lu i. 48 . . . used esp[ecially] of the Jewish race living at one and the same period.”—J. H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
10. (a) What identical definition do two authorities give in citing Matthew 24:34? (b) How do a theological dictionary and some Bible translations support this definition?
10 Thus Vine and Thayer both cite Matthew 24:34 in defining “this generation” (he ge·ne·aʹ hauʹte) as “the whole multitude of men living at the same time.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1964) gives support to this definition, stating: “The use of ‘generation’ by Jesus expresses his comprehensive purpose: he aims at the whole people and is conscious of their solidarity in sin.” Truly a “solidarity in sin” was apparent in the Jewish nation when Jesus was on earth, just as it marks the world system today.*
11. (a) What authority should primarily guide us in determining how to apply he ge·ne·aʹ hauʹte? (b) How did this authority use the term?
11 Of course, Christians studying this matter guide their thinking primarily by how the inspired Gospel writers used the Greek expression he ge·ne·aʹ hauʹte, or “this generation,” in reporting Jesus’ words. The expression was consistently used in a negative way. Thus, Jesus called the Jewish religious leaders “serpents, offspring of vipers” and went on to say that the judgment of Gehenna would be executed on “this generation.” (Matthew 23:33, 36) However, was this judgment limited to the hypocritical clergy? Not at all. On a number of occasions, Jesus’ disciples heard him speak of “this generation,” applying the term uniformly in a far wider sense. What was that?
“This Wicked Generation”
12. As his disciples listened, how did Jesus link “the crowds” with “this generation”?
12 In 31 C.E., during Jesus’ great Galilean ministry and shortly after the Passover, his disciples heard him say to “the crowds”: “With whom shall I compare this generation? It is like young children sitting in the marketplaces who cry out to their playmates, saying, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we wailed, but you did not beat yourselves in grief.’ Correspondingly, John [the Baptizer] came neither eating nor drinking, yet people say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man [Jesus] did come eating and drinking, still people say, ‘Look! A man gluttonous and given to drinking wine, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” There was no pleasing those unprincipled “crowds”!—Matthew 11:7, 16-19.
13. In the presence of his disciples, whom did Jesus identify and condemn as “this wicked generation”?
13 Later in 31 C.E., as Jesus and his disciples set out on their second preaching tour of Galilee, “some of the scribes and Pharisees” asked Jesus for a sign. He told them and “the crowds” who were present: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. . . . That is how it will be also with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:38-46) Obviously, “this wicked generation” included both the religious leaders and “the crowds” who never came to appreciate the sign that was fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection.*
14. Jesus’ disciples heard him make what condemnation of the Sadducees and the Pharisees?
14 After the Passover of 32 C.E., as Jesus and his disciples came into the Galilean region of Magadan, the Sadducees and the Pharisees again asked Jesus for a sign. He repeated to them: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:1-4) Those religious hypocrites were indeed most reprehensible as leaders among the unfaithful “crowds” whom Jesus condemned as “this wicked generation.”
15. Just before and again right after the transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples had what encounter with ‘this generation’?
15 Toward the end of his Galilean ministry, Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him and said: “Whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him.” (Mark 8:34, 38) So the masses of unrepentant Jews of that time obviously made up “this adulterous and sinful generation.” Some days later, after Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples “came toward the crowd,” and a man asked him to heal his son. Jesus commented: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long must I continue with you? How long must I put up with you?”—Matthew 17:14-17; Luke 9:37-41.
16. (a) What condemnation of “the crowds” did Jesus repeat in Judea? (b) How did “this generation” come to commit the most wicked of all crimes?
16 It was likely in Judea, after the Festival of Booths in 32 C.E., “when the crowds were massing together” around Jesus, that he repeated his condemnation of them, saying: “This generation is a wicked generation; it looks for a sign. But no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Luke 11:29) Finally, when the religious leaders brought Jesus to trial, Pilate offered to release him. The record says: “The chief priests and the older men persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas, but to have Jesus destroyed. . . . Pilate said to them: ‘What, then, shall I do with Jesus the so-called Christ?’ They all said: ‘Let him be impaled!’ He said: ‘Why, what bad thing did he do?’ Still they kept crying out all the more: ‘Let him be impaled!’” That “wicked generation” was demanding Jesus’ blood!—Matthew 27:20-25.
17. How did some of “this crooked generation” respond to Peter’s preaching at Pentecost?
17 A “faithless and twisted generation,” egged on by its religious leaders, thus played a key part in bringing about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fifty days later, at Pentecost in 33 C.E., the disciples received holy spirit and started to speak in different tongues. Upon hearing the sound, “the multitude came together,” and the apostle Peter addressed them as “men of Judea and all you inhabitants of Jerusalem,” saying: “This man [Jesus] . . . you fastened to a stake by the hand of lawless men and did away with.” How did some of those listeners react? “They were stabbed to the heart.” Peter then called on them to repent. He “bore thorough witness and kept exhorting them, saying: ‘Get saved from this crooked generation.’” In response, about three thousand “embraced his word heartily [and] were baptized.”—Acts 2:6, 14, 23, 37, 40, 41.
“This Generation” Identified
18. Jesus’ use of the term “this generation” consistently refers to what?
18 What, then, is the “generation” so frequently referred to by Jesus in the presence of his disciples? What did they understand by his words: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur”? Surely, Jesus was not departing from his established use of the term “this generation,” which he consistently applied to the contemporary masses with their “blind guides” who together made up the Jewish nation. (Matthew 15:14) “This generation” experienced all the distress foretold by Jesus and then passed away in an unequaled “great tribulation” on Jerusalem.—Matthew 24:21, 34.
19. When and how did the “heaven and earth” of the Jewish system pass away?
19 In the first century, Jehovah was judging the Jewish people. Repentant ones, who came to exercise faith in Jehovah’s merciful provision through Christ, were saved out of that “great tribulation.” True to Jesus’ words, all things prophesied occurred, and then the “heaven and earth” of the Jewish system of things—the entire nation, with its religious leaders and wicked society of people—passed away. Jehovah had executed judgment!—Matthew 24:35; compare 2 Peter 3:7.
20. What timely admonition applies with urgency to all Christians?
20 Those Jews who had paid attention to Jesus’ prophetic words realized that their salvation depended, not on trying to calculate the length of a “generation” or of some dated “times or seasons,” but on keeping separate from the evil contemporary generation and zealously doing God’s will. Though the final words of Jesus’ prophecy apply to the major fulfillment in our day, first-century Jewish Christians also had to heed the admonition: “Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”—Luke 21:32-36; Acts 1:6-8.
21. What sudden development may we expect in the near future?
21 Today, “the great day of Jehovah . . . is near, and there is a hurrying of it very much.” (Zephaniah 1:14-18; Isaiah 13:9, 13) Suddenly, at Jehovah’s own predetermined “day and hour,” his fury will be unleashed upon the world’s religious, political, and commercial elements, together with the wayward people who make up this contemporary “wicked and adulterous generation.” (Matthew 12:39; 24:36; Revelation 7:1-3, 9, 14) How may you get saved out of “the great tribulation”? Our next article will answer and tell of the grand hope for the future.
For a detailed outline of this prophecy, please see the chart on pages 14, 15 of The Watchtower of February 15, 1994.
For further information on the “weeks” of years, see pages 130-2 of the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Certain Bibles render he ge·ne·aʹ hauʹte at Matthew 24:34 as follows: “these people” (The Holy Bible in the Language of Today , by W. F. Beck); “this nation” (The New Testament—An Expanded Translation , by K. S. Wuest); “this people” (Jewish New Testament , by D. H. Stern).
These unfaithful “crowds” are not to be equated with the ʽam-ha·ʼaʹrets, or “people of the land,” with whom the proud religious leaders refused to associate, but for whom Jesus “felt pity.”—Matthew 9:36; John 7:49.
How Would You Answer?
□ What do we learn from the fulfillment of Daniel 9:24-27?
□ How do current lexicons define “this generation” as used Biblically?
□ How did Jesus consistently use the term “generation”?
□ How was Matthew 24:34, 35 fulfilled in the first century?
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Jesus compared “this generation” to crowds of unruly children
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Only Jehovah knew in advance the hour for executing judgment on the wicked Jewish system