"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

"This Is The Most Embarrassing Verse in the Bible"

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Matthew 24:34). 
The erudite 20th-century British evangelical C.S. Lewis believed that the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:34 conveyed His belief that all events associated with His Second Coming would transpire within the lifetime of his hearers. Lewis pointed out that these words of Jesus are recorded by two other gospel writers in Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32, so Jesus' belief in His soon-to-be Second Coming was something all the disciples heard Him declare.

A generation in the Hebrew mindset of Jesus' day was a lifetime or forty years. However, because Jesus did not return within the lifetime of those who heard Him say this, Lewis declared Matthew 24:34 "is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible." 

C.S. Lewis was a contemporary of Albert Schweitzer.  Christian theology in Europe during the 20th century (Lewis' lifetime) came under the direct influence of Albert Schweitzer's book The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer. an accomplished musician, theologian, philosopher, physician, and humanitarian in his own right, proposed that Jesus and His disciples were obsessed with a very imminent end of the world. Since the world did not end the first century, Schweitzer convincingly argued that Jesus was mistaken about His own return. This mistake by the historical Jesus, according to Schweitzer, is cause for embarrassment among all evangelical Christians, particularly those of us who live 2,000 years after Jesus declared He was coming soon.

C.S. Lewis' solution to this embarrassment is to propose that Jesus in His human nature was actually ignorant of the time of His own return.
"To believe in the Incarnation, to believe that Jesus is God, makes it hard to understand how He could be ignorant. Yet it would be difficult, and to me, repellent, to suppose that Jesus never asked a genuine question, that is, a question to which he did not know the answer. That would make his humanity something so unlike ours as scarcely to desrve the name. I find it easier to believe that when he said, "Who touched me?" (Luke 7:45) he really didn't know." (C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night). 
The only problem with Lewis' explanation, at least in my mind, is that Jesus wasn't asking a question of the Father about His return, He was declaring a truth to the disciples about His return.  "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Matthew 24:34).

Jesus' words convey certainty, not doubt.

Lewis would later use the famous trilemma to confront peoples' opinion of Christ. "Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord." 

I believe Jesus is Lord, and for that reason, when Jesus speaks with certainty, it certainly happens just like He says it will.

The reason many Christians, even wonderfully astute thinkers like C.S. Lewis, have such an embarrassing time with Matthew 24:34 is because they wrongly think Jesus is referring to the end of the world. He wasn't. Jesus was referring to His coming to end the Old Covenant age by destroying the Temple and the system of worship built around the Temple.

That happened in A.D. 70 - within a generation of His words in Matthew 24:34.

Once Christians begin to understand that the Kingdom of God which Christ came to establish looks so much different from the Hebrew Kingdom of Old Covenant Israel, any confusion dissipates. Jesus promised His hearers, "within this generation," to end the entire system of Old Covenant worship. He did exactly what He said He would do. He came to establish a New Covenant with the world and to inaugurate His eternal Kingdom through His fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. When we understand how Christ came to "make obsolete" the Old Covenant (see Hebrews 8:13), then we'll begin to focus more on what the Kingdom of God today looks like today rather than looking for something to come. The Kingdom of Christ is already here.

The Temple of God - is every believer in Christ' it's a people, not a building.
The Priests of God - are those who believe in Christ; it is no longer a hierarchal system of spiritual authority.
Worship - is in Spirit and in truth every day; not in a building once a week.
Law - is simply to "Love one another as Christ loves us": not the Law of Old Covenant Israel.
Life - is led by the Spirit, not regulated by laws of a church, a man, or a system of worship, but only by the Royal Law of love.

All the promises of God are "yes and amen" in Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 1:20), who "fulfilled the Law and the Prophets," made obsolete the Old Covenant system of worship through His death, burial and resurrection (Hebrews 8:13), and gave His followers certain promise that He would soon return and destroy the age of Law which they grew up in (Matthew 24:34). So when it comes to living out the life Jesus calls you to live, you are to "Listen to Him!" (Luke 9:35).

The reason many evangelicals struggle with Matthew 24:34, especially evangelicals from a Presbyterian, Episcopal, or Reformed Protestant background like C.S. Lewis as well as Pentecostals, Charismatics and Dispensationalists who are unlike C.S. Lewis, is because all these Christian groups have a tendency to try to merge the old age (e.g. "the Old Covenant") with the new age (e.g. "The New Covenant").  When you merge the Covenants, you have a difficult time seeing how all the eschatological talks of Jesus (e.g. His "end times" talks) and the apostles are about the END of the OLD COVENANT and not the end of the physical world or the universe.

After Christ died and rose from the grave, He fulfilled the promise He gave to His early disciples and returned in judgment to abolish the very thing which prefigured Him (The Temple and the Law).

There's no need for embarrassment when it comes to Matthew 24:34.

Christians need to know Jesus simply told His disciples He was coming back within a generation to end the old age that He came to make obsolete, not the world.

And He did.

19 comments:

raswhiting said...

Thank you for this lucid explanation of the verse and for the correction of the mistake by CS Lewis.

Christiane said...

A Happy Easter to all at Enid and who read this post.

“…..O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(from the Easter sermon of St. John Chrysostom)

Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

There is a footnote on Matthew 24:34 and Mark 13:30 in the NLT that say:

“I tell you the truth, this NATION will not pass from the scene before all these things have taken place.”

And we see the nation of Israel is very much alive and well.

Aussie John said...

Wade,
Well said!

RRR said...

I appreciate your writing on this but am disappointed that you would immediately conclude that C.S. Lewis is wrong in their perspective.

I would have hoped that you would have given us more insight into the Greek terminology of such terms as are used for "sign of your COMING/PRESENCE"(:3), "end" (:4), "pass away"(:34 AND :35), etc.. I believe you to be very astute in Greek. English translations of a passage so cloaked in mystical and transcendent prophecy as this surely must be taken from the most correct interpretation of the original written language as possible and I believe a number of our English translations fall short, but I am not a real Greek scholar.

PLUS, there are so many possibilities of the intent of the context proposed by Jesus: Was He referring to the future "generation" that would witness the "signs" would not pass away prior to His "coming" (or "presence" depending upon the Greek interpretation used)? OR was He proposing that those listeners at that moment would not "pass away" (Whatever that means; again, depending upon the Greek interpretation)?

Jesus Himself acknowledged that He did not know the exact time, but I don't know why His self-induced ignorance would be disturbing or surprising to anyone. Christ intentionally limited His incarnational presence on earth, prior to His resurrection at least, and He was not as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscience as was His pre-incarnational Self. Many things were accomplished because of this self-induced limitation, including His ability to die.

I believe that C.S. Lewis and Wade Burleson can come to their own conclusions on this matter, but it's one of those instances where I do not believe any of us in our current status of understanding can be certain one is right and the other wrong.

I really appreciate what must be an enormous investment of time and effort you put into your blogs, Wade, but may I request that you please do take a look at the Greek terminology in this passage and let us know what you think? It may not be possible to fit into your schedule right away, but perhaps some time. THAT would really be helpful and appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Tom Ross said...

Wade,

Jesus told us when the Kingdom of God would be established in Matthew 24:32 by giving the indicative time span from when the nation of Israel would begin to bud leaves and the Kingdom of God would be established on the earth during the time of those Kings mentioned in Daniel 2:44. This time span is only indicative because the budding of fresh leaves on a fig tree is dependent on whether we have an early or late spring. The norm is that we have early springs such that the duration of the indicative time span from the budding of the new leaves to the beginning of the Summer Season, is the length of the Spring season plus the additional days of the early Spring, that occurs in the period of the Winter season. This time span is of the order of 90 plus days when the collection of the summer Season's fruits will be harvested. That is why it is recorded that the redemption of all of Israel are the "First Fruits" of the establishment of God's Kingdom on the earth.

Those who know the Old Testament understand that the visitation of the fathers’ iniquities upon their children and their children’s children had just started recently at that time and that it had a very long time to run, in the order of “many generation,” around 2,000 or so years, before God would look upon them and hear their cries. They also knew from the Prophecies that God had given to Abraham, that the return of the descendants of Abraham to the Land would not occur, until around 4,000 years had passed from the time of the birth of Isaac.

Now regarding the translation of the Greek Word, "genea," the “traditional” English translation is a little misleading by implying that it's duration is associated with the passing of one descendant generation to the next, whereas the meaning in Strong’s definitions suggests that it could also be understood to be associated with the length of a period of an "age" which is a longer time period, around 1,000 years in duration.

People have latched onto the English word "generation," to explain the length of time in the Parable of the Fig Tree found in Matthew 24:32, not realising that this parable indicates when this parable begins and that it also contains the time span as to when its outcome will be fulfilled from its referenced starting point.

Why did C.S. Lewis declare Matthew 24:34 as being "certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible?" Was it because he saw that our understanding of this verse was flawed? Perhaps his writings contain his thoughts as to why he wrote the above? (I have never read any of his work.) Sadly, we cannot ask him now to provide his reasoning as to why he made that statement.

Because God has allowed the understanding of the End Time Prophecies to become obscured, we tend to force the understanding of “reasoning” man onto to them such that we lose all sense of God's reality and what is contained within God's word.

No one is protected against this “sickness” when we attempt to provide "logical" answers without God's guiding hand leading us into His understanding in all things.

The same is also true for the Greek words “neos” and “kainos.” Both Greek Root based words are translated into the English as “new” but their Greek meaning origins are very different, but that is another subject and should be left for another time.

Shalom

RRR said...

Tom Ross,
Your explanation as portrayed in your interpretation of the "Fig Tree" parable and inclusion of Daniel prophecy may or may not be correct in my humble estimation, but one statement you make which I do believe to be accurate is:
"Because God has allowed the understanding of the End Time Prophecies to become obscured, we tend to force the understanding of “reasoning” man onto to them such that we lose all sense of God's reality and what is contained within God's word."

I can indeed own into that proposal. Thank you for sharing your views, though.

Tom Ross said...

RRR

I have no problems with you questioning my interpretation of the Parable of the Fig Tree. It is wise to question what others portray as being God's truth, particularly when it is not in sync with the tradition of how others would understand this prophecy, and interpreted it.

The problem that we all have, is being able to come to a conclusion, when not enough brush strokes of clarity are provided, for us to build our understandings around.

Does Matt 24:32 provide a starting point in this one verse prophecy?
Does Matt 24:32 provide an ending point in this one verse prophecy?
Does Matt 24:32 provide an embedded time span between the starting and ending points in this one verse prophecy?
Can we apply the "year for a day" interpretation for the embedded time span in this one verse prophecy?

If you can answer, "Yes" to the above questions, can the drawn conclusion be used to explain the one verse prophecy?

RRR, only you as the reader, can answer the above questions to form your view as to whether the interpretation that I provided for the prophecy in Matthew 24:32 is a reasonable understanding or not. The writing space for comments to this blog, do not allow for a fuller explanation to be provided.

Shalom

Rex Ray said...

Internet: https://www.gotquestions.org/this-generation-not-pass.html

“The key to understanding what Jesus meant by “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” is the context; that is, we must understand the verses that are surrounding Matthew 24:34, especially the verses prior to it. In Matthew 24:4–31, Jesus is clearly giving a prophecy; He is speaking of future events. Jesus had already told those living during His earthly ministry that the kingdom had been taken from them (Matthew 21:43). Therefore, it is imperative that Matthew 24–25 be seen as dealing with a future time. The generation that Jesus speaks of “not passing” until He returns is a future generation, namely, the people living when the predicted events occur. The word generation refers to the people alive in the future when the events of Matthew 24–25 take place.”

RRR said...

Thanks again, Tom. One benefit of your input, as well as Wade's, is to motivate us to dig deeper to search for the answers to those questions you propose. I have personally grown in my understanding of God's Word as a result of such searches and appreciate hearing the positions of others on such matters, even when we come to somewhat different conclusions.

You go to some lengths to relate the "Fig Tree" parable and prophecies portrayed in the Matthew 24 as "time-related" references whereas I cannot comfortably reach that same understanding. I feel that it is a stretch when we begin defining a "generation" as 1,000 years and then applying that measure to other occasions/prophecies to explain God's calendar, even when I may be contradicting a particular option proposed in Strong's Concordance.

Likewise, I lean toward interpreting the entire parable of "The Fig Tree" as presenting the basic concept that God's work transpires in phases, or seasons, all intentionally orchestrated to come in His order and unfold according to His engineered steps toward reaching His desired purpose. It doesn't occur in a happenstance fashion. That being the case, one could apply "The Fig Tree" parable and its principles to God's work unfolding between the time of "The Fall of Man" to "The Cross", or from "Sin's Destruction of God's Intended Order" to the "Restoration of God's Intended Order", or many other portrayals of God's progressive work in His eternal purpose as depicted by prophecy. The attributes of one season occurring during the fulfillment of a prophecy is evident and demonstrates the inevitable forthcoming of the subsequent season, but not necessarily "time-related".

Also, in reference to the term, "generation"; Mark 8:12 jumped out at me during my daily devotional this morning, "Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to THIS generation." If Matthew 16:4 can be taken as a parallel account of the same conversation as that of Mark 8, then it presents the likelihood that Jesus' references to "generation" was not particularly in reference to a lifespan or "era- generation". Perhaps His intent was rather to portray those who could be grouped together in common characteristics, or spiritual status, as a "generation". I.e., "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah." No restrictions being intended in terms of historical or calendar time frames.

Again, I enjoy the dialogue on such topics and appreciate your viewpoints. It all enhances my studies in The Word.

Wade Burleson said...

Rex Ray,

Got Questions gives the standard dispensational, premillennial answer to the definition of the word "generation." The probably is "this generation" can only be understood as the "hearers' generation." IF it were a FUTURE generation, he would say THAT generation. That's my opinion and I'm sticking by it. :)

Thanks for your comment, as always.

Gordon said...

Wade,

To me, it is clear Jesus said the following in Matthew 24 with regard to the temple and the old order: " This I assure you, these things will all still occur during the lifetime of this generation". And, accordingly, so it happened.

This event in the process of reforming the Old Covenant does not exclude Jesus from making a personal return to Earth to consummate Kingdom affairs at some future time.

Wade Burleson said...

Gordon,

Agreed with your last sentence wholeheartedly.

Rex Ray said...

OFF TOPIC

This is an update on my brother. Judy and I returned Saturday from four days visiting him in a Arizona hospital where he was recovering from a four hour operation to remove blood clots in his leg. On the second day he kept telling me, “Let’s do it.”
“Do what?”
“Get me out of here!” (His color was white.)
They had brought him back from three hours of dialysis and he was hurting.
Pretty soon they had him feeling good.

A nurse adjusted his covers that started a three-ring circus with eight nurses buzzing around him like a bee-hive giving him blood because she found his bed full of blood. An artery stitch had broken.

A doctor came in and used both hands to stop the bleeding. They held a phone for him to call the head doctor to come but he was in surgery. “Get me any doctor to meet me in surgery!” They rolled his bed away and we waited 2 hours before hearing he was in ICU. The next day he was in good spirits, and we came home. He had a skin graph Sunday. If that nurse had not adjusted his covers he probably wouldn’t be here today. It made me think of the poem he had written his wife:

You were made to skip, to kiss, to caress.
I was made to behold your tenderness.
You were made to smile, to please.
I was made to court, to tease.
We’ve run across fields unplowed
And laughed as mountain kissed the cloud

You were made to sing, to laugh, to sigh.
I was made to hold you by my side.
You were made to care for home and child.
I was made to tame the wild.
Together we marched into sweethearts’ land
And answered ever call of its command.

Yes, we’ve danced the valley’s velvet floor.
Yes, we’ve huddled at danger’s door.
We’ve lifted our voices in victory’s cheer.
We’ve prayed in sadness with bitter tears.
Now years have piled up high,
And time has dimed the eye.

Our walk has slowed to an easy gate
It matters not if we are late.
If I should leave too soon this place,
I’ll watch for you from hills of Grace.
When you leave to earth your charms,
I’ll greet you here in Heaven’s arms.

Tom Ross said...

RRR

In Mat 24-25, Mar 13 and Luk 21, we find the Parable of the Fig Tree and it is a sign parable which indicates when the Millennium Age, the summer season of the harvest of the souls of men, will begin.

What other signs mark the beginning of the Millennium Age? The end of the visitation of the sins of the fathers on their children and their children’s children, (Ex 20:4-6). The End of the 2,300-year period of the Gentiles trampling the Sanctuary, (Dan 8:11-13). The Redemption of the nation of Israel. The Judgement of the Four Beasts/heavenly hosts, (Dan 7:1-12) in heaven and their imprisonment in the pit for 1,000 years as well as the judgement of the kings of the earth and their imprisonment in the pit, (Isa 24:21-22). The making like new again of the Priestly covenant established between God and the nation of Israel at Mt Sinai before they rebelled within 40 days of accepting the terms of that covenant when they accept once more the terms of God Covenant to be a Holy Nation and a Royal Priesthood.

The Battle of Armageddon is when the Nation of Israel see Jesus and Seek His terms of Peace, (Luke 14:31-32). After the Judgement of the beasts of Dan 7:1-12, the Son of Man is given dominion over all the peoples of the earth, (Dan 7:13-14, Rev 19). During the time of the kings of the earth, (Dan 2:44) God establishes His Everlasting Kingdom and the “foundational” rock of God’s truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, who died to re-establish the means of atonement for all of Mankind. The rock will start crushing into dust all of the “kings” operating on the earth such that the wind blows them away so that no trace of them will be found again, (Dan 2:35).

The “Generation,” which is a 1,000 + the little while period of years, of the people during the Millennium Age will not pass away until all that Jesus prophesied in the Mt Olivet discourse has been fulfilled. After that the sun will be darkened, the Moon will become red and the stars in the heavens will fall, Jesus will be seen coming on the Clouds and the Judgement of the people of the Nations begins.

Wade has stated in his blog that, “The reason many Christians, even wonderfully astute thinkers like C.S. Lewis, have such an embarrassing time with Matthew 24:34 is because they wrongly think Jesus is referring to the end of the world. He wasn't. Jesus was referring to His coming to end the Old Covenant age by destroying the Temple and the system of worship built around the Temple.”

The fact is that Jesus did come to end the Old Mosaic Covenant age by providing a renewed means for people to obtain atonement for their sins. Atonement, not by the blood of animals sacrificed in the Temple as per the Mosaic Covenant, but by the shedding of His blood once and for all.

The Temple was destroyed to stop the Mosaic Covenantal practice for atonement from continuing.

In the Abrahamic Covenant, God foretold that He would cause the Descendants of His chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, to be scattered to the four corners of the earth and that, around 4,000 years after the birth of Isaac, they would begin returning to the land of Canaan in their own strength(Gen15:16). He scattered them because of their idolatrous worship, yet, even though He walked contrary to them, He has kept watch over them until the time of the visitation of their iniquities ends, when they will repent of their idolatrous worship and that of their fathers and He will renew His Original Priestly Covenant with His chosen people.

We the Gentiles who worship Christ are grafted into the Stump of Jessie and will become a part of this Royal Priesthood.

Sadly, this picture contains only a few brush strokes, as not all the brush strokes have been fully revealed yet.

RRR said...

Rex Ray,
WOW! Praise God for taking care of your brother and intervening to care for him as only our Father can! What an amazing poet and the poem reveals so much about his heart and love for his wife. I dare say that you and your brother have much in common. Thank you for giving us an update. I'm going to be praising God for the miraculous intervention and healing.

RRR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pege' said...

Wade, WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Rex Ray said...

RRR,

THANKS