I have received direct and indirect communication from a few people this past week who have challenged my conclusion in respect to when the coming of Jesus Christ took place. Has it already happened or is there yet a future coming? I consider the challenge as an opportunity to address this question briefly and particularly in regard to the coming of Jesus Christ and the meaning of “this generation” as translated from Matthew 24:34: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Considering the Whole Counsel of God
I begin today with the illustration from last week, “Nature Reflects God’s Design for How to Study the Bible,” comparing what God created in nature, in respect to real food and its most natural source, with how to study the Bible. Whole food was created with the divine design of a complex of nutritive components that synergistically work together to nourish our bodies. It’s the whole food complex that is the big idea here as opposed to isolated, individual components. The whole complex is necessary to feed the body in order to repair, rebuild and restore our health.
In the same way, all the components of the written Word of God must be taken together to arrive at a conclusion of fact about what it says and means. When we get the big idea from a unified and consistent understanding of the whole Bible, only then can we more accurately handle the Word of truth in regard to the particulars that we may be interested in studying. Isolated words, phrases, verses and even larger passages of Scripture can only be correctly understood as they fit into the larger context of the whole Bible. So, the question we must ask is, What best fits the facts with the fewest apparent contradictions? The facts from the whole counsel of God (the big idea) will help us determine the best conclusion on a particular subject.
Starting with Your Conclusion
We have to be aware of not trying to prove what we believe by trying to fit the part of the Bible into it. For example, some have concluded that either Jesus Christ is God in the flesh or, on the other hand, that He was a created being. If we begin with a conclusion first and then try to interpret the parts of the Bible to fit that conclusion, then we will be tempted not to be honest and objective in our analysis of a particular verse or passage. We are just trying to prove what we believe.
Correct interpretation of Scripture requires us to set our beliefs (opinions) on the shelf in order to follow all the rules of interpretation. We must have hearts that seek the truth over proving our opinion and be willing to let go of those beliefs that fail the test.
Labels Get in the Way
I take this concept and approach on how to study the particular issue of “this generation” as it relates to the coming of Jesus Christ and the time frame thereof. My viewpoint has been labeled “preterist.” Therefore, let me just briefly say that I believe the labels do not necessarily serve to objectively study a particular viewpoint of doctrine. The label “preterist” is the case in point. I don’t really mind if people label me as a preterist, but the very word seems to illicit an emotionally-charged negative response by which some can only see one side. That is true for all of us in some or another respect.
One problem with labels is that they aren’t necessarily and specifically defined and are sometimes misrepresented as to what one may believe and why. The point is that we simply need to be aware that labels can only muddy the waters unnecessarily, preventing an objective discussion of the evidence.
Covenant Heritage Series
So, let me preface my understanding of “this generation” by stating up front that my book, The Biblical Story of Prophecy is Book Six of seven books in the Covenant Heritage Series . I have repeatedly made it clear that the Series is progressive in nature and each book builds in succession on the previous. And I have repeatedly warned that reading these books out of order will only cause confusion. Book Six is the case in point.
The lengthy letter I received from a woman in Canada contained many points of objection as to why my view that Jesus had already returned in AD 70 could not possibly be right. One of those objections was that the condition that the “gospel of the Kingdom” must “be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). As I read through her objections, including this one, I couldn’t help but wonder if she had read Books One-Four of the Covenant Heritage Series. If she had, she would have understood why I believe “the nations” in the Bible have a limited scope of definition and application. Apparently, she believes that “the nations” of Matthew 24:14 refers to all races in the modern sense of the word, like the United Nations.
The Apostle Paul clearly stated in both Romans16:25-26 and Colossians 1:23 that the gospel had already been preached in all the world – in his lifetime. This condition has already been fulfilled. Obviously “nations” cannot mean every race of people on the planet.
Again, I think she failed to study all the components of context as a foundation to understand what “the nations” means. I responded to her suggesting that she read the Series beginning with Book One. I hope she does.
Okay, I appreciate your patience in these preliminary comments to the main subject matter of the meaning of “this generation” of Matthew 24:34. As you can see, this article is getting too long, so with your indulgence, permit me to pick it up here next week. I promise I will “hit the ground running” on this subject.
Lawrence Blanchard, ND, MDiv