A READER of the SIGNS, living in Connecticut, has asked us to give our views on the meaning of the word “generation” in six passages of Scripture, each of which she cites. The first is Luke xxi. 32: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” In the verses preceding this expression of the Savior he had been foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the signs and events that should accompany that destruction. Some of our excellent brethren have referred these declarations of Jesus to the end of the gospel dispensation; that is, to the end of this material world, and to the winding up of the events of time at the conclusion of all worldly things. These brethren understand the word “generation” to mean, not a generation of men, but the generation, or offspring, of Jesus Christ, that the word means the people of God, and that they are not to pass away until all these things told by Jesus in the twenty-first chapter of Luke should come to pass. However, carefully as we consider this view of the word “generation” as it is used in Luke xxi., and greatly as we esteem the brethren who thus view it, we do not agree with it ourself. We understand the incidents portrayed by the Savior in this instance to refer only to the coming to an end of the legal dispensation, to the end of Jewish nationality and to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, which embodied all the rites and ceremonies of Jewish worship, We do not understand that any of these things are yet in the future before us now, still to be fulfilled, therefore the word “generation,” as used in this instance, does not mean the offspring, or children, of Jesus Christ, but it means that the generation of men living when Jesus spoke those words were not to pass away until they should see all those things come to pass. In other words, that these calamities should befall the Jews within the lifetime of some of those then living. In Matthew xvi. 21-27, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and that which was to follow, though not as much in detail as in Luke. However, in Matthew he says, “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” There can be no doubt but that Jesus meant that some of those very ones to whom he was then talking should not die until the fulfillment of those things. The same thing occurs in Mark ix. 1, where Jesus assured those then living that the kingdom of God was to come with power before they should taste of death. If the setting up of the gospel kingdom, as recorded in the early part of the Acts, is not the coming of God’s kingdom with power, then we are at a loss to know what the coming of the kingdom with power does mean. Taking all these Scriptures together and comparing them, we must aver that the word “generation,” as used in Luke xxi. 32, means a generation as reckoned among men, and does not mean the offspring or children of God.
The second Scripture is Psalms xiv. 5: “There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.” This means that God is in the offspring, or children, of Jesus Christ. That One born of the virgin, and who himself was the only begotten Son of God, is the righteous. No sinner ever is righteous in God’s sight except as the righteousness of Jesus is imputed unto the sinner. So, Jesus being that righteous One of God in whom all the elect are made righteous, it follows that the “generation of the righteous” must mean, and can only mean, the elect of God in Christ Jesus who became actually his in generation, or in being quickened by his Spirit into divine life and born in due time according to his will, and not the will of men. God is in them. He makes his tabernacle in his people. Their bodies are the temple of the living God.
The third Scripture cited by our inquirer is Psalms xxii. 30: “A seed shall serve him; it shall he accounted to the Lord for a generation.” This seed that shall serve him is the seed, not of David, Jesse’s son, but the seed of the spiritual David, our Lord Jesus Christ. Those born, or begotten, of Him are all one generation, though they may be scattered over long ages of time, and live in and among successive generations of men. All the Lord’s people are his generation, one generation, not many generations. Thus, the Lord counts them, or reckons them, as being one generation, no matter whether his people lived ages ago, are living in the world now, or whether they shall live here many years hence. The fourth text is Psalms xxiv. 6: “This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.” Previous to these words in the twenty-fourth Psalm, the question is asked, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?” The answer is: “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.” Immediately we see this cuts us all off from ever standing in God’s holy place if we expect to come there through any works or merit of our own, for there is not a member of all the race of Adam in all the history of the world whose hands have been wholly clean, or whose heart has been pure; not one but who has at some time or other lifted up his soul unto vanity, or who has sworn deceitfully. This forever excludes human nature from ascending the hill of the Lord. The only cleanness, purity and sincerity in which a sinner shall ever ascend unto the Lord must be the perfect excellence of Jesus, which God gave to his people in his covenant of election before time began. Therefore the word “generation” as used in this Psalm, since it is in the singular and not in the plural, must mean one generation. It is the generation of Jesus Christ running through all ages of time, and composed of those who seek the Lord.
The next Scripture offered by our reader for our consideration is Isaiah liii. 8: “Who shall declare his generation?” As the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah wonderfully foretells the sufferings and humiliation of Jesus, this verse asks, Who is able to tell the generation? that is, Who is able to tell who are the people of the living God? His offspring are those born pf the Spirit, hence a spiritual heritage not discernible by men. The Lord knows his people, who they are and where they are, but who among men is there that can number them? Men can write the genealogies of their fellows, can tell who their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are; but here is Jesus, who was cut off out of the land of the living, who was taken from prison and from judgment; therefore who is there that is able to tell his generation, since it is a spiritual lineage, and not one of flesh and blood?
The last text is 1 Peter ii. 9: “Ye are a chosen generation.” This, too, means the children of God, who were chosen in Christ before the world began, afterward to be generated or made manifest here in the world in their being translated from darkness into His marvelous light. New we have answered these questions the best we could, conscious all the time that there are those among our brethren who know vastly more about these things than we do, and who are far better able to write more clearly, but we have given the best that is in us. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 87, No. 9
May 1, 1919