with Jeremy Westcott –
It is important to understand the covenant background to Matthew, chapters 21-25, and please do take a moment to read that here if you missed it, before we get into what Jesus said. Because this is quite a challenge.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people… Woe to you, blind guides… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!… You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of Gehenna? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city…” (Matt 23:13, 16, 29, 33-34).
‘Woe’ is a covenant word which we are not really familiar with, but which they understood very well, and they were very offended by it. In fact it got them so mad that they began plotting to kill Jesus in earnest. In saying ‘woe’, He was prophesying that judgment was coming to them under the terms of the covenant. ‘Serpents, vipers’… He was calling them children of the devil, as they also understood very well. ‘Gehenna’ is often mistranslated ‘hell’, but what Jesus was referring to was the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Then, the bodies of thousands of the city’s inhabitants, including all the priests and other religious leaders, would be piled up in the valley called Gehenna (i.e. the valley of Hinnom), the rubbish tip outside the city.
He refers to that time again as He goes on to explain in more detail what the consequences would be for them: “so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth from Abel to Zechariah… Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! (Matt 23:35-38).
“On this generation” – there it is again. He was speaking of that generation living between the years AD 30 and AD 70, and warning that all the righteous blood ever shed upon the earth was going to come upon them.
‘This evil generation’
“Your house is being left to you desolate”. This again is covenant language that we really need to understand. Remember how Jesus came into the Temple and drove out the moneychangers and traders with a whip? You can read Matthew’s account of that incident in this same section of his gospel, in chapter 21. And when Jesus left the Temple, swept clean and put in order, they had the opportunity to follow Him.
But what did happen? Well, Jesus had already described what would happen. You can find it in Matthew 12:43-45. “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”
Did you notice that last sentence? Maybe because we are so familiar with it, we have just skipped over it. Jesus specifically says that this has an application for the generation of which He was part. And indeed, that is what happened to them and their Temple. Their last state was worse than the first. That is why the unbelieving Jews persecuted the church – they were demonised. Literally, the whole house was full of demonic influence.
Rev 18:2 speaks of this: And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird”.
The book of Revelation is talking about the persecution of the church and the judgments that came upon Israel. And it is Israel who are described here as ‘Babylon the great’. Jesus said that the guilt of all the righteous blood was upon that unbelieving generation. In Revelation 17:6 and 18:20,24, we can see that same blood-guilt is assigned to this ‘Babylon’. Here is the Bible interpreting itself; and we need to know it, because accepting this is going to be a major difficulty for some as God begins to challenge the church.
And so we arrive at Matthew 24. Jesus came out of the Temple, and was going away from there, with His disciples; leaving it desolate, because the Holy Spirit left with Him. That was the last time He went there. “Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt 24:1-2).
So He was prophesying physical destruction of the Temple. The disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). So they were asking 3 things: ‘When will be the destruction of the Temple?’, ‘What will be the sign of Your coming?’ (to bring about this judgment, not His last coming), and ‘What will be the signs of the end of the age?’.
The next 30 verses, up to verse 33, are the answers to the first two questions. We will see that very clearly as we look at it in a little more depth in coming posts. For now let’s skip ahead to verses 33-34. “So, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door”. So they, His disciples, would see all the things mentioned in the previous 32 verses. And when they did, they were to know that He – Jesus – would be ‘at the door’ (that is, ready to come in judgment).
And then He goes on, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”. I think that is clear enough, isn’t it? Everything in the previous 32 verses was to take place before that generation passed away. It was not to come upon a future generation, as so many of us have been taught, but upon that generation. It was on them that the curses of the covenant were to be outpoured.
Jesus was coming in covenant judgment.