Hello, brothers and sisters!! I didn’t realize it had been an entire month! Well let’s talk about us, shall we?
If you keep up with our YouTube channel you’ll know that I was pretty busy in August doing a daily vlogging challenge, which left me little room to consider and write, but we’re back to regular schedule now! A close friend suggested I write this blog around a specific word in the Bible, and that seemed a pretty darned good idea, so here we go!
Roots in Stereo
The book of Luke is the account of Jesus’ life from the perspective of Luke, a doctor and close friend of the apostle Paul, who was also Paul’s scribe. As such, the man was steeped in Paul’s mission to outreach to the Gentiles — the non-Jews — of the world. Where Matthew wrote his gospel to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, and Mark wrote his gospel to show that Jesus was devoted to caring for people Luke wrote his gospel to show that Jesus was for all people.
Because of that focus, and because he was a doctor and highly educated, his gospel tends to lean heavily on the actions and words of Jesus the teacher. The word we will focus on today comes in Luke 21, so let’s get some context there.
Going in Blind
Luke 19 opens with Jesus beginning the trek to Jerusalem that would lead to His crucifixion and resurrection, but He makes a number of stops along the way. I talked in this video about a man named Zacchaeus who meets Jesus in the town of Jericho at the beginning of this chapter. From there Jesus moves to the twin cities Bethphage and Bethany on the hill known as the Mount of Olives. It is here that Jesus rides a donkey into the city to much fanfare of the people.
From the Mount He travels on to Jerusalem where He sets up in the Temple and begins the real meat of His last days of ministry. As we enter into chapter 21 He is giving lessons on the sham of most people’s “tithes” and the coming destruction of the very Temple He and His disciples sat in. Naturally, this raised some eyebrows.
Thinking About Forever
Seeing that He had struck a chord on his pupils He begins to dive into detail about the coming days by giving a series of prophecies that we have spent the subsequent two thousand years arguing over. Today I will address very little of that, because I find that debate tedious, quite honestly! What good have any of us in knowing if the destruction He talked about was 70 years after His death, or a thousand years from now? Or both? Or neither?
Prophecy, all prophecy whether it is in the Bible or not, is not about the future. It’s not about timelines and certainty or showing divine power or foresight. It is always — always — about revelation for right now. God doesn’t need to prove He knows the future to you or me or anyone else. You and I can’t account for or adjust the future with any certainty because we don’t live there. All we have is right here, right now, and that is what prophecy is for: to help you out right now. In the words of Morpheus as he educated Neo about the Oracle: “She told you exactly what you needed to hear.” If that reference is lost on you… well, I just feel bad for you.
Youth of the Nation
OK, OK, so what is this word I said I wanted to talk about already? It comes in Luke 21:32, which reads:
“I tell you this, truly: this generation shall not pass away before all of this comes to pass.”
There’s an assertion, huh? Jesus goes for the bold claim by telling these people that all this destruction and persecution and change He has been explaining is going down muy pronto. Or did He?
The debate wraps around the words “this generation” — a debate so heavy that no translator since the words were spoken have dared to change them: they are one of the few phrases that are identical across every single translation of this gospel we have record of. That’s pretty interesting, no? Well let’s dive into them.
The book of Luke is written in Greek, though Jesus likely said the words in Suriston, the branch of Aramaic commonly spoken in the region of Galilee Jesus was raised in. Let’s take Greek first.
This Goes Out to You
The word “this” is the Greek word αὕτη, auto, which is rooted in the words ὁ, o, which means “the” or “this” or “that” — if you’re a language buff ὁ is the definite article — and αὐτός, autos, which is a fascinating word study in itself, but hold that aside. For now, just know it’s a pronoun. So αὕτη here is the pronoun talking about the generation.
So how about the word “generation”? That’s the Greek word γενεά, genea, and we get all kinds of words from it, like genealogy — the study of families. But the word itself cannot be understood without knowing where it came from: the verb γίνομαι, ginomai. That verb means “to come into being” and refers not only to literal things like babies being born, but also to concepts like marriages being formed or historical figures becoming known. The word ginomai is used 687 times in the Bible; there is lots of “coming into being” in Scripture!
From ginomai we get the word γένος, genos, which is a noun that refers to people that have come into being. Specifically it means “a group of similar individuals.” This could be a family, a group of friends, a specific ethno-group, people of a certain region or nation… it isn’t specific about the type of classification, it just refers to a group of people that can be identified separately from another group. It’s a dividing term. Icky.
Genea is a noun that comes from the same root of that noun genos, ginomai, but it is not a dividing term, it is a uniting term. It refers to all people of a given demarcation. Genea is used by the likes of Homer and Herodotus to describe all people born at a certain time, and it is used by Matthew to describe all people in a given bloodline. It can mean generation, but it can also mean much, much more.
This is where my Love of language really engages! The key to figuring out what exactly Jesus meant by genea here lies in a couple of things. For one, let’s return to autos I talked about above. Autos comes from the word that means “to breathe”, so a lot of scholars have assumed it means the genea Jesus references is alive. It doesn’t. The breath autos talks about is the breath you just expended to say a word — so it is giving a pronoun for the word Jesus just spoke: it is simply an enforcement of the word genea! But that gives no foothold for understanding what He meant by genea.
Jesus said these words in the Temple of Jerusalem. He would not have said them in Greek. But Greek has no real corollary for the word He actually used, the Suriston word שרבתא (sharbita). I’ll give you the definition in a sec, but this word was borrowed from the Syrian word ܫܪܒܐ, sharba, which refers to a heat wave. More specifically, it refers to a wave of heat that propagates itself. This idea of propagation is how the Syrian word gained a secondary meaning of generation, genealogy, or tribe. And that’s exactly what sharbita means: the entirety of a tribe or a family’s generations.
What Jesus was talking about was a very specific sharbita: those listening in the Temple. Jews. Specifically: the tribe of Israel. The family line of Abraham!
Change the World
I say this a lot, but you cannot take one idea out of Scripture without bringing along the entirety of Scripture with it. Who was He talking to in the Temple? A city under Roman occupation who was waiting for a Messiah to come and defiantly take back their nation and kick out the evil Romans. They were in a state of constant fear and sorrow because their rulers were corrupt, the priesthood — the Pharisees and Sadducees — was corrupt, and people were dwindling. They were out of hope and concerned that Israel would soon die out either by poverty, broken-heartedness, or the boot of the Roman army.
And here Jesus comes to talk about destruction and persecution and misery. There weren’t a lot of Hosannas going up in this lesson, to be sure. His words here, genea autos, are a brief edification: you will not die out. The sons of Abraham will continue into and through all of this chaos. For this reason He tells them to hold onto His words, to hold onto their heritage, and to keep teaching the Word so that they can be prepared as these things happen.
He wasn’t giving them a death sentence or beating them down. He wasn’t even trying to warn them. He was telling them not to lose heart. He was telling them, as He always did, that the things we see in this world are only the short game, only the small view.
Jesus was assuring His sheep that the flock would go on.
Shine With Me
So there you go. “This generation” means the flock of Abraham, which we — the Gentiles — have been reborn into. He was foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years after his death, He was talking about the destruction of earth during Revelation, and He was talking about everything in between.
We suffer false teachers, persecution, destruction of churches, and springs of rebirth and revelation constantly. Adversity and growth are our constant companions in this life. But we go on. The children of God go on. We are all “this generation”; we always have been and we always will be.
Father, thank You for this revelation! It is such joy to be led by the Spirit through my favorite kinds of things: words. Please tear through my foolish trying and obfuscation to bring this knowledge clearly into the minds of those who read this. Bless them with the strength of long vision and perspective. Heal the wounds of broken argument and division and let us all share in the celebration of diversity You set before us. I ask all of this in the name of Your Word, Your Son, Your Christ, and my brother, my King, and my Savior Jesus. Amen!