Generations - First and Last

by George F Spall

A generation is generated, and each succeeding generation grows out of the one that was its genesis. The Bible word 'generation' occurs very often in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. It occurs so frequently that we do well to know what its Author meant by it. In my opinion all those 'begats' and 'begots' emphasize the meaning of 'generation'. They refer to a father-son-father cycle -- an age-group.

There is no uncertainty about this, for as surely as a generation begins with genes, so surely will there come a time when there will be no more generations. Not that the human race will run out of genes to begin the next generation, but the race will run out of time. Everything that begins comes to an end. Generations do, and the succession of generations will cease when the last of the seven ages in Scripture has run its course.

We are coming towards the end of age number six now, so we ought to check out what the Word of God has to tell us.

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read that "Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations" (6:9). God said of him: " ... you are righteous before me in this generation" (7:1). Concerning the very earliest days of the patriarchs it was written about the sojourn in Egypt: "But in the fourth generation they shall return here (to Canaan)" -- (Genesis 15:16).

And for another piece of evidence, Moses observed that Israel wandered "in the wilderness forty years until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone" (Numbers 32:13), except himself, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb.

It is important to note all this because the Hebrew prophet Daniel predicted that there would come a time when the Gentile domination of Israel would end, and "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (2:44). The Jewish student disciples of the Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth questioned their Teacher about this and on two very significant occasions He told them: "Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:36), and again: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34).

He was addressing His own age group in the first instance, and speaking of a last generation or age group in the second case, possibly referring to the generation that saw the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the regaining of Jerusalem in 1967.

There are those who teach that the word 'generation' in these two places is another way of saying 'the Jewish race'. This however is not consistent with the many other times the word is used. And we never find it used as descriptive of any other nation. The word 'generation' is used for an age group.

It can be argued that we may see the word 'generation' listed in English dictionaries as race, breed or kind, ancestors, progeny, age group -- in that order. But we are not examining an English book, but rather a book that is translated into English from Hebrew and Greek, so we ought to accept its meaning from the originals. In Hebrew the word 'dor' , generation, means age group, and in Greek the dictionary says 'genea' means age group, ancestors, progeny, face - in that order.

It is also important that when an author uses a word very consistently in the same sense we should also keep on being consistent ourselves as we read it.

In the above two quotes from Matthew, this Jewish writer uses the word 'genea' , generation, twelve times. No one ever questions his use of it in the sense of an age group through the ten instances prior to the two we have already mentioned.

So when Matthew records Yeshua's words: "But to what shall I liken this generation?" (11:16), it was to these same confreres of His that were refusing His message that He promised: " ... that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah ..." (Matthew 23:35). "Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation." And He says the same sort of thing, namely: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled" on the later occasion.

Many believers are looking for the One who was "God manifest in the flesh" to return to this earth, probably quite soon; many Jewish people are looking for their Messiah to come. For both groups the Messiah is a blessed hope.

If this age is to end, quite obviously some generation will see the end; some generation will be alive at the time. That will be the last generation, and in the light of what is written in Psalm 102, then we may expect His appearance shortly, before this generation runs out.

"You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for the time to favour her, yes, the set time, has come. For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and show favour to her dust ... for the LORD shall build up Zion; he shall appear in his glory ... This will be written for the generation to come (lit. Hebrew 'for the last generation') that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD" (Psalm 102:13-18).

The nation of Israel is a nation of archaeologists; research into their past is carried out with much zeal; nowhere are stones more loved and caressed than those of the Western Wall. And the Lord has certainly built up Zion .. Zion the Holy City, Zion the Land and Zion the People.

Those who believe the Word of the Lord share in this vision for the future. "For he looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven the LORD viewed the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those appointed to death, to declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem, when the peoples are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD" (Psalm 102:19-22).