Coming On the Clouds of Heaven:
A Reply to Shabir Ally’s
Execrable Blasphemies and Calumnies
Against the Son of Man
[Continued from Part I]
For I will ask them, Did He send them prophets and wise men? Did they slay them in their synagogue? Was their house left desolate? Did all the vengeance come upon that generation? It is quite plain that it was so, and no man gainsays it. – Chrysostom
I challenge anyone to prove my statement untrue if I say that the entire Jewish nation was destroyed less than one whole generation later on account of these sufferings which they inflicted on Jesus. For it was, I believe, forty-two years from the time when they crucified Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem. – Origen
But if "the children of Israel are to sit many days without a king, or ruler, or altar, or priesthood, or responses;" and if, since the temple was destroyed, there exists no longer sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, it is manifest that the ruler has failed out of Judah, and the leader from between his thighs. And since the prediction declares that "the ruler shall not fail from Judah, and the leader from between his thighs, until what is reserved for Him shall come," it is manifest that He is come to whom (belongs) what is reserved--the expectation of the Gentiles. And this is clear from the multitude of the heathen who have believed on God through Jesus Christ. – Origen
A sufficient but limited number of passages will be surveyed to show that some of the things Jesus’ predicted during His earthly ministry were expressly and emphatically, not to mention authoritatively and infallibly, directed at and delimited to his contemporaries and the then present age.
A first set of passages comes from the Olivet Discourse. Note the following “time-texts” found in the Synoptic Gospels, all of which begin with the solemn words “truly,” indicating the importance and verity of what He is going to tell them, and the words “I say,” as if to arrest the apostles’ attention and so insure that they do not gloss over it:
Truly I say TO YOU, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Mark 13:30)
Truly I say TO YOU, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
Truly I say TO YOU, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. (Luke 21:32)
When one looks at all the occasions where Jesus in the Gospels uses the word “generation,”
And He answered THEM and said, "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with YOU? How long shall I put up with YOU? Bring him to Me!" (Mark 9:19)
But He answered and said TO THEM, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given TO IT but the sign of Jonah the prophet; (Matthew 12:39)
"An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given IT, except the sign of Jonah." And He left THEM and went away. (Matthew 16:4)
And Jesus answered and said, "YOU unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with YOU? How long shall I put up with YOU? Bring him here to Me." (Matthew 17:17)
And Jesus answered and said, "YOU unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with YOU and put up with YOU? Bring your son here." (Luke 9:41)
and especially those occasions when Jesus uses it in connection with the near demonstrative (“this generation”), as in the passages that follow, it always refers to His contemporaries, the people of the age or time period who are then alive and who are being addressed.
Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, "Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say TO YOU, no sign will be given to this generation." (Mark 8:12)
"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)
But to what shall I compare this generation? IT is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘WE played the flute for YOU, and YOU did not dance; WE sang a dirge, and YOU did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and THEY say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and THEY say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16-19)
"The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn IT because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah IS HERE. (Matthew 12:41)
"The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn IT, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon IS HERE. (Matthew 12:42)
"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." (Matthew 12:45)
"Truly I say TO YOU, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:36)
"To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? (Luke 7:31)
As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, "This generation is a wicked generation; IT seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given TO IT but the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:29)
"For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be TO this generation. (Luke 11:30)
"The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn THEM, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon IS HERE. (Luke 11:31)
"The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn IT, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah IS HERE. (Luke 11:32)
One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult US too.” But He said, “Woe to YOU lawyers as well! For YOU weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while YOU YOURSELVES will not even touch the burdens with one of YOUR fingers. Woe to YOU! For YOU build the tombs of the prophets, and it was YOUR fathers who killed them. So YOU are witnesses and approve the deeds of YOUR fathers; because it was they who killed them, and YOU build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send TO THEM prophets and apostles, and some of them THEY will kill and some THEY will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell YOU, it shall be charged against this generation.’ Woe to YOU lawyers! For YOU have taken away the key of knowledge; YOU YOURSELVES did not enter, and YOU hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:45-52)
For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:24-25)
That this is the clear meaning and proper translation of the word/phrase is borne out by over fifty English translations as well as a whole host of Greek lexicons, dictionaries, encyclopedias and other standard reference works, far too many to list. The following authorities should be adequate to serve the point:
Biblical scholar and linguist Joseph Addison Alexander wrote:
… the critical word in this critical sentence is generation, which some make here synonymous with race or nation, and apply it to the Jews who are not to lose their separate existence until all these changes have been realized. This gives a wide scope to the prophecy, and readily enables us to transport what is said in [Mark] vs. 24-27 to an indefinitely distant future. But although some English writers, for this reason, still adhere to that interpretation, others of the same class, and the German philologists almost without exception, treat it as a sheer invention without any authority either in classical or Hellenistic usage, so that some of the best lexicons do not give this definition, even to condemn it. Of the few alleged examples, chiefly in the Septuagint version, all admit of being taken in one of the acknowledged senses, which in the New Testament are three in number, all reducible to one and the same radical idea, that of a contemporary race, or the aggregate of those living at the same time. This is the direct sense in the great majority of cases (such as 8, 12. 38. 9, 19. Matt. 11, 16. 12, 39-45. 16, 4. 23, 36. Luke 7, 31. 16, 8. 17, 25. Acts 2, 40. 13, 36. Phil. 2, 15. Heb. 3, 10), and is scarcely modified when transferred from men to time (as in Acts 14, 16. 15, 21. Eph. 3, 5. 21. Col. 1, 26), or to the stages of descent and degrees of genealogical succession (as in Matt. 1, 17.). Common to all these cases is the radical idea of contemporaneous existence, which it would be monstrous therefore to exclude in that before us, as we must do, if we understand it of the whole race in its successive generations. It follows, therefore, that unless we forge a meaning for the word in this place, which is not only unexampled elsewhere, we must understand our Lord as saying, that the contemporary race or generation, i.e. those then living, should not pass away or die till all these prophecies had been accomplished. (J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Mark (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1858), p. 362-363.) (Emphasis original)
Hermeneutics expert Milton Terry concurs:
The principles of grammatico-historical interpretation require our close attention to the specific time-limitations of this prophecy. The entire discourse appears to have grown out of Jesus’ declaration: “The days will come in which there shall not be left stone upon stone here which shall not be thrown down” (Luke xxi, 6; comp. Matt. xxiv, 2; Mark xiii, 2). These words, especially, occasioned the disciples’ question “When shall these things be?” The whole prophecy purports to be an answer to that question, and no affirmation in it is more emphatic than the words: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished” (Matt. xxiv, 34; Mark xiii, 30; Luke xxi, 32). On what valid hermeneutical principles, then, can it be fairly claimed that this discourse of Jesus comprehends all futurity? Why should we look for the revelations of far distant ages and millenniums of human history in a prophecy expressly limited to the generation1 in which it was uttered? (Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House/Academie Books, , 1999), p. 443
1 … The evident meaning of the word [genea] is seen in such texts as Matt i, 17; xvii, 17; Acts xiv, 16; xv, 21 (by-gone generations, generations of old), and nothing in New Testament exegesis is capable of more convincing proof than that genea is the Greek equivalent of our word generation: i.e., the mass or great body of people living at one period—the period of average lifetime. Even if it be allowed that in such passages as Matt. xi, 16, or Luke xvi, 8, the thought of a particular race or class of people is implied, it is beyond doubt that in those same passages the persons referred to are conceived as contemporaries. (Emphasis mine)
So also NT professor William Lane:
The significance of the temporal references has been debated, but in Mark ‘this generation’ clearly designates the contemporaries of Jesus (see on Chs. 8:12, 38; 9:19) and there is no consideration from the context which lends support to any other proposal. Jesus solemnly affirms that the generation contemporary with his disciples will witness the fulfillment of his prophetic word, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the Temple. With this word Jesus responds to the initial question of the disciples regarding the time when ‘these things’ will take place. (William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 480.) (Emphasis mine)
And New Testament scholar and commentator R. T. France:
“This generation” has been used frequently in this gospel for Jesus’ contemporaries, especially in a context of God’s impending judgment; see 11:16; 12:39, 41–42, 45; 16:4; 17:17, and especially 23:36, where God’s judgment on “this generation” leads up to Jesus’ first prediction of the devastation of the temple in 23:38. It may safely be concluded that if it had not been for the embarrassment caused by supposing that Jesus was here talking about his parousia, no one would have thought of suggesting any other meaning for “this generation,” such as “the Jewish race” or “human beings in general” or “all the generations of Judaism that reject him” or even “this kind” (meaning scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees). Such broad senses, even if they were lexically possible, would offer no help in response to the disciples’ question “When?” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p. 930.)
It is of some significance to note before moving on that a generation in Biblical parlance is basically a period of forty years, though it can be used loosely to refer to periods slightly lower and not overmuch longer than that, certainly not something like centuries or millennia. For example, after the ordeals endured by Job, we read that the number of his years was 140 years, which is to say, four generations.
After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth GENERATION. (Job 42:16, NIV)
This yields an average number of 35 years per generation.
In the book of Acts, we read that Peter said:
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own GENERATION, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; (Acts 13:36)
And we learn from the Old Testament that the period of time that David reigned was forty years in duration:
The days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: seven years he reigned in Hebron and thirty-three years he reigned in Jerusalem. (1 Kings 2:11)
Likewise, speaking of the generation of Israelites that experienced the Exodus under Moses, it is written:
The LORD’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone. (Numbers 32:13)
To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, according to the day of irritation in the wilderness: where your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works. Forty years was I grieved with this generation, and said, they do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest. (Psalm 94:10, LXX)
The latter passage is quoted in the New Testament by the author of Hebrews:
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’; AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’”
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.”
For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:1-19)
Little wonder, then, that F. F. Bruce, after making the following comments about Christ’s words in the Olivet Discourse:
The phrase "this generation" is found too often on Jesus' lips in this literal sense for us to suppose that it suddenly takes on a different meaning in the saying we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the end-time had been intended, ‘that generation’ would have been a more natural way of referring to it than ‘this generation.’ (F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 227.)
Goes on to say,
It seems reasonable to regard the hard saying as summing up the answer to their question. If so, then ‘all these things’ will have the same meaning in question and answer. The hard saying will then mean, 'this generation will not pass away before' the temple is totally destroyed. It is well known that the temple was actually destroyed by the Romans under the crown prince Titus in August of A.D. 70, not more than forty years after Jesus spoke... FORTY YEARS is the conventional length of a generation in biblical vocabulary. (F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 228.) (Emphasis mine)
This is also what we learn from various reference works, the following among them:
Vines: 2. genea (genea, 1074), connected with ginomai, “to become,” primarily signifies “a begetting, or birth”; hence, that which has been begotten, a family; or successive members of a genealogy, Matt. 1:17, or of a race of people, possessed of similar characteristics, pursuits, etc., (of a bad character) Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41; 16:8; Acts 2:40; or of the whole multitude of men living at the same time, Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 1:48, 21:32; Phil. 2:15, and especially of those of the Jewish race living at the same time period, Matt. 11:16, etc. Transferred from people to the time in which they lived, the word came to mean “an age,” i.e., a period ordinarily occupied by each successive generation, say, of thirty or forty years, Acts 14:16; 15:21; Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:26; see also, e.g. Gen. 15:16…. (W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., editors, “Age,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: A Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testaments In One Volume (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), p. 19.)
It is sometimes held that a period of 40 years is to be taken as a round number indicating a generation. (Derek Williams, ed., “Generation,” New Concise Bible Dictionary (Oxford, England: Lion Publishing, 1989), p. 188)
The last example from Psalm 94 and Hebrews 3 proving that a generation is basically forty years in duration has more poignancy than might at first be realized. How this is so will appear momentarily.
The redemption of the people from Egypt, which was followed by forty years of testing in the wilderness and the destruction of Canaan (which then becomes Israel), was all a foreshadowing of a greater Exodus previsioned by the prophets.
With the exception of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of and alludes to this New Exodus in many passages, a number of which are applied to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Isaiah 40; cf. Mark 1:1-11, Matthew 3:1-17, Luke 3:1-22), a more fitting example can hardly be sought or found than that of the prophet Jeremiah, who foretold of a new and better covenant than the one established by God under Moses in the Exodus-Wilderness period:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make A NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus authoritatively declared that He was establishing the covenant in His blood, in effect identifying Himself as the Passover Lamb as well:
While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29)
When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:14-20)
The point is simply this: just as the Exodus was followed by forty years of testing and then judgment on Canaan/Israel, so the New Exodus was followed by forty years and judgment upon Israel, which had become like Canaan.
It may be observed in this connection that the author of Hebrews, who expostulates at great length how the former covenant established under Moses only served as a shadow of something far greater to come, also makes reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy, saying in the process not only that the older covenant with its types and shadows is now obsolete and outdated because of the redemptive work of Christ, but that the shadows themselves were about to disappear:
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will SOON disappear. (Hebrews 8:1-13, NIV)
The final line of this passage is most significant. By the death of Christ the types and shadows of the Mosaic economy, which is just to say everything pertaining to the temple and its services, all of which was provisionary and pointed to Christ, had been rendered obsolete, i.e. it was no longer necessary or effectual. While the practical possibility of continuing to observe these things did not cease immediately after Christ’s death, as the contrast between “obsolete” and “will soon disappear” point up, the establishment of the New Covenant necessarily meant that the Old would be done away with.
The period between the time when Jesus died on the cross, thus rendering the former covenant obsolete, and the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, thus causing the whole of it to disappear, graciously allowed for the apostles and the early Jewish Christians to be weaned from their ancestral customs. It also allowed Paul both the freedom to observe such customs when interacting with his countrymen in order not to set an obstacle in their way and to gain a hearing for the Gospel, and the freedom to shed such customs when bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles for whom such regulations were like a barrier preventing their access to God and to full fellowship with God’s people (1 Corinthians 9; Ephesians 2).
After speaking of the martyrdom of James in the early 60’s of the first century, who was killed by the Jews after he declared in public that Jesus is “the Son of Man” and that He “is about to come upon the clouds of heaven,” as preserved from the historian Hegesippus by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (XXXIII.13) – words that are quite consistent with what we know of James’ teaching from his canonical epistle (“the Lord’s return is near,” James 5:8; “the judge is standing right at the door,” James 5:9; cf. Matthew 24:33) – F. F. Bruce comments on the significance of this teaching found in the book of Hebrews:
The death of James must have been a devastating blow for the community which he led, and many of them, particularly those who were zealots for the law, must have begun to wonder whether, after all, they were right in espousing a cause which was widening the breach between themselves and their fellow-Jews. Jesus, whom they acknowledged as the Messiah, had been gone a long time; there was no sign of His return on the clouds of heaven in power and great glory to vindicate the cause of His chosen ones. The temple, whose downfall He predicted still stood as stable as ever; the appointed sacrifices continued to be offered day by day upon the altar. Hostile as the priesthood—especially the high priesthood—was to their community, it was still carrying out ordinances which they themselves believed to be divinely ordained.
Nor was it only the Nazarenes of Jerusalem who had such thoughts around this time. In other cities too there were Christians of Jewish origin who were tempted by the deferment of their hopes and the heat of persecution to turn back to the fold which they had left, instead of pressing on with Christ.
In the midst of these questionings one such group of Jewish Christians received communication from a friend whose name has been forgotten [i.e. the author of Hebrews]. He was, we may judge, a Jewish Christian of Hellenist (Alexandrian?) origin, associated possibly with those Hellenists who had formed part of the early Jerusalem church and had left Jerusalem in the persecution that followed Stephen’s death. Now he wrote to steady those who were wavering and imbue them with the necessary patience. Did the coming of Jesus seem deferred? Let them cheer up; yet a very little while and the Coming One will come and make no delay [Hebrews 10:37]. Above all, they must withstand the temptation to return to Judaism; that was the sin of apostasy which by its very nature was irremediable, for (as they had already acknowledged) there was no other name in the world but the name of Jesus in which salvation could be found [Hebrews 6:1-20, 10:19-39]. Not only was such apostasy sin; it was folly. For the system which retained its venerable attraction was an empty shell, void of all real substance [Hebrews 10:1ff.]. The sacrifices that were offered daily were an obsolete survival. Christ by His one perfect sacrifice for His people’s sin had rendered all further sin-offerings superfluous [Hebrews 9:26]. The same held good of the priesthood; Christ was enthroned at God’s right hand and there exercised a heavenly and everlasting high priesthood on behalf of His people [Hebrews 1:3, 7:1-28, 10:12]. The Jerusalem priesthood—inferior in any case—was now obsolete. A material temple should not be specially attractive to worshippers who had access by faith into the heavenly sanctuary, not merely into the court but into the very holy of holies itself [Hebrews 4:16], where their exalted high priest was in permanent session by virtue of His own sacrifice. The Jerusalem functionaries might still go through the motions of the old rite, but their acts had no validity in the sight of God—and in any case the whole order was on the eve of disappearance. The writer quotes the words of God in the ninety-fifth Psalm:
Forty years long I was grieved with this generation, and said, “They are a people who are far astray at heart, and they have not learned my ways.” Therefore I uttered an oath in my wrath: ‘They shall never enter into my rest!’”
In the forty years mentioned in the psalm (the forty years which the Israelites spent in the desert between Egypt and Canaan) he sees an adumbration of another forty years’ period that is even now nearing its conclusion—the forty years’ grace allowed to the city of Jerusalem after the death of Christ. Had not Jesus Himself predicted the circumstances surrounding the complete overthrow of the temple buildings and added, “This generation shall not pass till all these things are fulfilled”? [Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32] The time was nearly up. What folly, then, it would be for believers in Jesus to go back to an outworn system which was under the doom of imminent dissolution! But these things need not disturb them: the whole material order must be shaken, in order that the unshakable things might endure, and so be clearly seen to be unshakable. The writer and his readers had received “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” [Hebrews 12:22-29]; above all, in Christ Himself they had much more than all those things which they had lost or were about to lose. Whatever else might change, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and to-day and forever.” (F. F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame: The Rise and Progress of Christianity from its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English, Advance of Christianity, Volume 1: A.D. 1 to 800 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), pp. 152-153.) (Emphasis mine)
It is incredible to consider the faith of those who held out to the end even when the prophesied judgment on Jerusalem to publicly vindicate the cause of Christ did not appear to be panning out, especially when we consider that many people even after the fact are incapable of believing in the face of such awe-inspiring evidence.
Another passage, this time from the apostle Paul, also speaks to the fact that Israel’s Exodus-Wilderness-Conquest experience was a type of things to come:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples (tupoi; types) for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example (tupikos; type), but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
The apostle says in verse 6 that what happened to the generation that experienced the Exodus is a type of (not simply for, as if it were only a warning, as will be explained) us, i.e. first century Christians, those “on whom the end of the ages has come.” The force of what Paul is saying of these Old Testament happenings is not apparent in all translations, and is brought out by Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser:
Verse 6 has at least three important grammatical signals in the first clause that should help us come to terms with the meaning of Biblical types. The text reads: tauta de tupoi hemon egenthesan. As the plural form of tauta, “these things” refers to both the positive events of baptism, food, and drink in verses 1-5 as well as the negative judgments in verses 6-9. Thus, more is implied here than mere paraenesis (i.e., a warning). The second grammatical point underscores the historical nature of Paul’s tupoi. The verb egenethesan is in the aorist tense, indicative mood, and is not a substitute for the verb “to be” as in the RSV. The fact that verse 11 has in a parallel statement the verb sunebainen, “happened,” makes it clear that the verb ginomai is used here to denote a past event; they “happened” (NASB); “occurred” (NIV). Paul’s types were historical events that really took place in the real setting of the wilderness and included acts of blessing as well as judgment. But the third, and most important, grammatical feature of verse 6 is the translation of hemon. Is it an objective genitive?—“Now these things happened as types for us.” Or, is it a subjective genitive?—“Now these things happened as types of us.” Most translations render it as an objective genitive of reference (i.e., “with reference to us”). However, the same genitival construction occurs in Romans 5:14: “Adam is a type of Christ” (not for Christ). Thus, the events cited in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 6-9 contain “types of us.”
... The climax of the section comes in verse 11 and recapitulates verse 6: “[all] these things happened (sunebainen) to them tupikos. Does tupikos have a paraenetic or heremeneutic sense? If it meant only a “warning example,” it would be redundant…. For the next clause adds: “they were written for our warning” (nouthesian). To have both words, tupikos and nouthesian, in both clauses saying the same thing would be tautological. Morover, the clauses are connected by a de (which usually expresses contrast, transition, or development), not by an epexegetical kai, “and.”
Davidson convincingly demonstrates that the solution to the translation of verse 11 lies in recognizing the differing functions of the two clauses of verse 11. The first clause of both verse 11 and verse 6 describe the nature of the events: they are types of us in their divine intention; the second clauses of verses 6 and 11 denote the purpose of those OT events: they are paraenetic warnings “for us.” (Walter Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), pp. 118-119.)
The fact that Christ’s Exodus and establishment of the New Covenant was followed by a period of forty years and after that by the destruction of Israel is thus not merely a happy coincidence but a matter divinely decreed, foreshadowed and prophesied.
[Continue to Part IIb]