As our brother dialogenes has shared for our edification we are well aware that, prior to the current Zeitgeist of modernity, the confessional, Lutheran attitude towards that people called modern Jewry was that they would necessarily have to cease to be so in order to receive the Gospel and its promises:
[I]f one dreams of a glorious future of the Jews as a special nation, perhaps with a return to Palestine [and] ruling over all nations, that already borders on chiliasm and becomes dangerous and objectionable. As a nation the Jews will remain Jews till Judgment Day, for 1 Thess. 2:16 says that God’s wrath has come upon them eis telos, till the end [of time]. And Christ says: “This generation [or “race”] will not pass away till it all comes to pass” (Matt. 24:34). As a nation there is no more hope for them; there is salvation for them only if they enter the open door of the Christian church. But then they also stop being Jews, and their glory will be no greater than that of other Christians. In the kingdom of God physical descent provides no privileges (Matt. 3:9).
C. F. W. Walther, Essays For The Church: C.F.W. Walther, Volume I, 1857-1879 (CPH, 1992), 188
At first pass, one might be stumped by the bracketed text Herr Walther inserted in his quotation of Matthew 24:34. Why did he seek to clarify the term ‘generation’ with ‘race’? Are we to be suspicious as to whether this is an antiquated use of the term as might commonly occur when one wrestles with Scripture in the KJV today? or, rather, have we been given a clearer term than the original ‘generation’ (which gains its provenance from the KJV, we ought mind!)? The following will be a close reading of the underlying Greek word from which we derive the translated word ‘generation,’ γενεᾱ́, in Matthew 24:34, as well as Matthew 23:34-36 and finally its implications alongside extended uses in terms like γενεαλογίαις in 1 Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9.
From the mouth of Christ: Matthew 23:34-36 & 24:34
If one were to start with simply Matthew 24:34, the confusion might be justified: surely, when Christ confesses that “This generation will not pass away till it all comes to pass,” He was merely intending to say that all people or some such generic group shall not pass away until His prophesying as He pronounces in Matthew 24 comes to pass, no? Truly, I say, no!
When we read Christ proclaim that “this generation (γενεᾱ́) will not pass away,” what needs to be kept in mind is the clear, direct usage of the same word earlier in just the preceding chapter.
Matthew 23:34-36 sees Christ preaching the woes to the Scribes and Pharisees, the hypocrites. Following the last woe proclaimed to them, He goes on to conclude:
It is thus we see that, indisputably, when Christ states that “all these things will come upon this generation (γενεᾱ́),” He is referring to the race of the Scribes and Pharisees, i.e the Judaizers who strove toward righteousness through fulfilling the Law alone, whom we today bear the burden of tolerating as Talmudic Jews. Read in conjunction with Matthew 24, it becomes clear that Our Lord warned us and preserved His warning to our posterity in Scripture that this burden is to be borne until His return.
Yet, the rebuttal may remain: how can one be so certain that γενεᾱ́ in Matthew 24:34 is used with the same referent as 23:36, i.e the Judaizing race upon which all the righteous blood shed on earth has fallen? To respond to this we profit by how Christ frames His statement in Matthew 24:34 by the parable of the fig tree. Just a few chapters earlier, in Matthew 21:18-19, we read:
To unpack the import of this miracle in the terms given us by Christ in Matthew 24:32-35, let us begin with the parable itself: “when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” By what sign does Christ inform us summer, i.e the time of the return of the Son of Man, occurs? When the fig tree’s branch has become tender and puts forth leaves. In what condition did Christ find the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-19? “He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only”; that is, when it was summer, the allegorical referent for the return of the Son of Man, the fig tree was found bearing no fruit. Therefore the Son of Man rendered punishment upon the fig tree, cursing it that no longer it should bear fruit.
Still, one can ask, but how do we know that the referent for “generation” in Matthew 24:34 is that very same generation (or race, γενεᾱ́) which corresponds with that of the Jews mentioned in Matthew 23:36? For this we benefit from the frame of Matthew 21:18-19, for the evangelist, writing through the Holy Spirit, benefits us by just before in his account writing of the cleansing of the temple. That in Matthew 21:19-19 the Jews are the referent to the fig tree, to no longer bear fruit, becomes obvious in such close narrative circumlocution.
And yet, if one were to remain so stiff-necked as to still require further evidence, one can finally look at the signs of Christ’s return themselves, not only as found in Matthew but so also in the account given in Luke’s Gospel. In Matthew 24:15-16, He prophesies “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains”; Luke 21:20-21 records an extended quotation: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is at hand. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the countryside must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” As most prophecy, this portion of Scripture can be taken in two ways: having been fulfilled, and yet still to come. I therefore do not intend to claim that the Son of Man has already come by referring to these signs as having already been fulfilled, but I merely intend to acknowledge that these signs have indeed been fulfilled in the destruction of the Second Temple. When one reads, therefore, the warning Christ gives in Matthew 24:16 to “those who are in Judea [to] flee to the mountains” as referring to the destruction of the Second Temple, a reading strengthened by Luke 21:20-21, the referent of generation (or race, γενεᾱ́) in Matthew 24:34 as the Jews having punishment exacted upon them for only bearing leaves in summertime is made clear.
What, then, of Genealogies?
For those unaware, the word “genealogy” is derived from two words: γενεᾱ́ and λογος. If one were to translate literally, a genealogy is a race-story. It is in two places that we see warnings for the Church to avoid indulging in genealogies, and not just any kind, but rather Judaizing genealogies in particular.
What is the common denominator in both of these passages other than the warning against genealogies? The presence of those who wished to be teachers of the Law, creating strife and conflicts about It. Such close circumlocution must again ping our respective antennae to get the message: The Judaizers who plagued the New Testament Church, continuing in the same tradition of works righteousness as the Scribes and Pharisees as Christ identified them in Matthew 23:34-36 (see above!), were so bold as to engage in genealogoi, race-stories, wherein one can only speculate upon the Judaizing proto-chiliasm already rearing its ugly, seemingly perennial head.
Letters from Opa: For Our Benefit Centuries Later
This allows us to finally return to and unpack how C.F.W. Walther was able to so piercingly preach on 1 Thessalonians 2:16, Matthew 24:34, and Matthew 3:9. Particularly poignant here is the utterly Scriptural way in which Saint Walther traffics in the term ‘Jew.’ He confesses in his citation of 1 Thessalonians that “As a nation the Jews will remain Jews till Judgement day”: that is to say, he who is to retain his racial identity as a Jew above all other things, which is itself the core tenet of Talmudic Judaism, will remain so until Judgement day, continually having God’s wrath come upon him until the end. Therefore, this race, the race which covets works righteousness and fulfillment of the Law above all else and drags others to Hell with its false gospel of circumcision et cetera, is to be suffered by Christ’s elect until the Return of Christ. Here, however, is where Walther’s preaching cuts deepest: “As a nation there is no more hope for them; there is salvation for them only if they enter the open door of the Christian church. But then they also stop being Jews, and their glory will be no greater than that of other Christians.” To fully understand, one must unpack the logic of these statements as such:
(Premise 1) A Jew is he who has no more hope and preaches only the Law
(Premise 2) A Jew who opens the door of the Christian church and receives the Gospel ceases to be a Jew
(Conclusion) The Jewish race will never receive the Gospel
Indeed, while some might theologize that the Jewish people might be converted, many fail to effectively iterate Premise 2 and therefore wind up with the same consequence as Christendom has already seen with its failed effort to convert Jews evident in the Judaizing conversos. A final, salutary word on this ultimate fact, that the Jewish race insofar as it self-conceives itself as such and remains therefore definitionally Jewish will never receive the Gospel can be provided by Saint Luther.
“…God has locked all not in wrath or lust but in unbelief, lest any who pretend that they are fulfilling the Law by chaste and gentle works (as are the political and human virtues) presume that they will be saved.”—Martin Luther, Christian Freedom