by Mark Huey
In some recent Torah studies through the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers—which deal primarily with the trials and tribulations of the “Exodus generation” of Ancient Israel—an overriding thought that every Biblical generation was evil, at least in some way, came frequently to my mind. From Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel through to Noah; to the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the sons of Jacob; to Moses, Joshua, and the Judges; to the Prophet Samuel, and the Kings Saul, David, Solomon, and Jeroboam; various Prophets; and most especially the generation responsible for executing Yeshua the Messiah—the evidence of evil is chronicled and not whitewashed for posterity’s sake. The Bible is unique among other religious literature in that its “chosen people” is demonstrated to be quite fallible and human. However, beyond the historical reflection which can be accomplished by cycling through the Torah every year, or rereading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation—the gnawing realization that my own generation is nothing more than one more evil generation, adding to the wickedness of humanity, was quite sobering and humbling to the point of tears.
I am presently completing my sixth decade of life (2010), and as such I find myself in the unique position of being able to compare and contrast my “Baby Boomer generation” with the preceding “Greatest generation” (or the “World War II generation”), along with the emerging “Millennial generation.” Lamentably from my limited perspective, it does not appear that humanity is “evolving” forward, as social Darwinists would have us think—but is rather steadily devolving toward the prophesied judgment which will bring current history to a dramatic culmination. Needless to say, my generational observations are not only disheartening, but also especially frustrating. I find that my conclusions from reading Scripture are being continually confirmed by the world’s continual moral decline, compounded with the escalating availability of information and insidious influences.
Rather than succumb to catatonic despair, or join into a chorus of cynics who spend countless wasted hours—criticizing and complaining about the cultural decline and various abominable practices which are altering the world as it has been known—Believers in Messiah Yeshua need to take a much different approach. As those called to be the salt and light to every generation (Matthew 5:10-16), armed with the knowledge that the End of the Age is approaching and that an unknowable future generation will witness the Second Coming (Matthew 24:36)—would it not be wise to utilize the insight provided by the Bible? Should we not seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and wholeheartedly pursue righteousness? Yeshua taught in His Sermon on the Mount,
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:10-16, NASU).
When the Prophet Daniel was given a glimpse into the future, he was shown things about a foreboding time of distress. This would be preceded by extensive travel, coupled with an exponential increase in knowledge. Daniel prophesied concerning a special generation of people—which for lack of a better description could be called a “Daniel generation”—with unique spiritual insight that would shine brightly and lead many to righteousness. It is summarized,
“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:1-4, NASU).
All Believers in whatever generation are called by Messiah Yeshua to be salt and light, pursuing righteousness. Yeshua could have been alluding to the above words of Daniel in Matthew 5:10-16, as the concept of the light shining via good works just might point others to the mercy of the God of Creation. What do we do with such an admonition, as we look back from a vantage point of two millennia later? We are people who are either inundated with moment-by-moment information about what is transpiring in the world, or we are being subtly and/or subliminally influenced by social forces which the Prophets and Apostles could possibly not imagine. All of God’s people at any time and called by any label have had to confront the forces of darkness led by the prince of the power of the air, the Adversary or Satan—for which we need to be on guard (cf. Ephesians 6:12). The Apostle Paul wrote various Believers in Asia Minor,
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-3, NASU).
For those pursuing a Messianic lifestyle and approach to serving the Lord, the responsibilities are great—because to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). Because today’s Messianics have been blessed with a more comprehensive understanding of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, with such insight comes a rather serious obligation to pass a positive legacy on to the next generation. A pattern of passing on revelation from the Creator has been the tradition of our forbearers in faith from Adam and Eve down to the current generation. Although at times the enemy of our faith has cleverly skewed some things and altered what God’s people should be doing throughout the centuries—there is no doubt that the Holy One in spite of this has continued to providentially oversee all that has transpired. Believers have still been saved by the good news, and have been able to make a significant difference in their respective eras.
Everything which is happening today around the world is not allowed without the permission of a sovereign Creator God, despite some Believers’ protests that the perversion is getting beyond the pale and that the end is coming soon. Messiah followers need to be consciously aware of how the God of Israel is in complete command of the universe, and that He causes all things—including negative things—to work together for good:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASU).
Contrary to all the negative things which are occurring around the globe day in and day out, I firmly believe that the Lord is using them for His Divine purposes. I do not claim to know how everything works, but I think we too often forget that He is in control! Limited mortals need not try to meddle in His omniscient plan.
We are certainly called to be aware of the things occurring in our generation, but we are not that dissimilar from those who have preceded us. During the days of Yeshua’s ministry, there were those who thought that they were living in a perverse and evil time, and who firmly believed that the end-times would be upon them. There are always those in every generation who think that they have privileged information that they can lord over others, regarding “when it is coming down” or whatever the latest spiritual fad happens to be. The Apostle Paul actually observed how a message of the end-times circulating in Thessalonica caused some to leave their employment and just wait and linger around for things to occur (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Significantly, most of the time those with self-promoted knowledge, or some kind of “interpretation” of the signs of the age—is spent somehow promoting themselves and their endeavors.
I think it is most beneficial for all of us to consider a conversation Yeshua had with some of the scribes and Pharisees of His day, who were carelessly using their positional influence and the words they spoke to dominate and control their listeners. The opening statement Yeshua makes below, about careless words which people speak, applies not only to leaders and teachers, but everyone who speaks. He mentions how the current First Century generation craved a sign, and what they would be given was the sign of Jonah. Yet, because this is what they wanted, the previous generation of those who repented at Nineveh would be able to stand up at the final judgment and condemn those to whom Yeshua was speaking:
“‘But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’ Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ 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; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER [Jonah 3:5], so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 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. 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. 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” (Matthew 12:36-45, NASU).
Contemplating these statements about the evil generation of Yeshua’s era, and the fact that it was not only compared to the “Nineveh generation”—but that such a past generation will actually be able to issue a negative testimony against the First Century generation Yeshua spoke to at the final judgment—is quite a contrast! Upon looking to the conclusion of this passage where it is stated an unclean spirit will leave a person and pass into waterless places, then returning with seven more evil spirits (Matthew 12:44-45), this raised some questions in me. The biggest question came to mind when the last point made by Yeshua was that this return of seven more wicked spirits was an analogy to the way that the evil generation He addressed would be dealt with—because they failed to believe in the sign of Jonah, the three days and three nights involving His death, burial, and resurrection.
I was piqued to do a little more study, and so I naturally turned to the beginning of Matthew ch. 12. Within Matthew 12, Yeshua gives His followers some incredible insight into what it means to actually follow the Torah. Many of the religious leaders of His day failed to see Him for who He was as the Messiah, because they failed to understand the main thrusts of Moses’ Teaching which He adhered to. Yeshua as the Son of God was able to heal peoples’ ailments and deliver them from demons, and yet He was mocked and disregarded because some of these actions occurred on Shabbat. Disbelief in Yeshua’s actions was regarded as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit:
“At that time Yeshua went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.’ But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE [Hosea 6:6],” you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Yeshua, asking, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. But Yeshua, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL IS WELL-PLEASED; I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES. HE WILL NOT QUARREL, NOR CRY OUT; NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS. A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF, AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY. AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE [Isaiah 42:1-4].’ Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Yeshua, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, ‘This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?’ But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.’ And knowing their thoughts Yeshua said to them, ‘Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment”’ (Matthew 12:1-36, NASU).
As this chapter opens, Yeshua communicates a much fuller understanding of what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath. He is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), and so Yeshua not only justifies the picking of grain to feed His Disciples, but quotes from Hosea 6:6 that “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (NASU). He references the Torah’s instructions comparing the priests who eat the showbread (Leviticus 24:5-9), to David’s party who ate the showbread out of hunger and necessity (1 Samuel 21:6).
Next, Yeshua admonished the Pharisees present for not being willing to heal on the Sabbath, by contrasting saving a sheep from a pit with healing a withered hand (Matthew 12:11-13). After some brief quotes from Isaiah which reference the coming Messiah, Yeshua is then confronted by a demon possessed man who was also blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22-23). After healing the man of his blindness and his inability to speak, casting out the demons, the Pharisees present actually accuse Yeshua of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24). In a rather lengthy rebuke, Yeshua not only tells them that He casts out demons by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28), but also gives some deliverance instructions about binding the “strong man” before casting out the demons (Matthew 12:28-29). This is followed by a brief dissertation on the “unpardonable sin” of denying what is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Most severely, Yeshua indicates how some can even speak against Him and be forgiven—but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven (Matthew 12:32).
Yeshua continues, directly rebuking the Pharisees here, calling them a brood of vipers who cannot speak what is good—for the mouth speaks forth what is present in the heart (Matthew 12:34). This is substantiated by the Lord saying that only good people can bring forth good, and evil people can only bring forth evil—with the qualifier that even every careless word spoken will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 12:35-36). This section closes with the frightening statement—for then and for now—that “by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37, NIV). This is an extremely severe warning for us to consider, whether we speak flippant words of sarcasm or cynicism, or actually do speak evil things buried in the depths of a deceitful heart (cf. Jeremiah 17:9-10). The Pharisees to whom Yeshua spoke demanded a sign from Him, because they were guided by an evil intention of wanting to see how they could ruin Him (Matthew 12:14).
To conclude His reprimand to these Pharisees, Yeshua returns to the issue of being delivered from demons, and how when an unclean spirit gets cast out, it will try to see if it can return to its previous host (Matthew 12:43-44). In an analogous way, Yeshua compares the exorcised man with the evil generation He is addressing. In a similar manner to how many of the Pharisees thought that their houses were in order because of a self-imposed meticulous observance of the Torah—although the Pharisaical leaders are later described as being whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27)—Yeshua points out that the individual who has demons cast out must do something to avoid the return of dark spiritual influences. Upon being delivered of demons, it is of paramount importance that the individual cry out to God for mercy, and pray fervently that the Holy Spirit fill up the void created by the departure of wicked forces. For even if the outside of a person’s being is swept and from all appearances seems to be in order, the lack of light on the inside can possibly result in a future, more serious demon possession. Yeshua stated quite clearly that the last state of such a person will become worse than the first (Matthew 12:44-45).
Finally, in what struck me as a tragic reminder that every generation is evil and wicked, the last sentence of Matthew 12 initiated some thoughts that the perversion we seem to be witnessing in modern times may only be beginning, and it might just get seven times worse than it is already before the Messiah returns. Consider how Yeshua’s word to the evil First Century generation was simply, “Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:45, NRSV). The generation might think that it is right with God, but will steadily get spiritually worse. Because the First Century generation largely did not believe in Yeshua as the Messiah—despite its appearance of cleanliness and religiosity—their wickedness would be under-evaluated and end up being much worse than the norm. While we could speculate on many aspects of such wickedness, it is probably best for us to simply realize how serious it is to reject the Savior who spoke in person to people. We might think of how Yeshua Himself said, after all, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 10:29b).
In our generation, the evidence of evil appears to be expanding daily. What are we going to do about it? Can we do anything about it? Is it possible that a generation can believe the warnings of judgment to come, and repent and be spared? Yes! We have the testimony of Jonah and the inhabitants of Nineveh.
As optimistic as I try to be—despite the estimates that 92% of American households own a Bible, and that there are an estimated four Bibles per every American home—I find that something is desperately missing. While the “Greatest generation” was brought up with the Bible as a major spiritual and philosophical staple for their lives, the “Baby Boomers” started to be weaned off of the Bible at an early age. In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Bible reading and prayer could not be an integral part of the American education system. Needless to say, the “Millennial generation” which is rapidly gaining strength in numbers due to the increasing deaths of the older generations, has largely been inculcated with a belief that Bible believers are simply old fashioned and out of step with modernity and the progress of civilization. Without a great deal of imagination, one can simply extrapolate out a few decades and realize that short of a serious revival in American society—much less the “Christian West” as a whole—that terminal consequences are on the horizon.
Rather than belabor the unknowable regarding times and the devolution of our culture, it seems to me that what the Prophet Daniel foresaw about those who will shine (Daniel 12:3) is something much more positive to focus on—than all of the negatives, which do not accomplish much. There is still time to do good, and as long as people can freely assemble and freely proclaim the gospel to this wicked and perverse generation, it is our solemn duty to do so. We have to be diligent in our Bible studies, and be meaningful and reverent in our public worship and assembly. The Scriptures are replete with examples of how the people of God have had to deal with unpleasant circumstances, or stand under the scrutiny of less-than-friendly authorities. If the company of faithful could survive through the wickedness of the generation that crucified Yeshua, and was then threatened by His Lordship as it stood against the rule of Caesar—then there is no doubt in my mind that the saints of the Twenty-First Century can stand and endure. As Hebrews 12:1 tells us, “since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
While we all by circumstance might physiologically be a part of an evil generation, it does not mean that we have to be under the influence and tutelage of such a generation. Remember how as Messiah followers we are in the world but not of the world (cf. John 17:14-15). Believers have the Divine call to be light to those seeking answers, to the multitude of spiritual questions that will arise as the day of Yeshua’s return approaches. Paul knew of this responsibility in the First Century, encouraging the saints in Philippi with these words:
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:12-15, NASU).
Let every one of us desire to be lights—pointing to the Light, Yeshua—in order to glorify our Father in Heaven!
Until the restoration of all things…