This Generation is an Evil Generation

Sept 2019

As the crowds increased, Jesus said,
“This generation is an evil generation.
It seeks a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

Luke 11:29


The history of humanity is a fragile chain of generations knotted together by genetic bequest—mothers and fathers begetting children from time immemorial.  Yet, this strong hereditary link between parents and children can be precariously fraught with emotional discord.  The teenage years in a person’s development are infamous for angst between the two generations.  

The parents eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” Ezk 18:2

 While Ezekiel rightly points out that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own actions,[1] parental influence on children cannot be denied.  Antiquity is inundated with parent-child relationships that show behaviors and habits are modeled and transferred down through the generations.[2]

One time as Jesus was speaking to a crowd, he called his listeners an “evil generation.”  Curiously, the only evidence that Jesus cited for that generation’s guilt was their desire for “signs.”  At first take, this is a paradox, because throughout Scripture, signs and wonders are an affirmation of God’s presence in the world and of His work among His people.[3]  To understand Jesus’ negativity toward “signs” in Luke 11:29, we must recall the context of that story.[4] 

In Luke 11:14, Jesus has cast a demon out of man that was mute.  The former mute speaks in the presence of the crowd.  But in the very next verse, a skeptic from the crowd cries out “Fake News!  He didn’t drive out that demon by God’s power.  That supposed act of God is from the hand of Satan!”  Immediately, others in the crowd also began to reinterpret what they had just witnessed, as they demanded more signs from Jesus.

Jesus then replies to his critics that he drives out demons by the “finger of God” alluding to the plague of gnats in Egypt.[5]  The miraculous appearance of gnats was the first “sign” that the Egyptian sorcerers could not duplicate, and they confirmed to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!”  But Pharaoh refused to listen to their warning.  In fact, Pharaoh had already requested signs from Moses, but instead of acknowledging them, he had his heart hardened against their message.[6]  Another sign would not change the heart of a cynic.  Jesus’ listeners, like Pharaoh, challenged the authenticity of the works of God when they had the proof right before their eyes.  This is the definition of hardheartedness—a stubborn refusal to listen and obey when confronted with the evidence of God’s word.

So too, the children of Israel had personally witnessed numerous signs of God’s work in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet an entire generation exiled themselves outside of the Promised Land by defying God’s authority and doubting His word. [7]  It was at the parting of the Red Sea when Pharaoh’s army is drowned, arguably the most spectacular sign of God’s redemption in the Exodus story, that Moses and the Israelites proclaim:

Sistine Chapel’s “The Crossing of the Red Sea”. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli or Biagio d'Antonio. (1481-1482)

Sistine Chapel’s “The Crossing of the Red Sea”. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli or Biagio d'Antonio. (1481-1482)

By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea. 

The enemy boasted, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.’

But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who among the gods is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory, working wonders?
                                                                                                                   Ex 15:8-11

The Lord is a God who works wonders in the sight of the nations.  These miracles are signs that point towards the Lord as trustworthy and true.  His word is the mandate by which He rules as King over all the earth.  This is how Moses’ song ends, “the Lord reigns forever and ever.”[8]  This is also the first time that the premise for the later Jewish idiom, “Kingdom of God” appears in Hebrew Scripture.[9] 

After Jesus heals the mute, he proclaims God reigning, His Kingdom breaking forth, with signs and wonders—“But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Lk 11:20).”  Yet, Jesus calls the crowd who had witnessed this healing, this sign of God, “an evil generation.”  In using this phrase, “an evil generation,” Jesus alludes once again to the children of Israel’s unbelief and hardheartedness in the wilderness. 

In Deuteronomy 32, Moses sang another song, at the end of his ministry, quite different from the triumphant one he sang at the Red Sea.  This almost-dirge mourns the unfaithfulness of God’s children in contrast to the loyalty of their Father.

They are corrupt and not his children;
to their shame they are a
warped and crooked generation.
Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people?
Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?

….You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.
The Lord saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters.

“I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what their end will be;
for they are a
perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.
                                                                                                      Deut 32:5-6, 18-20

Jesus’ “evil generation” represents that warped, crooked, and perverse group of doubters which liquidates its ancestral laurels for childish self-interests.  In God’s Kingdom, the immediacy of realpolitik cannot trump principles that are based on the Lord’s eternal truths.

So Jesus concludes,

This generation is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation….The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.

                                                                                                                            Lk 11:29-30, 32

The sign of Jonah is the righteous change of heart of a wicked city, Nineveh; it is the repentance of an evil generation.  Signs are only signs.  They point towards the truth.  Jesus’ generation, like every generation, only has one real option—repentance.  They must return to God’s word and its undiluted truth.  Jesus will not compromise to appease the fair-weather hanger-on’s who seek the gifts rather than the Giver.[10]  The sign of Jonah is repentance.[11]

Pieter Lastman—”Jonah and the Whale” (1621)

Pieter Lastman—”Jonah and the Whale” (1621)

Beyond, the supernatural concept of a man being swallowed alive by a fish for three days and three nights, Jonah is a scandalous story because of its theological propositions—a mutinous prophet of the Lord, the repentance of a despicable enemy of Israel, and most outrageous, the Lord’s compassionate character.  This is Jonah’s cardinal lesson—God’s mercy and forgiveness are unabashedly available to every human being who turns towards Him in brokenness and humility. 

This story of Jonah is read in the synagogue on the Day of Atonement every year.  In Jewish tradition, this annual day of judgment is the culmination of ten days of self-reflection intended for both personal repentance and interpersonal forgiveness.  In this regard, the sign of Jonah—repentance—is irrevocably coupled with forgiveness.  Without forgiveness, repentance has no redemption. 

This “sign” of human repentance points towards our trust in God’s kind and forgiving nature which is described in His word.  It is that hope in the Lord’s faithfulness, and not in our good intentions, which heals generations and resurrects relationships.

He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents;
or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Malachi 4:6

  [1] “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.” Ezk 18:20a

[2] “Parents do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. “ Eph 6:4

[3] Gen 1:14; 9:12; Ex 4:8, 30; Deut 4:34; Judg 6:17; 1 Sam 2:34; 10:1-9; 2 Kgs 19:29; 20:8; Ps 86:17; Isa 7:14

[4]  “Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Lk 11:14-20

[5] Ex 8:16-19

[6] “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake (Ex 7:9).”

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord (Ex 10:1-2).”

[7] “The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.  Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it (Num 14:20-23).”  See also Deut 4:34; Num 14:11; Ps 78:8,18,41, 56; 95:9-10; 106:14.

[8] Ex 15:18

[9] Robert L. Lindsey.  Jesus Rabbi and Lord.  Cornerstone Publishing, 1990. pg. 24

[10] John 6:26-33

[11] The tradition found in Matthew 12:38-41 that interpolates “the sign of Jonah” as Jesus’ body in the grave for three days and three nights does not supersede Luke’s testimony.  In the parable of Lazarus, the rich man asks to return from the dead to warn his brothers to repent (Lk 16:27-31).  Abraham replies that the rich man’s brothers only need Scripture (“Moses and the Prophets”) in order to repent.  And then he poignantly ends with, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’  Resurrection from the dead after three days and three nights is a sign that confirms the truth of God’s word, but it is ultimately God’s word which calls one to repentance.