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That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; Luke. 11:50 KJV

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The background of Luke 11:50 was at the moment Jesus criticized the Pharisees of their wrong doing (Luke 11:37-44), one law teacher rebuked Jesus that he did not agree with his accusation. Then Jesus replied them (Luke 11:47-48 NIV)

47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.

48 So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.

What did Jesus mean in this context? Perhaps the parallel verses from Matthew 23:27-31 can shed more light of it.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.

30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

Who built the tombs? Answer: the Pharisees.

What Jesus meant was, the Pharisees built elaborate tombs of the prophets as the acknowledgement the prophets were indeed from God. Their motive was neither honor the prophets nor confess the sin of their ancestors did. They were hypocrites. They did it just for their own honor, appeared to people they were righteous. Deep inside, they approved what their ancestors did.

Within these context, surely the word "generation" refer to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law at that time. However, these words from Jesus had an implication to all the generations thereafter.

Sin from the past, though it was not done by this generation, but if we approved it in mind, we committed the same sin.

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The Phrase, "this generation" is a suitable translation of the Greek αὕτη γενεὰ (or a slight variation) occurs often in the NT and almost always in the mouth of Jesus. The pronoun αὕτη is a demonstrative pronoun and this must be translated, "this" referring to those around Jesus at the time.

Jesus had much to say about those surrounding Him at the time He spoke:

  • Matt 11:36 - But to what will I compare this generation? It is like little children sitting in the markets and calling out to others,
  • Matt 12:41 - The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it. For they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, a greater than Jonah is here.
  • Matt 12:42 - The queen of the south will rise up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it. For she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
  • Matt 23:36 - Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
  • Matt 24:34 - Truly I say to you that this generation will not have passed away until all these things shall have taken place.
  • Mark 8:12 - And having sighed deeply in His spirit, He says, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation."
  • Mark 13:30 - Truly I say to you that this generation will not have passed away until all these things shall have taken place.
  • Luke 7:31 - "To what therefore will I liken the men of this generation? And to what are they like?
  • Luke 11:29 - And of the crowds being pressed around together, He began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it, except the sign of Jonah.
  • Luke 11:30 - For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, thus also the Son of Man will be to this generation.
  • Luke 11:31 - The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and will condemn them. For she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, greater than Solomon is here.
  • Luke 11:32 - The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it. For they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, greater than Jonah is here.
  • Luke 11:50 - so that the blood of all the prophets having been poured out from the foundation of the world might be charged against this generation,
  • Luke 11:51 - from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the one having perished between the altar and the house. Yes, I say to you, it will be required of this generation.
  • Luke 17:25 - But first it behooves Him to suffer many things, and to be rejected by this generation.
  • Luke 21:32 - Truly I say to you that this generation will not have passed away until all shall have taken place.

Unsurprisingly, Jesus may have been, at least in some of these quotes, alluding to similar ideas in the OT - see, Num 14:24, Deut 1:35, Ps 12:7, 71:18, 95:10, Jer 2:32, 7:29, 19:4, etc.

However, the usage is clear - Jesus is referring to the generation of people to whom He was speaking at the time. Indeed, Jesus uses the phrase "This generation" a number times in Luke 11 and always the sense is the people to whom He was speaking, often in contradistinction from earlier generations. (See above list.)

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The "generation" to which Jesus refers is that of those who rejected and slew him. The prophecies about what should occur to this generation were literally fulfilled.

In Biblical terms, one generation is accounted as spanning 40 years.

And the LORD's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed. (Numbers 32:13, KJV)

Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: (Psalm 95:10, KJV)

Christ was crucified in AD 30/31. In AD 70, forty years later, Jerusalem succumbed to the siege of Titus, the temple was destroyed, and millions of Jews perished. This was the "generation" which Jesus addressed--the generation that was to murder him in their complete rejection of him.

And lest we consider that their punishment was at all unfair (though they had made themselves guilty of the greatest of all sins in murdering the son of God), the Jews had themselves prophetically accepted responsibility for Jesus' blood.

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (Matthew 27:25, KJV)

This was the "generation" and the people whom Jesus addressed.

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The reference is to the people of the generation living at the time the words were supposedly spoken. The implication is that those who rejected his teaching when he was present among them would be held responsible for the deaths of previous prophets who had testified to him. More specifically, he is referring to his own people, as distinct from Gentiles, who did not benefit from the works of the previous prophets. Thus, earlier in the chapter we read:

This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

But can we take Jesus' words of condemnation here at face value? I think not. A problem arises in the fact that most of those who actually heard Jesus did not apparently suffer for rejecting him. Indeed some commentators believe these are not really Jesus' words but represent the viewpoint of the next generation of Christian teaching. For example, the Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary notes that in v. 49, Luke has added "apostles" in addition to "prophets" as those who will be persecuted. The commentator speculates that "apostles" was added by Luke to the original text (from Q) because Luke was aware that apostles had already been martyred. The Jesus Seminar, meanwhile, decided that this entire passage is not actually from Jesus but represents "the perspective of a later tradition." In both cases, the "generation" referred to would not be the one who heard Jesus, but the one who was alive in Luke's time, about one generation after the words were reportedly uttered.

Also, if one considers Jesus' words here to be authentic, they may be an example of hyperbole, similar to his command that one should pluck out one's eye if it causes you to sin. In other words, these condemnations may be a warning designed to stimulate hearers to accept Jesus, rather than a serious declaration of impending blood vengeance on Jesus' hearers.

Conclusion: If Jesus uttered these exact words, then the reference is to the Jewish generation who heard his teaching. However, the condemnation may not have been intended literally, and its authenticity is debated. It may be that Luke (and Matthew) describe Jesus as speaking in his time, but the reference is actually to their time, one generation later than the one that actually heard Jesus.

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    @DanFeffermanAre the words of Jesus "hyperbole" and was the condemnation not to be taken literally? The way to answer this possibility is to appeal to the adage, "the surest proof of a prophet is time." So what did history reveal? Real- time devastation, total destruction of the Temple, stone by stone (Matt. 24:2), ending of the Mosaic system of sacrifice, slavery of the people, pillaging for 31/2 years! (Dan. 12:11-12) It doesn't seem like hyperbole! Jesus mentioned a "gen." because it started with the Crucifixion diabolical deed and culminate with Roman conquest 40 years later.
    – ray grant
    May 6, 2023 at 22:52

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