On many occasions in the Bible “you” refers to people who are contemporaries of the person making a statement. For example, when God asked Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9), the “you” specifically referred to Adam. But on certain occasions “you” is used in a “trans-generational” way concerning national Israel that encompasses people beyond the current generation of Israelites living at the time.
To be more specific, a “trans-generational you” occurs when God addresses Israel as a nation with implications that what is said also applies to generations of Israel beyond the current generation. Knowing this can help us understand God’s purposes. The following are examples of the “trans-generational you” concept:
Deuteronomy 30 offers a “big picture” summary of Israel’s history from the time of Moses through Israel’s salvation and restoration after a period of dispersion. The previous two chapters (chs. 28-29) detailed both blessings and curses for covenant disobedience. It’s important to note that at this point in history Israel had not begun the conquest of the land. Nor at this point were the people subject to the curses, dispersion, and restoration that Deuteronomy 30 will discuss.
We start with verses 1-4. Note the references to “you” and “your” and how they go beyond the current generation of Israel at this time:
So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back.
What God describes involves:
1. Blessing for Israel
2. Curse for Israel
3. Banishment for covenant disobedience
4. Repentance after banishment
5. God restoring and gathering Israel from captivity
Then consider Deuteronomy 30:5-6:
The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.
Add to the previous list:
6. Restoration of Israel to the land with prosperity
7. Israel’s heart is circumcised (i.e. brought into the New Covenant)
If one looks at the list of seven items from Deuteronomy 30:1-6 above one could say the present generation of Israel experienced #1 above which is blessing. But #s 2 and 3, which are curse and banishment, would come to future generations. Then #s 4-7, which include salvation and restoration, still await future fulfillment from our standpoint in history (Rom. 11:26-27).
In sum, with Deuteronomy 30 “you” in reference to Israel does not only apply to the specific people who heard these words. The “you” is national Israel that encompasses subsequent generations of Israel.
Earlier in Deuteronomy the Lord also used “you” in a trans-generational way for Israel. For most of Deuteronomy 4, the Lord offered instruction that directly impacted the current generation of Israel. For example 4:1 states:
Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Yet God then offered words that go beyond the current generation to other generations of Israel that will experience dispersion to the nations, distress, and then restoration to the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant in “the latter days”:
The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them (Deut 4:27-31).
Like Deuteronomy 30, the predictions concerning Israel in Deuteronomy 4 are predictions concerning national Israel that impact several generations of Israel and cover thousands of years.
Leviticus 26 also applies the trans-generational you concept to Israel. Much of what is told Israel in Leviticus 26 involves the present generation of Israel. For example, verse 1 states, “‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.” This certainly applies to the Israel of Moses’ day.
Yet this chapter also uses “you” concerning generations of Israel still to come:
I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you (26:17a).
I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant; and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands (26:25).
I will lay waste your cities (26:31a).
I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it. You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. (26:32-33).
Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. (26:34).
Then 26:40-45 describes a coming a future restoration of national Israel to the land when Israel believes:
If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers…. then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land (vv. 40, 42).
The trans-generational you concept is not just an Old Testament truth. Jesus also uses the trans-generational you concerning Israel. In his blistering attacks and woes against the current Jewish religious leaders Jesus declared:
so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar (Matt 23:35-36).
Jesus spoke to a current generation of Jewish leaders yet they carried guilt for all the righteous blood that has been shed since the very first murder involving Abel through Zechariah. Obviously, those current leaders did not personally kill Abel and Zechariah. But as corporate representatives of Israel they carry the guilt for Jewish leadership of past generations. In this case the transgenerational you involves previous generations.
Another trans-generational you occurs in Matthew 23:37-39:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'
This passage and its use of “you” and “your” has implications for Israel past, present, and future. Israel had killed the previous prophets (past). And likewise, the current generation was not to repent and believe in Jesus the Messiah—“you were unwilling.” This will lead to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70—“your house is being left to you desolate!” Plus, this generation of Israel will no longer see Jesus.
But Jesus’ words in verse 39 then apply “you” to a future believing generation of Israel—“until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” This quote from Psalm 118 anticipates a positive reception of the Messiah from Israel, something that Paul predicts in Romans 11:26. In sum, the current generation of Israel rejected Jesus but a future one will accept Him. That the current generation never repented shows the future generation is a different generation of Israel. Altogether, this indicates that Jesus uses “you” for Israel in a transgenerational manner—past, present, and future.
“You” in Matthew 24
Understanding the “trans-generational you” concept can help with understanding Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the timing of the events discussed here. While speaking to the disciples about events to come concerning the temple, Jerusalem, the land of Israel, and His own coming, Jesus will often use “you”:
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars (24:6).
Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (24:15a).
But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath (24:20).
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him (24:23).
Some insist that Jesus’ use of “you” demands that the events He discusses must be fulfilled in the lifetime of the apostles. But must this be the case? Not necessarily. If Jesus spoke to the apostles as representatives of Israel (see Matt 19:28; 21:43), the “you” statements could be trans-generational like they were immediately prior in Matthew 23:35-39. Thus, “you” could apply to Israel as a nation in general and the group of Israelites alive at the time of the predicted events.
This possibility is bolstered by the fact that Jesus himself indicated that He did not know the timing of His own coming—“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt 24:36). This statement is very significant since Jesus is saying the arrival of these events cannot be known. If Jesus willingly did not know the timing of these events we must be careful when insisting these had to be fulfilled in the first century. Also, this statement means it was possible that the fulfillment of them could transcend the lifetime of the current disciples.
But some will insist that Jesus’ statement that “this generation will not pass away until all these things takes place” demands a first century fulfillment of Matthew 24. Yet while the meaning of “this generation” is important, this is not the only factor to consider. The following also must be considered:
1. The actual fulfillment of these events in history.
2. Jesus’ statement that He does not know the timing of these events.
3. Jesus’ use of the “trans-generational you” for Israel in this context.
4. Matthew 23:37-39 strongly implied that a future believing generation of Israel would follow the current unbelieving generation. This implies some gap of time for this scenario to play out.
When these factors are also taken into account a rigid first-century fulfillment understanding of everything in Matthew 24 is not necessary.
I think the following approach is most likely: With Matthew 24 Jesus addressed the apostles as representatives of Israel concerning the timing of events related to Israel, the temple, the land, and His own return. As He did at the end of Matthew 23, Jesus uses “you” in a trans-generational manner concerning Israel, and in doing so He is not claiming the events He described in Matthew 24 must be fulfilled in a few years or decades (although this is possible). Yet He does say that the “generation” (Matt 24:34) that experiences the unfolding of the events in Matthew 24 will be the generation of Israel that sees all these things fulfilled, including the second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:29-31). Those who witness the unfolding of these events from the beginning (whenever they occur) will see the conclusion culminating in Jesus’ second coming to earth. But when this complex of events will begin is only known by the Father.