The current judicial exercise in ensuring a hard separation between religion and the federal or state governments has a fairly short history. It really dates to the last century when Justice Hugo Black resurrected a comment that Thomas Jefferson had made in reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association. The Connecticut group had written to congratulate him upon his election to the Presidency in 1804. His use of the phrase â€œa wall of separationâ€ is its first occurrence in text in this land, and in its context it was used as part of his explanation as to why he had chosen not to call for a national day of fasting and thanksgiving as his two predecessors had done upon election. Justice Blackâ€™s appropriation of the remark was much more insidious.
This is such a small thing.
“But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
In the English language when the word this is used as a modifier, it always refers to what is near; consequently, the word that is used to refer to what is distant from the speaker. (The same is true for the plural forms: these and those.) The corresponding Greek word for this occurs in verse 23 precisely where the English version has it placed. The point of it all is that this people refers to the people surrounding those being addressed in the discourse, and does not refer to that people somewhere far away by either distance or time. So we have in the text yet another tiny clue that the audience present when Jesus made the remarks was being talked about directly and presently and that the things being addressed were figuratively right in front of their collective eyes.
Once again, simply by applying common rules of language, we are deterred from having the passage allude to things far, far, away. It is his Jerusalem and his Judea that Jesus was talking about, and he was clearly addressing those of that day. The only way that anyone could make this to project into the future would be to ignore what is written and how it was written, and to hope that the listeners may not know the difference, or care about it.
Jesus was not looking through binoculars off beyond the millennium to some facsimile in our time or somewhere beyond. He was answering a direct question that had been asked of him, and he was answering it in terms that could be understood by the men that had asked the questions.