I was reading Matthew 24 where Jesus talks about “this generation” not passing away until His prophecies are fulfilled. Can you help me understand what He meant by this?
In Matthew 24-25, Jesus gave His last recorded major message. In this message, Jesus used the phrase “this generation.” This article explains the phrase “this generation” which occurs in the three synoptic gospels: Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32.
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 (NASB)
What does “this generation” mean in Matthew 24:34? There are three possible meanings to this phrase. We can discover the meaning after we understand the context of the verse.
Context of the Olivet Discourse
The answer Jesus gave to His disciples about the end times is called the Olivet Discourse. The context of Matthew 24:1-25:46; Mark 13:5-27; and Luke 21:8-28 is that the disciples wanted to know when “will all these things be.” They wanted to know the signs of the end times. Earlier Luke 19:11 reveals the disciples assumed the kingdom of God would appear immediately, but they were wrong. Later after Christ’s death and resurrection Luke 24:21 tells us that two disciples were looking for the kingdom. In addition, Acts 1:6 says the disciples asked when the kingdom would appear. Matthew 24:4 already told us the disciples were curious about the end time events. That is, the disciple’s overriding concern of the disciples in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about the arrival of the earthly kingdom. However, amillennialist, postmillennialist and preterists would have us believe they were primarily concerned about the temple. But the message of the gospels and the book of Acts reveal that is not true. So, the content of this generation” in Matthew 24:34 is about future events, and not about the temple.
Meaning of This Generation — Option 1
The Greek word that is translated as “generation” in Matthew 24:34 is genea. This word means more than just “generation.” It has the idea of birth, descent, descendants, family, and race. It was even used to refer to the end times. Therefore, some have claimed that “this generation” refers to the Jewish race. That is, the Jewish race would not disappear until the tribulation and the second coming of Christ have occurred for Matthew 24:34 states that this generation would not pass away “until all these things take place.” That is, all these things that are described in verses 5-24. If that were the correct meaning, then the promise would be an empty or hollow one because the Jewish race will continue until heaven and earth have passed away (2 Peter 3:10-13) is realized. This option would imply that Jesus hoped all these things would occur in some far distant future before everyone died. So, this generation cannot refer to the Jewish race.
Meaning of This Generation — Option 2
A second view says the word generation refers to the generation of people who were alive when Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse in A.D. 33. Some claim that “generation” consistently means the people who were alive in Jesus’ day throughout the New Testament. But a search for genea in the New Testament reveals that is not true. The word genea occurs forty-three times in the New Testament. The plural form of genea is used many times to refer to multiple generations and not just the people who were alive at the time of Christ. But we are interested in the singular form of genea. So here are a few examples. They are sufficient to demonstrate that the singular form of genea does not always refer to the people of Jesus’ day. For example, in Luke 1:50 it is clear that generation does not refer to those in Christ’s time. It says, “upon generation after generation.” In Hebrews 3:9-10, generation does not refer to people to whom Jesus spoke those words either. It refers to the generation in the wilderness. The context is important. Some Bible teachers would have us believe that generation as used in the New Testament always refers to the people of Jesus’ time prior to A.D. 70.
But the context of the Matthew passage is about the generation who will be living when all these things occur. That is the context of the passage. So, amillennialist, postmillennialist and preterists, without solid proof, speculate that the generation referred to a time span of thirty or forty years, since that is the time from procreation to procreation and takes them from A.D. 33 to A.D. 70. It is important to remember that generation is not a technical term. It is a general word with broad Semantic range and must be interpreted by the context.
Now if we assume that generation does refer to the people of Jesus’ time, we have a serious problem with this view. First, all these things did not occur before A.D. 70. For example, the prophecy in Matthew 24:14 that states the gospel would be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations could not have occurred before A.D. 70. What we know is that the gospel may have been preached in Spain since the apostle Paul had hoped to do that. But there is no proof the gospel was ever preached there or any in any other of the continents on the globe. That is, the gospel was not preached to all nations. It is speculation that it must have occurred, but speculation does not prove occurrence.
A second point is that both Daniel 9:27 and 12:11 refer to the abomination of desolation as a future event, but Daniel 11:31 does not. Yet, some Bible teachers want us to believe Matthew 24:15 is referring exclusively to only Daniel 11:31. That was a past event. But it is more likely that Jesus referred to the future desolation event described in Daniel 9:27 and 12:11. The context of Daniel 12 is the final resurrection at the end of the age—resurrection and rewards. So, Daniel 12:11 could not have occurred in AD. 70, unless one wants to employ an allegorical hermeneutic and not a literal one. An allegorical hermeneutic will allow the author to creatively redefine anything in the pages of Scripture that does not fit his eschatological system.
Third, Matthew 24:30 says that Christ would be seen in the clouds of the sky.
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30 (NASB)
Some Bible teachers would have us believe that verse 30 says the people would see a sign. So, they ask what was the sign? Just notice the context. It defines the sign. It says the people would see the Son of Man. The sign will be the Son of Man. The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson states that the correct understanding of the first part of the verse is “and then will appear the sign, which is the Son of Man in heaven.” In Greek grammar this is an appositional use of the genitive case. Advocates of this view state this sign occurred in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. But Mark 13:26 clearly and literally tells us “they will see the Son of Man.” Jesus will be the sign, and not some celestial anomalies.
Fourth, notice that Matthew 24:30 says “all the tribes of the earth will mourn” when they see the Son of Man coming. But there are no historical records of anyone seeing Jesus in A.D. 70. It is not enough to claim the second coming of Christ occurred over Jerusalem. Some Bible teachers change their literal approach to an allegorical approach of interpretation and speculate that all the tribes of the earth will mourn” means the tribes of Israel. That is, “all the tribes of the earth” does not mean all the tribes of the earth. The whole earth does not need to see Him. But the verse says all of the tribes of the world will see this event. They would see Jesus and not some unusual event in the sky. Jesus clearly implied it would be a worldwide spectacle in verse 27. Verse 27 indicates that everyone who is alive will see Him. The point is that the second coming did not occur in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. To claim that the second coming did occur in a spiritual sense begs the question why not a physical occurrence?
Fifth, the event in Matthew 24:31 has not occurred yet. Those who claim verse 31 has already occurred cannot support their claim. If all of the elect were gathered together, where did the angels collect them?
And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Matthew 24:31 (NASB)
Did they take them to Israel? Were the saints taken to heaven? Some claim this refers to resurrected saints, but it does not say anything about a resurrection. Preterists want us to believe this speaks of spiritual resurrections but that is an allegorical interpretation and not a literal one. Those who employ an allegorical hermeneutic do so when the literal approach contradicts their theological view. They employ an inconsistent hermeneutic, or method of interpretation. The most logical conclusion is that this event is described in Matthew 25:31-46. The passage desribes the Goat and Sheep Judgment or the Judgment of the Nations. In the passage we are told the saints, the sheep, will enter the Father’s kingdom, that is, the millennial kingdom. The point is there is a much more logical and literal explain of Matthew 24:31, rather than to speculate it is about a spiritual resurrection, for resurrection is not even mentioned.
Sixth, according to Revelation the events in verses 29-31 are future prophecies. They are not historical events. Why? Because Revelation was written about A.D. 95-96 and not before A.D. 70. Yet, preterits argue for a change of date for the book of Revelation because it eliminates their view.
Seventh, we must realize that Matthew 24:36 reveals Jesus could not have connected the second coming of Christ to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Jesus could not have said “this generation” would see all of these events. That is, He could not and would not have said these events would culminate forty years later. He could not have claimed His second coming would occur forty years later when Jerusalem was destroyed. Why? Because He did not know the day or hour of all these things. He did not know the timing. But He could describe all these future things that would occur in the distant future. “This generation” does not refer to the one in A.D. 33. It refers to the generation that will live during the future tribulation before the second coning of Christ. For more about this point, visit option 3.
So, all these things have not occurred yet. Therefore the generation died and never experienced all these things. They never experienced the tribulation that was promised in Daniel 9:27 (see Matthew 24:21) and the second coming of Christ. They never saw the elect gathered from the four winds as promised in Matthew 24:31. They did not experience all these things because they had not yet occurred.
So, this generation cannot refer to those who were alive when Jesus taught the Olivet Discourse for they did not see the tribulation, the second coming of Christ, and the millennial kingdom. In addition, Jesus told the disciples in Luke 17:22-24 that they would not see His second coming. Further, Matthew 16:28 was realized on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). For in 2 Peter 1:16-18 the apostle Peter says he saw “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” and connects it to His experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had a foretaste of what would occur. That is a clear literal understanding of Matthew 16:28-17:9. The point is all these things have not yet taken place and are yet to occur. Consequently, this view is to be rejected.
Meaning of This Generation — Option 3
The best answer to what does “this generation” mean in Matthew 24:34 is to understand the expression “this generation” as referring to those who will be alive when all these things will occur. All these things includes the tribulation (Matthew 24:14, 15, 21, 27-31). The phrase “will not pass away until all these things take place” reveals that those on the earth will experience the things that Jesus described in Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23; and Luke 21:20-24. That is, the generation that will be alive at the start of the tribulation will experience the events of the tribulation and the second coming of Christ.
The message of Matthew 24:4-36 is that the events that will occur 1) before and during the first half of the tribulation or the signs before the end (Matthew 24:5-14; Mark 13:5-13; Luke 21:8-19), 2) during the last half of the tribulation (Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23; Luke 21:20-24), the second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28), and the millennial kingdom that will follow afterward (Matthew 24:32-25:46).
When Jesus spoke about the events that will occur during the last half of the tribulation before the second coming, He was describing the events that the Jews who will be living at that point in time will experience (Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23; Luke 21:20-24).
This is a great promise for any unbeliever who experiences the horrors of the tribulation. They will experience war, famine, and death. Lord willing, some will believe in Jesus Christ as their God, and Savior. Come quickly Lord Jesus . . .
1. Herodotus of Halicanassus III, 122.
2. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Mt 24:30.
Suggested Links:The Rapture of the Church
When Will the Rapture Occur? — Pre, Mid, or Posttribulation
God’s Timeline For The Future
Twelve Signs of the End Times, part 1
Twelve Signs of the End Times, part 2
When was the book of Revelation written by the apostle John?