Bible Question:

I was reading Matthew 24 and Jesus talks about “this generation” not passing away until His prophecies were fulfilled. Can you help me understand what He meant by this? Thanks.

Bible Answer:

The phrase “this generation” occurs in 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. (NASB) Matthew 24:34

There are three possible meanings for the phrase “this generation.” In order to answer this question, we need to first understand the context. This section of scripture is Jesus’ last major sermon in the book of Matthew. It is called the Olivet Discourse. The “sermon” starts by Jesus asking His disciples a question, and then He makes a statement about the temple.

And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

His disciples respond by asking Him a three part question,

And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (NASB) Matthew 24:3

Jesus proceeds to answer their question. The key to understanding verse 34 is to understand His message. The message is also given in Mark and Luke with some additional details. If we combine all of the information together we have a more complete understanding of His sermon. The following table provides an outline of Jesus’ message.

EventMatthew 24Mark 13Luke 21
Signs of the Endv. 4-14 Jesus describes the signs of the end. The gospel will be preached in the whole world.v. 5-13 Jesus describes the signs of the end.v. 8-19 Jesus describes the signs of the end.
Tribulation of Daniel the Prophetv. 15-20 Abomination of Desolation comes. Flee for safety.v. 14-18 Abomination of Desolation comes. Flee for safety.
Jerusalem Destroyedv. 20-24 Jerusalem to be destroyed and to be occupied until the times of the Gentiles are complete.
Great Tribulationv. 21-26 Great Tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world.v. 19-23 Time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation.
2nd Coming of Jesus & Judgmentv. 27-31 After the tribulation. Celestial wonders occur. Son of Man comes in the clouds. Judgment time.v. 24-27 After the tribulation. Celestial wonders occur. Son of Man comes in the clouds. Judgment time.v. 25-27 Celestial wonders occur. Son of Man comes in the clouds.
Parablev. 32-41 When you see all these things, Jesus is “at the door.” This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.v. 28-32 When you see all these things, Jesus is “at the door.” This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.v. 28-33 Redemption is near. When you see all these things, the Kingdom of God is near. This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

First Part

Jesus answered the first part of the question when He described the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Jesus had already predicted this would occur because they would reject Him (Luke 19:44). But scripture also indicates that Jerusalem will be occupied at the end of the age during the Great Tribulation (Daniel 9:25-27).

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. (NASB) Daniel 9:25-27

Daniel makes an amazing prediction. At the time of Daniel, Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt. So, the prophecy predicts the rebuilding of Jerusalem; then it predicts its destruction in the very next verse. What is amazing is the following verse tells us the sacrifices will be stopped which implies Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt, again. Today Jerusalem has been rebuilt and the temple is next. What Jesus did in the Olivet Discourse is make a near term prediction with a yet future, dual fulfillment.

Second & Thirds Parts

The second and third parts of the disciple’s question are provided in an outline of the end times which is shown in the table above. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was not the tribulation period. In Luke 21:20-24, Jesus said Jerusalem would be occupied “UNTIL.” This implies a future follows.

The words highlighted in bold refer to events that Jesus said would occur in the end times. These things have not all occurred. The most significant statement that Jesus made was that “all these things” would occur in the end. As we can see in Luke’s gospel “all” refers to the things coming before the “Kingdom of God.” All three gospels tell us that “all” includes the “preaching the gospel throughout the world, the abomination of desolation, the tribulation, the second coming of Jesus and the final judgment. These have not occurred yet since we are still here.

This generation”

The meaning of the Greek word “generation” is GENEA. This word means more than just “generation.” It has the idea of “birth,” “descent,” “children,” “race” and was even used to refer to the end times (Herodotus of Halicanassus III, 122). It is best to understand Jesus’ expression to mean “this race,” “this people,” or “this period of time.” Here is an example from Luke 16:8 (word is in bold),

And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. (NASB) Luke 16:8

Any other sense of the word is meaningless in the context of Jesus’ message. If we say “this generation” refers to those alive during Jesus’ first coming, then the destruction of Jerusalem HAD to also be His second coming, and the judgment of the wicked and the righteous. That is the end of everything! Yet, we are still here.

Conclusion:

The phrase “this generation” found in Matthew 24:34 refers to “this race,” “this people” or “this period of time.” Jesus’ sermon, the Olivet discourse, is about the tribulation, the second coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God and the final judgment. Jesus was making a statement about His truthfulness when He said,

. . . when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away. (NASB) Matthew 24:33-35

He was saying all these things will occur – My words are truth . . . This is the character of God. He is Truth and Sovereign.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way . . .be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! . . . we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (NASB) 2 Peter 3:11-13

Come quickly Lord . . .