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What Jesus Meant by 'This Generation Shall Not Pass'
Why is Matthew 24:34 difficult to understand?
- Mat 24:34 KJV Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
- Mat 24:34 NET I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
'Verily I say unto you' According to Thayer 'verily' in the KJV means 'at the beginning of a discourse - surely, truly, of a truth'.
Jesus used 'verily' to emphasise His statement. Having the attention of His audience, He continued with a simple declaration concerning His generation.
A Quote from the New English Translation Notes
Matthew 24:34 'This is one of the hardest verses in the gospels to interpret. Various views exist for what generation means. (1) Some take it as meaning “race” and thus as an assurance that the Jewish race (nation) will not pass away. But it is very questionable that the Greek term γενεά (genea) can have this meaning. Two other options are possible. (2) Generation might mean “this type of generation” and refer to the generation of wicked humanity. Then the point is that humanity will not perish, because God will redeem it. Or (3) generation may refer to “the generation that sees the signs of the end” (v. 30), who will also see the end itself. In other words, once the movement to the return of Christ starts, all the events connected with it happen very quickly, in rapid succession.'
'This is one of the hardest verses in the gospels to interpret' Seriously, what an embarrassing admission. The New English Translation Notes provide an example of how far some commentators will go to defend their eschatological view. In my opinion, Matthew 24:34 is one of the hardest verses in the gospels to misinterpret!
There is an option the NETN failed to mention; Jesus meant exactly what He said! Did Jesus use ambiguous language? Of course He didn't. The New Testament writers clearly understood Him; all anticipated His return within the lifetime of their generation.
'This generation shall not pass’ Jesus spoke specifically to His generation. Surely, if He had a gap of 2000 years in mind, He would have said so.
Scholars have a dilemma, in particular, those who misrepresent 'this generation' to accommodate their futuristic 'end times' scenario. Many conveniently downplay this prophecy, however, by so doing they also discredit Jesus our Prophet. The repercussions of acknowledging the simple truth of this prophecy would cause the theological world insurmountable embarrassment.
A Quote from C S Lewis
'But there is worse to come. “Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.”'
It is a pity C S Lewis did not consider the Preterist view rather than conclude Jesus got it wrong!
Let's examine other portions of Scripture that include the phrase 'this generation'.
Which generation was Jesus referring to in Matthew 24:34?
Jesus' Generation was 'This Generation'
This Generation is Like Little Children
Mat 11:16-19 YLT `And to what shall I liken this generation? it is like little children in market-places, sitting and calling to their comrades, 17 and saying, We piped unto you, and ye did not dance, we lamented to you, and ye did not smite the breast. 18 `For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a demon; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Lo, a man, a glutton, and a wine-drinker, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners, and wisdom was justified of her children.'
In this portion of Scripture Jesus admonished the Jews of His generation for their vacillation and fickleness...Luke 7:31-35. He said they were like ungrateful children because nothing pleased them. Was Jesus applying this statement to a future generation? Of course not.
A Faithless and Perverse Generation
Mat 17:17 KJV Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
It is obvious Jesus was speaking to His generation, He rebuked those in His midst...Mark 9:19.
This Generation is Evil
- Luk 11:29 YLT And the multitudes crowding together upon him, he began to say, This generation is evil, a sign it doth seek after, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet,
Without question, ‘this generation’ applied to Jesus’ generation, the ‘sign of Jonah’ was a type and foreshadow of Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus was Rejected of This Generation
- Luk 17:25 KJV But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
A Quote from Adam Clarke's Commentary
Luke 17:25 'But first must he suffer many things - As the cup of the iniquity of this people shall not be full till they have finally rejected and crucified the Lord of life and glory, so this desolation cannot take place till after my death.'
This Untoward Generation
- Act 2:40 KJV And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
In Acts 2:40 Peter's audience was Jesus’ generation.
All These Things Shall Come Upon This Generation
- Mat 23:35-36 YLT that on you may come all the righteous blood being poured out on the earth from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar: 36 verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
In Matthew 23, Jesus condemned the Scribes and the Pharisees, obviously those of His day. He warned them the 'judgement of gehenna’ was about to come upon them. He did not assign this judgement to a generation thousands of years in the future.
Required of This Generation
- Luk 11:50-51KJV That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
Jesus prophesied judgement on Old Covenant Israel. In AD 70, the Roman Army decimated His impenitent generation.
This or That Generation
- Mat 24:34-35 KJV 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
'This generation’ If Jesus had a future generation in mind, He would have said ‘that generation’ or ‘the generation’ instead of 'this generation'.
'Heaven and earth shall pass away’ Referred to the passing of Old Covenant Israel.
'my words shall not pass away’ The words of Jesus concerning the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God will never pass away…Mark 13:30-31; Luke 21:32-33.
If we take Jesus at His word, we must accept He categorically stated His return would be during the lifetime of His generation.
The aforementioned examples concerned Jesus’ generation, therefore, it is imperative we remain consistent when interpreting Matthew 24:34.
A Quote from Joseph Benson's Commentary
Matthew 24:32-35 '.......“It is to me a wonder,” says Bishop Newton, “how any man can refer part of the foregoing discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem, and part to the end of the world, or any other distant event, when it is said so positively here in the conclusion, All these things shall be fulfilled in this generation. And it seems as if our Lord had been aware of some such misapplication of his words, by adding yet greater force and emphasis to his affirmation, Matthew 24:35, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away — That is, heaven and earth shall sooner, or more easily pass away than my words; the frame of the universe shall sooner, or more easily pass away than my words shall not be fulfilled. In another place, (Matthew 16:28,) he says, There are some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see, the Son of man coming in his kingdom, intimating that the event would not take place immediately, and yet not at such a distance of time but that some then living would be spectators of the calamities coming upon the nation. In like manner, he says to the women who bewailed him as he was going to be crucified, Luke 23:28, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children; which words sufficiently implied that the days of distress and misery were coming, and would fall on them and their children. But at that time there was not any appearance of such an immediate ruin. The wisest politician could not have inferred any such thing from the then present state of affairs. Nothing less than divine prescience could have foreseen and foretold it.” '
Luke 11:50-51 'The blood of all shall be required of this generation - That is, shall be visibly and terribly punished upon it. And so it was within forty years, in a most astonishing manner, by the dreadful destruction of the temple, the city, and the whole nation…’— John Wesley, Explanatory Notes
The Parable of the Fig Tree
- Mat 24:32 KJV Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
A Quote from Hal Lindsey
'When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the 'fig tree' put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was 'at the door,' ready to return.'
The Mount of Olives was a source of figs as well as olives, summer was near when the leaves appeared on the fig trees; it was inevitable the trees were about to bear fruit. The signs prior to Christ's return in judgement were as dependable as the leaves on the Fig tree.
- Luk 21:29 KJV And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees
The parable was not specifically about the fig tree, Luke included 'all the trees'. Jesus emphasised the certainty of the signs leading to the end of the Old Covenant Age, not to the restoration of the Israel in 1948.
- Mat 24:33 KJV So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know it is near, even at the doors.
Audience relevance - Jesus was speaking to His disciples. The timeline - 'it is near, even at the doors'.
- Mat 24:34 KJV Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
When Matthew 24:32-34 is read in context, it is patently clear Jesus had His generation in mind.
The phrase 'This generation' appears 16 times in the gospels, and always concerning Christ's generation.
The Predictions of Jesus
When Jesus answered the questions asked by His disciples, He constantly responded:
‘and ye shall hear'
‘when ye shall see'
‘then shall they deliver you’
‘and shall kill you'
‘when ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation’
Jesus spoke directly to His disciples when He prophesied the fulfillment of impending events.
The End of the Age
- Mat 24:3 YLT And when he is sitting on the mount of the Olives, the disciples came near to him by himself, saying, 'Tell us, when shall these be? and what is the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?
Dispensationalism teaches Matthew 24:3 is pertinent to our generation!
To understand the 'end times', it is crucial to identify the 'age' the disciples were anxious about. They lived during the Old Covenant Age, and the Prophets had foretold the judgement during its 'latter days'…Deuteronomy 31:29, Daniel 12:6-13.
Eph 1:21 YLT far above all principality, and authority, and might, and lordship, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in the coming one;
What 'age' would have been of most interest to them? Surely, the one in which they were living. Their immediate concern was the end of the Old Covenant with its consequences…Hebrews 8:13. After all, why would they ask about the end of the glorious coming age?
Has this Hub challenged you to search the Scriptures?
It is inconsistent to accept all the Scriptures examined refer to Jesus’ generation except for one, Matthew 24:34.
Simply put, those who misrepresent the meaning of ‘this generation’ do so because their eschatology demands it.
Is there a 2000 years 'gap' or have scholars made a 'gaffe'?
What do you think?
© 2011 Alexander Gibb