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The Crux of the Matter (A Kingdom Teaching)
What Did Jesus Mean by: "This Generation?"
"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." (Jesus, Matthew 24:34)
It is with a careful step that I come before you by way of this correspondence, having established in our previous writing that the Kingdom of the Son of Man (i.e. the kingdom of the people of the saints of the most High) was established within the generation of the contemporaries of Jesus. In establishing that proposition, Matthew 24: 34 was offered. In this verse Jesus said that: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” One must consider the subjects of the word “all” which Jesus said would be fulfilled; second, His meaning of “generation” must be determined.
First, in considering the list of things included in the “all” a quick inventory of the verses leading up to verse 34 would prove helpful.
Jesus is answering a three-part question that was asked Him by His disciples: “Tell us, when shall these things be?” and, “ what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Verse 3). The following items are included in the “signs:” Jesus said they were to look for:
- The coming of false messiahs (christs) (verse 5).
- The birth pangs of wars, famines, pestilence is, and earthquakes (see verses 6, 7, 8).
- Persecution of the Church (see verses 9, 10).
- The appearing of false prophets (see verse 11).
- The love of the saints growing cold (see verse 12).
- The Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world (see verse 14).
- The appearing of the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet (see verse 15).
- The great tribulation (see verse 21).
- The darkening of the sun and the moon; the falling of the stars of heaven; the shaking of the powers of heaven (see verse 29).
- The appearing of the “sign of the Son of Man in heaven” (see verse 30).
Then Jesus said: “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (see verses 33-34).
The “signs” of the times as spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24 are said to take place within a particular window. Jesus said, “This generation shall not pass, til all these things be fulfilled.” This statement has plagued Futurist from the very first. What did Christ mean? Is it possible he meant what he said; or, does “generation” here, have some special meaning that is particular to this passage alone? This letter will explore three interpretations assigned to the word “generation” as given in Matthew 24:34.
Depending on one’s eschatology, the word generation has been understood three different ways:
- Generation: a race; in this case the race of the Jews.
- Generation: a period of time lasting anywhere from 40-100 years; assigned to the generation alive when these “signs” began to take place.
- Generation: a 40-100 year period of time beginning when Jesus spoke the prophecy and assigned to his contemporaries (generation) exclusively.
It appears to me that a proper understanding of Matthew chapter 24 depends on a correct understanding of verse 34.
Matthew 24:34 “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
And, further, it is certain that how we see these prophecies determines directly how we should live our Christian lives. When attempting to answer the question, “How then shall we live?” one must have a correct understanding of Kingdom theology, of which the prophecies of Daniel, the teachings of Jesus (in the Gospel of Matthew) on the kingdom, and John’s visions (in the book of Revelation) are all key components.
We will take up the three above-mentioned interpretations of the word “generation” in turn.
First, there is a consideration of the meaning of the word “generation” as it applies to “race.” The word “generation” in the Greek is “genea,” pronounced “ghen-eh- ah;” Strong’s #NT1074 has as its meaning: a generation; and by implication an age (the period or the persons) - age, generation, nation, time. The word genea is presumed to be from the word genos (Strong’s #NT 1085) which means: kin: born, country(man), diverse city, generation, kind(red), nation, offspring, stock. Gnos does, in fact, indicate (race) in Acts 7:19; 2 Corinthians 11:26; Philippians 3:5; Galatians 1:14; 1 Peter 2:9. On the strength of this association of the two words (i.e. genea and genos), some persons have postulated the meaning of “generation,” as used by Jesus in Matthew 24:34, to indicate the race of the Jews. In which case Jesus would be saying that the Jewish race would not disappear from the earth before all the things he prophesied would be fulfilled. By this interpretation the fulfillment of Matthew chapter 24 is projected into the end of human history.
A second interpretation is a particular “generation” (a whole multitude of men living at the same time - Thayer) living at the time all the signs of Matthew chapter 24 begin to take place. In this view, Matthew 24:33 cited as the reason for this understanding. That verse reads: “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” And then Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (verse 34). So, the reasoning goes: The generation (verse 34) that sees these things (verse 33) shall not pass till all is fulfilled (verse 34).
The third interpretation of “generation,” as used by Jesus in Matthew 24:34 is to understand Him in the most common sense of the term. Always, when interpreting any written material (especially Holy Scripture) the first consideration must go to the most common usage of words or phrases. In this way the most common understanding of a word or phrase is the most probable meaning, unless the context of the passage indicates a special interpretation is required. There is no such indicators in the words of Jesus from His Olivet Discourse; the opposite is true.
The discourse of chapters 24 and 25 is but a continuation of the discourse from chapter 23. That is to say: The dialogue between Jesus and His disciples in Matthew 24:1-3 was a result of the teachings of Jesus from chapter 23. It was in chapter 23 that Christ spoke of judgment coming upon His generation (see 23:33, 36-38). By Matthew 24:34 the subject had not changed. Jesus was still speaking of His generation. He has kept His contemporaries in view. Joseph Henry Thayer says that “genea” (generation) of Matthew 24:34 means: “the whole multitude of men living at the same time” as Christ.
There is some debate as to just how many years a generation covers. Some suggest 40 years, others 70 years, and still others 100 years (see Genesis 15:16). At any rate, the meaning of Jesus is clear that the judgment of which He spoke (in chapters 23 and 24) was immanent within his generation. Within 40 years of this prophecy Jerusalem was captured by the Romans and the temple was completely destroyed effectively ending Jewish temple worship; within 100 years the Romans had so depopulated the land of Jews that no Jew was allowed in all of Judea on penalty of death.
In determining just how Jesus is using the term “generation,” in Matthew 24:34, one must discover how He was accustomed to using the word. A listing follows of all the places Jesus employed “genea” (generation):
Matthew 11:16; 12:34, 39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:33; 23:36; *24:34. Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; 13:30. Luke 7:31; 9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 16:18; 17:25; 21:32.
One will notice that all the above references are from the synoptic Gospels. Not once did He (Jesus) alter His application of the word from meaning the people who were His contemporaries. For any Bible teacher to give the word “genea” (generation, as it appears in Matthew 24:34) a meaning that is adverse to the way Jesus employed the word in every other place, is a blatant violation of the law of context.
The problem with the interpretation of “race” is that Jesus never employed the word “genea” (generation) in that sense. In addition, those who championed such an understanding admittedly have an agenda for which they are willing to interpret the word out of its context; and, A TEXT WITHOUT CONTEXT IS A PRETEXT.
The second interpretation of: “the generation alive when the signs began” fares no better when one considers that there have always been wars and rumors of wars; earthquakes have happened throughout history (in fact, more in Roman times than now); each age has produced its share of self proclaimed messiahs - so, How could anyone know which generation would be the “end-time generation?” In modern times scholars (so-called) have pointed to the year 1917 (World War I—as the Beginning of Sorrows), and postulated the generation alive during that year as the End-Time Generation. Yet, others (just as scholarly—[?]) have pointed to the founding of the state of Israel in the year in 1948 as the beginning of the End-Time Generation (also called the Rapture Generation), and projected the date of 1988 for the Lord’s return. (This group chose as a definition for generation a 40 year time span; 40 years from the founding of Israel as an independent state in 1948 would bring us to 1988.) They were all wrong!
I would ask you to excuse a couple down-home sayings that are very appropriate at this moment: It is time to stop riding a dead horse; or said another way: stop working with a dog that just won’t hunt.
The Futuristic view of Matthew 24 (and most of Revelation, for that part) has proven itself false with the passing of time. It has embarrassed the Gospel of Christ, and weaken the position of the Church in the world. We must accept that the predictions of Jesus contained in Matthew 24:4-34 were fulfilled just as He said they would be—in the first century. Then we can get on with applying ourselves to the establishing of His kingdom in the earth, instead of spending all of our energy on hoping to escape into the ether (the wide blue yonder). That day will come—for sure; but now there is work to be done. OCCUPY TILL HE COMES!
☩ Jerry Hayes
Bishop's Other Articles In This Series
- The Nature of the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God. What is it? What is its make-up and nature. This article ventures into these questions.
- Revelation’s Warnings Of Imminence
We continue our study of Kingdom theology by reviewing Revelation's quadruple warnings of imminent fulfillment. The challenge to futurism is glaring.
- When Was the Book of Revelation Written?
When the book of Revelation was written has everything to do concerning how the books prophecies are to be interpreted. The scholars are divided as to an early and late date. Which is correct?
- Understanding the Question, A Study in Kingdom Theology
The subject matter of this paper is understanding the question, which is the genesis for the Olivet discourse. How may one arrive at the proper answer not understanding the question?
- The Kingdom Teachings of Jesus, Part I
This article begins a series on the Kingdom teachings of Jesus. Here we look to Christ's own words concerning the Messianic Kingdom, its nature and particulars.
- The Kingdom Teachings of Jesus, Part II
In this article several passages from the Gospel of Matthew are reviewed in regard to the Kingdom teachings of Christ. Matthew writes to inform his readers that Jesus established the throne of David.
- The Kingdom Teachings of Jesus, Part III
Part III of the Kingdom teachings of Jesus looks at Mt 13, called "The Kingdom Chapter." Here, Jesus teaches 7 kingdom parables. The students of ecclesiology, and eschatology can not ignore this ch.
- The Kingdom Teachings of Jesus, Part IV (The Coming of the Son of Man)
This 4th in a series of Kingdom Teachings of Jesus examines Mt 16:27-28; in particular the statement concerning some of His hears being alive when He returned with the holy Angels.
- Daniel's Kingdom of the Son of Man
Our article deals with the Kingdom of the Son of Man as presented by the prophet Daniel.
You Would Enjoy Reading This Book By Bishop J L Hayes
After spending over forty years in the dispensational doctrine, and having raise my children in that theological framework, I became a convinced adherent to a "kingdom" theology that recognizes the Church as the Israel of God, and that the first century actually saw the fulfillment of most of Matthew chapter 24. "Letters to My Children on Apostolic Kingdom Theology" is a compilation of twenty four letters written to my children explaining my journey, and showing how we were led astray from the apostolic teaching of Scripture to embrace a view recently come into the Lord's church, of which the apostles knew nothing. These "Letters" provide a systematic approach to Apostolic Eschatological study of Scripture. It is sure to interest all students of Scriptures.