When you read Matthew 24:34 from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matt 24; Mark 13, Luke 21), how do you interpret the phrase “This Generation” in the context of “shall not pass away until “all these things be fulfilled“? Is it possible that we are living in the “This Generation” to which Jesus was referring? Since reading Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” in the fall of 1972 (the first Christian book I ever read), I have been told time and again that we are living in the terminal generation.
And the secular predictions are harmonically converging as well, with the Mayan calendar’s Doomsday set for December 21, 2012. Is the cosmic realignment going to create a polar shift of catastrophic proportions? Is Jack Van Impe’s prediction of “The end of days 2012” Scripturally plausible? Are “All these things” finally upon us? Inquiring minds want to know.
Does all this obsession with “the end” sound familiar? Are you growing weary feeling driven and tossed by the winds of these perpetual prophetic speculations?
Before we begin dissecting what some have called the most confusing verse in the Bible, let me offer two rather common refrains that I believe are birthed out of frustration with the incessant prognostications.
1. Studying eschatology seems like a lesson in futility. It’s a colossal waste of both time and energy attempting to understand this whole end times prophecy conundrum.
2. No man can know the day nor the hour since Jesus’ return would be like a thief in the night.
I think it’s quite natural to feel confused and perplexed. I felt that way for decades. I was one of the panmillennials, who figured it would all pan out in the end so why bother.
Over the past few years I have come to a very different conclusion. As I survey the eschatological landscape, one’s modern day “end times” views (most of us have them even if they aren’t well defined in our minds) are making a huge difference in the way we approach the future and the way we live in the present. Eschatology has become the proverbial tail that wags the dog. In my view, we mustn’t be subject to the winds of the self-proclaimed prophecy experts. Consider their wise counsel but not without being a faithful Berean to see if these things are so. (Acts 17:11).
When I say that I believe it is possible to know the timing of these things, some immediately bristle and argue that Jesus said “no man knows the day or the hour.” So then why did He speak of the season which was confined to “this generation”? As a matter of fact, Jesus and the NT writers were crystal clear on this point. As we shall see, remaining watchful was a key component of Christ’s Olivet Discourse. (Matthew 25:1ff) Jesus warned that it was absolutely crucial for first century Christ-followers to remain vigilant since life and death depended upon their level of alert. The Apostle Paul wrote that the children of darkness were the ones who would be overcome by the thief, not the children of light. (1 Thess 5:1-11)
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was so deliberate in laying out the events and signs that were to precede His visitation (parousia: 2nd coming) if no one was to have even a remote clue of the Father’s timing? What was the point of the proceeding readiness parables (parable of the 10 virgins etc) if their “watching” would prove unfruitful and unnecessary?
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. Matthew 24:42-43
As I alluded to above, the Apostle Paul, writing some 20 years later, crystallized and clarified both of Jesus’ thief and childbirth analogies.
For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6
Notice not only the coming “thief” but also to the “labor pains” that Jesus referenced in Mt 24:8. A thief in the night does not take those who were watching and waiting by surprise. And it should be remembered that Paul is writing specifically to the Thessalonians, not to us. He’s warning them to be “alert and sober”, for destruction would come upon those who weren’t paying close attention to the signs and the seasons. *We must consider the primacy of the original audience (audience relevance), because a passage can’t mean (today) what it never meant (back then).
So let’s move on with the presumption that not only are these things worth considering, but both Jesus and Paul made it clear that preparation and readiness were imperative.
Just prior to Matthew 24:34 we read:
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Matthew 24:32-33
Jesus spent the prior 31 verses sharing with His devout followers not only what to expect in the ensuing years (post Cross), but also the sequence of those unfolding events and signs, such that the watchful would know when Jesus’ return was “right at the door”. While it is correct that they were not to know the specific day or the exact hour of Jesus’ return (Mt 24:36), Jesus said, “when you see all these things, recognize that “He is near, right at the door.” The same prophecy “experts” who argue that we are not to know the timing of Jesus’ parousia (coming with a consequential presence), tell us that His coming will be soon. Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? Think about the timing of His 2nd coming (some would refer to His coming in judgment) in terms of Jesus’ childbirth analogy,
“But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” Mt 24:8
Matthew 24:34 set the duration of the pregnancy analogy. “This generation” is equated with the 9 months of a pregnancy. Jesus confined the timing of “all these things” to a generation (approx. 40 years) from that very day of the Olivet. Jesus was not speaking of a distant generation 2,000 years removed. We can be certain of that. So it was the “this generation” backdrop all of the New Testament writers were considering as the Holy Spirit honed and refined their understanding of the last things.
This is the reason we find the New Testament teaming with what we refer to as “imminent” time sensitive statements regarding Jesus’s coming. And it should be noted… the closer in proximity of the Canonical writings to 70 AD, the more imminent the language. Not one statement regarding the return of the Lord is unaccompanied by a near term time referent. Don’t you find that rather curious? Consider these few…
Peter: The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.1 Peter 4:7 (AD 63)
Paul: But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, … For the form of this world is passing away. 1 Corinthians 7:29, 31 (AD 57)
John: Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.1 John 2:18 (AD 61-62)
Hebrews:For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 “For yet a little while,And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.Hebrews 10:36-37 (AD 62-63)
James:Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.James 5:7-9 (AD 61-62)
John:The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,… 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.Revelation 1:1,3 (AD 62-63)
Were these men confused? Were they wrong? Are we not stepping in very dangerous murky waters even questioning these men’s inspired testimony? It appears they were simply following the lead of their Savior. Notice the correlation between Jesus’, “when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” and His brother James’ “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door”. What was prophetic 30 years earlier at the Olivet, was soon to become a reality. Let’s again consider Jesus’ time parameter statement.
Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Matthew 24:34
What was it that prompted Jesus to make this rather startling statement? Jesus had just finished pronouncing the 7 woes against the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees” who sat in the seat of Moses. He concluded his righteously indicting tongue-lashing with, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” Matthew 23:36 (KJV)
Does the language “all these things” and “this generation” sound familiar? Do these identical phrases have a connection to Matthew 24:34? Quite curiously, some commentators say that these two verses (Mt 23:36 and Mt 24:34) do not reference the same “all these things” or even the same generation. Why do they come to this conclusion, since by shear common sense these two passages would appear to be integrally entwined?
Many of the same commentators have written concerning Matthew 24:34, that it is one of the most confusing verses in the Bible. C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest apologists of the 20th century, in “The world’s Last Night” remarked, “it is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”
Is it really “embarrassing” and “confusing“? Why would they make such statements, since it seems so straightforward and abundantly clear? Quite frankly, I believe it’s simply the result of being unwilling (due to presupposition) to accept the most obvious implication. If I have learned anything in the last 4 years of study, it is that we all have biases which create our paradigm (worldview).
There’s certainly nothing wrong with creating and maintaining a worldview, and actually it is imperative that we develop a sound foundation. It adds order and sanity to life. However, the problem is not having a paradigm but not recognizing that our biases may be in discord with Scripture. We must first recognize our bias and match it against God’s Word. Often I have found my presuppositions at odds with the Bible and I, therefore, need to change course.
So how could “all these things”, which includes all the events and signs leading up to Jesus’ parousia (coming with a consequential presence), have taken place within “this” generation (which was the first century generation that spanned approx. 40 years (30 AD [Cross] to 70 AD [Destruction of Jerusalem] )?
First we must allow ourselves to be cornered and corralled by Scripture before we attempt to figure out how these things can be. Simply by submitting to the possibility that “all these things” actually took place within that first century generation almost 2,000 years ago (and therefore not still unfulfilled today) is step one. It’s helpful to realize that it is neither evil nor heretical to consider that what was imminent to Jesus’ followers, actually took place within the timing they predicted.
“This” is a near demonstrative, which simply means that it refers to something specific, something at hand. If I say “this house”, everyone knows that I’m speaking about one specific house of which I am either sitting in or pointing to. “This generation” could only have been referring to the generation at hand. Jesus would have used the more nebulous “that generation” had He desired to refer to a time centuries or millennia in the future.
Consider the following from the book of beginnings:
And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Genesis 7:1 (KJV)
Is there any commentary on this planet that does not assume that “this generation” is referring to the current generation in which Noah was living? So then why do these same commentators persist in changing the meaning of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34? Presupposition. Since Jesus could not (in their view) be referring directly and specifically to both the Pharisees in Matthew 23:36 and the disciples in Matthew 24:34, they are forced to alter the meaning of “this generation” or add qualifiers to the text that are nowhere to be found e.g. “The generation that sees the signs”. Once we allow our preconceptions to dictate what Jesus or the Canon writers actually said, the game is over. How can we come to THE TRUTH if we deny the Holy Spirit inspired words in Scripture?
I have found it rather odd that the folks who proudly proclaim a literal interpretation of the Bible are the first to distort, ignore or deny the most obvious and literal meaning of these time referents.
Scofield attempted to change the meaning of “generation” (genea) to race (genos). Read in the context of “race” this verse makes absolutely no sense. And why C.I. Scofield even tried to alter the meaning of genea, when Jesus used “tribes” (referring to “race”) just a few verses prior (Mt 24:30), is truly a mystery. Sadly, the infamous Scofield Notes, that donned the pages of most Bibles until recently (since many alternatives have been made available), have led many astray.
Generation(s) appears in the NASB 37 times, of which 23 specifically point to the generation at hand: “this generation”, “this perverse generation”, “this evil generation”, “you unbelieving and perverse generation”, “this adulterous and sinful generation”.
Is it hermeneutically (science of interpretation) expedient and intellectually dishonest to separate Jesus’ “this generation” of Matthew 24:34 from the other 22 references specifically relating to THE generation to which Jesus was addressing?
Jesus was directly addressing His disciples, warning THEM (not us) of the things that were to take place in the unfolding first century generation (not in the year 2009 and beyond). Every bit of Matthew 24 was fulfilled within Jesus’ “this generation” time commitment. However, it is absolutely amazing how few are even aware of the historical events between AD 30 and AD 70. Why are we not more familiar with the historical writings of Josephus and Tacitus? Could it be that these things do not fit neatly into the “Left Behind” eschatology that is so prevalent today?
It is my view that these men (Tacitus & Josephus no friends to Christianity), were used by God to provide adequate testimony corroborating the fulfillment of Holy Scripture. Although these extra-Biblical writings cannot be considered inspired, they are extremely valuable in fleshing out the events that included the War of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Since our churches for the most part are not teaching the historical surroundings of the New Testament, few have even a remote clue that line by line, Jesus’ Olivet predictions were utterly and completely fulfilled. Not one stone of that magnificent Temple was left upon another, as the days of Christ’s vengeance came like a thief in the night against that wicked Christ-killing first century generation.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth [land] will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. Revelation 1:7
because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.Luke 21:22
How could “those who pierced Him” see Him coming on the clouds in the year 2009 or beyond? I surely had no idea how utterly amazing the prophetic fulfillments were. As a matter of fact, I was initially shocked and then rather dismayed because I wondered how I could have been a student of Scripture for 33 years and not heard a word of this.
Consider these prophesied events and signs from Matthew 24 as they were fulfilled within “This Generation” of the first century:
1. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.
2. Wars and rumors of wars … Nation will rise against nation
3. Various places there will be famines and earthquakes
But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pains. [These are NOT signs]
4. They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you
5. Many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another
6. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many, because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold
7. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world [oikoumene not kosmos] as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
8. those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains
9. woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days
10. pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.
11. then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.
Behold, I have told you in advance
But immediately after the tribulation of those days
12. THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky [Isaiah 13, 34], and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
13. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky
14. And then all the tribes of the earth [ge: land] will mourn
15. and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
Jesus said that the “all these things” listed above would transpire within the first century generation to which He was speaking. The inerrancy of Scripture depends on it. We can continue to believe as we’ve been told or we can be faithful Bereans who were more noble than their Thessalonian compatriots because they examined the Scriptures (OT) daily “to see if these things are so.” (Acts 17:11)
And if you are inclined to believe in some sort of double fulfillment (which is nowhere licensed by the text) consider this. How was it possible for the Gospel to have been preached to “all the world” twice? How can there be two tribulations “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will“? The phrase “nor ever will” precludes a future duplicate expectation. And there cannot be two “this generations”.
Let’s be honest. The only reason there’s even an attempt to ascribe to multiple executions of the Olivet is due to empiricism, which is often an enemy of the truth. Since planet earth does not look like the post-parousia utopia we’ve come to expect (errant paradigm), we are forced to read into the text that which is not there. Few fess up to the dirty little secret that explodes this Christ-honoring utopian existence of the millennium. In the last chapter of the Revelation, Jesus (through the angel to John) tells us that things are not supposed to be all that rosy in this post 2nd coming world.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. Revelation 22:14-15
This is a picture of exactly what we have today. We, who are part of the New Jerusalem (Gal 4:21-31) have access to the tree of life (and declared righteous by His blood) ,while those outside this spiritual city continue to do the things that come naturally. We live in a spiritual Kingdom. Our gates are always open to those who will come by faith. It is our task to invite those outside the city walls of this Heavenly Jerusalem (as we once were), to come and dine with the King.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.Revelation 22:17
My suggestion is that we consider altering our view of Jesus’s cloud coming to fall inline with the same cloud comings we find in the Old Testament, therefore, doing no damage to the plain meaning of the Holy Writ.
Lastly, in order to add perspective, it must be noted what it was that prompted Jesus’ “end times” monologue.
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” Matthew 24:1-2
In the light of this astonishing statement regarding the destruction of the temple, the disciples asked the following question:
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3
First it should be noted that some have attempted to explode this verse into two or three questions. Only a person reading their presuppositions into the text would attempt to parse this question into multiple questions. What the disciples simply and straightforwardly want to know, is when this razing of the Temple is going to happen? (at that point this awe inspiring edifice was 44 years into the building process and was only completed a few years (AD 64) before it was utterly destroyed)
Now consider Jesus’ response. He didn’t qualify their question and He didn’t break it down into sections with various fulfillment time sequences. And He surely didn’t chide them for asking the pregnant “when” question. Even though they weren’t fully cognizant of the implications of His coming (since they didn’t even understand He was leaving), just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus had told them that some of them would witness this horrific event.
“For the Son of Man is going to [mello: about to] come [erchomai: to come] in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds . 28 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Matthew 16:27-28
We don’t have the time here to fully address the above passage, but suffice it to say, many commentators have assumed Jesus was speaking of His Transfiguration or perhaps Pentecost. Glory, Angels and Judgment were not all facets of either event. And since the Transfiguration and Pentecost were only 6 days and 60 days future, it seems rather preposterous (sorry for the strong term) to believe that Jesus could have been making such an abrupt statement were He referring to a time when every disciple (with the exception of Judas) was still very much alive. According to this startling statement, Jesus made clear that only “some” would still be alive to “see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” But the fact is that there would be “some”. Unless there are “some” who are still alive today (2009), this statement gives us no wiggle room. Much like “this generation” Jesus once again timestamped His coming.
And even earlier Jesus was laying the groundwork for the timing of His coming.
“But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:23
Who was it that will not have finished “going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes”? “Us?” No, the same “you” to whom Jesus was speaking in Matthew 16:27-28 and in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24:34.
It was this direct teaching of Jesus that the Holy Spirit used to teach the timing of 2nd coming [or as some prefer, His coming in judgment] to Jesus’s devout followers. Matthew 24:34 doesn’t stand alone. It, taken in consort with Matthew 10:23 and Matthew 16:27-28, provides the framework that was fleshed out in the New Testaments letters/epistles.
Atheists are having a heyday with these things i.e. too many Christian’s unwillingness to realize that Jesus was unequivocally speaking to and about His contemporaries. It’s my view that if we don’t develop a reasonable answer based upon logic and sound interpretational principles, that we are going to continue to lose ground and the shipwrecked faith’s of many more will become ever-present realities. I believe the following timing parameters were fulfilled within the time constraints predicted. Sadly, the Church at large has no viable answer to these verses since they are void of historical context.
Timing Parameters of the 2nd Coming
1. Before Jesus’ disciples finished going through the cities of Israel (Mt 10:23)
2. While some of those who heard Jesus preach were still alive (According to Acts 1, Jesus often had a following of well over 100 people) (Mt 16:27-28)
3. Within a generation (Mt 24:34)
If you would like a detailed analysis of the fulfillment of Matthew 24, read the linked document, “The Destruction of Jerusalem, An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity“. Written in 1805, George Holford uses the timely fulfillment of the events recorded in Matthew 24 as “an absolute and irresistible proof of the divine origin of Christianity.”