Bible students have got themselves into a lot of trouble discussing the subject of the “generation.” The reference relates to words of Jesus that were spoken in connection with his reply concerning the destruction of the Jewish system of things as well as the time of his return in kingdom power. Jesus had explained that Jerusalem was to be destroyed. He had also commented on the fact that he would travel to obtain kingdom power and then return in kingdom power. His disciples naturally wanted to know how they would know when these things would occur.
Jesus described a number of features of the times and showed that there would be a parallel between the time period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the time period leading up to his return in kingdom power. Some of these things were not to be concerning to his disciples but others were to be a specific note. Partway through this discussion Jesus used the expression regarding the generation.
In Matthew chapter 24 verse 34 we read that ‘truly I now say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things have occurred.’
It is obvious what the first reference meant
In the first understanding of these words it is obvious what Jesus was referring to. He was stating that the generation that was listening to his words would still be alive when Jerusalem was destroyed. The words were spoken in the year 33 A.D. and Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 A.D. so, some of the apostles were still alive when Jerusalem was destroyed. Hence the first fulfilment is obvious.
The second fulfilment related to events following the conclusion of a period of time called in Scripture ‘the times of the Gentiles’ which was to conclude 2520 years following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. This period of time concluded 1935 A.D. events described in the book of Matthew chapter 24 and 25 were to be fulfilled following 1935. These would include wars earthquakes famines and pestilences with the warning from Jesus not to be overly concerned about these things because as he put it ‘the end is not yet.’ And he also said ‘see that you are not terrified by these things’ so as to differentiate between aspects of the sign that were particularly important and aspects of the sign that were simply there for reference.
Using a mistaken calculation regarding the Gentile times some Bible students have got themselves into a lot of trouble in trying to explain the generation. Some calculated that the Gentile times would conclude in 1914. Some even went so far as to claim that the generation of people that were alive in 1914 would not die out before Armageddon had arrived. Based on this mistaken idea many people tried to calculate when Armageddon would come and made lots of pronouncements about the generation. Naturally these calculations failed and the generation of people that were alive in 1914 passed away. There were two flaws in this reasoning. Firstly the Gentile times did not end in 1914 but rather ended in 1935. And secondly it fails to take into account exactly what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 24 and verse 34.
The First Fulfillment Features
In the first application of the Scripture Jesus personally identified the generation that would not pass away. He was sitting on the Mount of olives overlooking Jerusalem and was speaking to his apostles. He identified the generation as being those listeners that were there listening to his words. Therefore in the first understanding of the words it was Jesus who identified what the generation was. Some of the apostles were alive when Jerusalem was destroyed. This generation did not, as Jesus put it ‘pass away until all these things occurred.’
The second and final fulfillment features
Recall that in the discussion we have already mentioned that Jesus differentiated between things that were of real importance and things that were of lesser importance. For example in Matthew chapter 24 verse six Jesus said ‘that you will hear of wars and reports of wars but you should not be alarmed, for these things will take place and the end is not yet.’ He then reinforced it by saying ‘for nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All things are just the beginning of the pangs of distress.’ Jesus was drawing attention to the fact that while this period of time would be marked with wars earthquakes famines and indeed also pestilences, these were not the principal thing to take note of.
Jesus then spoke of a series of things that would be an escalation of events. He spoke of the rise of false prophets misleading many. He spoke of a preaching work that would go to all the inhabited earth for a witness to the entire inhabited earth. He spoke of an intensification of events on the earth. In symbolic language he spoke of the power of the heavens or governments being shaken. In connection with all this Jesus then used an illustration before making his comment regarding the generation.
During this period of escalation it would become very difficult for people of genuine faith. There would be so many misleading voices suggesting that only they know the truth about the Christ. There would be real distress on the earth. Tension and pressure would be increasing. In connection with the preaching of the good news of the kingdom we must remember that in the first century the apostle Paul referred to the fact that the good news of Christ had been preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations – when in fact it had only been preached within the realm of Rome and there is no doubt that most people would not have heard the message. Thus the preaching of the good news of the kingdom really has to do with advertising the return of the kingdom something that is only now possible with the advent of the Internet. When you think of events as they are unfolding, especially since the time period now identified as the final period before Christ returns in kingdom power, you can only conclude that we are now in a period of time of intense difficulty on the earth. And while there will be a distinct sequence of events with some periods of recovery mixed in, there is no doubt that every person on the earth is becoming increasingly concerned about world events. In other words we are now living in a time that we can identify as being the period of trouble that leads up to the great tribulation that will break out before Christ return.
And it should be remembered that only the 24 elders group has identified that we are in the final 12 year period before the great tribulation’s outbreak that leads into Christ return.
In Matthew 24 before Jesus spoke the words about the generation he said this “learn from the fig tree. Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and sprouts it leaves then you can see that summer is near. So then also when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” Thus Jesus identified that the generation that was able to see clearly the time period that leads up to the great tribulation would be the generation but would not pass away. In other words the generation alive since the 12 years that lead up to the great tribulation were clearly identified is the generation that will not pass away before Christ return. We are not expecting to wait for any great period of time now. We are the generation that will not pass away and this is identified by Jesus sign in Matthew chapter 24.