In Luke 21:32-33 (ESV) Jesus says:
"Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
What does Jesus mean by generation in this passage?
In Luke 21:32-33 (ESV) Jesus says:
What does Jesus mean by generation in this passage?
According to the notes on the NET Bible:
My own (4) would be that Jesus seems to be continuing the OT prophetic tradition of 'double fulfilment' in this section of Matthew's Gospel - entwining a near-term fulfilment (perhaps the destruction of the temple in 70AD) and an ultimate fulfilment when He returns. Hence the word 'generation' would refer to the generation living at the time of the prophecy, but only in terms of the first fulfilment.
A Generation is 40 years in Bible. Here are some examples.
Numbers 32:13 (ESV) - And the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone.
Deuteronomy 1:34-36 (ESV) - And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!"
Psalms 95:10 (ESV) - For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”
Hebrews 3:9-10 (ESV) - Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways."
The Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness (Ex. 16:35; Deut. 2:7), in which time an entire generation died out (Num. 14:33; 32:13).
Acts 13:36 (ESV) - For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.
In 2 Samuel 5:4 (ESV)- "David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years."
We also know that Jerusalem was destroyed within the generation Jesus taught (AD 30-70). So all of the prophecies were fulfilled in that generation. Although this may look like a little off topic, still it is related to the end times in the generation of Jesus' disciples and clarifies the confusion of the reader about the generation (30-70 AD).
Jesus said that the sign of Son of Man will appear in the sky (Matthew 24). This was supposed to happen in the generation of his disciples (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). During the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. This extraordinary incident was recorded by Josephus and Tacitus who lived during that period. This is also recorded in Jewish History Document "Sepher Yosippon", Latin Document "Pseudo Hegesippus", and Historian Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History.
Here are the details.
Josephus (Jewish Wars)
Jewish War 6:289 (126.96.36.1999) Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.
Jewish War 6:290 (188.8.131.520) Thus also, before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan], and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which light lasted for half an hour.
Jewish War 6:291 (184.108.40.2061) This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.
Jewish War 6:296 (220.127.116.116) So these publicly declared, that this signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them. Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the twenty-first day of the month Artemisius [Jyar],
Jewish War 6:297 (18.104.22.1687) a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it,
Jewish War 6:298 (22.214.171.1248) and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen
Jewish War 6:299 (126.96.36.1999) running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise,
Jewish War 6:300 (188.8.131.520) and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”
Tacitus, Histories, Book 5
"Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire."
Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 8, Section 4-6
And the eastern gate of the inner temple, which was of bronze and very massive, and which at evening was closed with difficulty by twenty men, and rested upon iron-bound beams, and had bars sunk deep in the ground, was seen at the sixth hour of the night to open of itself.
And not many days after the feast, on the twenty-first of the month Artemisium, (97) a certain marvelous vision was seen which passes belief. The prodigy might seem fabulous were it not related by those who saw it, and were not the calamities which followed deserving of such signs. For before the setting of the sun, chariots and armed troops were seen throughout the whole region in mid-air, wheeling through the clouds and encircling the cities.
And at the feast which is called Pentecost, when the priests entered the temple at night, as was their custom, to perform the services, they said that at first they perceived a movement and a noise, and afterward a voice as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us go hence.’
Sepher Yosippon" is a 10th century historical Jewish document written in Hebrew that mentions about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Sefer Josippon also mentions about the vision of soldiers and chariots in the sky which we read in Josephus' Jewish Wars, Tacitus's Histories, and Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.
Sepher Yosippon (A Medieval History of Ancient Israel) translated from the Hebrew by Steven B. Bowman. Excerpts from Chapter 87 "Burning of the Temple"
"Moreover, in those days were seen chariots of fire and horsemen, a great force flying across the sky near to the ground coming against Jerusalem and all the land of Judah, all of them horses of fire and riders of fire. When the holiday of Shavu'oth came in those days, during the night the priests heard within the Temple something like the sound of men going and the sound of men marching in a multitude going into the Temple, and a terrible and mighty voice was heard speaking: "Let's go and leave this House."
This vision of the chariots and soldiers in the sky happened during fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
You may ask what does chariots and the soldiers in the sky have to do with the sign of Son of Man and Bible and also generation in the bible. Here are some examples.
Jeremiah 4:13 (KJV) – "Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled."
Isaiah 66:15 (KJV) – "For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire."
2 Kings 2:11 (KJV) - And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Kings 6:17 (KJV) - And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
Zachariah 6:1-6 (KJV) - "And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses. Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord? And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth. The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them; and the grisled go forth toward the south country."
There are other verses in the Bible that involve God and his chariots.
This vision in the sky and the fall of Jerusalem (which includes the destruction of temple) happened between 30 AD - 70 AD (40 years). More informations are available here.
Eschatology makes hypocrites of us all. The most figurative book in the Bible is interpreted literally, and literal texts are interpreted figuratively to meet our preconceived expectations, making a secondary issue into one of the most incendiary.
Using methods of sensus plenior:
Matthew writes in a Hebrew form similar to poetry, but has nothing to do with rhyming. Passages are linked by repeating words and ideas. In chapter 5 Jesus goes up the hill, and mentions the poor in spirit and the meek. In Chapter 8 he comes down the hill and heals a leper and converses with the meek Centurion. This pattern ABC...abc... is repeated four times in Matthew, the last one beginning with chs. 23 and 28.
By examining the parallel passages, Matthew teaches an alternate eschatology where "this generation" can be taken literally which is different from Preterism.
Religious leaders work to be seen of men
Humble shall be exalted
Judas worse than the Pharisees
Jesus going away
He is coming
Beginning of sorrows
Love wax cold
The abomination of desolation
The kiss of Judas is the abomination that causes the removal of the Son of Man from the world. How much more desolate could the world be?
Pr 12:22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight. Pr 17:15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.
The greatest tribulation that ever has or will occur is the tribulation of Christ. He who knew no sin, was made to be sin... What would have happened if Christ died before he got to the cross? If the days of his tribulation had not been shortened, no one would be saved.
They traded Christ for Barabbas.
Gathering of saints
24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
If Matthew is suggesting that all this was fulfilled at the cross, 'this generation was truly 'this generation'. But we must look at the parallel between watching for him in the sky and guarding the grave. It is suggestive that the rapture occurs at the moment of death.
We must rethink our concept of time. If eternity is not just a long time, but the absence of time, then we can die and leave 'time' at different times, but arrive in eternity simultaneously. Jesus can come as a thief in the night as one drops dead in the field and another taken in sleep, yet in their experience they immediately and simultaneously arrive with Christ in eternity.
Every generation which reads "this generation" is this generation. They all see the rapture at the moment of death. We all meet him in the air together.
I think Jack Douglas did a good job of giving the appropriate options available for that passage. I don't think any preterist argument really does a good enough job handling the rest of the Text available, especially referring to the Rapture. Anyways, Jack said this:
If we read Matthew 24:8, we see that "All these things are the beginning of birth pains." I had a baby girl about a year ago. My wife experienced many pains leading up to the birth, but the concept of "birth pains" is a more narrow concept and refers to the final contractions that lead up to the birth. She started having those contractions around midnight, and by 7pm that same day, our baby girl was born. Sometimes, birth pains last longer, or can even be shorter (like 2-3 hours, etc.). It all depends. What it denotes however, is that there is not much time left when everything starts. I would argue that, when you take these passages as a part of a whole, then #3 on Jack's list seems to be the most apparent answer.
In this answer, I will argue two points.
1) The phrase “this generation” (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) as used in the Olivet Discourse, is essentially a synonym for “age” (ὁ αἰῶν), which can mean a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age (BDAG, αἰῶν 2).
2) When Jesus' says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” (Mat 24:34), he means that the Parousia will occur only after “these things” in Matt 24:29-31 are fulfilled, not before.
This can be demonstrated by considering the purpose of the Olivet Discourse as a whole, the more immediate context of phrase “this generation will not pass away” as well as by the usage and definition of "generation" (γενεὰ) and "age" (αἰῶν).
The Purpose of the Olivet Discourse
After Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, his disciples ask him:
In this question, the disciples ask about three things.
1) “these things” (ταῦτα), referring to the immediate context above, i.e., the destruction of the Temple
2) “the sign of your coming”, or the Parousia
3) “the end of the age” (συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος)
It is evident that the disciples believe these three things are basically one event. They believe the destruction of the Temple coincides with the Parousia and the end of the age (αἰῶν). At the least, they believe that the Parousia is imminent following the destruction of the Temple.
That the disciples had this misconception is further evidenced by the way the question is reported in Mark's Gospel:
The destruction of the Temple, the Parousia and the end of the age are lumped together in "all these things."
Jesus response is aimed at disabusing the disciples of this misconception and preventing a premature expectation of the Parousia. Ironically (albeit understandably), the Olivet Discourse has led to the exact opposite, a “perpetual eschatological delirium
In Matthew 24:3-12, Jesus foretells that there will be false Christs, wars, earthquakes, famines and persecution. He emphasizes that these are not signs of the end of the age, but says: “the end is not yet,” (Mat 24:6) and “all these are but the beginning” (Mat 24:8). Even the destruction of the Temple should not lead the disciples to expect the Parousia.
The Immediate Context of the Phrase “this generation”
Jesus later goes on to tell what really are the signs of the Parousia:
It is after foretelling these signs that Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Notice the immediate context:
It is unreasonable to conclude that by saying “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” Jesus meant that the end would come soon, within the lifetime of the disciples present, or within a 40 year timespan. The disciples did not need assurance that the Parousia would definitely come, nor did they need assurance that it would come soon. They needed exactly the opposite, because it was not coming soon! Thus, the emphasis in verses 32-35 is that all the things mentioned in 24:29-31 must occur before the Parousia can come. Do not even begin to think that the Parousia is at hand, or the end is near, before every single thing predicted in 24:29-31 occurs.
Evidence from Parallelism
“This generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” is parallel to “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
It is a common literary device among the Hebrews to express the same thought using different words or metaphors. Thus “heaven and earth” is parallel to “this generation.” In saying “heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus is using hyperbole to stress that his words (all those things mentioned in 24:29-31) must occur before the Parousia, so don't expect it otherwise.
“This generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” would naturally have the same force.
"Generation" (γενεὰ) is Essentially Synonymous with "Age" (αἰῶν)
“Pass away” is often used in the context of this age coming to an end, and/or the new age being ushered it. (see Matt 5:18; 2 Cor 5:17; 2 Peter 3:10, 1 John 2:17) It is not used when Jesus wishes to say that his listeners will not die before such and such will occur. For example, in the transfiguration, Jesus states:
He does not say “some standing here who will not pass away,” but that they “will not taste death.”
In the NT, γενεὰ and αἰῶν are used in parallel as synonyms:
The use of αἰῶν to mean γενεὰ is attested to in Greek literature.
In Fragment 129 of Empedocles (c. 490 – c. 430 BC), αἰῶν means “generation” (see BDAG, αἰῶν).
BDAG gives the following definition for γενεὰ:
How long a period of time γενεὰ refers to must therefore be determined by the context, and cannot be indiscriminately limited to 40 years, the lifetime of the original audience, the Jews, or a group of people whether wicked or righteous. The context shows that Jesus is using the world γενεὰ in parallel with "heaven and earth", and means that this age will not pass away until all his words are fulfilled.
Thus a paraphrase of Matthew 24:34, 35 might read: