Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

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?

See also Matthew 24:34 and Mark 13:30.

share|improve this question
The simplest answer is the one found by doing an online word search for "generation" in the New Testament. Do this and I promise you will be blown away. It it most certainly first century. – Mike Bull Mar 11 '13 at 13:01
My ? Is some say that the second coming happened at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 I can't believe this teaching because what the Word says in Acts 1:9-11 the Ascension of Christ they saw Him leave with there own eyes,literally and bodily that didn't happen in AD 70 all though I believe that the 70 weeks of Daniel was fulfill. The Lord was cut off during that week I don't believe in the gap theory. Feed back. In Him Tom – user5541 Jul 22 '14 at 23:02
@user5541 It's not the temple destroyed in 70 AD that Jesus speaks of. Neither does nation mean nation or kingdom mean kingdom or earthquakes,mean earthquakes or famines mean famines or pestilences mean pestilences. First understand the parable of the sower, and how a planet continues to go around the sun. For Moses learned the Law from the nature of rain (Gen 1). Jesus saw the freedom of the Law by looking into the the kingdom of the sky (Matthew 6:33). – Decrypted Mar 28 at 11:38

According to the notes on the NET Bible:

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” (vv. 25-26), 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.

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.

share|improve this answer
"Already, but not yet." The Kingdom is here, but the Kingdom is really coming later. We see a free figuring but not the whole. – Frank Luke Mar 11 '13 at 19:13

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.

share|improve this answer
many thanks for this wealth of useful information and references – Jack Douglas Mar 11 '13 at 20:05
You are welcome, Jack. Jack, Can you check my last post "What arguments exist that would refute the theory concerning Aramaic primacy of the New Testament?" I posted a long post over there. I also stated my reason at the end of the post to show the difference in "sources". If you need any changes, then let me know. What I wrote there actually happened when Greek primacists & others argued with Aramaic primacists. So I thought I should write the information. I was planning to give this information as a reply to swasheck at chat. But I decided not to, because my writings may get interferred. – konwayk Mar 12 '13 at 7:32
Hi konwayk, many thanks for letting me know: you are right about chat it isn't really intended for serious analysis. If you are happy for me to do so, I'd like to ask Sarah to review your post and suggest an edit if any is needed as she is far more familiar with the subject matter than I? – Jack Douglas Mar 12 '13 at 9:22
That's fine, Jack. – konwayk Mar 12 '13 at 18:53

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 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

23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men:

28:5 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.

Humble shall be exalted

23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

28:13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.

Judas worse than the Pharisees

23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

28:15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. ...24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.


23:34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

28:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Jesus going away

23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

28:29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

He is coming

24:3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

28:32 But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.

Beginning of sorrows

24:8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

28:38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

Love wax cold

24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

28:40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

His gospel

24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

28:45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

The abomination of desolation

24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

28:48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.

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.


24:16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

28:56 But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.


24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

28:67 Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,

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.

The desolation

24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

28:21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. ...31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.

They traded Christ for Barabbas.

Sun darkened

24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven,

28:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.


24:29...and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

28:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;


24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

28:65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

Gathering of saints

24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

This generation

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.

share|improve this answer
+1 just for "Eschatology makes hypocrites of us all." :) – Jack Douglas Oct 19 '11 at 7:53
The fourth time fills out the first chapters until the sermon on the mount. It follows the outline of Gen 1 corresponding to six days. The last three echo the first three. – Bob Jones Nov 8 '11 at 1:10
Very interesting! Some of the connections you've made are quite compelling... some seem quite forced. I think a preterist understanding of the olivet discourse is correct, but this is interesting. – Jeff Roe Jun 11 '13 at 5:50

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:

(3) generation may refer to “the generation that sees the signs of the end” (vv. 25-26), 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.

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.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics--Stack Exchange and congratulations on your nearly one-year-old daughter! I have a strong preterist leaning on Matthew 24 especially and I think the case for a 70 AD fulfillment is quite strong. (I'm not opposed to a double-fulfillment in addition.) I take the birth pains to represent inevitability, pain with a purpose, and apparently uncontrolled anguish (but really controlled by a hidden force that will be revealed in time). I don't think the implication is that the pains will be quick. At least, I don't think we are compelled to read it that way. – Jon Ericson Jan 26 '12 at 21:19

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.