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?
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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?
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.
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 (22.214.171.1249) 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 (126.96.36.1990) 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 (188.8.131.521) 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 (184.108.40.2066) 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 (220.127.116.117) 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 (18.104.22.1688) 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 (22.214.171.1249) 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 (126.96.36.1990) 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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
By saying 'this generation' Jesus was referring to his current generation. In Luke 21:31,32 the subject is the coming Kingdom of God. So Jesus is telling his followers that it is close to coming, and that they will be alive to see it.
Luke 21:31 (KJV) 31
So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Luke 21:32 (KJV) 32
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
Mark 9:1 (KJV)
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power
The people of this time period were expecting the Kingdom of God to appear in their lifetime or generation.
John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom was soon to appear in his generation.
Matthew 3:2 (KJV) 2
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Paul believed he would be alive to see the Kingdom.
1 Thessalonians 4:15 (KJV)
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
He also told the Corinthians not to worry about marriage because the 'time is short', and that the world is passing away. This shows that Paul and many others believed that the Kingdom would soon appear in their current generation. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
There is no evidence that Jesus was referring to a future generation. The scriptural evidence shows that Jesus and many others were expecting heavenly events to unfold in their current generation, in their own lifetimes.
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.
The answer to the question of what “this generation” is referring to is, quite frankly, very simple. And many have made it, well, very complicated.
Everywhere Jesus uses the phrase “this generation,” He is referring to His generation then living and no other. For example, in Lke. 17:25, Jesus said that “He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” What generation? Need we ask? It doesn’t get any more simple than that.
Just earlier before leaving the temple in Mat. 24:1f, Jesus had said to the Jews who were His contemporaries, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation” (Mat. 23:36). All what? What He just told them in verse 35 would happen to them. What generation? Of course, them! And, of course, the same is to be understood of “this generation” immediately referred to thereafter in Mat. 24:34. Nothing could be more clear. And when the disciples were to personally “see all these things” that Jesus just spoke about, He immediately then says, “this generation [their generation] will not pass away UNTIL all these things have happened” (v. 34). Everything Jesus said would happen, was to happen before that generation then living would pass away. How long a generation is, is a moot point. But rest assured, the generation of Jesus and His disciples would not die out before all the things take place that Jesus foretold.
Now the word “this” is a demonstrative pronoun. And demonstrative pronouns are pointers, with “this” pointing to something more near or contemporaneous, while “that” points to something more distant or not contemporaneous. Any Greek expositor or English grammar teacher will tell you that. These demonstratives answer the question, “Which generation?” But the very purpose behind using the little word “this” (or “that”) is to single out exactly “which” generation Jesus was referring to, distinguishing it from any other generation. As John Bray succinctly notes, “…in a real sense, verse 34 itself governs when it was to be understood when all these things would occur, rather than the other way around…” (Matthew 24 Fulfilled, p. 214). In other words, we cannot let our own private interpretations of what we think these verses are saying in this chapter govern what verse 34 clearly articulates for us in no uncertain terms, not to mention the fact that Jesus told His disciples that they would actually SEE all those things for themselves.
The NIV gives us two examples of these varying usages of “this” and “that.” In Deut. 1:35, Moses rehearses what the Lord had specifically told the Israelites while still living in the wilderness, “Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give to your forefathers.” There is no margin for error here in seeing this as referring to those Jews who were then living. Later on in Deut. 2:14, Moses writes, “Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them.” Here we can see Moses is referring to something more distant and in the past, as does the Psalmist in Psm. 95:10. So, here we clearly see an accurate understanding of “this generation” as opposed to “that generation.” One was the current generation then living, the other was that same generation which had passed away in the past.
Weymouth clearly recognized the importance of this little demonstrative “this” in Mat. 24:34, by even translating it in his translation as: “I tell you in solemn truth that the present generation will certainly not pass away without all these things having first taken place.” This is not a biased translation based upon ones own eschatological viewpoint, but based upon an understanding of the text that is rooted in a proper understanding of the original languages and grammar. Greek expositor, A. T. Robertson, likewise says that Christ “had plainly stated in verse 34 that those events would take place in that [or their] generation” (Word Pictures, vol. 1, p. 194; words italicized for emphasis and words in brackets mine). And with regards to Mk. 13:30 and Lke. 21:32, Robertson again says it refers to: “naturally people then living” (Ibid, p. 262). Moffatt’s translation, Today’s English Bible, the New English Bible, the Amplified Bible and the Good News Bible all follow suit. In fact, the Good News Bible reads: “Remember that all these things will happen before the people now living have all died.” Good going for the Good News Bible! And, finally, bible expositor D. A. Carson writes, “This generation…can only with the greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke…” (Expositor’s Bible Comm., vol. 8, p. 507).
With that said, nothing of what Jesus said has to do with anything in our future. They were “all things” that would happen leading up and into the destruction of the city and the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. And the little word “this” in “this generation” specifically tells us what generation would see all these things. I wrote a little book that specifically deals with this subject, called: The Grammar Behind “This” in “This Generation.” It can be purchased at Lulu Press and from any bookstore. I also spend some time in that book defining what the Greek word for “generation” means.
Now the problem for us comes when we read into what Jesus is predicting, things that He is not predicting. Things like: the blossoming of the fig tree depicting Israel becoming a nation; Christ’s Second Coming; the sun literally being darkened and the moon no longer giving its light, with the stars literally falling from the sky; the rapture; literal vultures eating dead carcasses, and so on and so forth.
So what about all these things that Jesus said which lead many to think or believe that most of this is to take place in the future? Time and space will not permit me to go into detail and expound upon everything Jesus says here in Matthew 24. But I don’t want to just leave you hanging and in suspense either. So, I will talk a little bit about a couple of things, just to wet your whistle and get you thinking differently about who or what generation Jesus is really referring to here. And if we keep our minds focused on Christ’s words, “this generation,” (i.e., His generation), we will not stray down a path that is not in keeping with this prophecy and conjure up some false prophecies that are of our own making.
Adam Clarke succinctly outlines the events in this chapter as follows, as they relate to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.:
Christ foretells the destruction of the temple, verses 1–2. His disciples inquire when and what shall be the sign of this destruction, verse 3. Our Lord answers, and enumerates them―false Christ’s, verses 4–5; wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes, verses 6–8; persecution of his followers, verse 9; apostasy from the truth, verses 10–13; general spread of the Gospel, verse 14. He foretells the investment of the city by the Romans, verses 15–18. The calamities of those times, verses 19–22. Warns them against seduction by false prophets, verses 23–26. The suddenness of these calamities, verses 27–28. Total destruction of the Jewish polity, verses 29–31. The whole illustrated by the parable of the fig–tree, verses 32–33. The certainty of the event, though the time is concealed, verses 34–36. Careless state of the people, verses 37–41. The necessity of watchfulness and fidelity, illustrated by the parable of the two servants, one faithful, the other wicked, verses 42–51. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible; in public domain at: Biblehub.com.
Now, first of all, the budding of the fig tree isn’t used as a symbol for Israel here, for Jesus denotes this of “all trees” in Lke. 21:29. So we can get that out of our heads right now. And, secondly, the expression “budding of all trees” was used to refer to the events that would be seen that would lead up to Israel’s desolation, not their restoration. These events, like buds beginning to bud on a tree, were the tell-tale signs that the desolation predicted was eminent. None of this is about Israel’s future in our time. There is to be no presuppositions or a priori theological biases read into these passages that would lead us to believe that a third temple is to be built, after the second one here is destroyed in 70 A.D. Remember, it is “this (or their) generation,” not one in our time. If that were so, Jesus would have said “that generation.” He doesn’t. He says all these things mentioned were to transpire in His generation, with His twelve disciples actually physically SEEING it with their own eyes.
Now in the context of “this generation” not passing away until the fulfillment of all these things take place, it is in this context that Jesus also says, “And THEN shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and THEN shall all the tribes of the land lament, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mat. 24:30; Darby Bible Trans.; italics for emphasis mine).
Signs point to something. In the Bible, they are natural phenomena in the earth that reveal something to us—like the sign of Jonah being three days and three nights in the belly of the whale that pointed to Christ being in the belly of the earth for three days and three nights. In a similar way, the actual event of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome’s armies is in fact “the sign” Jesus is referring to that would point to the realization that He is indeed reigning as the Son of Man “in heaven” and coming on “on the clouds of heaven” with “great power and glory” to judge Israel. And Christ just earlier alluded to all this in Mat. 22:7, when He as the Prophet says of those Jews who rejected Him: “The King became angry. He sent his soldiers, killed those murderers, and burned their city” (GWT). Because the Jews had rejected Him as their High Priest, He promised to judge them as the King of kings and Lord of lords. And they would indeed SEE this aspect of Him in a way that they had not expected. In their eyes He was to be a king who was for them, not against them. And they surely didn’t see Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They wanted a fighter, not a lover. But the “fighter” in Him would indeed come out when He became seated as King on His heavenly throne. They missed the day of His kindness and goodness. Now they were going to experience the severity of His judgment. And it was this “judgment” from Jesus that the Jews wanted to stone Stephen for saying, “this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place” (Acts 6:14). But the false witnesses, along with the rest of those Jews, denied such a claim; for in their eyes Jesus was dead! Have no doubt about, Christ now as a ruling and reigning King destroyed that place using the Roman armies. They did it for Him! Just like the Lord says of Nebuchadnezzar whom the Lord also used to mete out His judgments upon other nations with, including upon Israel, and then say, “he did it for Me!” (Ezk. 29:20).
Now, storm “clouds” in Scripture are often used in a non-literal manner as a metaphor for the devastating armies that God uses to meet out His judgments upon other nations with. This is seen in Isaiah 19:1 of the Lord in the past having come “on a swift cloud” to judge Egypt via the invading armies of the Babylonians (see also Ezk. 30:1-5, 10-12). In Jer. 4:13, the Lord through the Babylonians “advances like clouds” to judge Israel. And in Ezk. 38:9, 16, God again talks about Himself as using the armies of Gog to come against apostate Israel, with wording such as, “advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land….You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land.”
With regards to Mat. 24:30, even Jesus told His disciples earlier, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before THEY SEE the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Mat. 16:28). In Mark 9:1, it is the kingdom “coming with power.” And in Mat. 10:23, the disciples would “not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” The same is said to the scribes and Pharisees of whom these prophecies were mainly all about. In Mat. 26:64, Christ tells them, “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” And the same is repeated in Mk. 14:62 and Lke. 22:69, with Luke adding something very important in the Greek, and even seen in the English. Here Luke says of Christ’s words, “From now on.” Literally, this reads: “from henceforth” or “from this time forward.” What they were going to see, they would see in their lifetime, not 2,000 years later. And they would surely “see” it alright, but, like I said before, not as they had expected to “see” it. And the same is true for countless others today who are expecting to “see” this in a way that they will just never “see” it (at least not from these verses). Those who would “see” it with the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, would be those who had been given the eyes to see and the ears to hear what Jesus is really talking about here. He is talking about a judgment day. He is referring to the time when He becomes seated with power, as the King of kings at the right-hand of the Mighty One, AT HIS ASCENSION, not later (cf. Mk. 16:19; Acts 2:29-36; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 12:2; Rev. 3:21, et al). And He would be “seen” by these Jews (and even by His disciples) as the reigning King of kings who metes out His judgments upon the ungodly. Judging isn’t just reserved for later, it is going on every day all around us. For “God is a righteous Judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day” (Psm. 7:11, NIV). And the judgments upon “Jerusalem,” “the land” of Palestine, the people (who are “the tribes” here) and the temple would be “the sign” that the Son of Man is truly ruling and reigning “in heaven,” not on earth. Remember, Jesus it talking to His generation then living, so let’s not read into His words something that just isn’t there, causing us to veer off track and miss the import of this prophecy.
Now, the same goes in all of this for those looking for a literal darkening of the sun and moon, with the stars falling to the ground; or vultures eating dead carrion, etc., etc. In the prophets, the former language of the sun, moon and stars is often used for governments and nations with their leaders and people being overthrown and their “glory” being taken away as depicted by becoming “darkened,” and even becoming as “blood” in Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20 and Rev. 6:12. In Rev. 6:12, the sun is even said to become black as sackcloth, which depicts the mourning of people. And Israel is said to be indeed “mourning” over what will be happening to them in Mat. 24:30. In Isaiah 24:23, the moon is also said to be “abashed” (or disgraced) and the sun “ashamed.” These emotions can only be true of people, not the literal sun and moon. Similarly, in Jer. 15:9, God says that “a mother of seven will grow faint and breathe her last. Her SUN will set while it is still day; she will be disgraced and humiliated.” Sound familiar? Her “sun,” so to speak, is her fading glory like that of a flower that dies or of the grass that withers. Again, we are not talking about the literal sun here. Again, in Gen. 37:9, the sun, moon and eleven stars are seen as Joseph’s father, mother and eleven brothers.
So, the sun being “darkened” and the moon longer giving its “light,” along with the stars falling from heaven and even “shaken” up, all refer to the fading glory of a nation with her peoples who are shaken to the core and humbled. These same words are used to express the downfall of the Babylonians via the Medes in Isa. 13:10, and called “the day of the Lord” in verse 9; of the downfall of the Edomites in Isa. 34:4-5; of the downfall of Egypt via the Babylonians in Ezk. 32:6-12; of the downfall of Israel via the Romans as expressed in Joel 2:28-32 (esp. vv.30-31) and Acts 2:20 (of which Joel is quoted by Peter). And it is a combination of all these images that Christ picks up on in announcing Israel’s desolation that occurred in 70 A.D. And, finally, Joel seems to mention more times like this in the latter days in chapter 3, especially in verse 15. Revelation 6:12-14 also uses such language. But, again, none of this is to taken literally.
In the latter language referred to above of vultures swooping over carrion, often this language is used in the OT prophets to depict armies overtaking nations and feeding on them with a frenzy, like birds do with dead carrion. Just read the prophets for yourself, and you will see this same language is often used in a non-literal manner (one example will suffice: Jer. 48:40-44 with 49:22 and Hab. 1:6-8). If literal vultures and carrion are what is being expressed, as also referred to in Deut. 28:26; Psm. 79:2 Isa. 18:5–6; Jer. 4:13ff; 7:33; 12:7–12; 15:2–3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezk. 29:1–5; 32:4 and Revelation 19:17–18, then no doubt in every context these references are referring to dead people laying about for the birds and beasts to prey upon after the ravages of war. But I prefer to think of this phrase as being used as an “idiom,” as most tend to do. And, finally, one being taken and the other left has nothing to do with “the rapture.” It refers to Rome’s armies carrying off captives, while leaving the rest to die either by starvation or by the sword. Luke alludes to this by saying, “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners” (21:24). No one doubts that this didn’t occur in the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Josephus records it all for us. And he even records that the women ate their children, just as the Lord predicted they would in Deut. 28:53-57.
 The idea posed by many that Christ is just seated next to the Father, but not on a throne as King, is just simply not true. Just the few Scriptures mentioned in the main body of my answer above show that He is. God (or Christ) never speaks of the earth as being where His throne is to be. It is only referred to in passing as now His “footstool” (Isa. 66:1; Mat. 5:35), and this will never change. Heaven will always be the throne of God and of Christ (cf. Psm. 11:4; 29:10; 33:12-14; 47:1-3, 7-9; 99:1; 103:19). Any idea that Christ will descend from heaven to make His throne here on the earth are the doctrines and traditions of men. These people are likewise reading into verses things that should not be read into them, siding with all natural thinking and reasoning Jews who have not the Spirit or mind of Christ. When Christ said His kingdom was not of this world, He meant it. If it were, He said, “My servants would fight to prevent my arrest” (Jhn. 18:36); an “arrest,” by “the Jews,” no less.
γενεά can mean people of a certain kind as well as people belonging to some kind of chronology.1
Theophylact2 summarized the extant patristic understanding of the Luke passage:
He says generation, meaning, not only those who lived at that time, but the generation of all believers who alike have been baptized and reborn in Christ. Scripture uses generation [γενεά] to refer to those who are alike in some way; for example,
This is the generation of them that seek the Lord3
Christ had said that tumults and wars and changes would occur in the elements and in human affairs; therefore, lest anyone imagine that Christianity would also be destroyed, He says, "No, this generation of Christians shall not pass away. . Heaven and earth shall be changed, but My words and My Gospel shall not be destroyed, but shall remain.
1. See, e.g., Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains:Greek (1997)
2. 11th century Byzantine Greek
3. Psalm 23:6 LXX
4. Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke (tr. from Greek; Chrysostom Press, 2007)
I believe this generation meant Jesus contemporaries . We need to ask ourselves how did they understand it? Did they understand it as our Lord referring to them or a future generation . A 40 year is a generation . In all the usage of generation is applied as 40 year span but futurist apply escapism theory to use the Matthew 24 usage of generation as a age . The gap theory was invented in 1830 and never taught before this . Look at Matthew 16:27-28 ' For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels and then He will reward each according to is works . 28 'Assuredly I say to you , there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom " His Kingdom is spiritual . So are there some of the contemporaries of Jesus still alive ? He came just as he said he would come . The preterist interpretation is correct .
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:
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mat 24:3 ESV)
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:
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mar 13:4 ESV)
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
1”. For over 2000 years, Christians of all generations have believed the Parousia is imminent, largely due to the Olivet discourse!
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:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Mat 24:29-31 ESV)
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:
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things (i.e., the immediate context above, these things in 24:29-31), you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mat 24:32-35 ESV)
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:
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mat 16:28 ESV)
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 mystery hidden for ages (τῶν αἰώνων) and generations (τῶν γενεῶν) but now revealed to his saints. (Col 1:26, ESV)
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).
And there was among them a man of rare knowledge, most skilled in all manner of wise works, a man who had won the utmost wealth of wisdom; for whensoever he strained with all his mind, he easily saw everything of all the things that are, in ten, yea, twenty lifetimes (plural of αἰῶν) of men. (Empedocles, Fragment 129)
BDAG gives the following definition for γενεὰ:
the time of a generation, age (as a rule of thumb the time between birth of parents and the birth of their children)...Here the original sense gradually disappears and the meaning 'a period of time' remains”
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 word 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:
Truly, I say to you, this age will not pass away and the new age will not come until you see the sun darkened, the moon not give its light, the stars fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shaken. Do not think the end is near otherwise. Heaven and earth will pass away, but all my words will not pass away, they will all most certainly be fulfilled before the Parousia.
1This phrase is taken from Michael Brunec's series of articles entitled Sermo Eschatologicus
Any generation that fits the following characteristics:
Proverbs 30:11-14 KJV (11) There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. (12) There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. (13) There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. (14) There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.
Jesus spoke of "this generation" with Proverbs 30 in mind.
The definition of generation is set by the context of the verse. Mat 24:32-35 provide the context.
v32 is plain: "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near."
V33 is the corroborating context: "So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!"
V34 has the linking of the two: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place."
How do we put them together? V32: You know that when the fig tree puts forth leaves, summer is coming up; it is only a short distance away. Specifically, if you see the leaves, then you'll see the summer as well, since they are so close together. v33: when you see the signs Jesus mentioned, you know that the end is not far away. If you see the first of the signs, then you'll see the last of the signs, for they are so close together. v34: The generation of people who see the first signs will also see the last signs, since they are close together. They will not take longer than a generation to see all of the signs.
Assuming these signs are literal signs of the end of the age (a pretribulational viewpoint, for example), then the first and last signs are only a few years apart, based on Revelation 6-8; less than 7 years apart between the first signs and the coming of the Lord.