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Are the words of Jesus to be taken literally when he said "this generation"? That is 30-70AD? He seems to be emphatic about it because he prefaced it by Verily, I say unto you..."

The basis for this question is based on:

  • The fact that Jesus used the word "you" approximately a dozen times! And He was speaking to the disciples right there.
  • Jesus used the adjective "this" instead of "that" when referring to which Generation He meant.
  • Jesus's use of Daniel's verse as a quotation limited the topic to the first century, since there was a 70 Week limit (490 years placed the prophecy in the first century).
  • Jesus later told the Sanhedrin elders and priests: I say to all of you, in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven! This imagery, similar to the O.T. usage, referred to God's judgment on Israel. The Son of Man was a direct reference to the Messiahship, and Jesus was claiming that!
  • Both John the Baptist and Jesus were emphatically concerned about the pending Destruction of Judea all during their ministries: Luke 3:17, 23:28-31, Matthew 21:33-46.

Do these verses lay the basis of a justification for interpreting this prophecy as being fulfilled in the first century?

For clarification The Olivet Discourse covers the scriptures from Matthew 24:1 through to Mathew 25:46. But this question was to mainly deal with just the first half of the Discourse which was bounded by the book-ends statements in which Jesus seemed to limit all the events described to that first century generation.

End of the Jewish Nation----->transition verses---->End of the World

24:1-34---------------------------24:35-36------------------------24:37-25:46

The questions of the bewildered disciples are jumbled together, with the Destruction of the Temple confused with the End of the World. The Greek word used by the disciples is the same one Jesus used in Matthew 13 describing the Harvest End. But Jesus here in answering, only used telos which is a word of less meaning. It could be an "end" of anything: object, era, nation, sacrifice, etc. Then cometh the End is, it seems, of something less than the End of the World.

{This this common mistake of applying "end" to only the End of the World, shows the Achilles heel of topical word studies. And the value of expository Bible studies. Because the same word is used does not mean it is describing the same thing. For example, Sodium nitrate, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate...all mention "sodium," but in different situations they are vastly different!! So also with "end."}

It seems that to help determine the correct interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, we must keep in mind all the other invectives Jesus pronounced against the nation throughout His 3 year ministry, eh?

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    Posts on this site must be respectful even of people they disagree with. It is not appropriate to use language such as "weaselling out" or "doing a mexican hat dance around it". This chapter and Matthew 24:34 already have multiple questions asked about them so it has been closed as a duplicate. If you have a further follow-on question, you can ask it as a new question. However note that "When/how has prophesy X been fulfilled?" questions aren't really on-topic here.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 27, 2023 at 13:32
  • @ curiousdannii - I rewrote the question and explanation to tweak it so it would reflect a different approach to the "duplicated questions." Should I rather, write this question on a separate post? Or would you still consider this as a "duplicate"? Thank you for your instructions?
    – ray grant
    Mar 18, 2023 at 22:01
  • 1
    You can't completely change a question like that when it already has answers. Just ask a new question.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 18, 2023 at 22:07

2 Answers 2

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Yes, Jesus meant that generation in which He spoke the words. The disciples asked Him when that temple would be torn down (Matt. 24:3).

"`Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?'" (YLT)

The question was specifically about the prophesy Jesus had just spoken to them about the temple they had pointed out to Him. Everything in Jesus' response was a direct reference to the time that Herodian temple would be destroyed. The disciples recognized that the destruction of that temple would mean the end of the age they were living in, specifically the end of the Mosaic covenant.

So many people like to say that the subject changes in Matt. 24:34, but this is wholly untrue. When Jesus said "this generation" it directly applied to the one in which He and the disciples were living. The demonstrative pronoun "this" concerns things that are close to the speaker. Any other generation would have required the demonstrative pronoun "that".

Confusion is also added because "the end" is misapplied to mean the end of the physical cosmos. But there is no such meaning in scripture. A search of "the end" in prophesy is always associated with the specific time of that prophesy.

In Dan. 12:4, Daniel is told to "seal the book till the time of the end," and that end is specific to that prophesy which began in Dan. 9:24 with the time specified of the 70 sevens, or 490 years. Each "end" in Dan. 12 refers back to the 490 years of that specific prophesy, and no further.

The book was unsealed when Christ accepted it at His ascension in Rev. 5:6-7 which happened in the 1st century AD (Acts. 1:9). Daniel asks when the end of these wonders will be (Dan. 12:6), and the answer is

"...`After a time, times, and a half, and at the completion of the scattering of the power of the holy people, finished are all these.': (YLT)

A time, times, and a half was 3-1/2 years, or 1260 days, or 42 months, and ties to the prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem in Rev. 11:2, 13:5. The holy people of this prophesy was established in Dan. 9:24 as Daniel's people, and Daniel's holy city - the Jews and Jerusalem. The prophesy did not apply to any other people or city than Jerusalem.

The power of the Jews was scattered (or shattered) when that Herodian temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Therefore, the end of days of Dan. 12:13 was when that temple was destroyed in AD 70.

The prophesy had nothing to do with the end of the physical cosmos. So, knowing that the end of Dan. 12 referred to the destruction of Jerusalem and that Mosaic temple, then when did Daniel stand in his lot? And the answer is after that temple was destroyed when Jesus told His disciples in Matt. 25, which is still the prophesy of the destruction of the temple from Matt. 24, that He would separate out all those from Hades, the sheep to His right and the goats to His left.

"31 `And whenever the Son of Man may come in his glory, and all the holy messengers with him, then he shall sit upon a throne of his glory; 32 and gathered together before him shall be all the nations, and he shall separate them from one another, as the shepherd doth separate the sheep from the goats,

33 and he shall set the sheep indeed on his right hand, and the goats on the left. 34 `Then shall the king say to those on his right hand, Come ye, the blessed of my Father, inherit the reign that hath been prepared for you from the foundation of the world;" (YLT)

Jesus came in His glory at the destruction of that temple in Jerusalem, which is the subject of the entire prophesy of Revelation which is John's Olivet discourse. After Jesus sat in judgment and removed those from the prison of Hades in AD 70, which ties to Rev. 20:11-12, He then threw Hades into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

No one goes to Hades anymore. Every man and woman is judged at their bodily death, as they always have been.

"and as it is laid up to men once to die, and after this -- judgment,"(Heb. 9:27, YLT)

Carefully read the account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:20-31. Lazarus was judged worth of Abraham's Bosom, or Paradise at his death, but the rich man was judged unworthy and sent into the place of torment at his death. After the temple was destroyed, and Jesus removed all of the souls from Hades, the process changed to an on-going resurrection.

"And I heard a voice out of the heaven saying to me, Write: Happy are the dead who in the Lord are dying from this time!' Yes, (saith the Spirit,) That they may rest from their labours -- and their works do follow them!'" (Rev. 14:13, YLT)

Tell me how anyone would die from that time if Revelation was about the end of the world. Those who died / die in the Lord from that time onward are resurrected, changed in a twinkling of the eye and gathered home to heaven to be with all those righteous souls that have gone before us.

This generation of Matt. 24 was that generation of the 1st century AD. As no other generation ever saw Christ's first manifestation, then no other generation than that one of the 1st century AD could possibly have a 2nd appearance of Him (Heb. 9:28).

Jesus meant what He said, and those who misapply this prophesy to a concept of an end of time and end of the physical cosmos are denying His very words.

Prophesy must be kept in context, and it is very important to recognize the metaphors of God's prophetic language. The Dispensationalists have twisted this prophesy out of all context, and have greatly misled thousands of people. Everything of the prophesy of Matt. 24-25 was completed in AD 70 at the destruction of that temple. Jesus finished the plan of salvation for all mankind, and the gospel message still rings today for all those who will answer His call.

See the following posts at my blog:

  1. Testing The Spirits - Part II: The End ShreddingTheVeil

  2. Testing The Spirits - Part III: Daniel's Lot here

  3. The Signs of Revelation - Part I: The Time of His Coming here

  4. Frequent Mistakes - Part IV: Where Was All the World - here

  5. Frequent Mistakes - Part VI: The End of The World, or ? here

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  • Matthew 24/25 should be taken together, but Jesus' prophetic discourse is answering TWO (or 1, 2a, and 2b) questions asked by his disciples. He answers both by following the same pattern that other prophets had prophesied about "day of the Lord" events during their time. When we read Am/Ho regarding Israel’s judgment, Isa/Jer regarding Judah’s judgment, or Oba regarding Edom’s judgment, we read about God’s judgment on the that nation (a near-term “day of the Lord”) AND His eventual judgment on all mankind (a longer-term final “DoL”).
    – C D B
    Jan 29, 2023 at 20:52
  • Furthermore, this approach deconstructs many other very basic and clear teaching of the New Testament, much of which is detailed here
    – C D B
    Jan 29, 2023 at 20:58
  • Absolutely, the scriptures deconstruct the traditional narrative of the institutional churches. The plenary prophesies of the OT had a near term and a long term judgment in many cases, and Jesus told them that the Law and the Prophets were until John (Matt. 11:13). That means that the time of the long term judgment was in John's coming when both John and Jesus were preaching that the kingdom was at hand in the 1st century AD. The time of "the end" was that 4th beast kingdom prophesied in Dan. 2 & 7 which was the Roman empire, & the prophesies did not go beyond that generation. You have...
    – Gina
    Jan 30, 2023 at 2:36
  • to choose whether to continue in the false narrative of the current belief system, or whether to trust in God's word. Jesus told His disciples in that generation that they would not finish going through the cities of Israel in their missionary journey before He returned (Matt. 10:23). Jesus answered all of the disciples questions in Matt. 24 & 25. And, the timing was clearly set for that generation.
    – Gina
    Jan 30, 2023 at 2:38
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Prophecies in the Bible are well able to have more than one fulfillment. God is wise above our understanding, and dual fulfillments serve to put His divine stamp on this. It can be said that God stakes His honor and reputation upon the fulfillment of His Word, and when it is doubly fulfilled, He is doubly honored.

Often, the second fulfillment of a prophecy will come in a different sense--perhaps a broader, or more spiritual scope or application.

Consider, for example, Abraham's statement that "God will provide himself a lamb" (Genesis 22:8). Was a lamb provided? Yes; and Isaac did not die. But Jesus, in a secondary fulfillment, became the prophesied Lamb as well--taking the penalty for everyone, not just for Isaac.

In Matthew 24, some of the prophecies given are most especially, in a literal sense, for what was to occur within that generation--from AD 31 to AD 70. But in a broader, or more spiritual sense, these events must take place again.

Consider the following points of interest within that chapter.

Prophecy
(Matthew 24)
Literal / Contemporary
Fulfillment
Spiritual / Future
Fulfillment
There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (verse 2) No stone of the temple remained upon another after the conflagration in AD 70. Spiritually, stones represent God's laws/principles (cf. Psalm 91:12; Isaiah 58:13), and a time would come when every principle of God's law would be despised, and cast down.
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars" (verse 6). Titus warred against and besieged Jerusalem. Spiritual, as well as physical wars (e.g. World Wars I & II), will occur to the end of time.
"For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (verse 7) Rome came against Israel/the Jews. Satan's kingdom comes against God's kingdom.
"and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places." (vs. 7) The famine in Jerusalem in AD 70 was so severe, women were eating their children. When Christ died in AD 31, there was an earthquake (Matthew 27:54) and "a great earthquake" (Matthew 28:2) when he rose from the tomb. Famines represent scarcity of the word of God (bread of life): "I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). Earthquakes represent events of great consequence among nations, such as wars, economic catastrophes, and political upheavals; but secondary fulfillments of this certainly include the prevalence of earthquakes occurring in our times (and the tsunamis may be part of the "pestilences").
"Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." (verse 9) All of the disciples were martyred, except for John--whom God preserved or he would also have died for his faith. God's followers in later times have likewise suffered, even dying as martyrs, many burned at the stake during the Dark Ages, and still today violence continues against Christians in many places.

These brief vignettes from the chapter, while further explanations as to their spiritual fulfillments are beyond the scope of this answer, may serve to raise awareness of the dual-fulfillment nature of Jesus' prophecies. Many things Jesus said had a spiritual application, such as in saying of Lazarus that he was asleep--when the disciples knew he had died. These secondary fulfillments of his prophecies are proof of his divine inspiration.

Conclusion

While the prophecies were fulfilled in the first century, they also foretell events to take place further into the future, whether of literal or symbolic/spiritual fulfillments.

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