Following up on our Bible study the other evening, can you explain what is meant by “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:32 in the context of eschatology chronology?
Matthew 24:34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
If you begin the reading at chapter 24 of Matthew or the parallel account in Luke 21, you will find that Jesus is prophesying two major events in the future, both entailing judgment. First, the judgment upon the Jewish people for rejecting him, which is the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. when the Romans came in, and destroyed Jerusalem and the second is referring to Judgment Day.
Now, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions when trying to determine who is meant by “This generation.” Is Jesus speaking about the Jewish nation or is Jesus speaking about the church? Theologians are split on their answer to that one and can’t quite determine who is even meant by the term, “This generation.” Some believe that it is limited to the generation of people who were alive for the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Other people believe that this generation refers to the generation that learns the lesson of the fig tree, when Jesus said, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:32,33). People who believe it to be the latter, choose this generation to refer to either Jews or the invisible church at Judgment Day.
Now, even if we take it as the future generation at Judgment Day, it still doesn’t clear up the difficulty of the text for us because now people are divided on who exactly he is referring to by the term this generation. Is Jesus referring to the Jewish people being around till Judgment Day to see the lessons of the fig tree, or is he talking about the invisible church learning the lesson of the fig tree.
Perhaps this is why you were curious and slightly confused about what Jesus meant by “This generation”? But here’s my take, which I know you really wanted to hear.
When Scripture presents us with difficulties and there are multiple options, I think it’s wise to try and rule out the options that conflict with clearer teachings of Scripture elsewhere and in this instance, I don’t see any of these options conflicting with other portions of Scripture. Then, we are left with the best option or best options. And my opinion is this: maybe Jesus had all options in mind.
Consider this for a moment. If you read the whole chapter Jesus was speaking about two judgments taking place but he never bothered to interrupt his discourse by saying, “Ok, that’s judgment #1 for you people for rejecting me and its coming in 70 AD when the Romans come in and then turn to his disciples and say, now here’s judgment #2.” He didn’t say that, and yet clearly we know that he’s alluding to both the imminent judgment on the Jewish nation in the first portion of the chapter and the second Judgment Day by the end of the chapter. Jesus said in the first part, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (24:2). Guess what? Those stones came down in devastating fashion in 70 AD and the historical accounts provided for us outside of the Scripture are every bit as eerie as Jesus describes that imminent judgment.
But then Jesus pivots from the imminent judgment of Jerusalem into the final judgment at the Last Day, and this is very typical of prophecy. Noah and the flood are paralleled by Jesus for future judgment. Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights was a prophetic event that Jesus said would parallel his stay in the ground for 3 days and 3 nights before his resurrection etc. So Jesus doesn’t say in Matthew 24, “Now, I’m going to tell you how it’s going to be on the Last Day.” No, instead what he does is just goes into descriptive events that clearly describe the Last Day. And maybe Jesus and the Scriptures do this because time is kind of irrelevant to him who is outside of time and in eternity, right?
So my humble thought is that he means by, this generation, the folks living through the Roman destruction and the folks living at the time of Judgment Day. Neither thoughts would conflict with the teachings of Scripture and so why not?
Now, I give my modest opinion with this little caveat: when I depart this life to be with my Lord I’m prepared to stand corrected by him regarding what he actually meant, even as there are many other uncertain parts of Scripture that I’m prepared to stand corrected on.