The aim of this article is to show from scripture a possible understanding
of the term generation in this famous passage of prophetic utterances
made by Jesus. As an Evangelical and thus a believer in the inspiration of
scripture, I believe the best explainer of scripture is scripture itself and
thus the understanding of generation is related to how it is used
elsewhere in scripture. Otherwise you could have it to mean what was never
meant. In English generation could be used in talking about electricity
or other power being generated. In the Bible we find there are two separate uses
for this word.
I believe the way Jesus used it in the passages quoted involves the
grouping-race understanding, not the generation-time factor.
In his letters Peter mentions that we are as believers 'a chosen generation,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people(1)',
not talking here about a period of time, but a grouping. This is translated from
the Greek word genos and generation in the above quote is from
genea. They are predecessors to our words 'gene', 'genus' and
'genealogy' and are also related to the Greek word for woman, guné.
This closeness shows the clear idea that a blood related group is an
Paul talks about the Jews as a people that require a sign: the Jews require
a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom(2). Jesus says the
same thing, but makes use of this word genea to describe the group of
people in mind:
. . .Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly,
I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.
Paul talks further about this in Romans 11 when he talks about the veil
over the people of Israel and the reality that they find it hard to believe. He
also says that they will be around as a people at the time of Jesus' return and
these alive then will be saved as they recognise Jesus as their Messiah(3).
Which is what I believe Jesus was talking about in saying this generation
shall not pass away: he was saying that as a 'family' grouping, as a race, they
would remain until all the prophecies were fulfilled, 'until the fulness of the
Gentiles has come in(4)' (as Paul puts it).
The version of the Bible, the Old Testament of our Bibles, which the first
Christians used is called the Septuagint. This is a Greek translation of the
Hebrew scriptures. It shows well the two primary uses for the word genea.
As an example I have chosen two places where it is spelled exactly the same way
Joseph saw Ephraim's children to the third generation
. . .
Genesis 50:23 et al
Pour out your fury . . . on families who do
not call on your name . . .
Jeremiah 10:25 see also in Jeremiah 8:3
Now, if the word
generation in the passage in question was meant to mean a particular
time period, i.e. of a lifetime, then it follows that by Jesus preceding it by
the word this he meant within a lifetime existing and certainly no more
than a century. An alternative is to say it means within a lifetime or
generation (-time) of all these events I am talking about coming to pass. The
difficulty with the first idea is the fact that Jesus did not return within any
lifetime of his hearers. The difficulty with the second is that Jesus' list of
events involves things which have occurred 'wars and rumours of wars . . . false
prophets(5)' and some that will occur only at the very end
'the sun will be darkened . . . the stars will fall from heaven(6)'.
The question then needs answering by those who believe in this interpretation of
'this generation': When does the clock begin for this generation (of time)?
Since the first things mentioned like wars have been going on for
generations (excuse the pun) and the final things do not appear as giving any
time for a generation to live out its lifespan before the actual return, when
does this understood 'generation' begin?
I believe Jesus meant Israel, as a people, would remain until all these
things come to pass. Once they have come to pass they are no longer recognised
as a separate entity. Gentile believers and Jews all converted by now: 'all
Israel will be saved(7)', together, will be recognised as
God's children and the old 'nation' will be no more.
A further indication that Israel as a people will remain until all is
fulfilled can be clearly seen by the words of the angel to Daniel:
Seventy 'weeks' are determined for your people.
Daniel 9:24 my emphasis
The prophecy then goes into detail about the Prince, the Messiah to come and
the fulfilment, the sealing up 'of vision and prophecy(8)'.
Daniel's people will be around until all is fulfilled. Which is a
parallel statement to the one Jesus made.
So, although we can see that there is this kingdom made 'without hands(9)'
coming to pass, alongside, we also have the nation of Israel still remaining
till the end. The reason they then are no more known as a nation apart is
because they then recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and therefore become
full-blown Christians (as it were). Whereupon they are a full(-er) part of the
kingdom of God and there will be no demarcation of the people of Israel, it will
just be the people who belong to Jesus. Hallelujah! A day when there will be
just a kingdom where righteousness dwells, justice, love and mercy. Wonderful!
Praise God! I look forward to that day. Amen.
A better gauge in history for assessing the nearness of Jesus' Return is the
'abomination of desolation(10)' which I discuss briefly in
HOW SOON IS JESUS' RETURN?.
(1) 1Peter 2:9; (2) 1 Corinthians 1:22;
(3) Romans 11:25-27, Zechariah 12:10; (4)
Romans 11:25; (5) Matthew 24:6, 11; (6)
Matthew 24:29; (7) Romans 11:26; (8) Daniel
9:24; (9) Daniel 2:34, 44; (10) Matthew
24:15, Daniel 11:31, 12:11.