Table of Contents
(Translated from the PT version )
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, 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.Matthew 24:32-35
After giving an explanation of the signs that precede his coming, Jesus states that “This Generation” will not pass without all these things being fulfilled.
This phrase has raised doubts regarding its interpretation. A direct interpretation, and even grammatically correct, is that Jesus was addressing his listeners, saying that they would see all these signs. Or at least not all of Jesus’ contemporaries would die before everything Jesus had just prophesied came true.
Some have accepted this interpretation, but it is problematic to do so, because it forces us to affirm that Jesus, the son of God, was wrong. For him not to be, all the details prophesied by Jesus would have to have been fulfilled, and some try to affirm that they were fulfilled until the year 70, when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans. However, it seems far-fetched to me that these events are categorized as the world’s greatest tribulation.
or then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.Matthew 24:21
Furthermore, Jesus has not yet returned to earth, and not all nations recognize him as Lord and Christ.
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.Matthew 24:30
Possible interpretations #
Various interpretations have been proposed regarding the meaning of “This Generation”. I will mention four of them, which I consider to be the most common, and then defend from the scriptures the one that I think is the best. One of them being better than the others does not mean that it is the only possible interpretation. In fact, Jesus, as a master of communication, could want to give several meanings to a single sentence, and even be following the prophetic line of double fulfillment , where a prophecy has a near fulfillment and a distant fulfillment.
The first and perhaps most common interpretation is that “This Generation” refers to the race or nation of the Jews. However, the NET bible commentary states that the interpretation of the Greek term γενεά (genea) as a race or nation is very questionable. It is also unlikely that this interpretation occurred to any of Jesus’ listeners. The extinction of the race was something that was not among the Jews’ concerns. They expected the end of times and to receive their Messiah, not their extinction. However, it is remarkable that despite so much persecution, almost 2000 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the Jews returned to their land.
Another very common interpretation is that Jesus was actually referring to his contemporaries, and that “This Generation” actually saw “all these things” with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is called Preterism . This position has the problem of ignoring that Jesus was clearly speaking about the end times and his coming. As Jesus has not actually returned to judge the world, those who defend this interpretation usually adhere to partial preterism.
A terceirThe third interpretation is that with “generation”, Jesus was referring to those who see the signs begin, particularly the “Abomination of desolation” . According to this interpretation, what Jesus was saying is that everything will happen in a rapid succession of events. The generation that sees the “Abomination of desolation” will also see the end. The problem is that Jesus does not say “that” generation, but rather “this” generation. The connection to the “Abomination of desolation” is also unclear. Despite this being the pivotal event of the end times, the textual connection of “This Generation” to this particular event is not obvious.
The fourth interpretation, which I will defend in the following lines, is that “This Generation” is perverse humanity that rejects God and his Messiah. In particular the Jews who reject Jesus. Until all these things are fulfilled, there will always be Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah, but in the end every Jew will convert. It could be said that stating that the wicked will always exist is a truism without much meaning, but against this idea I want to propose three arguments.
- Jesus also left us the parable of the wheat and the tares, which has a clear interpretation that among true believers there will always be hypocrites. Is this also a meaningless truism?
- There is a doctrine within Christianity called Dominion Theology that says that the dominion of the church must expand and even govern all spheres of society throughout the world, and then the end will come. If this interpretation is correct, then Dominion Theology is wrong.
- If we focus “This Generation” on the Jewish people, the statement can be understood as an eventual conversion and salvation of all Jews who survive “all these things”. This idea is stated by Paul in Romans 11:26, which simply reiterates what Isaiah said in 59:20-21
A wicked generation ? #
I propose then that the best way to understand the expression is that for Jesus, and for a Jew with high biblical literacy, the expression “this generation” meant the group of people who oppose God. It meant the group of wicked people who will not inherit the Kingdom of the Messiah. This generation are those who have not yet been born again, have not been generated again, of water and spirit.
Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.John 3:5
To support this proposal I will give three lines of arguments
- Uses of the expression “This Generation” in the Old Testament
- Jesus always uses “this generation” as something bad
- Uses of the expression “this generation” in the remainder of the New Testament
1 - “This Generation” in the OT #
The word used to search the old testament was דור (pain, strong H1755). This word can mean “generation” or “age” or “posterity”. It is a concept related to the passage of time.
The first time this word expression is used is about the life of Noah.
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.Genesis 7:1
The first time this concept appears, we see that there is a clear division between Noah and his generations. Noah was righteous, but his generation was not. When a Jew who had learned the scriptures from a young age heard “this generation”, this was undoubtedly a text that came to mind.
A noteworthy detail is that the expression used by the Septuagint here is exactly the same as that used by Jesus in Matthew 24, γενεα ταυτη (genea taute, strong G1074 G3778).
A second text to highlight is
Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathersDeuteronomy 1:35
At several points in the scriptures, God refers to the people who left Egypt as a bad “generation”, a crooked generation, who did not believe in God’s promise to introduce them into the promised land, and died in the desert.
They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.Deuteronomy 32:5
and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to GodPsalm 78:8
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.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”Psalm 95:10-11
God does not abandon his people, nor does he go back on his promises, but sometimes he rejects a “generation”, that is, those who do not accept to hear and obey the voice of the Lord.
From the day that your ancestors left Egypt to this day, I have sent my servants to you. My servants are the prophets. I sent them to you again and again. But your ancestors did not listen to me. They did not pay attention to me. They were very stubborn and did evil even worse than their fathers did.
Jeremiah, you will tell these things to the people of Judah. But they will not listen to you. You call to them, but they will not answer you. So you must tell them these things: ‘This is the nation that did not obey the Lord its God. These people did not listen to God’s teachings. They don’t know the true teachings.’
Jeremiah, cut off your hair and throw it away. Go up to the bare hilltop and cry, because the Lord has rejected this generation of people. He has turned his back on these people. And in anger he will punish them.Jeremiah 7:25-29
2 - How Jesus uses “This Generation” #
Jesus uses the expression “This Generation” in 7 moments in the gospels besides Matthew 24 (or Mark 13, or Luke 21). In almost all of them, he uses it in a pejorative sense, mainly criticizing the incredulity of those who listen to him. The only exception to this pattern is Matthew 23 (Luke 11:50).
First occurrence, also in Luke 7
But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.Matthew 11:16-19
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.Matthew 12:38-45
Third occurrence, also in Mark 8 and Luke 11
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.Matthew 16:4
Fourth occurrence, also in Mark 9 and Luke 9
Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him. And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.Matthew 17:15-18
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angelsMark 8:38
For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.Luke 17:24-25
A notable exception to this pattern is Matthew 23 and Luke 11. Matthew 23 is difficult to interpret, and to know what things will happen to “This Generation.”
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’Matthew 23:34-39
Luke 11 is even more problematic if we interpret “This Generation” as the listeners of Jesus’ preaching.
Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generationLuke 11:49-51
Did Jesus mean that his contemporaries would be blamed for Abel’s murder? Wouldn’t that be unfair on God’s part?
However, if we interpret “This Generation” as a group of people that spans the entire history of humanity, and that is united by their rejection of God and his prophets, it becomes simpler to understand what Jesus means.
3 - “This Generation” in the NT #
Not all uses of the word generation in the rest of the New Testament are as consistent as those of Jesus. However, we can see three examples in which the writers had in mind the “wicked generation” that Jesus so often referred to. This generation already existed when the Israelites refused to enter the land, and which continues to exist today.
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”Acts 2:39-40
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the worldPhilippians 2:14-15
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 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.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’Hebrews 3:7-11
When Jesus said that “This Generation” would not pass without all the signs of the end being fulfilled, it is possible that some of his listeners imagined themselves witnessing everything that Jesus had just mentioned.
But it is also possible, and even probable, that those who listened to Jesus regularly, and knew his way of speaking, understood this as a reference to the unbelieving generation that since leaving Egypt refuses to believe in God’s promises and the words of their prophets.
We can affirm that just as the people who left Egypt did not enter the promised land because of their unbelief, but rather died in the desert, so the unbelieving, adulterous and perverse generation that refuses to believe in the word of God will perish.
This generation will pass, this will happen only after “all these things” are fulfilled, and the Son of Man returns to establish his Kingdom of Justice and Peace.
The mission of the church is to call those who still belong to “This Generation” to repentance. In particular the people of Israel. As Jesus said:
For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’Matthew 23:39
This world has its generation, but we who believe are a divine generation, the generation of those who seek God, the generation that will inherit the kingdom.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.Psalm 24:3-6
Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.Psalm 112:1-3