What did Jesus mean by “This Generation?”
Richard Wagoner, February, 2010
Are we living in the “last generation?” If by that you mean, could Jesus return in our lifetime, the answer is YES! But, please, don’t keep repeating the same old mistakes. When Jesus talked about “this generation,” He was not talking about us.
In Matthew 24:34, in a private conversation that scholars call the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (see also Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). The immediate context appears to be Jesus’ preceding second coming prophetic comments. This has led to many interpretations applying “this generation” to those living in the days of the return of the Israel to its homeland. While all of those teachings claim to be Biblically based, the information presented here will show why it was not possible for any of them to have been Biblically correct. Now that we are in Israel’s 62nd year, and the 43rd year since the reuniting of Jerusalem in 1967, all attempts to attach “this generation” to the modern calendar have expired, and stand exposed as “false interpretations.” And yet the insistence that “this generation” has a contemporary and/or eschatological application is as strong as ever. I have even seen a webpage that argues for a 70 year generation! Perhaps if we had actually understood what Jesus was saying, Christianity would have been spared much embarrassment during the late 20th century. But the confusion continues. Many are now reinventing the term “generation” and suggesting it means “race,” even though it was never used this way by Jesus or by anyone else in the New Testament.
As you read this article, ask Jesus to help you to understand what He was talking about, and the right way to apply it to your life. You may find all of this so basic and simple that you will wonder how anyone could have ever thought of it any other way. But it really isn’t anyones fault. We are all so enthusiastic about Jesus’ return, that when we get ahead ourselves, we don’t always go back and check our facts. I have lived with the information presented here for at least 15 years, and I am not concerned about a negative response by anyone who actually reads it. I am not willing to break fellowship with any believer over their interpretation of prophecy, and nothing that I say here in any way adversely affects my own denomination’s (The Southern Baptist Convention) statement of faith, “the Baptist Faith and Message.”
May everyone who longs to see Jesus, read these words with joy and encouragement.
How Jesus used this phrase.
All texts are NASB.
Matthew 9x 11:16; 12:39,41,42;45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34
Mark 3x 8:12; 8:38; 9:19
Luke 12x 13:30; 7:31; 11:29-32, 50-51; 9:41; 17:25; 21:32
As parallel accounts
1. Mt 11:16 "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children,
Lk 7:31 "To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like?
2. MT 12:39 But He answered and said to them, “An Evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;
Mk 8:12 Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, "Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation."
Lk 11:32, 31 "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (31) "The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Observations concerning Jesus’ use of the phrase “this generation.”
The Bible records Jesus using the word “generation” 13 times, when you take into consideration all of the parallel accounts. Taken separately, Matthew records 9 times, Mark 4 times and Luke 11 times, for a total of 24 verses. In every case, Jesus is referring to the Jews alive at that moment in time. (30-33 AD)
Here is the list of adjectives Jesus used to describe “this generation.”
1. This generation is like unwise children who cannot be pleased. This is based on their contradictory attitudes towards Jesus and John the Baptist.
(Matthew 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35 )
2. This generation is evil and adulterous, and craving for a sign.
(Matthew 12:39-42; 16:4, Mark 8:12)
3. This generation is wicked and seeks a sign.
4. This generation will be condemned at the judgment by the men of Nineveh and the
Queen of Sheba because they respected Jonah and Solomon, but the Jews Jesus
was talking to did not respect Him, and He is greater than both Jonah and Solomon.
(Matthew 12:41,42; Luke 11:31,32)
5. This generation is like a demon possessed person who repents and is cleansed and
then is taken over by 8 demons, and ends up much worse off than they were before.
6. This generation is adulterous and sinful. They cause many to be ashamed of Jesus,
resulting in their rejection by Jesus.
7. This generation is unbelieving and perverted It is an ordeal for Jesus Himself to endure
being in their presence.
(Matthew 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41)
8. This generation will reject Jesus and cause Him much suffering.
9. This generation will be charged with all of the murders of the prophets from Abel
(Matthew 23:36; Luke 11:50,51)
10. This generation will still exist when Jesus’ prophecy against them is fulfilled.
The Old Testament and the word “Generation”
The word “generation” appears too many times in the Old Testament to study in a practical way, but it should be noted that this exact phrase “this generation” was used many times to refer to the Israelites who died in the wilderness under the curse of God for their unbelief, during a period of 40 years. God announced His judgment against them in the in the second year, and executed it throughout the following 38 years. In the New Testament, Hebrews 3:10 is a quote from one of these Old Testament passages. The Hebrews 3 passage applies the lessons of that “wilderness generation” to members of the first century New Testament church, especially concerning their hardness of heart. Jesus also did this, when speaking directly to His 12 disciples in Mark 8:17.
“Generation” in the New Testament outside of the Gospels.
In Philippians 2:15, Paul says that the Philippians are living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. This is consistent with Jesus’ designation.
The word “generation” occurs 11 other times in the New Testament. None of these related to Jesus’ prophetic use of the term. These verses are provided in the next table. Notice that “generation” is never used to mean “race.”
There is no use of the term “generation” in the context of any New Testament prophecy other than the repeated and consistent reference to the lifespan of those Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death. The context for its use in the Olivet Discourse is not the immediate verse which precedes it, but the consistent application of that term to those Jews alive from @30 to 70 AD. When Jesus said “this generation will not pass away until all (these) things take place…” He is saying the exact same thing that He has already said 10 times before. Any interpretation that disregards Jesus’ consistent reference to the generation which existed at that time is creating an unnecessary fictional eschatology, without any possible hermeneutical defense. A similar argument can be made concerning the phrase “all (these) things.” This phrase relates to the content of the first half of the Olivet Discourse, and all that Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Old Testament prophesied concerning the fulfillment of Leviticus 26 and Daniel 9. The Olivet Discourse must be considered to be two distinct prophecies, divided at Luke 21:24 by the “age of the gentiles.” The term “this generation” refers to those alive during 1st Jewish Revolt in 66 AD and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The phrase “all (these) things” also refers to that same time period. Luke made it clear that the unfulfilled eschatological portion of Jesus’ teaching is not directly connected to the time or the people of that generation. Matthew and Mark do not mention the age of the Gentiles, and many still overlook Luke's more detailed explanation. There is still much to learn about God's ways, when we consider how Jesus' words came true in the life of that generation.
“...Because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
PS. From Luke 21:22
How others used this phrase.
All texts are NASB.
Luke 1:48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
Luke 1:50 "AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.
Acts 2:40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
Acts 8:33 " IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY;WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH."
Acts 13:36 "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay;
Acts 14:16 "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;
Acts 15:21 "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
Ephesians 3:5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
Ephesians 3:21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Philippians 2:15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,
Colossians 1:26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,
Hebrews 3:10 " THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION,AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART,AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS';
Jude 1:14 It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, " Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones,