When Jesus said, 'This generation will not pass,' what did He mean?
In Matthew 24:34 Jesus taught, "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (also Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Many interpretations exist regarding this passage. Which one is correct?
The most common understanding of this passage interprets "generation" as "race." In other words, the Jewish race or people will not pass away until all of the end-times signs Jesus mentioned take place.
A second interpretation of this passage understands this phrase to mean "this type of generation," referring to sinful humanity. Understood this way, the passage would refer to sinful people persisting until the return of Christ. While possible, this interpretation is unlikely as it assumes wicked people will no longer exist following this period though the curse of sin does not end until the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21—22.
A third interpretation of this passage is that the generation Jesus mentioned is the generation experiencing the signs of the end of the age. In other words, once the signs Jesus mentions in Matthew 24 begin to take place, they will unfold quickly, within the lifetime of the same generation, meaning within a short number of years.
A fourth interpretation sees this passage as referring to a double fulfillment. In this understanding, some aspects were fulfilled historically, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:1-2), while other aspects are still future. Though possible, this is a more difficult view to support since one must show Jesus intended a double fulfillment to His words rather than a clear, single understanding.
The most likely scenario may be the third interpretation that connects the generation Jesus has in mind with those experiencing the signs of the end of the age. If a break is seen in Matthew 24:3, then all of the signs Jesus mentions take place during the same period of time, the seven-year tribulation period. This will be a time during which much judgment takes place (vv. 4-14), the abomination of desolation occurs during the midpoint of the tribulation (vv. 15-28), and the Son of Man (Jesus) will come at the end of these seven years (vv. 32-34).
These events are also discussed in the prophetic portions of Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and other biblical books regarding God's plans for the last days. Seen together with the rest of Scripture, the best understanding may be that those who experience the judgments of the tribulation will be the same generation as those who experience both the abomination of desolation as well as the second coming of Christ.
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