Matthew 24:34—Did Jesus err by affirming that the signs of the end time would be fulfilled in His era?

Problem: Jesus spoke of signs and wonders regarding His second coming. But Jesus said “this generation” would not end before all these events took place. Did this mean that these events would occur in the lifetime of His hearers?

Solution: These events (e.g., the Great Tribulation, the sign of Christ’s return, and the end of the age) did not occur in the lifetime of Christ’s hearers. Therefore, it is reasonable to understand their fulfillment as something yet to come. This calls for a closer examination of the meaning of “generation” for meanings other than that of Jesus’ contemporaries.

First, “generation” in Greek (genea) can mean “race.” In this particular instance, Jesus’ statement could mean that the Jewish race would not pass away until all things are fulfilled. Since there were many promises to Israel, including the eternal inheritance of the land of Palestine (Gen. 12; 14–15; 17) and the Davidic kingdom (2 Sam. 7), then Jesus could be referring to God’s preservation of the nation of Israel in order to fulfill His promises to them. Indeed, Paul speaks of a future of the nation of Israel when they will be reinstated in God’s covenantal promises (Rom. 11:11–26). And Jesus’ response to His disciples’ last question implied there would yet be a future kingdom for Israel, when they asked: “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Rather than rebuking them for their misunderstanding, He replied that “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:6–7). Indeed, Paul in Romans 11 speaks of the nation of Israel being restored to God’s promised blessings (cf. vv. 25–26).

Second, “generation” could also refer to a generation in its commonly understood sense of the people alive at the time indicated. In this case, “generation” would refer to the group of people who are alive when these things come to pass in the future. In other words, the generation alive when these things (the abomination of desolation [v.15], the great tribulation such as has never been seen before [v. 21], the sign of the Son of Man in heaven [v. 30], etc.) begin to come to pass will still be alive when these judgments are completed. Since it is commonly believed that the tribulation is a period of some seven years (Dan. 9:27; cf. Rev. 11:2) at the end of the age, then Jesus would be saying that “this generation” alive at the beginning of the tribulation will still be alive at the end of it. In any event, there is no reason to assume that Jesus made the obviously false assertion that the world would come to an end within the lifetime of His contemporaries.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.