34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Matthew 24 / Luke 21 / Mark 13 ESV
Israel is expecting her Messiah to inaugurate a Kingdom rule when He comes. It is recorded that Jesus’ disciples ask Him a few times when He’s going to do just that. One recorded instance is known as the “Olivet Discourse”, which includes Jesus’ prophecy of the complete destruction of the Temple. The disciples are blown away by the thought that the Temple will be destroyed, as it is the center of Jewish worship, culture, and tradition. Its’ destruction is incompatible with the Messianic Rule they are anticipating. Confused, they ask Him a series of questions – trying to figure out when and how the Kingdom of Heaven will be established on earth.
Jesus’ answer to the apostles’ questioning is brilliant. It is enigmatic enough to provide hope for Christians in every generation from the apostles until present, but specific enough that when the signs are seen it will be clear that the time has come. I believe that Jesus gives His disciples instruction on this matter without disclosing the mystery of the church age. While He foreknows that Israel for the most part will reject Him, His offer of reconciliation to Israel is genuine. If Israel had accepted Jesus as Messiah, technically it seems that there would have been no gap in Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. The Kingdom Rule could have theoretically begun 7 years from Palm Sunday.
Part of Jesus’ instruction on the Mount of Olives includes referring to a specific generation of people who will not pass away before “all these things are fulfilled”. Jesus lists a specific collection of signs which would point to:
- the gathering of the saints to be with Jesus
- the end of the age
- Jesus’ return and initiation of the Millennial Kingdom
For a complete discussion on the Mount of Olives teaching and the signs Jesus mentioned, please see The End of the Age According to Jesus.
Who Is “This Generation That Will Not Pass Away”?
There are three possible views of who “this generation” is. The first, is the generation alive when Jesus spoke. As mentioned above, they could have been that generation, had Israel accepted Jesus as Messiah. While it is certainly probable they believed and hoped it would be them, we know that it was not. The apostles were a part of the generation that would reject Him (Luke 17:25). The collection of signs He mentioned were thus not fulfilled in their lifetimes, so this view cannot fit with a literal reading of scripture at all.
Both Jesus’ first and second comings would involve a specific generation that would see signs.
The second possible generation, is that “this generation” refers to the Jewish race. I looked up all the instances of the word “generation” in the New Testament, and many times, indeed, it appears that “race” could be substituted. This would provide assurance to the scattered Israelites throughout their long, dark dispersion that they would not be completely annihilated. While this is a possible interpretation, I have since read a book called The End Times Are Here Now by Charles Halff who is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He had this insightful comment regarding “this generation”. While the Greek word genea can refer to a family, race, or people – i.e. the preservation of Jews as a distinct people – Jesus seems to imply that “this generation” will pass away. It will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled. Thus, it must refer to an actual generation, and not the Jewish race (God’s covenant with them is ETERNAL, so as a race they will NEVER pass away – Rev 21:12). A literal generation is reinforced by Jesus stating that His words will not pass away, even past the destruction of this present world and creation of the next.
The third interpretation, is that “this generation” is the one that sees all the signs (the collection of signs mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse) being fulfilled. I agree, because of the little word “until”. There will be a generation of Jews that will witness the fig tree come alive and put forth its leaves. This specific generation will be a transitional generation (much like the generation that saw Jesus born, His ministry, His death and resurrection, and the Second Temple destroyed; encompassing approximately 71-73 years). They will live to see all the signs Jesus mentioned in the Olivet Discourse, from the budding of Israel in spring 1948, through the Day of the Lord and 70th week of Daniel signs, to Jesus’ Second Coming, all the way to the fruition of the Messianic Kingdom.
How Long is a Generation?
The next question, is how long is a generation? We need to look at how long the average lifetime of one generation of people is. In Psalm 90, we are told “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (ESV) Isaiah 23:15 describes the life of a king as 70 years – “In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king.” (ESV) Looking at length of life statistics for Jews since 1948, the average lifespan was around 69 for males and 71 for females in 1948 and is currently around 79 for men and 82 for women (2017) (Source: Wikipedia). Lifespan in other countries and nationalities varies. However, the length of a generation, from birth until passing away, is approximately between 70-80 years – just as it states in the Psalms.
It is possible that the lifespan of a generation can last as long as the longest-lived individual in that generation. While this varies somewhat, 120 years would be a good approximation (as of June 2017, the oldest human is a Jewish male who is 120 years old). 120 years would coincide with “as in the days of Noah’ – And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3 ESV) However, scripture doesn’t specifically mention a lifespan as being 120 years (as it does with a 70-80 years).
I tend to favor the 70-80 year window. In support of this 70-80 year range is that at Jesus’ first coming, the generation that saw all those signs (from His birth, His ministry, His death and Resurrection, to the destruction of the Temple) was between 70-80 years.
When Does the Final Generation Start?
A final question is when does “this generation” start? The fig tree sign discussed elsewhere provides the answer. By far the most obvious end times sign that has been fulfilled thus far is Israel becoming a nation in 1948 (predicted in the book of Ezekiel, and required for end times prophecies to proceed). Interestingly, we are on the brink of entering the endpoint of this 70-80 year window (69-79 year window using 360-day-prophetic-years in our calculations).
Jesus mentioned a specific collection of signs that would indicate His return was near and that the end of this age of humanity was imminent. He also told his disciples that “this generation would not pass away until all these things are fulfilled”. The first sign would be the leaves on the fig tree coming out; this is understood as Israel becoming a nation in 1948. The next collection of signs include what will occur throughout the Day of the Lord and the 70th week of Daniel, both of which culminate with the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, there will be a specific generation that sees both the establishment of Israel as a nation and the Second Coming of Christ.
The average lifespan of a generation is roughly 70-80 years (stated in Psalm 90 and confirmed to be true by population statistics). While we cannot be 100% sure on this, it appears that the Second Coming of Christ will likely occur in or before 2028 (1948+80). The rapture of the church would need to be at least 7 years prior to this, likely placing it in 2021 or earlier.
The Terminal Generation – Generation “Z”
Interestingly, the current generation being born has been aptly named “Generation Z”, which sounds pretty terminal to me. “Generation Z” – Even wikipedia calls it an “apocalyptic-sounding group”. Interesting that one of this generation’s taglines is that it is Global.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
Jack Kelley’s article The Terminal Generation.
A Disclaimer: The Bible is infallible. I am not. Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!