Matthew 24:34 and “This Generation”
By John McTernan
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34).
Some years ago I debated two atheists, Dan and Bill Courtney from the New York State Free Thinkers. During the debate we discussed the topic of Bible prophecy. The atheists took the position that Matthew 24:34 was a false prophecy by Jesus Christ because His generation passed away and the events prophesied did not take place. This is a common argument by many who attack the authority of the Bible. The Muslims often use this verse when I debate them.
Within Christianity, a doctrine called preterism (means past) also believes that this verse pertains to the generation of Jesus Christ. The preterists believe that all prophecy was fulfilled by 70 AD with the extreme view believing that Jesus Christ returned in 70 AD. Because this verse is so often used to attack the authority of Bible prophecy, it is very important to be grounded in the truth of this Scripture.
There are two keys to understanding the prophecy of Jesus Christ’s Second Coming as revealed in Matthew 24, also known as the Olivet Discourse. The first is to understand Matthew 24:3, while the second is that Mark and Luke also write about this topic. The three gospels together: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are called synoptic and need to be studied together for the complete picture and understanding.
Jesus Christ and His disciples were in Jerusalem at the temple. He warned them that the temple was going to be destroyed. The disciples were upset upon hearing this and asked three questions. The questions are found in Matthew 24:3, which becomes very important because it is the basis for understanding Jesus Christ’s words found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. These topics must be kept in mind when reading the chapters to understand what question He was addressing. The three questions are:
1. When shall these things be? (This is the coming destruction of the temple that was currently standing.)
2. What shall be the sign of your (Second) coming?
3. The end of the world.
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, (1) when shall these things be? and (2) what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of (3) the end of the world?'” (Matthew 24:3).
With this in mind, let’s look at Matthew 24:34 in the context which it was located. In the preceding verses, the Lord was addressing question two which is the “sign of his coming.”
This is found in verses 29-31.:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
These verses are about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the events preceding His return. They are not about the coming destruction of the temple. Then in the following verse, He gives a parable about the “fig tree” putting forth its leaves you know the summer is near. The fig tree blooms very late in the spring, and when it does summertime is very close. The fig tree becomes a timepiece or calendar for an event.
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh” (Matthew 24:32).
The use of the word “fig tree” is very significant because in the Bible it can represent the nation of Israel. God uses this metaphor and others like it because the nation is supposed to bear spiritual fruit for Him. This is a very important parable as it is found in three gospel accounts: here in Matthew as well as Mark 13:28 and Luke 21:29. The fig tree represents Israel. The foundation of the fig tree representing Israel is found in the Old Testament:
“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time” (Hosea 9:10).
When studying the gospels, there are many times that the Lord uses a parable about the fig tree. They are usually about bearing fruit, which Israel was not, and the subsequent destruction of the tree for being fruitless. In Matthew 24:32, Jesus Christ is talking about the fig tree coming to life and getting ready to bear fruit and not its destruction.
The context of Matthew 24:34 is the generation that sees the events coming to pass regarding the end of the age and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. THIS generation shall not pass until all the events are fulfilled. Let’s look at the entire section in context to see that the generation in focus is the one that is living during the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and it is not the generation that sees the destruction of the temple. These are two separate events.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:29-34).
Luke 21 gives a tremendous key to understanding the setting of the generation mentioned in Matthew 24:34. Luke establishes the connection with the destruction of Jerusalem (question one) and then restoration of the city (question two). So events involving Jerusalem become the setting for the final generation.
In verses 20 and 21, Luke writes about the destruction of the city and what to look for. This is describing when Jerusalem is about to be destroyed. Jerusalem eventually was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman army, thus fulfilling the warning of Jesus Christ. This answers the first question: “When shall these things be?”
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto” (Luke 21:20-21).
Luke then goes on to say that the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jewish people would not last forever. That Jerusalem would be under the control of the non Jews for only a certain period of time. Jesus Christ referred to this as the “times of the Gentiles.” The exact length of time was not mentioned, but the conclusion would be known as prophetic events would focus on Jerusalem.
“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).
The prophet Zechariah also wrote that just prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ Jerusalem would again be the capital of a Jewish state, and the city would be the focus of world attention and massive world wars. The wars would end in the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.Christ then returns to Jerusalem and this ends the “times of the Gentiles.”
“In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:6).
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ comes at the end of the non Jewish control of Jerusalem. So according to the synoptic gospels regarding the Olivet Discourse, we could be the generation that will not pass away until all things be fulfilled. Just prior to the return of Jesus Christ, the world will be in an upheaval.
The sun and moon will show signs that perplex people. On earth, nature will be convulsing with worldwide massive earthquakes and the oceans roaring. The events are so frightening that men’s hearts will fail seeing what is happening. Events like these have never happened before but will just prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These events are warnings to the world of Christ’s return.
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).
Today, after 1900 years, the Jews are once again back on the land and Israel is a nation. As prophesied by Jesus Christ and the prophets, Jerusalem is once again the capital of a Jewish nation. Hebrew was a dead language, but it was revived and is the national language of Israel. The Israelis even have shekels for money! The fig tree is once again ready to bloom, so we know that “the summer is nigh” or Second Coming of Jesus Christ is near.
This is the generation that was mentioned in Matthew 24:34. This is the generation that shall see the end of the age and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:32).
The Lord then went on to say we should watch for we never know when these events might start taking place.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42).
The watching was not limited to the generation of Jesus Christ but every generation until He returns. This is a sign that someone is a real Christian, when he is living with the Blessed Hope: Looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).