Didn’t Christ Predict Fulfillment of All within His Generation?
Question: According to Matthew:24:34, Christ declared, “This generation shall not pass till all these things [which he had prophesied] be fulfilled.” No one can deny that the “gospel of the kingdom” was not preached “unto all nations” (verse 140; that “all the tribes of the earth” did not see Christ “coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v. 30); or that angels did not “gather together his elect from the four winds” (v. 31) before the generation to whom Christ spoke had passed away. That this is obviously false prophecy can’t be denied. What do you make of it?
Response: The Greek word genea, translated “generation,” is open to more than one interpretation. There have been two major theories among Christians concerning what Jesus meant by “this generation.” Those known as “preterists” believe, like the critics, that He meant the generation whom He was speaking. Unlike the skeptics, however, those believers insist that everything Christ prophesied, including even the entire book of Revelation through the middle of chapter 20, came true within that generation, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews. By this theory Nero was the Antichrist.
Obviously, however, the generation alive at the time was not in danger of destroying all flesh from the earth with the use of bows and arrows and spears (Matthew:24:22), as our generation can now do with its modern weapons. And we now know, in retrospect, that much of what Christ foretold (as already noted) did not occur in A.D. 70. Therefore, the generation alive in Christ’s day could not possibly have been the generation to which he referred.
The more popular theory (until recently) is held by those Christians known as “furturists.” They believe that “this generation” referred to the generation that would be alive at the time when Israel would be brought back into her land in the “last days,” as the prophets so clearly foretold. This belief was strengthened by the obvious fact that many of the prophecies throughout the Bible could not be fulfilled until Israel was indeed back in her land.
For that reason, there was great expectancy that the pre-trib rapture would occur in 1981, a date calculated by adding 40 years (estimated length of a generation) to 1948, when Israel was restored, then subtracting seven years for the tribulation. When 1981 came and passed without the rapture occurring, many Christians were disillusioned and felt obliged to opt for a post-trib rapture. Some even abandoned belief in the rapture ever taking place.
That neither of these first two interpretations is tenable is quite clear on moral grounds. It would not have been just for the judgment of all of Israel’s past sins to “come upon this generation” (Matthew:23:36) or for the “blood of all the prophetes which was shed from the foundation of the world,” to be “required of this generation” (Luke:11:50-51) that was alive in Christ’s day. No would it be any more just for such judgment to come upon the generation alive when Israel was restored to her land. Surely, then Christ must have been using “generation” to refer to all wicked and unbelieving and evil people throughout all time.
Indeed, here is the only way to understand what Christ meant by “this generation.” He specified on many occasions the generation to which He referred as a “generation of vipers” (Matthew:3:7), and “evil and adulterous generation” (16:4), a “faithless and perverse generation” (17:17; Luke:9:41), and “adulterous and sinful generation” (Mark:8:38), a “faithless generation” (9:19), and an “evil generation” (Luke:11:29).
These are not pleasant terms and obviously describe sinful mankind in all its generations. We can only conclude, therefore, that Christ is indicating (contrary to the expectation of a last-days great revival or of a Christian takeover of the world) that the human race as a whole (except for the few who believe) will remain in unbelief and rebellion against God until the very end.
There is another variation of this interpretation that agrees with Scripture. Inasmuch as Christ was speaking to Israel, we can also conclude that His words had a special application to the Jews. He was saying that, although some Jews would believe in Him and thus be part of the church, Israel as a whole would remain in unbelief and rebellion until all was fulfilled. Thus Zechariah prophesied that Israel as a whole would remain a “faithless generation” (Mark:9:19) and not believe until Christ appeared in the midst of Armageddon to rescue them:
I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son…. In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness…. And I will bring the third part [of Israel] through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on my name, and I will hear them; I will say, It is my people, and they shall say, The Lord is my God (Zechariah:12:10; 13:1,9).