“What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”
1. What interesting question did Jesus’ apostles ask him?
NEARLY two thousand years ago, a question was raised by four of Jesus’ apostles in a private conversation with their Master on the Mount of Olives. They asked: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3) In that question, the apostles used two very interesting expressions, “your presence” and “the conclusion of the system of things.” To what do those expressions refer?
2. What is the underlying meaning of the word “conclusion”?
2 To take the second expression first, consider the term “conclusion,” the translation of the Greek word syn·teʹlei·a. In the New World Translation, this word is consistently rendered “conclusion,” whereas a related Greek word, te’los, is translated “end.” The difference in the meaning of these two words can be illustrated by describing a talk given at the Kingdom Hall. The conclusion of the talk is the last section, in which the speaker spends a little time reminding the audience of what he has been discussing and then shows how that information applies to them. The end of the talk is when the speaker walks off the platform. In a similar way, Biblically speaking, the term “the conclusion of the system of things” refers to the period of time leading up to and including its end.
3. What are some of the things that occur during Jesus’ presence?
3 What of the “presence” that the apostles asked about? This is the translation of the Greek word pa·rou·siʹa.* Christ’s pa·rou·siʹa, or presence, started with Jesus’ installation as King in heaven in 1914 and continues on to include the “great tribulation,” during which he comes to destroy the wicked. (Matt. 24:21) Many different things, including “the last days” of this wicked system of things, the gathering of the chosen ones, and their resurrection to heavenly life, occur during this presence of Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:1; 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; 2 Thess. 2:1) It could be said that the period constituting “the conclusion of the system of things” (syn·teʹlei·a) corresponds to or runs parallel with the period called Christ’s presence (pa·rou·siʹa).
An Extended Period of Time
4. How does Jesus’ presence find a parallel in the events of Noah’s day?
4 The fact that the word pa·rou·siʹa refers to an extended period of time harmonizes with what Jesus said with regard to his presence. (Read Matthew 24:37-39.) Notice that Jesus did not liken his presence to the relatively short period of time during which the Flood occurred in Noah’s day. Rather, he compared his presence to the much longer period of time that led up to the Flood. Included therein were Noah’s building of the ark and his preaching work, right up until the time that the Flood finally arrived. Those events occurred over many decades. In a similar way, Christ’s presence includes the events leading up to and including the great tribulation.
5. How do the words recorded in Revelation chapter 6 indicate that Jesus’ presence is an extended period of time?
5 Other Bible prophecies make it evident that Christ’s presence refers to an extended period of time and not merely to his coming to destroy the wicked. The book of Revelation portrays Jesus as riding on a white horse and being given a crown. (Read Revelation 6:1-8.) After being crowned as King in 1914, Jesus is pictured as going “forth conquering and to complete his conquest.” The account then shows that he is followed by riders seated on different-colored horses. These prophetically represent war, food shortages, and pestilence, all of which have occurred over the extended period of time that is referred to as “the last days.” We are seeing the fulfillment of this prophecy in our lifetime.
6. What does Revelation chapter 12 help us to understand about Christ’s presence?
6 Revelation chapter 12 provides further details concerning the establishment of God’s Kingdom in heaven. There we read of a battle in the invisible realm. Michael
7. What does the second psalm speak about, and what opportunity is described therein?
7 The second psalm likewise speaks prophetically of the installation of Jesus as King upon heavenly Mount Zion. (Read Psalm 2:5-9; 110:1, 2.) However, this psalm also indicates that there is a period of time when earth’s rulers, along with their subjects, are given an opportunity to submit to Christ’s rule. They are admonished to “exercise insight” and to allow themselves to be “corrected.” Yes, during that time “happy are all those taking refuge in him [God]” by serving Jehovah and his appointed King. So, then, a window of opportunity is opened during Jesus’ presence in kingly power.
Recognizing the Sign
8, 9. Who would recognize the sign of Christ’s presence and understand its meaning?
8 When asked by the Pharisees about the time the Kingdom would come, Jesus answered that it would not come “with striking observableness” from their viewpoint. (Luke 17:20, 21) Unbelievers would not understand. How could they? They did not even recognize Jesus as their future King. So who would both recognize the sign of Christ’s presence and understand its significance?
9 Jesus went on to say that his disciples would see the sign just as clearly as they would see “lightning, by its flashing, [which] shines from one part under heaven to another part.” (Read Luke 17:24-29.) It is of interest to note that Matthew 24:23-27 directly links the same point with the sign of Christ’s presence.
The Generation Seeing the Sign
10, 11. (a) What explanation was previously given concerning the “generation” mentioned at Matthew 24:34? (b) Who would Jesus’ disciples have no doubt understood to be included in that “generation”?
10 Previously, this journal has explained that in the first century, “this generation” mentioned at Matthew 24:34 meant “the contemporaneous generation of unbelieving Jews.”* That explanation seemed reasonable because all other recorded uses that Jesus made of the term “generation” had a negative connotation, and in most cases, Jesus used a negative adjective, such as “wicked,” to describe the generation. (Matt. 12:39; 17:17; Mark 8:38) Thus, it was felt that in the modern-day fulfillment, Jesus was referring to the wicked “generation” of unbelievers who would see both the features that would characterize “the conclusion of the system of things” (syn·teʹlei·a) and the system’s end (teʹlos).
11 It is true that when Jesus used the word “generation” negatively, he was speaking to or about the wicked people of his day. But was that necessarily true of his statement recorded at Matthew 24:34? Recall that four of Jesus’ disciples had approached him “privately.” (Matt. 24:3) Since Jesus did not use negative qualifiers when speaking to them about “this generation,” the apostles would no doubt have understood that they and their fellow disciples were to be part of the “generation” that would not pass away “until all these things [would] occur.”
12. What does the context reveal concerning those to whom Jesus was referring when he used the term “generation”?
12 On what basis may we draw that conclusion? By carefully considering the context. As recorded at Matthew 24:32, 33, Jesus said: “Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors.” (Compare Mark 13:28-30; Luke 21:30-32.) Then, at Matthew 24:34, we read: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”
13, 14. Why can we say that the “generation” that Jesus referred to must have been his disciples?
13 Jesus said that it was his disciples, soon to be anointed with holy spirit, who should be able to draw certain conclusions when they saw “all these things” occur. So Jesus must have been referring to his disciples when he made the statement: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”
14 Unlike unbelievers, Jesus’ disciples would not only see the sign but also understand its significance. They would “learn” from the features of that sign and “know” their true meaning. They would fully appreciate that “he is near at the doors.” While it is true that both unbelieving Jews and faithful anointed Christians saw a limited fulfillment of Jesus’ words in the first century, only his anointed followers back then could learn from these events
15. (a) Who make up the modern-day “generation” that Jesus referred to? (b) Why are we not able to calculate the exact length of “this generation”? (See the box on page 25.)
15 Those without spiritual understanding today have felt that there has been no “striking observableness” with regard to the sign of Jesus’ presence. They reason that everything is continuing on as it did in the past. (2 Pet. 3:4) On the other hand, Christ’s faithful anointed brothers, the modern-day John class, have recognized this sign as if it were a flash of lightning and have understood its true meaning. As a class, these anointed ones make up the modern-day “generation” of contemporaries that will not pass away “until all these things occur.”* This suggests that some who are Christ’s anointed brothers will still be alive on earth when the foretold great tribulation begins.
“Keep on the Watch”
16. What must all of Christ’s disciples do?
16 More is needed, though, than merely recognizing the sign. Jesus went on to say: “What I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:37) This is of utmost importance to all of us today whether of the anointed or of the great crowd. Nine decades have passed since Jesus was installed as King in heaven in 1914. As challenging as it may be, we must prove ourselves ready and keep on the watch. Understanding that Christ is present invisibly in Kingdom power helps us to do that. It also alerts us to the fact that soon he will come to destroy his enemies “at an hour that [we] do not think likely.”
17. How should this understanding make us feel, and what should we be determined to do?
17 Our understanding of the meaning of Christ’s presence helps to intensify our feelings of urgency. We know that Jesus is already present and has been reigning invisibly as King in heaven since 1914. Soon he will come to destroy the wicked and bring about vast changes to this entire globe. We should therefore be more determined than ever to take an active part in the work that Jesus foretold when he said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end [teʹlos] will come.”
The meaning of pa·rou·siʹa is seen from the contrast that is made between the “presence” and “absence” of the apostle Paul both at 2 Corinthians 10:10, 11 and at Philippians 2:12. For a detailed discussion, see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 676-9.
See The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, pages 11-15, 19, 30, 31.
The time period during which “this generation” lives seems to correspond to the period covered by the first vision in the book of Revelation. (Rev. 1:10–3:22) This feature of the Lord’s day extends from 1914 until the last of the faithful anointed ones dies and is resurrected.
How Would You Answer?
• How do we know that Jesus’ presence is an extended period of time?
• Who recognize the sign of Jesus’ presence and understand what it means?
• The modern-day generation mentioned at Matthew 24:34 is made up of whom?
• Why are we unable to calculate the exact length of “this generation”?
[Box on page 25]
Can We Calculate the Length of “This Generation”?
The word “generation” usually refers to people of various ages whose lives overlap during a particular time period or event. For example, Exodus 1:6 tells us: “Eventually Joseph died, and also all his brothers and all that generation.” Joseph and his brothers varied in age, but they shared a common experience during the same time period. Included in “that generation” were some of Joseph’s brothers who were born before him. Some of these outlived Joseph. (Gen. 50:24) Others of “that generation,” such as Benjamin, were born after Joseph was born and may have lived on after he died.
So when the term “generation” is used with reference to people living at a particular time, the exact length of that time cannot be stated except that it does have an end and would not be excessively long. Therefore, by using the term “this generation,” as recorded at Matthew 24:34, Jesus did not give his disciples a formula to enable them to determine when “the last days” would end. Rather, Jesus went on to emphasize that they would not know “that day and hour.”
[Picture on page 22, 23]
After being crowned as King in 1914, Jesus is pictured as “conquering”
[Picture on page 24]
“This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur”