A Notable Generation
What is unique about it? How will its passing affect you?
“A GENERATION is going, and a generation is coming; but the earth is standing even to time indefinite,” says the congregator at Ecclesiastes, chapter one, verse four. According to historian Luke’s calculation, there were seventy-six generationsa of men during the 4,024 years from the creation of Adam until the birth of Jesus as a human. (Luke 3:23-38) On the other hand, we do not know how many generations have passed since Jesus’ day, for reliable data is lacking. We do know that a generation is not easy to mark off without taking into account some set of circumstances or a period of time with which certain persons were contemporaneous.
For our benefit the Bible record draws attention to some truly notorious generations and identifies them in connection with notable persons. For instance, there was the generation of Noah’s day that drowned in the flood. Many will also remember the generation of Lot’s day that perished when fire rained down on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then there was the generation that witnessed and largely ignored the life and miracles of Jesus Christ, and that met its miserable end in the year 70 C.E.
Of far greater significance, however, is another generation to which Jesus pointed when he was on earth. It was to be the most important generation in human history until that time, a truly notable one, because Jesus promised that during it he would return, ruling invisibly from the heavens as king of God’s kingdom. So that persons could identify that generation, Jesus gave a series of events to distinguish it unmistakably from all others. Turn your Bible to Luke chapter 21 and note some of the identifying features he gave.
Observe in Lu 21 verse ten that Jesus said “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” No ordinary wars these, but whole alliances of nations united against one another in world war! Then Jesus went on to say: “There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages.” All of these things—world wars, great earthquakes, pestilences, food shortages—as well as worldwide lawlessness and persecution of Christians, were to be realized in unprecedented doses during that generation. So unusual and terrifying would conditions be, Jesus said, that men would “become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”—Luke 21:10-17, 25, 26; see also Matt. 24:3-14.
THE MEANING OF THESE EVENTS
After describing these and other features of the sign that would mark his second presence in Kingdom power, Jesus then gave this illustration: “Note the fig tree and all the other trees: When they are already in the bud, by observing it you know for yourselves that now the summer is near. In this way you also, when you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.”—Luke 21:29-31.
Is it not a fact that, when we see the buds appearing on the trees, we do not need anyone to tell us that the summer growing season is near? For many rural peoples it is a signal to make preparations for the busy time ahead. So, just as the appearance of buds on trees has real meaning, likewise, Jesus emphasized, it is significant when all these foretold things come to pass within one generation. Jesus said that it means God’s long-prayed-for kingdom is at hand! Yes, it means that Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies, and that soon, in God’s day of vengeance, he will exercise his power and destroy all opposers of God’s kingdom.—Ps. 110:1, 2; Heb. 10:12, 13; Rev. 12:7-12; 17:1-20:3.
IDENTIFYING THE GENERATION
What generation was Jesus pointing forward to? Has there been any one generation since his day that has experienced global war, great earthquakes, terrible pestilences, widespread famines, unprecedented lawlessness, persecution of Christians, world-blanketing fear, and the other things he prophesied? The farmer in springtime can look at the trees and tell that summer is near. Can we, by examining the events of our generation, tell that God’s kingdom is at hand?
Look around and see. Have you observed within this generation the mobilizing of entire kingdoms and nations for warfare in such a way that it stood out as different from preceding wars? Yes, indeed! In recognition of the fact that the 1914-1918 war was different from any previous one in human history, historians call it the FIRST WORLD WAR. It was the first war of its kind. But ‘nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom’ is only one part of the sign. Have the other parts also been in evidence during this generation since 1914?
Consider the facts. Is it not true that at the close of World War I the earth was being ravaged by an influenza epidemic that claimed far more lives than did the battlefields of that war? And have not sicknesses of many kinds continued to overrun the earth since then? With millions of men in the prime of life being pressed into combatant service, have there not also been great famines resulting from ruined crops, lack of farm labor and poor growing seasons? But, as Jesus foretold, these were only the beginning of pangs of distress.—Matt. 24:7, 8.
Since the second world war we have experienced a cold war, nations threatening one another with nuclear arsenals. Entire populations cower in terror of what they view as an almost certain third world war fought with atomic weapons of destructive power far beyond any yet used. At the same time lawlessness is rampant. “We find ourselves confronted with the worst era of lawlessness in the Nation’s history,” J. Edgar Hoover, director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, lamented. Authorities in other countries report the same situation there. Amidst these troubles Jehovah’s witnesses preach God’s kingdom as the only hope of mankind, and for doing so they suffer terrible persecution, just as Jesus foretold.
Briefly, then, are these not the very indications, as apparent as the buds on the trees, that should tell us that “the kingdom of God is near”? They surely are. It is evident that this generation that saw the beginning of these things in 1914 is the notable one about which Jesus spoke!
THE FUTURE OF THIS GENERATION
What will be the final outcome of these events? What will happen to this generation? Jesus gave some indication when he went on to say: “Truly I say to you, This generation [that has been in existence since 1914] will by no means pass away until all things occur.” It is vital to know what are included in the “all things” to which Jesus refers.—Luke 21:32.
The question of the apostles that prompted Jesus to give this detailed sign offers a clue. According to the apostle Matthew, 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?” They wanted to know about “the conclusion of the system of things,” or, as some translations say, “the end of the world.” As part of his answer Jesus said that, after the Kingdom good news had been preached sufficiently, “then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:3, 14.
The “end” of which Jesus spoke would not come as a result of the nations engaging in a disastrous atomic war—a so-called nuclear Armageddon. Rather, the “end” refers to the complete end of the present wicked system of things at the hands of God’s heavenly executional forces. So when Jesus said that ‘this generation would not pass until all things occur,’ he meant that this present generation would witness God’s day of vengeance, which would be comparable in destructiveness to the flood in Noah’s day that wiped out an entire wicked generation of people.—Isa. 61:2; Matt. 24:37-39.
Jesus’ prophecy of a worldwide destruction of wickedness is truly remarkable, perhaps almost unbelievable to some, but we can be confident of Jesus’ words. He went on to give assurance of their reliableness, saying: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.”—Luke 21:33.
God’s enemies in heaven and earth are the ones that will pass away when God executes judgment against this system of things. These enemies make up “the heavens and the earth” that the apostle Peter said “are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” But while this present heavens and earth of wickedness will pass to make way for the promised ‘new heavens and new earth,’ Jesus’ words will never pass away unfulfilled. We can have complete confidence that this generation will witness the greatest demonstration of God’s power against wickedness since the Noachian flood.—2 Pet. 3:7, 13.
YOU ARE AFFECTED
The passing of this notable generation affects you and your future. You cannot avoid its implications. A choice must be made, and that soon. The evidences have piled up, furnishing a clear indication of what lies ahead, just as clearly as the buds upon the trees betoken the arrival of the summer season. Since Jesus was expressing the imperishable words of his heavenly Father, we have the assurance that all the things prophesied will be fulfilled, including God’s righteous war in which all of his opposers will perish.
Therefore it is vital that you make the right choice. You do not want to share a destiny like that of the disobedient generation in Noah’s day. You do not want to undergo a fiery destruction like the one that fell on those in Sodom and Gomorrah. You do not want to fall into a condemnation like that of the generation of Jews who reaped a bitter harvest in 70 C.E. There is but one course for salvation. That is to lend yourself willingly to the purpose of God by associating with and sharing in the work being done by his faithful people on earth, his witnesses. They will be happy to aid you to take all necessary steps to gain God’s favor and to survive into his marvelous new system of things.
a This is by reckoning Cainan of Luke 3:36 as not a separate generation but as being a surname of Arphaxad, and including Hananiah.—1 Chron. 3:19, 21.