Questions From Readers
● Jesus said “this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” Which generation is this, and how long is it?
When Jesus’ apostles asked for a “sign” about his presence and the conclusion of the system of things, he gave his famous prophecy about coming wars, famines, earthquakes and the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom before the end. (Matt. 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 21) He also said: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”—Matt. 24:34.
Based on the Bible and its fulfillment in history, Jehovah’s Witnesses have often pointed out that Christ’s prophecy was to have two applications: First, between 33 C.E. and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.; second, a larger fulfillment in this “time of the end” since 1914 C.E.
However, some Bible commentators have failed to appreciate the dual aspect of this prophecy. So they have held that by the term “generation” Jesus meant a race or people, such as the Jewish people or the class of wicked humans existing through the centuries. They might even refer to 1 Peter 2:9, which, in the Authorized Version, speaks of the anointed Christian congregation as “a chosen generation.” However, Bible scholars now recognize that the Greek word in 1 Peter 2:9 should be rendered “race” and is different from the word rendered “generation” in Matthew 24:34.
Jesus was not referring to a race of people over the centuries or just to Christians. He was first of all referring to his listeners and other Jews at that time. An indication of this is the fact that earlier that day, when condemning the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus spoke of their murdering the prophets and said: “All these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt. 23:36) These words came true on the contemporary generation when in 70 C.E. the Jews in Jerusalem faced its fiery destruction. (Luke 3:16, 17) That also marked the ‘conclusion of the Jewish system of things’ in the first fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy.
This helps us to understand “generation” in Matthew 24:34. In common English usage today “generation” might be used for (1) all persons who were born and who live about the same time, or (2) the average span between the birth of parents and that of their children, usually 20 to 30 years. Which did Jesus mean? Obviously not the latter, for in its first application the “generation” ran from 33 C.E. until 70 C.E., or at least 37 years.
Also, it is evident that by the word “generation” Jesus did not mean just the Jewish children born in 33 C.E. Luke relates that after being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom was coming, Jesus told his disciples: “[The Son of man] must undergo many sufferings and be rejected by this generation.” (Luke 17:20-25) That rejection certainly was not by newborn babies. Likewise, the way things worked out shows that the “generation” he spoke of in Matthew 24:34 included his listeners and others who could discern the fulfillment of his words from 33 C.E. onward until Jerusalem’s destruction.
Thus, when it comes to the application in our time, the “generation” logically would not apply to babies born during World War I. It applies to Christ’s followers and others who were able to observe that war and the other things that have occurred in fulfillment of Jesus’ composite “sign.” Some of such persons “will by no means pass away until” all of what Christ prophesied occurs, including the end of the present wicked system.
Jesus did not encourage his followers to try to calculate the exact length of this “generation.” (Ps. 90:10) Instead of trying to figure how many more years, at the maximum, there may be until the end, Christians should remember Jesus’ warning: “Keep on the watch . . . because at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming.”—Matt. 24:42-44.
We have ample evidence that Matthew chapter 24 is being fulfilled now, during “the conclusion of the system of things.” One proof is the earth-wide preaching of the good news of the established Messianic kingdom, which Jesus said must be done before the end comes. (Matt. 24:14) So, rather than being drawn into speculation about a date that we cannot know, let true Christians actively share in that important preaching, as they look forward confidently to the fulfillment of Jesus’ words about “this generation” at Matthew 24:34.