Questions From Readers
● In speaking of “the sign of [his] presence and of the conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus said to his disciples: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matt. 24:3, 34) How are we to understand this?
This prophecy, uttered in the year 33 C.E., had a notable typical fulfillment up until the year 70 C.E., when the Jewish system of things was destroyed, and Jerusalem’s temple was thrown down, ‘not a stone being left upon a stone.’ In Jerusalem alone 1,100,000 Jews perished, according to the historian Josephus. Although many of Jesus’ early disciples had died in the persecutions up until that time, some of the generation that had been with Jesus and had witnessed his mighty works remained also to see the end of that “conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:2, 3) They were persons of Jesus’ generation, his contemporaries.
However, from Jesus’ prophecy we understand that his words are to have a later, major fulfillment, culminating in “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” This “great tribulation” is to embrace not just a Jewish “system of things” but the entire world of mankind, yes, “all the nations” to whom Jehovah’s Witnesses must ‘preach this good news of the kingdom before the end comes.’ The “pangs of distress” that began to afflict this earth, starting with World War I, show that Jesus’ “sign” is having its great antitypical fulfillment from 1914 onward.—Matt. 24:3-8, 14, 21.
What, then, is the “generation” that “will by no means pass away until all these things occur”? It does not refer to a period of time, which some have tried to interpret as 30, 40, 70 or even 120 years, but, rather, it refers to people, the people living at the “beginning of pangs of distress” for this condemned world system. It is the generation of people who saw the catastrophic events that broke forth in connection with World War I from 1914 onward.
As indicated by an article on page 56 of U.S. News & World Report of January 14, 1980, “If you assume that 10 is the age at which an event creates a lasting impression on a person’s memory,” then there are today more than 13 million Americans who have a “recollection of World War I.” And if the wicked system of this world survived until the turn of the century, which is highly improbable in view of world trends and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, there would still be survivors of the World War I generation. However, the fact that their number is dwindling is one more indication that “the conclusion of the system of things” is moving fast toward its end.
In this connection, the magazine The Economist of March 15, 1980, gave an interesting review of a book entitled “The Generation of 1914” by Robert Wohl. It made this significant remark: “Eventually Mr. Wohl voices his own opinions about the generation of 1914. In a terse and condensed last chapter he suggests that generations are not mathematically definable in terms of numbers of years, but cluster around major historical crises, of which the first world war is the supreme example.” This lines up very well with the Scriptural viewpoint that Jehovah’s Witnesses take on “the generation of 1914.”
Yes, there was a generation of people that was living in 1914, and that saw the major historical changes from an era of comparative tranquillity to the present era of war, lawlessness and ruination. Many who are now Jehovah’s Witnesses were among them. Truly, 1914 marked “the supreme example” of change, for that year set in motion the foretold “beginning of pangs of distress” among the nations. Many persons are still alive who can tell us how catastrophically conditions on earth changed in the year 1914. And the world continues to plunge into worse and worse trouble. We can be happy, therefore, for Jesus’ assurance that there will be survivors of “the generation of 1914”—that this generation will not have completely passed away—when the “great tribulation” rings down the curtain on this wicked world system.