“This generation” in Matthew 24:34 and the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 refers to the generation of Jesus’ day. Following this biblical evidence, most Bible commentators have interpreted “this generation” in this way, understanding that all the signs in the Olivet Discourse referred to events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70. This interpretation is neither new nor unusual. Bible expositors throughout church history have held this same view.
Matthew 12:38-45 is another parallel passage where Jesus had a particular generation in mind even when He used the same language. The Pharisees say to Jesus, “We want to see a sign” (12:38). Jesus answers, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign” (12:39). That makes their generation an evil and adulterous generation since they were the ones asking for a sign. Jesus gave them a sign, “the sign of Jonah the prophet” (12:39). And when was the sign of Jonah the prophet fulfilled? In their day, and only their day: “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (12:40).
“This generation” (12:41-42) is used by Jesus to point out how their generation would be judged by the people of Nineveh and the Queen of the South because someone greater than Jonah and Solomon “is here.” The “here” was in Jesus’ day since only those people living in Jesus’ day could actually see the sign of the resurrection.
The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Mt. 12:41-42)
The men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South will not stand up with every generation and condemn them. It’s one generation (“it”) and only one generation that will be condemned. Jesus does not say “this kind of generation will not pass away.” He says “this generation,” the same phrase that is used in Matthew 23:36, a verse that Dispensationalist Thomas Ice says “is an undisputed reference to A.D. 70.” Jesus was in the midst of their generation the same way that Jonah and Solomon were in the midst of their generation. No other generation fits the context given the fact that Jesus was crucified and resurrected in their day where there were witnesses of these events (Luke 1:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:16).
On today’s podcast, Gary answers an interesting question that was submitted to the Michael Heiser podcast. The question is tied to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 about “this generation” and the Pharisees as “brood of vipers” in Matthew 23. This question, which Gary had never heard before, caused a lot of discussion on the show and revealed that far from questioning the timestamp of Matthew 24:34, it actually confirms it even more.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Skeptics read the Olivet Discourse in the right way, but come to the wrong conclusion. Christian futurists read it the wrong way and come to a different wrong conclusion. Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation alone. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. Everything Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.