“Truly I say to you this generation will not pass away until all things take place” (Matthew 24:34)
This verse of the Olivet Discourse has led to so much speculation, misunderstanding, prophetic pronouncement and prediction that failed to happen — “this generation.”
It has been assumed that the generation that died in the wilderness as told in the story of the Exodus was forty years, therefore a biblical generation must be forty years. Hal Lindsey popularized this idea in his best-seller “The Late Great Planet Earth,” in which he speculated that something apocalyptic had to happen within a forty-year period of time, give or take a few years, from the birth of the nation of Israel.
The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error
There has been two sources for the misinterpretation of “this generation”. The first had been with those who propagate the deception of post-millennialism, with its modern-day adjuncts. These include Dominion Theology, Kingdom-Now Theology, and Triumphalism (the bogus notion that the Church is going to conquer the world before Christ comes and set up His Kingdom. Only then will He come for a victorious Church.) This is the diametric opposite of what the Word of God teaches. Jesus does not come for a victorious Church, He comes with a victorious Church which has been raptured. It is the seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent, not as Kevin Connor teaches in Australia that it is the woman who crushes the serpent’s head. In Romans, the Lord of Glory will trample Satan under your feet; we don’t trample Satan under our own. It is the return of Jesus that turns the final victory into ‘The Final Victory’.
Post-millennialists forget that the early Apostolic church was almost uniformly pre-millennial before the Council of Nicea. There were heretics like Soirthis who were also pre-millennial but there is no indication that the apostolic Church believed anything other than that there would be a literal millennial reign of the Lord Jesus. Post-millennialism was invented by those who had both political and theological motives. Certainly after Constantine “Christianised” the Roman Empire and the Church was Platonized by Augustine of Hippo to accommodate the pseudo-Christianisation of the Roman Empire, they needed a new eschatology; a new doctrinal basis to explain the last days. So while Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world, “Christendom” said “oh yes it is.”
This is the basis and the origin of the foolish thinking of post-millennialism. Indeed the meek shall inherit the earth, but if there is no earth, how shall it be inherited? And as for the idea that the church is going to take it over now, and Satan is bound for a thousand years, one might ask “when did the thousand years begin?” Those who followed Augustine believed not in Y2K but Y1K — the bogus idea that Christ would come back at the end of the first millennium. So in 999 A.D., people began giving their land, money, castles, etc. to the Pope and to the church. But we know in hindsight that Jesus did not show up in 999 A.D. under Pope Sylvester, and nobody got their money back.
The same kind of people, like Gary North in America, began pushing the Y2K idea, with wild, foolish speculation about the return of Christ. There were people such as Brae, in America, and others who tried to tell us the events of the Olivet discourse were totally fulfilled in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem. They said that “this generation” must have included those who were around when Jesus was alive, who saw the destruction of the Temple. It would have been just about forty years later, and it would seem to fit to them. However, in verse 21 Jesus said that there would be a great tribulation such has not occurred since the foundation of the world, nor never shall be.
There have been other tribulations, both for the Jews and for the church, that have been worse than anything that happened in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the temple, so that interpretation fails the test of history. Additionally, the Olivet discourse is not just Matthew 24 but it’s 24 and 25. Jesus did not separate the sheep from the goats or give people their eternal reward based on what they did with their talents in 70 A.D.
Without a doubt those events that happened in 70 A.D. prefigure and foreshadow what will happen in the last days, so it is important to study them. The church at that time was rescued from Jerusalem under the leadership of Simeon, a cousin of Jesus who became the Pastor of Jerusalem after the Apostle James was martyred. They fled to a place called Pella. This is indeed a type or a foreshadow of the rapture, just like what happened on the day of Pentecost is a foreshadow of what will happen in the last days. But neither Joel’s vision, which we read about in Acts 2, nor what we see in Matthew 24:29 — “the sun will be dark and the moon will not give its light” —happened in 70 A.D. They are only partially fulfilled, not totally. And there has never been a unique Great Tribulation before or since 70 A.D. These are still coming events foreshadowed by the events of 70 A.D., with their ultimate fulfilment in the return of Jesus.
Understanding the Parable of the Fig Tree and the Other Trees
The other source of misinterpretation of “this generation” are Pre-millennialists who realise that it has a future meaning, but use it as a key for date-setting. They rightly believe there is a future fulfilment of the Olivet discourse, there will be an anti-Christ, a great falling away, a return of the Jews to Israel, and a future 1,000-year rule of Christ on Earth.
They look to the parable of the Fig Tree in Matthew 24:32-34 “…when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Using the same 40-year generation from the Exodus account as their guide, they follow this logic: Israel became a nation in May, 1948. So they count, 1948 to ‘58 to ‘68 to ‘78 to 1988, and arrive at the year of the Lord’s return. There was a man named Edgar Whisenant who actually put out a book entitled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988.” In 1987 on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, there was a fundamentalist Baptist preacher from America standing in Speakers Corner in London telling the Muslims that he would be gone within 48 hours, but of course he was still there. He made a public fool of himself, and wound up leaving the country in humiliation. The very next year that same man and others like him said “We got the year wrong. It was not 1987, it is 1988.” These were not hyper-charismatics; they were fundamentalist Baptists. They made fools of themselves speculating about dates for the return of Christ, which they based on their misinterpretation of “this generation” and they made a mockery of Bible prophecy, discrediting it in the eyes of the world.
People often assume that the rebirth of Israel is the fig tree budding forth its leaves, but is it? There is no doubt that the re-gathering of the Jews to the nation of Israel is of prophetic significance; the stage is being set for the Great Tribulation — ha tekufot tsorat Yacov — as Jeremiah the prophet called it “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” There is no doubt Israel will be deceived by the Anti-Christ. There is no doubt they are being re-gathered for what Daniel called the 70 th week. There is no doubt these things are happening. But are these things the primary meaning of the fig tree? Does the image of the fig tree have other meaning? When the Holy Spirit gives us multiple accounts of something, it must be examined carefully, prayerfully, and read in light of comparing all accounts. In this case we have not just Matthew 24 and 25, but also Luke 17, Luke 21, and Mark 13. Jesus did not say “when you see the fig tree full, stop. Period. End of story.” He shows us “Learn the parable of the fig tree and the other trees”-- not just the fig tree.
Now the parable of the fig tree and the other trees comes from the book of Judges chapters 8 and 9. The sons of Gideon, 70 of them, were destroyed by Abimelech. Only Jotham, who knew the parable of the fig tree and the other trees, recognised the deceiver. They said to the bramble, “come reign over us.” The bramble would because the olive tree wouldn’t, because the vine wouldn’t, because the fig tree wouldn’t. The infidelity of God’s people makes a way for the Anti-Christ to come to power in the end. This is the ultimate meaning of the fig tree. Understand the fig tree. In Judaism; the fig tree is a metaphor for the tree of life — the Eytz Hayim — that we see in a millennial context in Ezekiel 47, and in the creation narrative in Genesis, and that we see in the book of Revelation at the end. And the leaves in Revelation are for the healing of the nations. Fig leaves are metaphors for good works in the Bible. Unsaved people will always try to justify themselves with good works.
Every “religion” is established on a works-based righteousness. The righteousness of the Gospel is not based on works. Christians do not do good works to get saved, they do good works because they have been saved. There is more to the fig tree than the nation of Israel, but the main aspect of Israel concerning the fig tree is that Jesus cursed the fig tree. Why? Because it had leaves with no fruit. Israel had works, but not the fruit of the Spirit. The leaves normally occur at the same time as the fruit. The sun in the Middle East will burn up the fruit unless the leaves are covering them. Faith without works is dead. But it was not yet the season for figs when Jesus came. The Son of Man comes at an hour you do not expect.
But of the Day and the Hour No One Knows…
You cannot calculate the day of His return on the basis of a generation being forty years, nor estimate that day based on the date of the rebirth of Israel. Neither can you speculate that it only means Jerusalem and count down from the time it is no longer trampled down by the feet of the Gentiles. In 1967 the Jews had control of the Temple Mount, therefore ‘67 to ‘77, to ‘87, to ’97 -- therefore by 2007, they speculate, Jesus will be back since Jerusalem is no longer trampled under the feet of the Gentiles. Yet Jesus said until the time of the Gentiles is completed, but Jerusalem is still under the feet of the Gentiles. The Israeli General Moshe Dayan gave unilateral control of the Temple Mount to the Moslems. The Mosque of Omar, with an inscription from the Koran “God has no son,” is on the Temple Mount as is the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. It is still under the feet of the Gentiles. The time of the Gentiles is closing, but it is not yet over.
After Their Kind…
It is never wise to speculate about dates for the return of Christ. The right understanding of “this generation” has complications. We have Hebrew words Dor and Min Dor la Dor — “from generation to generation.” Dor is a biological generation; min is “of a kind” as referred to in the book of Genesis. God made the species according to their kind, hence the impossibility of Darwinism. There is absolutely no evidence that recombinant DNA transmutates across the genus barrier in the natural environment and now that Man is beginning to engage in biogenetic engineering, and the transfer of DNA across the genus barrier we are in danger of creating monsters. Things can very easily get out of control. Anything fallen man can use for evil he will. Can nuclear energy be used for good? Yes, but fallen man will use it for evil. Can biogenetic engineering be used for good? Fallen man will use it for evil. The world is in the power of the wicked one. If they clone species or invent new ones based on combining the DNA of different species, we can no longer be sure that when we look at some of the monsters that appear in the Book of Revelation, that they are only symbols, and not literal as well. God made them according to their kind or “min” in the Hebrew text, not hybrids.
There are now rats that have 1% human brain due to biogenetic engineering. Can you imagine rats with human minds? The theoretical possibility cannot be ruled out. Min is “of a kind,” and is the root of the Hebrew term for sex and sexual reproduction — minee. However, generation — dor —is another Hebrew word entirely. The complication happens when we put these Hebrew terms into the Greek language. The word gennao in Greek closely approximates min Jesus is the monogenes —the only begotten. Gennao means “begotten.” This is also the root of the word “genesis.” The word used in Matthew 24, however is gennea notgennao.
This is a more complicated term because it is ambiguous. The context and its connectives determine what is meant. It can have two possible meanings. Think of the word “blue.” This cup is blue. That is clear; it is referring to its color. But blue is also a metaphor for being sad in English. There is a form of music invented by Black Americans called “The Blues.” There is a music which combines jovial upbeat major chords with sad minor chords, or that plays minor chords in a fast rhythmic pattern called Rhythm & Blues. Rhythm & Blues is sort of like Jewish music; it is both happy and sad at the same time, using minor chords in a vivacious way. So what does blue mean? Does blue mean a colour, or is blue a metaphor for being sad? Well, the context tells you, and the other words to which it is connected to tell you what blue means. So it is with gennea. Gennea can almost be a synonym for gennao, meaning of the same kind because of common ancestry.
Being begotten of the same source it can almost be a synonym for gennao, or it could mean that which is in a circle of time, that is a multitude of contemporaries, or it could be a metaphor like blue.
For example, there are airplanes called 747s. They have been built since the 1960s, and some forty years later they are still coming off the assembly lines in Seattle, Washington. The next generation will be the 787, an airplane that you can get on and fly non-stop from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo, or from London to Melbourne. It is an airplane that can go non-stop from anywhere in the world to anywhere else in the world without landing. That is the next generation. If you can have a 747 that was built in 1968 that was junked twenty years ago, and you can have one built in 1995 that is still in operation, they are still the same generation because they are of the same design. They are “of the same kind.” It is the 787 that is the next generation. In the same sense one can determine the meaning of gennae — by the context. Does it mean “of a kind?” Or does it mean “a multitude of contemporaries within a circle of time?” Or does it mean both? The context will clarify the meaning.
In Matthew 24:34, it means “of a kind” because we are the generation of Jesus. He is the monogenes — the only begotten of the Father, and the church is made up of those who are born again. We are begotten in a spiritual sense; we are begotten from the same source, born again of the Spirit, and we are of the same kind. What Matthew 24 is telling us is that the church will not pass away. Those of this kind, those who have been begotten from Jesus, will not pass away until all these events happen. Now these events will recapitulate, will replay, on a much broader, larger scale than that which happened in 70 A.D. This is what pre-millenialists have always understood, but post-millenialists have never grasped. The judgments on Egypt and events that took place in the book of Exodus are a microcosm of what will happen to the entire planet in the last days. It will replay, but it does not mean the forty-year generation. What it means is those “of the kind” gennao or begotten — have the same ancestry in the new birth; we come from the same source.
Who Has Believed Our Message?
This has led to so much confusion, so much misunderstanding, that it has caused Christians — true believers — to be discredited. They wind up looking like “the boy who cried wolf.” In this tale from Aesop’s Fables, the boy cries wolf too many times when the wolf is not there, so when the wolf actually shows up, nobody pays attention to the boy. Likewise, if Satan can deceive Christians into speculating about nonsense like Y2K, or the rapture in 1988, or that He has to come by 2007 since that is 40 years from Jerusalem being captured in the Six-Day War -- the more Satan can have the church sounding a false alarm. So when it comes time to sound the real alarm, who is going to listen; who is going to believe it?
These things are not necessarily perpetrated by people with wrong motives; the people who do these things are largely sincere Christians wanting to do the right thing. But instead of sounding a distinctive note, they are blowing a cacophony as Paul warns against in Corinthians. It’s something indiscernible; they are sending false signals, so when it comes time to sound the true alarm, the church will have been so discredited nobody will listen. We have reached a point now where the ridiculous has happened. In a media-driven society the world is looking to Hollywood instead of the church. There is a movie called “End of Days” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and people are getting their eschatology from that movie! “Well this cannot be the Anti-Christ.” “That cannot be of prophetic significance; the movie did not happen that way.” Don’t think people don’t think this way; there are those who do think this way.
Worse than the world looking to Hollywood, born-again, evangelical Christians embraced an unbiblical, historically-inaccurate film called “The Passion of the Christ.” This movie was made by a man who is a self-professed Traditional Catholic who states that he based the movie not just on the Gospels, but on the visions of Roman Catholic mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich. In the movie Mel Gibson’s own hand drive the nails into the metacarpus instead of the radius, supportive of the Roman Catholic superstition of stigmata. (In fact palaeo-archaeology tells us that the nails went through the radius.) Mel does not even think it is necessary to believe in Jesus for salvation. Based on the following excerpt from the Monday, February 18, 2004 program with Diane Sawyer, one can only assume that he is not even saved.
DIANE SAWYER (ABC NEWS) -- “... when we talked with Gibson and his actors, we wondered, does his traditionalist view bar the door to Heaven for Jews, Protestants, Muslims?
MEL GIBSON—“That’s not the case at all. Absolutely not. It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s just easier for - and I have to say that because that’s what I believe.”
DIANE SAWYER—“You have the non-stop ticket?”
MEL GIBSON—“Well, yeah, I’m saying it’s an easier ride where I am because it’s like -I have to believe that.”
In August of 2004, an Australian newspaper asked what impact making the film “The Passion” has had on his life. He responded “I have a hell of a lot more money than I used to have, I don’t have to answer questions like this anymore.” He implied he made it for money -- a biblically and historically inaccurate film. And he doesn’t even believe one must trust in Jesus to go to Heaven. The Gospel says “unless you believe I am He, you will perish in your sins. Unless a man is born again he cannot enter the Kingdom.” Yet there are people who claim to be born-again, Evangelical pastors and leaders saying this is still an evangelistic tool. If the Church is going to Hollywood for its Gospel, why shouldn’t unsaved people go to Hollywood for their eschatology?
When the real thing happens, who will believe it? Signs of the times and world events point to the soon coming of Christ. Apostasy and deception in the church point to the soon coming of Christ. It is amazing the speed at which the ecumenical movement, pioneered by agents of Lucifer such as Chuck Colson, have swept born-again Christians into thinking the Roman church is biblical. My mother’s family is Catholic, but you must be born again; salvation is not by sacraments, not by an ex opera operato ritual. Praying to the dead is the sin of necromancy, transubstantiation is cannibalistic and idolatrous. The apostles forbade the consumption of blood, but if saved Christians cannot see through a Chuck Colson, what is going to happen when real deception comes? If saved Christians cannot see through con-artist, money preachers on television preaching mammon worship, calling covetousness a virtue, what is going to happen when real deception comes?
When saved Christians run around with unbiblical ideas of what “this generation” means, speculating about dates for the return of Christ, scare-mongering about Y2K, when the real thing happens who is going to listen? They will be like the boy crying wolf.
The Hebrew prophets tell us in the last days one of the things we are called to do is set a trumpet to your mouth; blow a trumpet in Zion. As you read in Joel Chapter 2, “blow the trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain.” In its Sitz im Leben (in its historical setting) it is a warning about the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, the armies of Babylon, and the locusts which are illustrations of the Babylonian invasion. In the ninth chapter of the book of Revelation there are the demon cohort armies of Anti-Christ. Yet people in the Vineyard movement and those in churches like Holy Trinity Brompton in London sing, “They run on the city, they run on the walls, great is the army who carries His Word.” They are singing about the armies of Babylon; they are singing about the demon cohorts of Anti-Christ, and they think they are singing about themselves — the Church Triumphant. It is ridiculous. These are the inventions of men under the inspiration of Satan.
For by One Spirit We Were All Baptized into One Body
This Generation, this generation, this generation. It is true, this generation will not pass away until these things happen. Well these things are happening. You are this generation. What does that mean? Does it mean that you’re guaranteed to be alive when Jesus comes? No -- maybe you will; maybe I will; maybe we won’t; but it is to say that those who are born of God, those who are reborn — the gennao — those “of that kind,” will have to be here when it happens, when He comes, and He is coming. If He was not coming soon, Satan would not be so determined to spread so much confusion, false information, raising up so many false prophets, so many deceivers, so many false teachers, in this generation — indeed, this generation.
Y2K had no more biblical or logical basis than Y1K. Likewise, saying that Jesus must return by 2007 has no more biblical or factual basis than for those who said He must return by 1988. Saved Christians should leave the ignorant folly of such speculation to those cult leaders, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deserve to make public fools of themselves with their bogus, date-setting nonsense. The only thing we can know for sure at this point is that He is indeed coming soon.
Maranatha — Come Quickly Lord Jesus!