By Anthony Buzzard
Focus on the Kingdom
July 2002, Volume 4 Number 10
“This generation will not pass before all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34)
The text above is currently attracting attention. It is supposed to support the amazing idea that the Second Coming (Parousia), as described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24), took place in AD 70!
Such a view abandons the Gospel of the Kingdom, which promises the world a universal era of prosperity and peace when the Messiah comes back. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the scattering of Jews outside their homeland did not signal the arrival of the Kingdom of God (Luke 21:31). The Kingdom, when it comes, will produce peace in Israel and the restoration of Israel as the headquarters of the Messianic Kingdom (Luke 1:32-35; Acts 1:6; 3:21, etc.). To imagine that the coming of Jesus happened in AD 70 is to misunderstand the Kingdom of God and thus the Christian Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14).
The fact is that the New Testament, while maintaining an urgency in regard to the Kingdom, states that “the Son of God” himself “does not know the day or the hour” (Mark 13:32), and the disciples are not to know, according to Jesus’ parting words, even “times and seasons” (Acts 1:5-7) for the great event. This makes it impossible that Jesus had given them any kind of time limit for the coming of the Kingdom. The argument that he had declared that the end would come within at the most 40 years, a generation, must be mistaken, unless we charge him with a considerable confusion. If in fact “generation” is to mean 40 years in the famous text “this generation will not pass until all these things have happened” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32), then why only a couple of months later is Jesus saying that the disciples can have no idea about “spans of time or seasons” (Acts 1:7) relative to his return? Why is Peter later in the New Testament period telling us that days are as a thousand years with God? He seems undisturbed by any so-called delay of the Second Coming. Peter had indeed glimpsed the Parousia and Kingdom in his own lifetime when privileged to see it in vision (Matt. 17:9) on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:16-19). Had Peter really been led to understand in AD 30 that Jesus would come within 40 years?
The term genea (generation) is the equivalent in the LXX of the Hebrew word dor which means generation or age. Many exegetes have noticed that in the New Testament genea can have the sense of “age” or “indefinite period of time.” The following is from the Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Vol. 1, p. 444 (“generation”):
“Genea — expresses the idea of kinship, those of the same lineage who are born about the same time…or more generally an ‘age’ or lengthened period of time…Finally (d) the word is used, as often in the OT (Deut. 32:5, 20; Ps. 12:7, 24:6, etc.), with a moral connection as in Phil. 2:15 and Acts 2:40. In the latter passage the word has an eschatological coloring. ‘This crooked generation’ is the present, swiftly transient period of the world’s history, which is leading up to the day of judgment and the New Age.”
So also the Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Vol. 1, p. 639: “That genea (rendered generation) does express ‘the current age’ of ‘the world period’ is obvious in the Gospels (Luke 16:8, Matt. 24:34 and less clearly Matt. 23:36).”
One can add: In Matthew 23:35 Jesus says that “you” killed the prophets of the Old Testament. He speaks in the next verse of “this generation,” and the generation he has in mind apparently reaches back 400 years to the murderers of Zechariah. They are all the same wicked “brood.” They are all included in the corporate “you.” Jesus then looks forward to the Parousia when “you” will say, “Blessed is he who comes…” Thus genea takes in a wide sweep of people, belonging to the present evil age, belonging to the same genre, society as organized in opposition to God.
Note also the sensible comment of Cranfield (Gospel of Mark): He points out that genea renders the Hebrew dor = seed, family and people. “Probably here — ‘whoever is ashamed of me in this adulterous and sinful generation’ (Mark 8:38) — generation means ‘age,’ ‘period of time,’ which is the primary meaning of the Hebrew dor, the word it most often represents in the LXX, and a possible meaning of genea. The whole phrase, ‘this generation,’ is contrasted with ‘when he shall come with his holy angels’ and so is roughly equivalent to ‘in this time’ (10:30) which is contrasted with ‘in the coming age.’ The time meant is the time before the Parousia. But it is not thought of simply as a period of time; the thought of the men living in it and of their character is also present and prominent — hence the adjectives adulterous and sinful” (p. 284).
Note also Psalm 102:18: “This will be written for the genea to come that a people which will be created may praise the Lord.” This contrasts the present time with the “generation to come,” millennial in this passage. Note also Psalms of Solomon 18:6: “Blessed are those born in those [future Messianic] days, to see the good things of the Lord which He will do for the coming generation…a good generation living in the fear of the Lord.” This shows that generation can mean a “group of people with common characteristics.”
When Proverbs 30:11-14 says that “there is a generation (genea) of those who curse their fathers…There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes…There is a generation whose teeth are as swords,” the meaning is “a class of people identified by a common characteristic.” So also in Psalm 24:6, “the generation of those who seek God.”
In Luke 16:8 Jesus remarked that “the children of this age are wiser in regard to their generation [people belonging to the same class and age as they] than the children of light.” The contrast is between two groups of people, those touched by the Kingdom Gospel and those not. It is clear that “generation,” used generally in a pejorative sense in the New Testament as “wicked society this side of the second coming,” does not have to be restricted to a period of 40 years. In an eschatological setting such as Matthew 24 Jesus contrasts the two ages.
It defies common sense to believe that Jesus set an almost exact date of 40 years in Matthew 24:34, when soon after he denied that any knowledge of times and seasons is available to us (Acts 1:7) in regard to the coming of the future Kingdom (Acts 1:6).
Cp. T.D.N.T (single volume) which defines genea as “manner” in Luke 16:8.