In Matthew 24:32-34, Jesus tells us the parable of the fig tree. He says, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
In part 2 of our study, we learned that the fig tree represents national Israel and that the end time clock started ticking when Israel became a nation on May 14, 1948. Today, we’re going to focus on the last sentence of this portion of Scripture, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
The word verily means truly. Whenever you see Christ use the word “verily” in the Bible, you can substitute the word “truly.” Since Christ is God and God cannot lie, we can be absolutely certain that when Jesus says verily, He means it. So this time He is saying (and I paraphrase here), “Truly, before this generation passes all these things I’ve told you about the end times will be fulfilled.”
The key to understanding this verse is to understand what Christ means when he says “This generation.” What is a generation? Many teachers proclaim that a Biblical generation is 40 years long because there are a number of places in Scripture where the word generation is tied to a period of 40 years. And while the word generation is often tied to a period of 40 years, I believe it’s a leap of faith to assume the word generation means 40 years. For example, look at this passage from Numbers 32:13, often used as an illustration of a 40 year generation:
“And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.”
When I read this verse, I understand it to say that the Israelites will wander in the wilderness until all the people who were responsible for kindling the Lord’s anger are dead. To me, it doesn’t say a generation is 40 years long, but what if I’m wrong and a Biblical generation is 40 years long. Let’s apply this measure to Matthew 24:34. We know the end time clock started ticking in 1948. Forty years added to 1948 is 1988. If a Biblical generation is 40 years, then the Rapture occurred in 1988 and the world ended shortly thereafter. Since we’re all still here, 40 years is obviously a wrong number. It doesn’t work in this Scripture passage. So how long is a generation? Let’s keep digging for the truth.
According to the definitions found in the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, the word “generation” in Matthew 24:34 is translated from the Greek word γενεά (pronounced genea). It is the word from which we derive the term “genealogy” in the English language. Strong’s provides four definitions for this word:
- fathered, birth, nativity
- that which has been begotten, men of the same stock, a family
- the several ranks of natural descent, the successive members of a genealogy
- a race of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character.
- esp. in a bad sense, a perverse race.
- the whole multitude of men living at the same time
- an age (i.e. the time ordinarily occupied be each successive generation), a space of 30–33 years.
We already know the fourth definition is not the right one to apply to Matthew 24:34, but what about the others. The first definition doesn’t give us any reasonable way to apply the term generation to a specific timeframe. It doesn’t fit in the context of Matthew 24:34. That leaves us the 2nd and 3rd definitions to contend with.
In Matthew chapter 1, we are given a record of Christ’s genealogy from Abraham to Joseph. This isn’t the Joseph of Genesis, but the Joseph that is the stepfather of Jesus and husband of Mary, the mother of Christ. Here Matthew spells out 3 sets of 14 generational tiers. The first set of 14 generations ends with David. The second set of 14 generations spans the time to the Babylonian deportation. The 3rd set of 14 generations spans the time from the Babylonian captivity to Christ.
The word generation in Matthew 1 is the same word used in Matthew 24:3, genea. In this context the generations are measured by the lifespans of the men mentioned in each generation. Could it be that Christ might be applying the same duration to Matthew 24:34—the lifespan of man? If he is, how long are we talking about?
Psalm 90:10 says, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
This verses teaches that the human lifespan is meant to be 70 to 80 years long. This is consistent with today’s actuarial tables. If you go to buy life insurance, the rates are calculated using an actuarial factor of 78 years for a normal healthy adult male. This is consistent with what the Bible teaches. Now I know that people can die at any age, but as an average we should think 70 to 80 years.
Now that we have a better understanding of what Scripture teaches concerning generations and lifespans, let’s play what if. What if Jesus means 70 or 80 years in Matthew 24:34? What if the definition of generation in Matthew 24:34 is Strong’s third meaning, “the whole multitude of men [people] living at the same time,” in this case the time when Israel became a nation. What does that give us in terms of understanding this prophecy?
What it means is that before all the people pass away who were alive on May 14, 1948, any where in the world, the end times will be fulfilled and we shall see the return of Christ. When is that going to be? We don’t know. But in terms of times and seasons, it could mean anytime between now and 2018 or 2028. Does this fall within the realm of possibility? I believe it does. But I also believe that it also falls within the realm of possibility that Christ could return today or tomorrow. Today or tomorrow is still before “this generation passes.” I think that what’s holding our Lord back is the fact that entire world has not yet been evangelized. (Remember Matthew 24:14? “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
The clock is ticking and we need to be ready. Time is short and getting shorter every day. Are you ready to share the Gospel with others?
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.—Proverbs 11:30, (AV)