Matthew 24: This Generation Will Not Pass Away . . .

Matthew 24 is one of those perplexing biblical passages since Jesus seems to waffle between very specific timed warnings and “Even I don’t know the date.” In preparing to preach the sermon, I read RT France’s Matthew section in the New Bible Commentary and it gave me a different and better perspective on 24:29-35. Now, mind you, this change happened in the final moments of getting everything into my head, days after the Power Point and sermon outline went in. And now a key interpretation changes!

Matthew 24 is Jesus answering the disciples’ questions: “When will the Temple be destroyed?”  “What will be the signs of Your coming?” Jesus begins by telling them there will be many terrors — false messiahs, wars, hostilities, famines, earthquakes – but cautions them against giving in to deception or fear, for that sort of thing will typify the whole time. It is not the end of the age or the failure of Jesus (though it may be the failure of the religion, Christianity). In all these things, the gospel will be proclaimed and the kingdom will be real, even if like yeast. Then He gives signs of the destruction of the Temple – the arrival of the abomination which turns out to be Titus. There are recognizable signs of this and Christians are warned to get out of town, which they did in 66 AD. Those are the days of terrible tribulation.

I thought verse 29 began speaking of the second question, the coming of Jesus with cosmic signs, leading up to “this generation will not pass away before all these things happen.” This is very difficult since Jesus did not come back in that generation. But France took me to what I have dedicated myself to: interpret NT symbols by how they are used in the OT. He observes that the language of sun darkening and stars falling comes from Isaiah 13 and 34. There it speaks of the fall of Babylon which happened in 539 BC, not the end of the times. The Son of Man language of v. 30 is from Daniel 7 where it is enthronement or exaltation of Messiah rather than the second coming of Messiah. Using that perspective means that the section from Matthew 24:29-35 is speaking to the change from God meeting humans at the Jerusalem Temple to Him meeting us in One greater than the Temple, i.e., Jesus. The long promised New Covenant is inaugurated, Messiah is anointed King and Messiah, and the time of the Jerusalem Temple is ended. The language uses powerful images from the OT to help us see that change which is typified by the destruction of the Temple is “cosmic!”

That means the generation of verse 34 is the people listening to Him as He speaks the prophecy. It is about the time of the destruction of the Temple. There are signs of that event which actually come less than 40 years later, just as Jesus said.

Verse 36 begins speaking of the second coming, referred to specifically as the parousia in verse 37. Unlike the destruction of the Temple, there are no signs of that event. Even Jesus, in His incarnate state where He has laid aside the use of His divine powers to live as a perfectly Spirit filled human, does not know. It is like a thief in the night. We are ready not because we have some magic decoder ring to predict the date, but because we are doing the consistent work of living and declaring the reality of the kingdom.

You can hear the sermon, Living Future, here:

About Gerry Breshears

Dr. Breshears is a Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary. In addition to his three decades of educational ministry at Western, Dr. Breshears has taught at numerous Bible colleges and seminaries around the world, such as Lebanon, Ukraine, Netherlands, Taiwan, Poland, Canada, and the Philippines. He has also been published in numerous magazines and scholarly journals, including the Journal of Psychology & Theology and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Breshears is also the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and continues to serve on the regional executive committee of that organization. Dr. Breshears serves as a preaching elder at Grace Community Church. He and his wife, Sherry, have been married since 1968, have two sons, one daughter, and are enjoying their season of life as grandparents.

2 thoughts on “Matthew 24: This Generation Will Not Pass Away . . .

  1. For the most part, I believe the greater number of commentators do not agree with that position.

    Pentecost mentions your position (i.e., ‘that means the generation of verse 34 is the people listening to Him as He speaks the prophecy’) as a possibility [Things to Come, 281], but rejects it in favor of what he thinks is a better explanation: ‘the Lord is here promising that the nation Israel shall be preserved until the consummation of her program at the second advent…’ Naturally, though unfortunately, Pentecost sees Israel everywhere. Scofield has the same problem: the promise is, therefore, that the generation–nation, or family of Israel– will be preserved unto “these things”; a promise wonderfully fulfilled to this day. [Scofield notes on Mt. 24:34].

    Jerome can’t make up his mind if ‘generation’ refers to the human race or Israel; Alford and many others think it refers to the Jewish nation; [Wordsworth] sees a double sense, first literal Israel, then spiritual Israel; Luther and Meyer take it as that present generation; Lange says ‘Christ here speaks of the end of the world;’ Origen & Chrysostom take it as ‘the body of My disciples, the generation of believers’, though Meyer says it can’t be this due to v. 33, “So likewise ye’ could not be fulfilled literally in the disciples themselves … but is a prophesy [as per Alford] carried on till the end of all things;’ Lange goes on to conclude that ‘we have here that distinction between the religious measure of time and the chronological measure of time, which runs through the whole of the apocalyptic part of the NT [Lange, Gospel of Matthew, 429].

    Lenski also denies it refers to the current generation of Jesus, calling it untenable [Lenski, Matthew, 952].

    Interestingly, Matthew Poole says, “it refers to that set of men who were at that time alive in the world; … and indeed the most of those signs which our Saviour gave, *were signs common both to the destruction of Jerusalem and the last judgment*, abating only Christ’s personal coming in the clouds with power and glory. So that, considering that the destruction of Jerusalem was within less than forty years after our Saviour’s speaking these words, so many as lived to the expiration of that number of years must see the far greater part of these things actually fulfilled, as signs of the destruction of Jerusalem; and fulfilling, as signs of the end of the world.” {Matthew Poole, Vol. III, 117].

    Robertson’s Word pictures also sees it as possibly referring to both and the end of the world …[The problem is whether Jesus is here referring to the destruction of Jerusalem or to the second coming and end of the world]. Likewise Calvin: “So then, while our Lord heaps upon a, single generation every kind of calamities, he does not by any means exempt future ages from the same kind of sufferings, but only enjoins the disciples to be prepared for enduring them all with firmness.”

    It seems most reasonable to me that it is a reference to both Jerusalem in the very near future and a description of the end times, in the one reference.

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