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Ask a Pastor: How are we to Understand Matthew 24:34?

Question

How are we to understand Matthew 24:34? Jesus describes end time type events and ends by saying "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” I’ve heard it described that generation may refer to Christians in general. Another interpretation is that we are passing from the Jewish generation to the Christian generation or that Christ is referring to the destruction of the temple. Any wisdom would be appreciated.

Answer

It is always wise to consider the context of a particular Scripture verse. In this case the immediate context would be Matthew 24: 29-35, "29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 " Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 "So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near -- at the doors! 34 "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”


Clearly the Lord is here foretelling His second coming on the clouds of heaven (vs 30). So how must we understand the phrase ‘this generation’ in vs 34? It cannot mean the people alive at that time because none of them survived more that 100 years after Jesus made this proclamation. Though Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple earlier in the chapter (vs 2), He does not mention it here in connection with His second coming. In fact, we know from church history that the Apostle John was still alive for at least twenty-five years after the temple’s destruction. So, Jesus is not referring to the temple’s fall nor to those standing there with him as He spoke these words.


I agree with those commentators who teach that Jesus is here speaking of the Jewish people in general. When he says that ‘this generation shall not pass away till all these things take place,’ the reference is to the generation of the Jews. For thousands of years the Jews have survived all over the world. They live in nearly nation on this earth. They have been persecuted relentlessly and have survived. The Jews as a distinct people, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living proof that God’s Word is true.


Whomever Jesus is speaking of in vs. 34, we know that for all of us vs 35 is true too: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” His words are still true today, and always will be. Therefore, dear young friends be sure to believe the words of our Lord Jesus when He speaks earlier in this chapter of wars and rumors of wars, famines, diseases, and earthquakes. When we see all things happening, we know that the end is near (vs 33). So let us not get bogged down about vs 34, but rather let us be sure that our souls are safe through faith in the Lord Jesus. Because today the exhortation of vs 44 is surely true and relevant for us: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” We are only ready in one way, that is to obey the words of Jesus’ first sermon: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

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