Jesus’ Use of “This Generation” in the Olivet Discourse Is No Different Than Anywhere Else


There is plenty of disagreement on what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32). He was making a reference, of course, to all that He had said prior to this statement. This included prophecies about war, earthquakes, famine, false prophets, persecution in the synagogues, the spreading of the gospel to all nations, the surrounding of Jerusalem and Judea by a foreign army, a time of unparalleled distress, His coming in the clouds with great power and glory, the arrival of His kingdom, and redemption for His people.

The careful reader will take note that Jesus was prompted to make these predictions in response to His disciples’ question about when the temple would be destroyed, and what signs would point forward to that event (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7). It was this question that led to His discourse, known as the Olivet Discourse.

Mark and Luke, in their accounts, only show the disciples asking this one question about the temple. Matthew shows them asking a three-part question or, some would say, three separate questions: [1] When will the temple fall? [2] What will be the sign of Your coming? [3] What will be the sign of the end of the age? Those who believe in fulfilled eschatology maintain that these events are synonymous, while those who regard this discourse as unfulfilled often say that the last two belong to our future.

When it comes, then, to the timing of this prophecy’s fulfillment, there is debate at both ends of the Olivet Discourse:

[1] Did Jesus set out to answer just one question? Or did He set out to answer three questions, and therefore He may have prophesied about two different time periods?

[2] When Jesus said “this generation,” did He mean His own generation? Or did He have in mind, as some are fond of saying, a future generation that would begin to see those signs take place all at once? Did He even perhaps imply a dual fulfillment, a partial fulfillment in His own generation, and an ultimate fulfillment in the far distant future?

We will set aside the first question for the rest of this article, and focus on the second question, for Jesus is shown to say precisely the same thing in all three accounts: “…this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

At the very beginning of the New Testament, we get a good idea of how Matthew defined the word “generation.” Consider his genealogy listing from Abraham to Jesus:

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).

We learn from Matthew that 14 generations passed from the Babylonian captivity until the time of Jesus. We also know that Babylon took Judah captive in 586 BC. Putting these two pieces together, we can calculate that each of these 14 generations was about 42 years in length (586 divided by 14). [For more details on this, see my study on Matthew 24:29-34 / Mark 13:24-30 / Luke 21:25-32.]

This being the case, let us ask if the temple was destroyed, as Jesus predicted, within one generation of that prediction, i.e. within approximately 42 years. It was! Jesus was crucified in or around 30 AD, and the temple was destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 AD, that is, 40 years later.

The Olivet Discourse was not the first time that Jesus had used the expression, “this generation.” In all His other uses of this phrase, it’s more than evident that He meant His own generation. Consider the following examples:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you,and you did not dance; we sang a dirge,and you did not mourn.’” (Matthew 11:16-17)

“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:41-42; see also Luke 11:29-32)

“Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:45)

You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” (Matthew 17:17)

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” (Matthew 23:35-36)

He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:12)

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?” (Luke 7:31)

“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” (Luke 17:25)

Time and space limitations will not allow us to examine all the signs that Jesus predicted would take place before “this generation” would pass away, although I believe that [1] a study comparing Scripture with Scripture and [2] a study of 1st century history will show that they did take place before Jesus’ own generation passed away. As an example of the first point, Luke says that Jews “from every nation under heaven” heard the mighty works of God proclaimed in their own languages (Acts 2:5-11), and the apostle Paul was emphatic that the gospel was preached all over the (known) world in his lifetime (Romans 1:8, Romans 16:25-26, Colossians 1:5-6, and Colossians 1:23).

However, as helpful as these confirmations may be, they are not even necessary for our understanding of Jesus’ words, “…this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The generation that would pass away had to see, not some, but all of those things take place. There’s only one generation that witnessed the fall of the temple, and that was Jesus’ own generation. This will never happen again, and this point alone indicates that “all these things” could not possibly take place in our own generation or in the future. Remember also that the earthquakes, wars, the invasion of Judea and Jerusalem, the great distress, and all the other signs were to take place, not after the temple fell, but before the temple would fall (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7).

To the people of Jesus’ time, we who live in the 21st century would be regarded as “that generation.” To those of us living in the 21st century, the people of Jesus’ time would also be regarded as “that generation.” Jesus didn’t use that phrase, however. The people of Jesus’ time would have understood their own generation as “this generation,” just as they did when He uttered this phrase in Matthew 11:16-17; Matt. 12:41-42; Matt. 12:45; Matt. 17:17; Matt. 23:35-36; Mark 8:12; Luke 7:31; Luke 11:29-32; and Luke 17:25.

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All of our studies on the Olivet Discourse can be seen here, including a verse-by-verse parallel study of Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

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St. Paul Cultural Village


In a previous post I briefly mentioned a project that my wife, Jasmine, and I have been overseeing for much of the past year: the setting up of a multicultural marketplace and community gathering center that we’re calling St. Paul Cultural Village. This vision came out of our volunteer work with International Village, a nearby storefront ministry and resource center that is impacting the lives of Somali, Bhutanese, and Karen refugees. We saw the need for people in these communities to be given platforms where they can make a living, and display and maintain their culture. Some had previously run small businesses in their countries of origin (Somalia, Bhutan, and Myanmar), but had lost nearly everything when civil war and other tragic circumstances caused them to become refugees.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted much at this site over the last six months or so is that I’ve been very busy working on this project, while also holding down two jobs. There have been a few joyous occasions during this journey, but overall it’s been a very difficult and even painful one. It’s only by the grace of God that we’ve been able to persevere and keep pushing forward with this project in the face of many barriers, disappointments, being lied to and taken advantage of, delays (from more than one source), and local government red tape. Yet we do believe that God has called us to see this place take shape and carry on for His glory, and we’re holding on as long as we can for a real breakthrough. We’d appreciate your prayers.

I’d like to share a video from a gathering at our location 10 days ago, along with some pictures that will give a glimpse into what is taking shape at St. Paul Cultural Village. A number of us gathered together on Valentine’s Day, and we were a nice mix of Karen refugees, Bhutanese refugees, and Americans. After the Bhutanese had left, Bwet, a Karen brother from Myanmar, played his guitar and led us in the song, “Where You Go I’ll Go,” by Kim Walker (Jesus Culture):

YouTube link to the video above: Hanging out at St. Paul Cultural Village

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For the last couple weeks, we’ve been opening our doors every Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday from 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Members of the public are free to bring in their laptops or other devices, and access the internet for free (we have plenty of outlets available). We also have Keurig-brewed coffee (and tea or apple cider) available on a “donations are welcome, but not required” basis. Some have also taken the opportunity during this time to walk through our building and see what’s happening and what’s available.

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The space shown in the pictures above is also available to rent for meetings, parties, discussion groups, seminars, and more. We also have 12 market stalls available for small business owners. This opportunity was initially created for people in the refugee communities, but we have found that only a few individuals are ready, and this opportunity is now open to anyone. Here are a few pictures of our market stalls (taken about a month ago):

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As shown here, our neighborhood is very diverse. Out of about 20,000 people surrounding our location, 34% are Asian, 30% are Caucasian, 19% are African-American or African, and 11% are Hispanic. To learn more about some of the refugee communities in this part of Minnesota, please see the videos on these pages: Karen refugees, Somali refugees, and Bhutanese refugees.

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www.stpaulculturalvillage.com

My wife, Jasmine, and I (August 2012)

My wife, Jasmine, and I (August 2012)

Why I Abandoned Replacement Theology


I once believed in and taught “replacement theology,” but no one ever accused me of it at the time. Since turning away from replacement theology, however, I’ve faced this accusation numerous times.

What is replacement theology? Matt Slick, the president and founder of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), says this on the subject:

Replacement theology is the teaching that the Christian church has replaced national Israel regarding the plan, purpose, and promises of God… [In] replacement theology the church has replaced Israel as the primary means by which the world is blessed by God’s work… Replacement theology is also known as supersessionism, which means that the Christian church has superseded Israel in God’s plan.

John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), said this in his 2006 book, “Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World”:

“Adherents of replacement theology believe that the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, and God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel” (page 72)… “Replacement theology means that Israel failed, and God has replaced Israel with the church” (page165).

Ironically, when I formerly taught replacement theology, my thinking was very much in line with Slick and Hagee. I wasn’t replacing Israel with the church, but I sure was replacing Jesus with the modern nation of Israel. I would have agreed with graphics like this one I saw posted on Facebook by a fellow Christian a few weeks ago:

false interpretation of Genesis 12-3

SOURCE

This illustration epitomizes the replacement theology I’ve left behind. It takes the role belonging to Jesus and assigns it to a political nation whose population generally has nothing to do with Him. The New Testament is especially clear in showing that it’s through salvation in Jesus that the nations are blessed.

Consider the progression of Biblical revelation regarding the promise recorded in Genesis 12:3:

[1] It was first made by God to Abraham alone: “It will be through you [Abraham], that all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

[2] It was repeated again in Genesis 22:18, and this time expanded to include his offspring: “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.”

[3] In Acts 3:25-26, the apostle Peter, speaking to a Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, is clear in identifying Abraham’s offspring and the means of blessing for the nations:

And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up His servant, He sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

It’s Jesus who is Abraham’s offspring, and He blesses the nations, beginning with the proclamation of the gospel to Jews in the first century.

[4] The apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:7-8, declared that Jesus’ followers are Abraham’s offspring too:

Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”

According to the terms laid out by Matt Slick and John Hagee, the apostles Peter and Paul were guilty of teaching replacement theology. Yet according to Peter and Paul, when it comes to God’s plans, purpose, and promises, Slick and Hagee are seeking to replace Jesus and His church with a geopolitical nation located in the Middle East. It’s highly ironic that there are Christians who are comfortable with the idea of replacing Christ (their Savior) with a mere political nation, but are up in arms with those who allegedly replace Israel with the church.

Galatians 3, incidentally, goes on to make the point even more strongly that all of God’s promises are wrapped up first in Jesus and second in His followers. Paul says this in verse 16:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”

Jesus is singularly the recipient of all of God’s promises, and He extends those promises to His followers (verse 29), who are all one in Him regardless of ethnicity, societal status, or gender (verse 28):

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

Does Paul leave any room for those who are outside of Christ to be heirs of the promises? No, he doesn’t, not even for Jews who are outside of Christ. Neither did Peter (Acts 3:23), and neither did Jesus (e.g. Matthew 8:10-12Matthew 21:43John 8:31-47). As Paul says in II Corinthians 1:20, all of God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Jesus. What are they outside of Jesus? Meaningless and void.

One of my questions for Slick and Hagee is this: If God’s plan, purpose, and promises are waiting for the nation of Israel to carry them out, then did God utterly abandon the world between 70 AD and 1948 when there was no nation of Israel? Or is it not possible that God’s plan, purpose, and promises continued to be carried out by true Israel, i.e., Jesus and His church?

Consider also what Paul said to the Roman church: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit…” (Romans 2:28-29). “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring… This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of Godbut the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6-8).

The church is Israel, that is, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). This is only true because Jesus is true Israel, and we who belong to Christ are made one with Him. One more example of each of these points will suffice. First we will look at how Matthew takes what was once said about the nation of Israel, and applies it to Jesus. Then, finally, we will look at how Peter takes what was once said of the nation of Israel, and applies it to the church.

[1] In Exodus 4:22, God instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me.”’” Then in Hosea 11:1-2 we read, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” Who is Israel in these Old Testament texts? Clearly it’s that ancient nation, known as Israel, which was finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Yet look at how Matthew treats this same statement. To set the background, an angel has warned Joseph, the father of Jesus, to flee to Egypt with his family, because Herod would seek to destroy Jesus: “And he [Joseph] rose and took the child [Jesus] and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called My son’” (Matthew 2:14-15).

Only 40 verses into the New Testament, Matthew declares, by strong implication, that Jesus is true Israel.

[2] Compare what Moses spoke to “the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:3) to what Peter said was true of the church. It’s impossible to miss the parallel language, and I have letter-coded the parallels (A, B, and C):

To ancient national Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be [A] MY TREASURED POSSESSION among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me [B] A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a [C] HOLY NATION…” (Exodus 19:5-6).

To the church: “But you are a chosen race[B] A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a [C] HOLY NATION, a people [A] FOR HIS OWN POSSESSIONthat you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” (I Peter 2:9-10).

Peter leaves no doubt that Christ’s followers are chosen for the same purpose for which the nation of Israel was once chosen.

I abandoned replacement theology because Jesus is irreplaceable, and I love His church.

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I first published this article on Hubpages on February 10, 2013.