Who or What is the ‘Generation That Shall Not Pass Away’? – LIVE Q&A on May 16, 2024

Who or What is the ‘Generation That Shall Not Pass Away'? - LIVE Q&A on May 16, 2024

Who Or What is the Generation that Shall Not Pass Away?

I recently heard a Pastor make the assertion that Jesus himself said (no scripture quoted) that the generation that sees Israel become a nation again (in 1948) will not die out before all end time events have unfolded. Is this biblical? Thanks!

This question has to do with Matthew 24:32-35. In that chapter, Jesus gives what we call the “Olivet Discourse” – the teaching He gave His disciples on the Mount of Olives, regarding the destruction of the temple and the end of the age.

In Matthew 24, Jesus spoke of a generation that would not pass away until all the things He spoke of took place. Some people – even many people – connect that generation with the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Here’s passage from the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:

Matthew 24:32-35

“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. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

The thinking goes like this:

  • The [32] fig tree represents Israel.
  • Israel’s [32] “branch” sprouted again and “put forth leaves” in 1948.
  • The [32] fig tree has a regular pattern. The leaves appear, and then summer follows. When you see the leaves, you know summer is near.
  • Therefore, these things are [33] near, even at the door.
  • Therefore, the [33] generation that sees Israel re-founded will see all these things fulfilled.

What are the [33] all these things that will take place that will be seen by this generation?

Here’s a summary in what Jesus said in Matthew 24:1-31:

  • There will arise catastrophes and persecutions, but those in themselves are not the sign of the end.
  • There will arise a pivotal sign: the abomination of desolation.
  • When the abomination of desolation appears, there are warnings to Israel to flee after the abomination.
  • On the heels of the abomination of desolation comes great tribulation, and cosmic disturbances.
  • In culmination, Jesus Christ will return in glory to the earth.

So, here’s the question: does the fig tree in Matthew 24:32 represent Israel?

My answer is, “I don’t think so.” I don’t regard the fig tree of Matthew 24:32 as representing Israel and its restoration. I don’t think Jesus meant here, “the generation that sees the re-establishment of the State of Israel will see all these things fulfilled.”

Now I must say that recently I spoke at a conference, and one of the other speakers – a good pastor named Barry Stagner – he made the argument that the fig tree here is a picture of Israel, and the “tender branch” and “putting forth of leaves” that Jesus described in Matthew 24:32 was the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. It’s a case that I have heard before (presented by some pastors I really respect) but have not agreed with. Yet I must say, Pastor Barry Stagner made a better presentation of that position and a defense of that position than I have heard before, and that interested me.

One big question I have for the “fig tree equals Israel in Matthew 24” people is, “at what year would you admit this is wrong?” It’s already been 76 years since 1948, when Israel became a nation again. For most people, 76 years is longer than a generation. What is the furthest point out for this to be true? 80 years? 90 years? 100 years? When is “this generation” over?

The fig tree was a common fruit tree in Israel. It is mentioned many times in the Old Testament, especially as a description of the abundance of the land. Sometimes figs or fig trees are also used as symbols or pictures. In passages like Jeremiah 24:1-10 and Hosea 9:10, figs or fig trees are used as a representation of Israel.

However, most Old Testament references to the fig tree use it as simply an example of agricultural blessing. It seems that Jesus’ reference here is not so much on the “figness” of the fig tree, but on the way that the fig tree follows reliable growth cycles related to the seasons. This is especially evident when this passage is compared with Luke 21:29-31: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.

Especially taking the Luke account in consideration, when Jesus said in Matthew 24:33, So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! – I think all these things refers to all the things Jesus previously mentioned – not exclusively the “fig tree” restoration.

Jesus assured that when these signs appeared as He foretold, His return to the earth would follow. What were the signs?

  • The abomination of desolation.
  • Followed by great tribulation.
  • Followed by signs in the heavens (24:29: 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).

When a fig tree buds, there is an inevitable result – summer is near and fruit is coming. In the same way, when these signs are seen, the coming of Jesus in glory with His church to this world will inevitably follow.

Really, it was just as Daniel prophesied in Daniel 12:11. The end will come 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation. Jesus assures that the agonies of the Great Tribulation will not continue indefinitely; they will have an end.

So, I hope this explains why some people think the Matthew 24 passage says the generation that sees the re-establishment of the State of Israel (in 1948) will be the generation that sees the end.

I don’t agree with that approach, but I understand it. I think a better explanation is to say that the generation that sees the cataclysmic signs Jesus spoke of will see the very end.

But – I think God has given us many reasons to believe that Jesus is coming soon, and that we should be ready, just as Jesus told to. I do think that the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is part of that, just not for the “fig tree” reason.

  1. [34] Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place: This statement of Jesus is one of the central reasons many have looked for all or most of the events of this chapter to be fulfilled in A.D. 70, approximately 40 years after Jesus spoke these words. Yet as previously argued, to assert this is to greatly stretch the most natural interpretation of the abomination of desolation, of the severity of the great tribulation, of the cosmic signs, and of the coming of the Son of Man. It is better to let those passages have their most natural meaning and to fit this promise into that framework.
  2. The generation Jesus meant cannot be the generation of the disciples, because they never saw Jesus return in glory as described in Matthew 24:30. It is undoubtedly the generation that sees these signs. These events and Jesus’ return won’t be on some 1,000-year timetable, but will happen in succession.
  3. It has been suggested that the word generation could also be translated “race,” and is a promise that the Jewish race would not be extinguished and would survive to the end. This would be a valuable promise, but some commentators (such as France) claim this is an embarrassingly wrong translation. Yet others – such as Adam Clarke, who strongly believed the events of this chapter were almost all fulfilled in A.D. 70 – writes, “This race; i.e. the Jews shall not cease from being a distinct people, till all the counsels of God relative to them and the Gentiles be fulfilled.”

Josephus: Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3, Sections 14-16

There were many false prophets at the time, says Josephus, yet people had not paid attention to the genuine signs of destruction: a star resembling a sword standing over the city, a comet, a brilliant light around the altar, a vision of armed battalions in the sky, and  voices in the Temple, along with the prophecies of a peasant crying ‘Woe to Jerusalem.’ “It is impossible for men to escape their fate, even though they foresee it.”

In this section, Josephus described many signs that warned the Jews of Jerusalem that something terrible was coming. These signs – which the Jews ignored – included:

  • A light that shined in the ninth hour of the night around the altar and the temple, so that it seemed to be daytime there for 30 minutes.
  • A heifer that was being led by the high priest for sacrifice at the temple gave birth to a lamb.
  • The very heavy eastern gate of the temple opened by itself, and was shut again only with great effort.
  • As priests entered the temple for service on the night of Pentecost, there was an earthquake and they heard a voice saying, “Let us remove hence.”
  • A man named Jesus the Son of Ananus began crying out through the streets of Jerusalem about coming judgment saying, “Woe to Jerusalem.” He was forced to stop, brutally beaten, and eventually was killed.

In this section, Josephus also spoke of celestial or heavenly phenomenon:

“They did not attend, nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretel their future desolation. But like men infatuated, without either eyes to see, or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star, resembling a sword, which stood over the city: and a comet, that continued a whole year.”

“A certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable; were it not related by those that saw it; and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals. For, before sun setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.”

When Jesus rose on the third day, was He still man, or was He Spirit in the flesh?

Thank you for that question. When Jesus rose from the dead, He was still a man. But let me explain. Before the Incarnation, before Jesus was conceived by a miracle of God in the womb of Mary, without normal reproductive processes, humanity was added to the deity of the second person of the Trinity. The second person of the Trinity, God the Son, has always existed. He’s God. He is part of the Godhead, so He has always existed.

So, we have the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, adding humanity to His deity by a miracle of God. He lived His life through boyhood and growing up, and at the end of His three-year ministry, Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and then resurrected from the dead. When Jesus resurrected from the dead, His humanity remained intact. He was truly God and truly man. How do we know that? The Bible tells us it’s true.

1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Notice the phrasing of Paul in this verse: he says there is one man, not there was or there will be. He’s talking about the present moment. In his present moment and in our present moment, there is one mediator between God and man: the man Christ Jesus. When Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven, He retained the humanity that He had added to His deity. Jesus did not put away His humanity when He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is enthroned in heaven right now at the right hand of God the Father.

It’s important for us to realize that although the Incarnation had a beginning point, the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, it does not have an ending point. As we know from the Scriptures, Jesus became truly man and truly God, and He retains that status for the rest of eternity.

Are there ways in which our will is not free?

I think the best answer to this question was given by the great German Reformer, Martin Luther. In his correspondence with a theologian of his day, Desert Erasmus, there was an ongoing discussion concerning how free the will of man is. Based on that correspondence, Luther wrote a book called, “The Bondage of the Will.” I think Martin Luther made many legitimate arguments in it, basically saying that fallen humanity does not truly have free will, that our will is constrained and bound by sin, by the world, by our own fleshly nature, by the devil and his temptations, by our habits, by our mental and emotional weaknesses. As human beings, we cannot do whatever we want to do; we are bound in our will.

If somebody thinks that there is no aspect of bondage to the will, I would challenge them to do this: just stop sinning. If you’re a totally free person, you can choose to sin or choose to never sin again. But it doesn’t exactly work like that, does it?

There is a very real sense in which our will is constrained by our sin, by the world, by the flesh, by the devil, by our own natural weaknesses and failings. I agree with all of that. However, I still believe that men and women have the capability of making real choices. By the way, when I’m speaking with people from a strongly Reformed background, I try not to use the phrase free will. There is a sense in which our will is not completely, absolutely free, but that does not mean that we as human beings don’t have real choices. Therefore, I don’t argue for the freedom of the will or free will. Instead, I would argue for real choices.

Someone may wish to disagree and argue, “No, as human beings, we don’t have real choices. We’re simply programmed to choose things in a certain way, and therefore we’re going to follow our programming, and that’s all there is to it.” To that I would ask, “If we don’t have real choices, how are we held to account by God?” I’m big on the idea that our will is not completely free, but not to the extent that we don’t have real choices.

Is it appropriate for Christians to use dating apps to find a potential spouse?

I’ll be very straightforward on this. I don’t think you can find anything, biblically speaking, that would prohibit the use of a dating app. A dating app is just a way that people meet each other. As with any other way that you meet people, there are benefits to it, and there are problems with it. It’s possible that for some people, it’s not wise to use a dating app, because the problems outweigh the benefits. But maybe for other people, it is a good way for them to meet other people. Maybe it’s not ideal, or maybe it is ideal, I don’t really know.

I praise the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that I was married to my wonderful wife Inga-Lill in the year 1983, before the internet was available, much less smartphones and dating apps and all the rest of it. My heart goes out to the rest of you who are not in that place. In my estimation, it’s a tough world out there meeting people, and I don’t know that dating apps have made it any easier. But I can’t think of anything biblically that would command against it.

Therefore, it’s a matter of Christian liberty, and it’s also a matter of Christian wisdom. Each believer has to determine whether it’s wise for them to use a dating app, and whether they have the liberty in Jesus Christ to do it. I think that’s a good way to approach it.

I am strongly against making commands where the Bible does not make a command. Remember the condemnation that Jesus gave the religious leaders of His own day. He said, “You take the traditions of man and make them into the commandments of God.” I think we need to be very careful to not take our traditions and elevate them to the status of the commandments of God. God gave us His Word. I love God’s word, and I don’t want to go beyond God’s word. When something speaks about a topic not mentioned in God’s word, I want to make it very clear that I’m going beyond God’s word, and ultimately leave it up to the liberty and the wisdom of the individual believer.