What does the term “this generation” mean as it pertains to the Biblical events and especially Matthew 24:34? Many folks seem to think it means a generation 2000 years or more after Jesus gave us the Olivet Prophecy. Notice:
“Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the four-part sign of verse 7 [in Matthew 24], or the people who saw the First World War. We must be careful here not to become dogmatic, but it would seem that these people are witnesses to the events, not necessarily participants in them. That would suggest they were old enough to understand the events of 1914-1918, not necessarily old enough to go to war.” (Tim Lahaye – Beginning of the End; p.165; Tyndale House Publishers; 1972)
“Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948. We must be careful here not to become dogmatic, but it would seem that these people are witnesses to the events, not necessarily participants in them.” (Tim Lahaye – Beginning of the End; Revised and Expanded Edition; p.193; Tyndale House Publishers; 1991).
Mr. Lahaye uses much of the same wording in his revised edition of “The Beginning of the End” but he doesn’t tell us that he changed his view about the strategic generation that “will not pass away”. So, instead of the generation beginning around the turn of the century to witness the events of World War I, it now begins some decades later to witness the event of Israel becoming a nation.
In Hal Lindsey’s Book, “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970), Israel’s birth in 1948 is depicted as extremely important and points to our living in the final generation. When we add 40 years (which he defines as a generation) to 1948, we come up with 1988, and the rapture was supposed to occur in the 1980s.
Here we are in the 21st century and some 70+ years after the birth of Israel as a modern nation and still no rapture, as understood by modern evangelicals! So, what does all this mean to Christians today and our mission to disciple others for Christ? Certainly many in the world must see our religious views as silly and pointless. Why? Isn’t it largely because of those who assume they understand what lies ahead in our future? This whole idea of pretending to know the future, and to presume there is an end of the Gospel age (cf. Daniel 2:44-45), when scripture claims there is no end to this age (Isaiah 45:17; Ephesians 3:21), is not only pointless, but it is disobedient to our faith and dishonors Christ.
“This” generation… “This” is houtos (G3778); it is a near demonstrative pronoun. According to Using English on the Internet the difference between “this” and “that” is:
This: singular and near the speaker
That: singular and at a distance from the speaker
What this means, as far as Matthew 24:34 and this generation are concerned, is that Jesus was speaking of the generation with whom he lived and to whom he ministered (Genesis 7:1; Deuteronomy 1:35; Psalm 71:18; Matthew 11:16; 12:41-42; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:30-32; 17:25)! It cannot be used to indicate a generation 2000 or more years into the future. In fact, the near demonstrative pronoun, this, is not used in Scripture to indicate even the next generation into the future! The way to express future or past generations is to use that generation (cf. Exodus 1:6; Judges 2:10; Hebrews 3:10) or the generation (Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 2:14; 29:22; Psalm 48:13; 49:19; 78:4; 102:18; 109:13). May God help us to recognize the harm we do to the Gospel of Christ when we try to predict the future without God telling us what the future is.