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In Mark 13, Jesus tells about the last days and the tribulation. In this context, he says in verse 30 (KJV):

Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

Assuming Jesus was not wrong, what did he mean then?

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Would this be better at "Biblical Hermeneutics"? –  DJClayworth Oct 25 '11 at 13:58

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is the matter of some debate, and there are at least three theories about it that I'm familiar with. I actually found a study online that explains all of them here.

Some relevant sections (copied and pasted since the author explains it better than I would):

The one that is popular in my denomination:

One explanation that is popular among conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Christians might be termed the Futurist interpretation. In this interpretation, Jesus is said to have been talking about the generation alive at the very time of the end, not the generation alive in the middle of the first century A.D. Thus, the generation that sees the beginning of the fulfillment of end-time prophecies would live to see the Second Coming as well.

However, as Gleason Archer has explained,

"This interpretation . . . suffers from the disadvantage of predicting what would normally be expected to happen anyway. Whether the Tribulation will last for seven years or for a mere three and a half years, it would not be unusual for most people to survive that long. Seven years is not a very long time to live through, even in the face of bloody persecution.''

Another that also has difficulties:

Another explanation is called the Preterist ("past'') interpretation, which asserts that the Olivet prophecies were all fulfilled in the first century A.D. This interpretation is more popular among mainline Protestant scholars, and is also championed by a handful of Catholic scholars as well.

The explanation that, IMO has the fewest difficulties:

Since there are unsolvable difficulties with both the Futurist and Preterist approaches to this conundrum, we shall have to seek a solution in a third approach. What if when Jesus used the word "generation'' (Greek genea), He didn't mean the same thing that we mean? What if He wasn't using "generation'' to refer to a group of people all living at the same period of history?

According to Archer, sometimes genea ("generation'') was used as a synonym of genos ("race,'' "stock,'' "nation,'' "people''). Archer writes, ... Thus, Jesus' words might be rendered, "This people shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.'' In that rendering, He could have been referring to the Jewish people (which is the most likely given the context) or to the Church - for both Israel and the Church are given divine promises that they would remain in existence until the end of time (Jeremiah 31:35-37; Matthew 16:18).

The last one seems the most likely to me for several reasons:

  1. It's the most simple. It allows the text to be understood without chronological distortions, and it lets the phrase "All these things" really mean "All these things" - all of the end-time events He had been discussing.

  2. It also makes sense because many of the misunderstandings and disagreements in Scripture seem to come from our tendency to use the current English version without understanding the nuances of the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Quite a few of the Bible "discrepancies" can be cleared up by studying the original language. This appears to me to be one of them.

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Thank you David! –  Zeemee Oct 25 '11 at 12:32

The problem is not with "generation" but with "this," I think. To me, "this" generation is referring to the generation that experiences all the things mentioned earlier in the chapter.

Specifically, the generation of people who experience the beginning signs will also experience the last signs. Jesus is merely saying that the signs will not be stretched out over hundreds or thousands of years, but within a generation, or average lifespan, of an individual. (The length of a generation in the Bible has been numbered from 40-100 years, not counting the extremely long generations of the men in the early chapters of Genesis. See my comment elsewhere on this page.)

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If you look carefully, this Mark passage talks about Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

There was a siege in Jerusalem on year 70 A.D., led by the Roman emperor Titus. In this siege the city was sacked and the Temple was completely destroyed. If Jesus said that at 33 A.D., less tan 40 yeas had passed since, what is a good timing for "this generation".

All the suffering the Jewish people would bear during this Jewish–Roman War would be mistaken as the end of times, but Jesus assured Peter, James, John and Andrew, in the passage, that those would be hard times, but necessary and yet not the end.

Considering this passage on the context of Siege of Jerusalem (70 AD) and the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 AD), this looks pretty much like fulfilled prophecy.

I disagree with the explanation that depends on the wrong interpretation of "this people" as "this generation". This is so because the disciples specifically asked for a timing in Mc 13,4 of the specific destruction Jesus mentioned in Mc 13,2. Jesus then briefs the events of a future hard time (that might well be a war), then talks about the glory of the Son of Man (glory of Christianity), and finally gives the timing the disciples asked.

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A Generation is 40 years in Bible. Here are some examples.

Numbers 32:13 (ESV) - And the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone.

Deuteronomy 1:34-36 (ESV) - And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!"

Psalms 95:10 (ESV) - For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Hebrews 3:9-10 (ESV) - Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways."

The Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness (Ex. 16:35; Deut. 2:7), in which time an entire generation died out (Num. 14:33; 32:13).

Acts 13:36 (ESV) - For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.

In 2 Samuel 5:4 (ESV)- "David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years."

We also know that Jerusalem was destroyed within the generation Jesus taught (AD 30-70). So all of the prophecies were fulfilled in that generation. Although this may look like a little off topic, still it is related to the end times in the generation of Jesus' disciples and clarifies the confusion of the reader about the generation (30-70 AD).

Jesus said that the sign of Son of Man will appear in the sky (Matthew 24:30). This was supposed to happen in the generation of his disciples (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). During the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. This extraordinary incident was recorded by Josephus and Tacitus who lived during that period. This is also recorded in Jewish History Document "Sepher Yosippon", Latin Document "Pseudo Hegesippus", and Historian Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History.

Here are the details.

Josephus (Jewish Wars)

Jewish War 6:289 ( Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.

Jewish War 6:290 ( Thus also, before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan], and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which light lasted for half an hour.

Jewish War 6:291 ( This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.

Jewish War 6:296 ( So these publicly declared, that this signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them. Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the twenty-first day of the month Artemisius [Jyar],

Jewish War 6:297 ( 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**,

Jewish War 6:298 ( and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen

Jewish War 6:299 ( running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise,

Jewish War 6:300 ( and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

Tacitus, Histories, Book 5

"Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire."

Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 8, Section 4-6

And the eastern gate of the inner temple, which was of bronze and very massive, and which at evening was closed with difficulty by twenty men, and rested upon iron-bound beams, and had bars sunk deep in the ground, was seen at the sixth hour of the night to open of itself.

And not many days after the feast, on the twenty-first of the month Artemisium, (97) a certain marvelous vision was seen which passes belief. The prodigy might seem fabulous were it not related by those who saw it, and were not the calamities which followed deserving of such signs. For before the setting of the sun, chariots and armed troops were seen throughout the whole region in mid-air, wheeling through the clouds and encircling the cities.

And at the feast which is called Pentecost, when the priests entered the temple at night, as was their custom, to perform the services, they said that at first they perceived a movement and a noise, and afterward a voice as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us go hence.’

Sepher Yosippon" is a 10th century historical Jewish document written in Hebrew that mentions about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Sefer Josippon also mentions about the vision of soldiers and chariots in the sky which we read in Josephus' Jewish Wars, Tacitus's Histories, and Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.

Sepher Yosippon (A Medieval History of Ancient Israel) translated from the Hebrew by Steven B. Bowman. Excerpts from Chapter 87 "Burning of the Temple"

"Moreover, in those days were seen chariots of fire and horsemen, a great force flying across the sky near to the ground coming against Jerusalem and all the land of Judah, all of them horses of fire and riders of fire. When the holiday of Shavu'oth came in those days, during the night the priests heard within the Temple something like the sound of men going and the sound of men marching in a multitude going into the Temple, and a terrible and mighty voice was heard speaking: "Let's go and leave this House."

This vision of the chariots and soldiers in the sky happened during fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

You may ask what does chariots and the soldiers in the sky have to do with the sign of Son of Man and Bible and also generation in the bible. Here are some examples.

Jeremiah 4:13 (KJV) – "Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled."

Isaiah 66:15 (KJV) – "For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire."

2 Kings 2:11 (KJV) - And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

2 Kings 6:17 (KJV) - And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

Zachariah 6:1-6 (KJV) - "And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses. Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord? And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth. The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them; and the grisled go forth toward the south country."

There are other verses in the Bible that involve God and his chariots.

This vision in the sky and the fall of Jerusalem (which includes the destruction of temple) happened between 30 AD - 70 AD (40 years). More informations are available here.


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A generation is not always 40 years. See rcg.org/questions/p199.a.html -- a generation is also defined by the ages of he people, which varies over time. So, Psa. 90:10 counts a generation as 70 or 80 years. In Genesis 15:16, the "fourth generation" means a generation is 100 years. –  Steve Jun 1 at 16:14
You are using Hebrew Masoretic Text and Septuagint which are corrupt texts. Jesus christ spoke Aramaic and used Aramaic OT. For further details about the second coming of Jesus Christ in 70 AD, check this link (under preterism) - en.metapedia.org/wiki/Second_Coming_of_Jesus_Christ –  konwayk Jun 2 at 17:36

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