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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
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Related question, based on parallel passage (Matthew 24) : here. –  user3892098237432123 Nov 28 at 15:38

6 Answers 6

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 (6.5.3.289) 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 (6.5.3.290) 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 (6.5.3.291) 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 (6.5.3.296) 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 (6.5.3.297) 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 (6.5.3.298) 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 (6.5.3.299) 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 (6.5.3.300) 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.

http://secondcomingofjesuschrist70ad.blogspot.com/

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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

Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Jesus Christ lives! Hallelujah!

His generation has not passed.

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This answer also deals with Matthew 24:34, saying the same.

I am writing from a mild Partial-Preterist perspective, but that should not affect the plausibility of the following, only the conclusions derived from it.


One possible interpretation that is not as widely circulated as some is the possible existence of a "gap" between Mark 13:23 & 24 (and Matthew 24:28 & 29). Mark 13:24 begins, But in those days, following that distress, .... There is nothing in this text to indicate that one follows the other--the language simply says after, or following, that distress. Following the Mark text, the events up to v20 would be considered the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem (in response to the question in v1-3), and the v24-27 day and hour is the yet future Second Coming.

The understanding of Mark 13:30 then is seen in the context. Read Mark 13:30 & 32, omitting for a moment v31: This generation will not pass away before these things happen ... but about that day and hour no one knows. We have to ask, What does 'that day and hour' refer to? From context, the most likely antecedent is the v24-27 'Second Coming'. So, the solution would appear to be very simple. The "all these things" of Mk13.30 refers to the 70 AD events, and the 'Second Coming' events of Mk13.24..27 (which are yet to come) are explicitly excluded from them in the same sentence.

The Objection

To this, the immediate and obvious objection is that Matthew 24:29 says something similar, but reads,

Immediately after the distress of those days ...

Matthew 24:29a

So, we have two options. Abandon this path and go another direction, or look at the issue of translation, which we will do.

An Issue of Translation

"Immediately after", in the Greek, is 'eutheos de meta'. 'de meta' means 'but after', and 'eutheos' here is translated as "immediately". Eutheos comes from the Greek word Euthus, meaning 'straight'. To understand the usage of 'eutheos' and 'euthus' in NT usage, we have to look at several examples.

This is the word that is used in the miracles of Jesus where people were said to have been healed 'immediately'. Additionally, Mark makes such prolific uses of the word that translators are often forced to use alternatives simply to keep the redundancy out of the English translation. With the word, however, comes a slightly different connotation than the English translation suggests. This is not a matter of 'wrong interpretation', but of the imprecision of any translation from one language to another (trying to capture all the nuance and original meaning of any text).

Essentially, 'eutheos' means 'straight'. If we consider the root of the English 'immediate', it means 'no middle'. Straight, however, means 'no curves', that is, a direct course from one point to another. The nuance of the Greek is not so much temporal as it is the quality path from one place to another.

This is reflected in the translation in several places, where 'immediately', although used, is not a good fit.

The boat "immediately" arrived

When we examine the New Testament for other uses, outside of the miracles of Jesus, we encounter the following notable examples.

In John 6:21, the disciples are on the Sea of Galilee and, after taking Jesus into the boat, it says the boat 'immediately' (eutheos) reached the other side. Now, while I had at one time considered this to be a miraculous journey, consider the following. In all of the other miracles of John's Gospel, when a miracle happens, God is the subject of the verb. If this was a miracle, it is in the passive, because the boat is the subject. Second, the parallel accounts of this in the other Gospels clearly indicate they rowed.

What appears to be going on here is that the use of the word 'Eutheos' in John 6:21 indicates not an immediate transport of the vessel, but that they did not make any side-journeys. This is, indeed, what lexicons indicate is possible.

The word 'eutheos' can imply a gap, of undetermined duration, supported by context. In the case of John 6:21, this gap was a matter of a few hours.

"Immediately" on the Sabbath

Another Example is in Mark 1, where Jesus was said to have "immediately" (euthus) preached on the Sabbath after arriving. Well, this is a logical fallacy, because Synagogues met during the day, not the evening, when the day started. Jesus would have had to wait at least overnight once He arrived, and possibly a few days until the Sabbath arrived. Modern translations pick up on this, and translate this passage as "on the NEXT Sabbath", instead of 'immediately' as the KJV does.

In this case, the gap implied by Euthus (considered to be equivalent to eutheos) is a few days.

Other examples

Another example of is 2 John 14. John indicated that he hoped to 'soon' (eutheos) meet face-to-face. John is writing to people he hopes to see, and has to get opportunity and travel there. The clear sense is that he will get there as soon as he can, 'directly', not necessarily 'soon'. Here, the gap could be easily construed to be a matter of months!

Other uses are the seed, which when planted, 'immediately' (eutheos) sprouted up. This too, is a bit of an idiom, to say the seed sprang up without any time elapsed, as 'immediate' implies.

What is clear is that Eutheos can support a time-gap. At best, in certain situations, it merely seems to indicate sequence, or directness of course from one point to another, hence, its literal meaning, 'straight'.

A Gap of How Long?

So, if we have seen that 'eutheos' can have an implied gap of hours (John's boat), days (Mark 1), and even months (2 John's closing remarks), is there any limit to the durability of this gap? Not according to the Lexicon. Is there any textual reason, then, to suppose that we could extend this gap to 2,000+ some years? There is, according to the text itself...

But about that day or hour no one knows ...

Matthew 24:36a (cf Mark 13:32a)

Because Jesus states that the second event is completely unknown, this is sufficient reason for the extension of a proposed gap extending to 2,000 years. Jesus is simply saying in Matthew 24:29 that the Second Coming events of v29-31 will follow directly, in a straight matter of events, but is not indicating that there will be no time duration between them. The amount that this squares with the Mark 13 translation corroborates this approach.

Summary

What this means is that the word 'Immediately' in Matthew 24:29 does not appear to be sufficient grounds to assume the 'immediacy' of the Matthew 24:29-31 events following the 70 AD destruction events preceding. This likewise agrees with the Mark 13 language, which does not include any 'timing' elements.

A Summary of Structure

What we see looking at the Olivet as a whole (Mt24, Mk13, Lk21) is that the disciples asked two questions, when the destruction of the 'then visible buildings' would be, and when the Second Coming would occur.

In all three of these passages, Jesus begins by describing the events leading up to the 70 AD destruction, and then introduces an interjection. In Mt and Mk, it is explaining that after the 70 AD destruction, you will not look for Jesus anywhere, because His Second Coming will be visible everywhere. In Luke, it says Jerusalem will be trampled until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.

Jesus then touches on the Second coming, indicating in no uncertain terms that it will be after the 70 AD destruction (both 'eutheos' and 'de meta' both indicate this transition in Mt24:29), and then briefly touches on the Second Coming (Mt24.29..31).

After this, come the time statements which are of interest. After having already related their sequence, Jesus now says that the first events (the 70 AD ones, as we understand now), would happen within a generation (a 'genea'), and that 'that day and hour', the Second Coming briefly described, will be completely unknown.

Jesus then goes on to describe only the Second Coming events after that.

Conclusion

So, we have two events being described, and we have two time statements. Jesus describes both events, relates their sequence, and then the timing of the first (this genea), and that the second is unknown (but after the first).

In this way, Jesus clearly describes what happened in 70 AD, while also describing the Second Coming, which is yet to come.

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