Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matthew 24:34)
The cross loomed menacingly just days away. Jesus’ mind was already on that fateful day as He traversed the crowded streets of Jerusalem. As His disciples marveled at the grand architecture of Herod’s Temple, Jesus’ thoughts were on the future of His impending death and beyond. “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). This prediction literally came to pass just 40 years after His crucifixion when the Roman general Titus razed Jerusalem in 70 AD and leveled the Jewish Temple. Not a single stone of that edifice remains. For those who unknowingly point to the Wailing Wall that stands next to the Muslim Dome of the Rock, I must point out that the Wailing Wall is the remains of the Roman Antonia Fortress that surrounded the Temple and was not actually a part of the Temple.
That remark gave pause for thought, and when they arrived at the Mount of Olives, the disciples naturally wanted to know, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). As we assess that state of our world, the same question comes to mind. In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus launched into his “Olivet Discourse” where He spoke of the rise of false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, the increase of iniquity, the demise of love, and the rise of the Antichrist (the “abomination of desolation”).
Jesus described the “Great Tribulation” as a period of seven years that will precede His return. This period was predicted by the Prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27) and detailed in Revelation 6-19. However, the timing is not provided and that is what the disciples and we want to know. Jesus did not provide that information either. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36). He did, however, give us a hint:
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matthew 24:32-34, emphasis mine)
The fig tree has often been seen as a symbol of the nation of Israel. Jesus uses this symbol to indicate the proximity of the time. When the fig tree, i.e., Israel, is tender and begins to bud, we know that summer, i.e., the time of His return, is near. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the nation of Israel ceased to exist until May 14, 1948 when the “fig tree” budded and the nation was reborn. “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Jesus was not referring to the disciple’s generation, because even though they witnessed the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem and the nation of Israel, they did not see the return of Christ as reigning King. They did see Him after He rose from the grave, but then He returned to heaven (Acts 1:9). Jesus referred to the generation that would see the rebirth of Israel.
The question remains, how long is a generation? It could be 100 years when we consider that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). It could also be the span of Abraham’s life, 175 years (Genesis 25:7). But the answer is more basic than that. Jesus was not giving a definite number of years. Recall that He said that no one except the Father knows the time or the hour. Instead, Jesus said that the generation that witnessed the rebirth of Israel will also see His return. The generation born in 1948 is now 67 years old, and most of them are still going strong. If we consider the “Greatest Generation” that fought in World War II, many of them are still living, but they are declining in number – that narrows the time even more.
Either way the time is drawing very close for the Lord’s return. Before He does, there precedes seven horrible years of Great Tribulation that will engulf the entire world. I am concerned for friends and loved ones that will live though that dreadful time. While there will still be opportunity turn to Christ during that time, the decision will be costly. For those of us who have placed our trust in Christ, our Lord will come for us sometime before that dreadful day – maybe today. This Generation, the one in which we live, will see the return of Christ. Are you ready?