What does ‘This Generation’ mean?

Jesus said: Assuredly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Jesus prophesied these unforgettable words to four of his disciples on the Mountt of Olives as recorded in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:30.

It is critical to understand which generation Jesus meant. Taking the plain meaning without any bias, Jesus was referring to his generation.

But some scholars say Jesus must have meant a future generation. 

Some insist Jesus meant the word “race”,  i.e., the Hebrew race. They reason that because the Hebrew race remains today, the coming of Jesus has not taken place, putting his coming far into the unknown future.

These scholars avoid the obvious meaning in the context of the gospel, dogmatically committed to a future return of Jesus, instead of simply accepting that Jesus spoke of the closeness of His coming.

Jesus prophesied to those disciples on the Mount of Olives, that He would return before His hearers’ generation had passed away. Yet the same people accept that Jesus spoke literally about the coming fall of the Jerusalem temple among other events. So then there is no logical reason to exclude the coming of Jesus.

There is no doubt the disciples took Jesus’ words “this generation” to mean soon, at the door, at hand. They knew His coming was imminent, perhaps even in their lifetime. We see it in their writings.

Their letters in the N.T. frequently reflect their expectancy of a soon coming, though the hour and day were unknown. We read of their warnings, their urgency to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God and their urgings to live righteously.

They knew Jesus warned them to get the Kingdom of God proclaimed in the towns of Judea before His coming (Matthew 10:23).

Check these references out for yourself: Rom 13:11-13, 1 Cor 10:11, Phil 1:6,10, 1 Thes 1:10, 4:17; 2 Thes 1:7; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:2, 9:28, 10:29; Jas 5:3; 1 Pet 1:5, 7-9, 13, 17, 20; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 19).

Now let’s look at some instances of Jesus’ phrase this generation in the gospels, paying close attention to the context of each. You will see they consistently refer to the people alive then as Jesus spoke (and this list is not exhaustive):

Mat 12:45. . . the last of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Mat 12:41-42. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented. . . The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment. . .

Mark 8:12. Why does this generation seek . . sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.

Mark 8:38 : “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels”.

Here Jesus warned people in that crowd that some of them, this generation, will be alive ‘when He comes in glory!

Luke 17:25. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Mat 17:17. O faithless generation, how long shall I bear with you . .  the crowd who had no faith to heal

Mat 23:35-36. Assuredly, I say unto you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Jesus’ phrase all these things is repeated in Mat 24:34, Mark 31:30, and Luke 21:30.

Mat 24:34f, Mk 13:30f, Lu 21:30f. NKJV. 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.

All three synoptic gospels! And all three carry the word assuredly! (Grk amen) and the affirmation that though heaven and earth could pass away, his words stand forever!

So who would dare to change his plain words?

In Mat 23 we read Jesus’ savage attacks on the Jewish ruling elites of that current generation: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Then after the 7 woes, we read verses 31-36:

Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Further, this particular generation was condemned to such a great extent, that Jesus warned those weeping women as He was led to the cross saying: Weep not for me but for yourselves and your children . . . as he knew what terrible times they would face (Luke 23:28).


In the Olivet discourse of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the generation named by Jesus can only mean the generation of people Jesus was addressing.

We can see that this is consistent with the other numerous references of his using the phrase this generation.

There is no logical or hermeneutical reason why we should not believe and accept that Jesus spoke literally about “all these things will come upon this generation.” (Mat 24:34).

4 responses to “What does ‘This Generation’ mean?

  1. Thanks Michael. Good questions.
    First. I trust Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said. He said (Mat 24:34)” this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” That must mean he has already come. He also told his disciples “Assuredly I say unto you there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Look I know this is hugely difficult for people to accept because of traditional teaching. I have struggled with this for 20 years.
    Second. We can’t assume anything–but the Bible does not say anything about a third coming.
    Third. I have given enough NT references to show the first disciples believed Jesus words–they expected his return within their generation.
    Fourth. It took place in 70 AD.


    • Thanks Ian,that really has me thinking. Perhaps we can take the conversation to a F2F or Zoom as I am keen to explore further if you have time. I assume you mean by this, that Jesus’ second coming is not necessarily just a reference to the Holy Spirit? If nothing else, it drives home to me so much the need for obedience in our generation – obedience which at the moment is simply not there at least in my surrounds. How tragic.


      • Correct. Jesus’ second coming is not a reference to the Holy Spirit. Actually, when Jesus answered those disciples’ questions as they sat on the Mount of Olives, he kept referring to himself in the 3rd person and not the 1st person, as “the Son of Man” (Mat 24:30, 36, 39; and see also Mat 16:27-28). Jesus was addressing the disciples and those of their time, not us in 21st Century. Bible readers often forget this and apply these words to our time.
        So I agree with your comment “it drives home to me so much the need for obedience in our generation”–we are not living in the ‘end times’ but in NOW times, with our opportunity to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom and not escape into futurism. Especially right now when Aussies are so frightened and need the Lord desperately.
        Let’s talk on Zoom when you can.


  2. brightredmegaphone

    Always insightful, but it leaves questions for the hermaneutic luddite! Maybe a Zoom could be helpful to discuss this (funny as I am reading Matthew at the moment). As an example, are you assuming that there is no future return of Jesus? What then does the expectancy of a soon coming of the disciples throughout the NT mean? If he meant ‘soon’ and they expected when does that happen?

    I have many more questions around this, particularly as I am reading Matthew right now.


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