‘This Generation’ or That?

Jesus said:

‘Assuredly I say to you, THIS generation will not pass away until all these things take place’.

Jesus spoke those unbelievable, riveting, unforgettable words directly to some of his disciples on the Mount of Olives, (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:30).

In these passages, the context demands that he was speaking to his disciples during the week before his death and resurrection. He was not speaking to us today. That is important.

So which generation did Jesus mean? Taking the plain meaning of the text, Jesus was referring to his own generation—the generation of those he was addressing right there on the Mount of Olives.

When we read in the gospels Jesus’ words, we are committed to accepting those words as true, right?

But some scholars teach that Jesus must have meant some future generation—surely he could not have been referring to his own generation!

Thus, irrationally and against all sound hermeneutical principles, they insist he meant an unknown, vague, future generation, and they change Jesus’ word from THIS to THAT!

Why this strange interpretation? This departure from standard grammatical understanding.

Why? Of course, they have to avoid the obvious meaning because they are dogmatically committed to a future return of Jesus. They cannot bear to believe he spoke of the relative closeness of his coming.

Jesus prophesied to those disciples on the Mount of Olives, several things would have to happen before His hearers’ generation had passed away. These events included the fall of the Jerusalem temple –an astounding event, impossible for Jews to accept—but also that He would return.

Yet many of the same scholars and teachers have no problem in accepting that Jesus spoke literally about the coming fall of the Jerusalem temple. They accept that as an historical fact. Seems like they feel they have the authority to change Jesus’ words to suit their doctrine!

Think about that for a minute.

If Jesus meant to say “that generation”, indicating a future generation, the writers would have used either the Greek word ekeinos or tote, and not the Greek hoytos. But they used the Greek word hoytos.

Let’s look at these words more closely.  

The Greek word ekeinos is overwhelmingly translated as that (99x) or those (40x) — i.e., a future generation. Also in the vast majority of cases the Greek tote is translated as then (149x) or that time (4x)— i.e., a future generation.

Thus at Mat 24:10 Jesus says “And at that time (Grk tote) many will fall away, and they will betray one . . . .” And at Mat 24:30, he said “And then (Grk tote)  the sign of the Son of Man will appear in . . .” future!

BUT the word hoytos is translated most texts by this (157x) or these (59x)—i.e., the present generation. For example, “This (hoytos) gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world . . . .” (Mat 24:14)

So then, there is no logical reason to exclude the plain fact that Jesus spoke of his soon coming.

Further, 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 all 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 for their readers to live righteously.

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: See Matthew 12:41-42, 12:45, 17:17, Mat 23:35-36, Mark 8:12, 31:30, Luke 17:25, 21:30. That’s just a few.

Mat 24:34f, Mk 13:30f, Lu 21:30f. NKJV. Assuredly, I say to you, this (Grk hoytos) generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

In 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?

To do so makes Jesus a false prophet or a liar!


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

The letters in the New Testament frequently reflect the 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 for their readers to live righteously.

2 responses to “‘This Generation’ or That?

  1. Ian this is good. I don’t think this changes the urgency of the mission Jesus had, which he passes onto us, to reach the lost around us with the good news. Sadly, modern Christendom has lost the notion we are in a battle. We could assume that if Jesus has returned, he is set on regaining this last, lost, output of his kingdom. He knew there would be a battle, even if we know the outcome. He wants us, more than ever to get involved, lay down our lives.

    Thanks for the edification.

    Michael .. Sent on the run from my iPhone



  2. Ian, this is well thought through. I wonder though, it doesn’t change the urgency to always proclaim the Gospel, to always seek the lost for Christ. Jesus mission in that sense must become ours. We are soldiers in a war, a fact that seems totally lost in modern Christendom, a tragedy for the Lord and for those around us. If we assume he has returned, we could be right in thinking he is fighting to regain the last outpost of his Kingdom and expects those of us called his followers to join alongside him.


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