The following is the beginning of a multipart response to an article by Ian Hicks who argues against a preterist interpretation of the meaning of “this generation.” Keep in mind that numerous scholars who do not identify as preterists argue that Jesus’ use of “this generation” refers to the generation of His contemporaries. See Chapter 10 in my book Wars and Rumors of Wars. It’s a high bar to clear to argue for an interpretation that does not refer to the audience of Jesus’ day. It’s so high that not even Mondo Duplantis could clear it. Hicks takes a circuitous route to get around the obvious. Will what I’ve written convince him? I doubt it. I’ve written the following with more to come for the benefit of others who are struggling with interpretive eschatological issues.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars

A mountain of scholarship shows that the prophecy given by Jesus was fulfilled in exacting detail when He said it would: before the generation of those to whom He was speaking passed away. Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation alone. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. Everything Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.

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Exegetical commentaries and Internet articles on the meaning of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 and parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 are numerous. Nearly every stone has been overturned to determine its meaning. Some of the older views are no longer in vogue. Few competent Bible students argue that “this generation” means “this race,” that is, the Jewish race since the Greek word genos (γένος)[1] (Mark 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:9) is not used, and it would not make logical sense that after the events described by Jesus were fulfilled, the Jewish race would pass away. The Scofield Reference Bible made the genea = race view popular:

Gr. genea, the primary definition of which is, “race, kind, family, stock, breed.” (So all lexicons.)[2] That the word is used in this sense here is sure because none of “these things,” the world-wide preaching of the kingdom, the great tribulation, the return of the Lord in visible glory, and the regathering of the elect, occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A.D. 70.[3] The promise is, therefore, that the generation—nation, or family of Israel—will be preserved unto “these things”; a promise wonderfully fulfilled to this day.”

The 1967 edition of The New Scofield Reference Bible added this to the note on Matthew 24:34: “it may be used in the sense of race or family, meaning that the nation or family of Israel will be preserved ‘till all these things be fulfilled,’ a promise wonderfully fulfilled today.”

There are some writers who still hold to the belief that genea should be translated as “race.” J. Dwight Pentecost, a dispensational premillennialist, called the translation of genea as “race” “the best explanation” without offering any exegetical support.[4] It was the best for him because translating genea as “generation” would disrupt his dispensational hermeneutic. Surprisingly, William Hendriksen, an amillennialist, put up a weak exegetical defense for genea being translated “race.” The most serious flaw in Hendriksen’s method is that he does not compare the use of genea in Matthew 24:34 with how genea is used elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel.[5]

The idea that “this generation” means “this type of generation” is still popular. As we’ll see, it is the view of Ian Hicks. “The generation that sees these signs” is also popular except that Jesus states, speaking to His audience, “even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that it is near, at the door” (Matt. 24:33). In these cases, words must be added (“kind” or “type” and “that sees these signs” as well as eliminating “this”) to obtain the needed meaning so that “this generation” can mean any generation except the generation to whom Jesus was addressing.

I’m always willing to look at arguments against the view that “this generation” did not refer to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. Interestingly, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a committed dispensational futurist, makes the following comment about Matthew 12 where the phrase “this generation” is used twice (12:41–42) and “this evil and adulterous generation” (12:39) and “this evil generation” (12:45) are each used once and refer to the same generation as does Acts 2:40:

[In Matthew 12 Jesus] pronounced a judgment on the Jewish generation of that day. That generation had committed the unpardonable sin: the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. One should clearly comprehend exactly what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is. The unpardonable sin was not an individual sin but a national sin. It was committed by that generation of Israel in Jesus’ day and cannot be applied to subsequent Jewish generations. The content of the unpardonable sin was the national rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus while He was physically present on the grounds that He was demon-possessed. This sin was unpardonable, and judgment was set. The judgment came in the year 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the world-wide dispersion of the Jewish people. It is not a sin that can be committed by individuals today. It was a national sin committed by the generation of Jesus’ day, and for that generation the sin was unpardonable. From this point on a special emphasis is placed on this generation in the gospels, for it was guilty of a very unique sin.[6]

Fruchtenbaum states in his commentary on the Olivet Discourse that “This prophecy of the Messiah was literally fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed the City of Jerusalem and the Temple was set on fire” [Matt. 22:7]. He then jumps to the future with the claim that the key timing element relates to those in a future generation who will see the abomination of desolation set up in what must be another rebuilt temple (Matt. 24:15) of which the New Testament says nothing.

This brings me to a 26-page double-spaced article written by Ian Hicks who argues against what I believe is a clear and unambiguous understanding of what Jesus meant by “this generation.” My position is straightforward and relies on a consistent reading of how Jesus uses “this generation” in the gospels. Whatever “this generation” means in Matthew 11:16, 12:41, 42, and 23:36, it has the same meaning in 24:34. It doesn’t take 26 double-spaced pages to interpret what Jesus meant. Anyone reading Matthew’s gospel for the first time would understand that the use of “this generation” in Matthew 11:16 refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. Jesus is addressing how He was being received by His Jewish contemporaries: “But to what shall I compare this generation?” He does not say, “But what shall I compare [a] generation [like] this generation?” Jesus continues with the condemnation of His contemporary generation with the following:

Then Jesus began to reprimand the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that occurred in you had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! For if the miracles that occurred in you had occurred in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless, I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matt. 11:20–24)

Jesus mentions miracles in specific cities with specific people who saw and rejected Him. What did Jesus mean when He said, “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (12:41). There is no doubt that “this generation” refers exclusively to Jesus’ contemporaries. We see something similar in 12:42.

Matthew 23-25: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary

Matthew 23-25: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary

Those who first read Matthew’s gospel only would have had as an interpretive reference what we describe as the Old Testament. They were living the history that Jesus said would take place before their generation passed away. They would have immediately noted the Old Testament parallels with the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15; Dan. 9:27), the judgment on Sodom and fleeing to the mountains to escape the coming conflagration (Matt. 24:16; Gen. 19:17), false prophets (Matt. 24:24; Jer. 14:14), signs in the sun, moon, and stars (Matt. 24:29; Isa. 3:10; 24:33; Ezek. 32:7; Amos 5:2; 8:9; etc.), the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 24:30; Dan. 7:13), and so much more.

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Jesus uses “this generation” in 23:36 after a chapter-length specific indictment of Israel’s religious leaders. No other generation is in view: “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets” (23:31). They were of the generation that would “fill up the measure” of their fathers” (23:32; see Acts 7:51; 1 Thess. 2:16). Jesus continues His judgment theme by describing what they would do:

“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you will fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (23:34–36).

No other generation for judgment is being described. The book of Acts offers prima facie evidence of what Jesus predicted would happen did happen (also see Matt. 10:17–18; Mark 13:9; 2 Cor. 11:24–26; 2 Tim. 3:11).

Hicks believes he has found a weak spot in the use of the second person plural (you):

Is Jesus accusing the scribes and Pharisees of His day for the bloodshed of Abel down to Zechariah? How could it be possible that the guilt of righteous bloodshed on earth be accounted to this tiny group of religious leaders at the time of Jesus? How can Jesus (using the second person plural “you”) be saying that they murdered Zechariah? They weren’t even around to have committed these murders. How then could the guilt for these murders be tied to them?

It’s quite simple why the guilt of righteous blood shed on earth would be accounted to this tiny group of religious leaders at the time of Jesus. Note what Jesus said in 23:32: “Fill up the measure [of the guilt] of your fathers.” They weren’t guilty of all these murders, but they were “descendants of those who murdered the prophets” (23:31), but their murder would be of a higher magnitude because they turned over God’s Son to be crucified. There was no greater crime in history. They would be judged because they rejected Jesus and colluded with the Roman government to murder Him. They chose the “notorious criminal” Barabbas (Matt. 27:16) over Jesus and Caesar as their king (John 19:15). They would be judged for their own sins because Jesus was the true tabernacle (John 1:1, 14) and temple in their midst (2:13–22), and they should have known better (1:11). “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation,” (23:36), that is, their generation alone because “they delivered” Him up and had Him “nailed to a cross” by “the hands of godless men” (Acts 2:22–23). All futurist views on the interpretation of the Olivet Discourse end up indicting a generation of Jews who had nothing to do with the death of Jesus.

Continue reading Part Two

[1]Γένος (genos) is also translated as “kind” in Matthew 13:47 and 17:21.

[2]Scofield’s claim about “all lexicons” that “race” is the proper translation of genea is false. In fact, Matthew 24:34 is almost always referenced as a passage where the translation is “generation.”

[3]For a refutation of this claim, see Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, and Wars and Rumors of Wars, and John Bray’s Matthew 24:

[4]J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, [1958] 1987), 281.

[5]William Hendriksen, Matthew: New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 867–869.

[6]Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events (Tustin, CA: Ariel Press, [1982] 1990), 206.