THIS GENERATION SHALL NOT PASS TILL ALL THESE THINGS BE FULFILLED
We read in Matthew 24:34, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled”. To what does the phrase “these things” refer? It refers to such things as the signs of Christ’s coming, i.e. “the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (vs. 29). It is clear that the generation to which Christ was speaking has indeed passed and these things have not been fulfilled.
There are many interpretations of this verse, most of which attempt to explain that this prophecy has been fulfilled, or in the case of one, has been fulfilled in part. Another interpretation suggests that the fulfillment was conditional, i.e. conditional upon the repentance of Israel. (These interpretations will be discussed in this paper). The reason for these interpretations is obvious, i.e. if “these things” were not fulfilled, that would mean that Christ prophesied something that will not be fulfilled. While the reason for these interpretations might be well intentioned, we must not, in my opinion, attempt an interpretation of the Bible for any reason other than to understand what it actually says.
As one reads Matt. 24:34 the most obvious meaning is that the generation to which Christ addressed this remark had passed and the prophecies had not been fulfilled. In my opinion, one should accept the most obvious meaning, except where it is a figure of speech or when the most obvious interpretation contradicts other passages. In the case of Matt. 24:34 the language is not figurative and it does not contradict any other passage. Indeed it supplements several other passages which will be discussed in the body of this study.
I believe that the understandable concern over the implications of Christ issuing a prophecy that will not be fulfilled will be dealt with and alleviated as we consider the topics listed below.
WHY WAS THIS PROPHECY NOT FULFILLED?
WHAT DOES THIS CONCLUSION SAY ABOUT THE DEITY OF CHRIST?
WHY CHRIST CHOSE TO NOT KNOW OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
A CONSIDERATION OF THE MOST WIDELY ACCEPTED VIEW AMONG DISPENSATIONALISTS AND OTHER VIEWS
WHY WAS THIS PROPHECY NOT FULFILLED?
As mentioned above, it is clear that the prophecy of Matt. 24:34 was not fulfilled. That is to say, the generation to which Christ spoke that prophecy has indeed passed and “these things” of which He spoke have not been fulfilled. So our first question is: why was this prophecy not fulfilled?
The short answer to that question is that Israel’s prophetic clock was interrupted when She was set aside at Acts 28. Let me explain that.
We read in Eph. 3:9 of Paul’s commission to preach, “the dispensation of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ”. As the paper on this web-site What Exactly Is The Mystery That Had Been Hid In God? will prove from Scripture, that mystery is, in part, that nations are now “together bodies”. What does that mean? It means that instead of Israel being separated from all other nations unto God, all nations are now the same in God’s sight. We read in I King 8:53, “For Thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth, to be Thine inheritance….”. And in Lev. 20:24, “……I am the Lord your God Which hath separated you from the people”. In other words, part of the mystery hid in God is that Israel is no longer a separated nation, all nations are “together bodies”, i.e. the same. Obviously, in order for all nations to be the same in God’s sight, Israel must be set aside as His chosen nation. I believe this is exactly what happened at Acts 28. (Please see the paper on this web-site When Did The Church Begin? for the Scriptural evidence of that statement).
So Israel was set aside as God’s chosen people. And when that happened the prophecies concerning Israel temporarily ceased, until Israel will be taken back. Proof of that is found, in part, in Dan. 9:26 where we read, “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary, and the end thereof shall be with a flood”. It is clear that there is a gap of at least two thousand years between the cutting off of Christ, and the destruction of Jerusalem, which will be accomplished in the end times by the antichrist. That gap is the intervening time of the dispensation of the mystery. So as long as the dispensation of the mystery continues, Israel will be “lo-ammi”, not My People (Hosea 2:9 ). And as long as Israel is “lo-ammi” the prophecies concerning Her are in abeyance.
Let us consider this intervening dispensation in terms of Matt. 24:34. “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled”. If Israel had not rejected Her risen Messiah during the Acts period, She would not have been set aside. If She had not been set aside the prophecies concerning Her would not have been put in abeyance. If the prophecies had not been put in abeyance, that generation to which Christ spoke those words would indeed have seen the fulfillment of the prophecies of Matt. 24 and all other end time prophecies. But Israel was put aside and the prophetic clock did stop and the prophecy of Matt. 24:34 cannot be fulfilled.*
WHAT DOES THIS CONCLUSION SAY ABOUT THE DEITY OF CHRIST?
Does this conclusion say in effect that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was mistaken in this prophecy? Absolutely not. I received the following comment which has helped me with this problem: “I often use this example with the congregation… take a time machine back then and stand as silent observers to the events that are unfolding. See the event recorded in your bible in its present tense, not ours… “.
Let me use an example to clarify how I see this time statement. Let us say I am going out with a friend. She asks, “is it raining out”? I tell her honestly that it is not. But one half hour later when she is ready to go, it is raining. Was I mistaken? No, because at the time she asked it wasn’t raining.
So too, when Christ told His audience in Matt. 24 that they would not pass away until the signs recorded in that chapter had been fulfilled, that was absolutely correct at the time He said it because Israel had not yet been set aside. But after Acts 28 when Israel had been set aside, Christ could not have made that statement. Was Christ’s statement then incorrect? Of course not, because at the time He gave that prophecy the prophetic clock was still ticking and that generation would have seen the signs of Matt. 24..
As mentioned above, the reason that the prophecy was not fulfilled is because of the intervention of the dispensation of the mystery which, as we have seen in Eph. 3:9 was a secret hid in God. When Israel was set aside as God’s chosen people in order to create a dispensation in which all nations are “together bodies” the prophecies concerning Israel were put in abeyance. And that is why the generation to which Christ spoke did pass before all those things mentioned in Matthew 24 were fulfilled. The most obvious question then is: Did Christ know about this secret hid in God? And obviously the answer must be “no”. Why do I say that? Because He said in Matthew 24:34 that “this generation shall not pass until these things be fulfilled”.
Does Christ’s not knowing of the dispensation of the mystery say anything about His deity? Let us try, with open minds, to come to grips with that difficulty. May I say first that I do believe, no I know that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man. I believe that He is both Jehovah and the manifestation of Jehovah. In other words, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that He is indeed God. That being the case, how could He have spoken a prophecy that can not be fulfilled?
We read in Is. 43:25, “I, even I, am He That blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” And Jer. 31:34, “……for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more“. Surely, if God can choose to forget sins He can choose to not remember other things.
And we read in Mark 13:32, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father”. This is Christ’s own words telling us that He did not know the day or the hour of His return. Here again, Christ chose to not know.
In point of fact, Christ choosing to not know of the dispensation helps to prove His deity because before He was born to Mary He did know of it, but after He was born to Mary He chose to not know. Only God can choose to not know what he did know at one time.
In my opinion, the unfulfillment of the prophecy of Matt. 24:34 shows that Christ, Who is God, chose to not know of the mystery. As we shall see in the next section, there are several prophecies that were not fulfilled because of the intervening dispensation of the mystery which, in my opinion, proves that Christ did indeed choose to not know of it.*
WHY CHRIST CHOSE TO NOT KNOW OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
We read in Matthew chapter four of the temptations of Christ which, of course was followed by the beginning of His earthly ministry. We read in verse 17 of that chapter, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’“. So from the very beginning of His ministry our Lord taught that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. What does it mean to be “at hand”? The Greek word translated “at hand” in Matt. 4:17 is, “engizo“. It is usually translated “draw nigh”, “at hand”, “approacheth”, came near”. The meaning is clear from the way it is used by the Holy Spirit. Christ was saying that the kingdom of Heaven was about to be established.
What is the kingdom of Heaven? As the paper on this web-site will prove, the kingdom of Heaven is geographically limited to Christ’s reign over Israel during the millennium. It is true that Christ will rule the entire world in the millennium, but the term “kingdom of Heaven”refers specifically to His rule over Israel.
Here is my point: Christ could not have preached that the kingdom of Heaven was about to be established if He had known of the intervening dispensation of the mystery. Let me clarify that.
As mentioned above, because Israel refused to accept Her risen Messiah She was set aside as God’s chosen people. When She was set aside the prophecies concerning Her were, temporarily, put aside with Her. The dispensation of the mystery has already lasted, as of 2008, almost 2,000 years. If Christ had known of this 2,000 year intervening dispensation, He could not possibly have preached that the kingdom of Heaven was about to be established. But because Christ’s earthly ministry was, in large part, an attempt to establish the kingdom of Heaven, He chose to not know of the dispensation of the mystery.
Some might suggest that as man He didn’t know, but as God He must have known. First of all, that makes no sense. That is to say, Christ either knew of the dispensation of the mystery or He did not know. Secondly, we cannot separate Christ as the Son of God and Christ as the Son of man. He didn’t do or say some things as man and other things as God. He was fully man and at all times fully God .
Let us consider another passage which will not be fulfilled because our Lord chose to not know of the dispensation of the mystery. We read in Matt. 16:28, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom”. Obviously, all those who were standing there have already tasted of death. Therefore, this is another prophecy that proves that our Lord chose to not know of the dispensation of the mystery.
Let me try to bring these three sections together. Christ chose to not know of the intervening dispensation of the mystery wherein Israel would be set aside and the prophecies concerning Her would be put in abeyance because He came to preach, among other things, that “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. He could not have preached that if He had chosen to know about the dispensation of the mystery. So He chose to not know. Therefore, when our Lord said “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled”, He said that without knowledge of the intervening centuries of the dispensation of the mystery when the Israel centered prophecies of the end times would be put in abeyance.*
A CONSIDERATION OF THE MOST WIDELY ACCEPTED VIEW AMONG DISPENSATIONALISTS, AND OTHER VIEWS
We read in Matt. 24:34 that “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled”. The note on this verse in the Companion Bible reads in part, “not = by no means. Gr. ou me. The definition of the Greek “ou me” as given in Ap. 105. III reads, “The two negatives when combined lose their distinctive meanings, and form the strongest and most emphatic asseveration…..”. In other words, a negative cannot be more emphatic than the Greek phrase used in this verse. So “this generation” will absolutely not pass away until these things are fulfilled. The NIV has, “will certainly not pass away“.
Let us continue with the Companion Bible notes on this verse. “Till. Here with Gr. ‘an‘, and the Subj. Mood, marking the uncertainty, which was conditional on the repentance of the nation”.
Most dispensationalists believe that the “uncertainty” to which Dr. Bullinger alluded is the uncertainty as to whether that generation would indeed not pass until these things be fulfilled. That is to say, they believe that these things about which Christ spoke in this chapter would have been fulfilled if Israel accepted their Messiah. And they reason that because Israel did not accept their Messiah, that generation did pass without seeing the fulfillment of “these things”.
I suggest that there is, as Dr, Bullinger wrote, an uncertainty in this verse, but the uncertainty is not whether “this generation will pass”. The uncertainty is when “all these things will be fulfilled’. Let us look further into this suggestion.
As stated above, most understand Dr. Bullinger’s comment to mean that the uncertainty implied in the Greek phrase translated “till” was whether “this generation” would pass before “these things” will be fulfilled. But that makes no sense when we consider the note in Ap. 105. III on the Greek word translated “not”. That is to say, I do not believe it is logical that Christ would use “the strongest and most emphatic asseveration” in the phrase “this generation shall not pass”, and have the same phrase imply “uncertainty”. That is to say, Christ did use a most emphatic negative, and He did use a term that marks “uncertainty”. But they are not used in the same phrase. The most emphatic negative is in the phrase “this generation shall not pass”, but the uncertainty is in the phrase “till all these things be fulfilled”.
In point of fact, we are specifically told what the uncertainty is in verse 36, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only”. What is uncertain then is the day and hour when these things will be fulfilled. In other words, It is not in the least uncertain that “this generation will not pass till these things be fulfilled”, but it is uncertain as to exactly when that will be. This also fits the context. That is to say, Matthew chapter 24 has nothing to do with whether Israel accepts their Messiah. The entire chapter is an answer to the question put to the Lord by His disciples as recorded in verse three, “when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the world (Gr. “aion”, should be “age”).
In an effort to further satisfy ourselves that our conclusion as to what is uncertain is the phrase that the word “till” addresses, we will look at several other verses which use the same Greek term translated “till” as is used in Matt. 24:34 in the subjunctive mood relating to either a present or a future event.
Matt. 2:13, “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word…..”. What is the uncertain element in this declaration? It is certainly not whether Joseph should take his family into Egypt. The uncertain element is how long they will be there.
Matt. 10:23, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come”. There was no uncertainty that the disciples will not have “gone over the cities of Israel” . The uncertainty was when Christ would come.
Matt. 16:28, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom”. The reader will note that this prophecy is quite like the one of Matt. 24:34. Here too, there is no uncertainty about the fact that some will “not taste of death”. The uncertainty is when He will come.
Matt. 22:44, “The Lord said to My lord, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool'”. This is, of course a quote from Ps. 110. It is clear that there is no uncertainty as to whether Christ will sit at the right hand of God. Again the uncertainty is when this will happen.
My point is that the uncertainty expressed in the Greek term translated “till” is not whether “this generation” will pass before the prophecies of Matt. 24 are fulfilled. The uncertainty is the exact day and hour they will be fulfilled (see Matt. 24:36).
I will not quote all the other verses that fit into this category, but the reader is encouraged to look at them and I am convinced that he/she will agree that in every case the uncertainty is in the “when” those things will take place. Those verses are: Matt. 5:26, 10:11, 12:20, 23:39, 26:29; Mark 6:10, Luke 9:27, 20:42-43, 21:32; Acts 2:34-35; I Cor. 4:5 and Heb. 1:13.*
OTHER INTERPRETATIONS OF MATTHEW 24:34
PARTIALLY FULFILLED IN 70 AD
Some have suggested that the prophecy of Matt. 24:34 was partially fulfilled in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. I disagree with that interpretation for four reasons.
1) The Bible does not tell us of the events of 70 AD. Israel was set aside at Acts 28, which is estimated to have been anywhere between 63 and 68 AD. That means that Israel was already set aside by 70 AD and the prophecies concerning Her were already put in abeyance.
2) The events of 70 AD are not part of the iinspired Word of God. That is to say, they are not recorded in God’s Word. Therefore, we are totally dependent on the writing of secular historians. I do not believe that that is a good practice in the study of God’s Word as it always leads to error. (Please see the paper The Non-Events Of 70 AD for the scriptural evidence of that statement).
3) Matt. 24:34 says, “all these things shall be fulfilled”. We cannot pick and choose which things our Lord meant. I believe He meant all “these things” that He had spoken of in answer to the question of verse three.
4) We read in verse 2, “And Jesus said unto them, ‘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'”. But that was not accomplished in 70 AD. How do we know that? Most of us have, at least, seen pictures of the western wall, i.e. the so-called “wailing wall”. That was part of the Temple to which Christ referred. Obviously, it was not destroyed.*
THIS EVIL GENERATION
Some have suggested that because the phrase “this generation” in Matt. 24:34 is referred to in other places in the Bible as “this evil generation” it refers to only the evil men of that generation.
I suppose some would prefer this interpretation to the one suggested in the body of this paper. But in my opinion, it sounds contrived. That is to say, the most natural understanding of the term is that it is in reference to the generation that Christ was addressing. I see no reason for this very unnatural interpretation. As mentioned above, our responsibility as students of God’s Word is to first understand what it said, no matter the implications. This interpretation seems to be a bit twisted in order to avoid the most natural understanding of the passage.
“Begin To Occur”
Another argument is summed up by the following comment from one who is, I assume, a Greek scholar. “The verb “genEtai = may be coming” and the mood here is the subjunctive mood of the verb, the tense is the second aorist = past imperfect. The subjective mood of the verb is the mood of the idea, in other words it has not happened yet but it will begin to happen and is spoken of as may be coming… The generational application is emphatic and doubly so NOT pass away until what? The indicative mood of the second aorist singular = egeneto and this means “became”… This is the most frequent use of the this verb used 149 times… The indicative mood is the mood of the literal verbal action i.e. it is literally became. If it is becoming it has not occurred yet and the English sense of something past but reference to future is difficult grasp however, the English reader can understand this “beginning to occur” i.e. Verily I say to you that this generation will absolutely not pass away before these things begin to occur”
In other words, Matt. 24:34 says that this generation will not pass until these things begin to occur. And this person believes that the signs did begin to occur. But let us consider the early signs, as those would be the first things to be fulfilled. They are:”false Christs”. “wars and rumors of wars”, “famine” “pestilences”, “earthquakes in various places”, betrayal and hatred of one another. These signs are events that are fairly common in the history of Israel and of the world, so I believe that more than just a few would need to be in evidence at the same time in order for them to be a sign of anything.
There is absolutely no mention of false Christs, or of wars, or of rumors of war, or of famine, or of pestilences, or of earthquakes, or of betrayal or hatred of one another as occurring in the Gospel or Acts periods. There is one mention of false prophets in II Peter 2:1 which reads, “But there were false prophets also among the people (the note in the Companion Bible adds, “as among you also”), even as there shall be false teachers among you…..”. But given that throughout Israel’s history there were any number of false prophets, I do not believe that the false prophets mentioned in II Peter can be taken as a sign of the end times, especially given the fact that that was the only sign that was in evidence.
*The bold type in the quotations were added.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: email@example.com