Some liberal scholars today say that Jesus made a mistake when his prediction of end times events didn't take place within the generation that heard his prophecies. Luke 21:32 reads, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." Three things should be considered. First, the meaning of the term "generation". Second, the context of this verse, and third, the significance of the phrase "these things".
The term "generation" (Grk., genea) can refer to the persons in a family, or to a specific race. It can also refer to a particular time, period or age. In the O.T. generations represented forty-year periods. In the Dead Sea Scrolls there is the mention of a forty-year period of suffering which the final generation alive will undergo (C. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, N.T., 248). Many believe that a generation is limited to this length of years. Since Jesus spoke these words near A.D. 30, some believe this "generation" refers to the events of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. However, one of the problems with this interpretation is that some of the predictions made by Jesus do in fact center on events related to the end times (beyond A.D. 70), predictions which did not come to pass within a generation of his death and resurrection (see vv. 25-27). If this distinction of content matter in the teachings of Christ is not made then the accusation of a mistake made by Jesus becomes sharper. Is there a solution to this?
I believe the immediate context of Luke 21:32 starts in Luke 21:25. This is the section that points to a time period beyond the time of the destruction of the Temple which Jesus spoke to his disciples about earlier (21:5-9). Notice that although Jesus predicts events surrounding the destruction of the Temple he also alerts his disciples to the fact that ". . . the end does not follow immediately" (Luke 21:9c). This means that other events would follow chronologically the demise of the Temple. The events of Luke 21:25ff. with its supernatural and cataclysmic characteristics take place sometime after Jerusalem is taken "captive into all the nations" (Luke 21:24). We know that Israel as a nation was dispersed throughout the world until 1948 when she again was recognized as a State. Her captivity, writes Luke, will be limited to a certain period of time. Jerusalem will be "trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24; See Zechariah 12:2-3). The "times of the Gentiles" began with the Babylonian Captivity of 586 B.C., and will last until the fulfillment of these prophecies, when Israel again will come under the leadership of God her King.
The final aspect to consider is the phrase "these things" in Luke 21:32. Some believe that the phrase refers to all that Jesus had been teaching his disciples, including events surrounding the Temple's destruction and the end time predictions. A clue to help us understand the time frame of this phrase is found in the previous verse. After using the illustration of a budding fig tree as a reference point for believers to discern when future events happening in the world mark the end, Jesus says these words: "So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:31; emphasis mine). So that, the "generation" spoken of by Jesus in verse 32 will be the one alive right before the final establishment of the Kingdom.
What, then is Luke 21:32 teaching? This verse teaches that the generation who will witness the cosmic signs detailed by Jesus starting in Luke 21:25-27, and will see the "Son of Man coming in a cloud," will not pass. That is, the generation alive when the end time signs or events begin to take place will surely see the coming of the glorious Kingdom of God, in its fullness, promised to Israel.
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