The “generation” alive when Jesus ministered witnessed the events that he predicted leading up to the destruction of the Temple – Mark 13:28-31.
In this next paragraph, Jesus provided a chronological key – the disciples would know the time of the Temple’s demise when they saw all “these things” coming to pass, and before “this generation” would reach its inevitable end. That was his definitive answer to the question – “when will these things come to pass?”
His parable of the Budding Fig Tree represented the events that would culminate in the destruction of the Temple (“These things”). The new foliage sprouted by the “fig tree” would indicate the imminence of “summer.” When the disciples saw “these things” coming to pass, they would know that “it” was near.
- (Mark 13:28-31) – “Even so you also, when you see these things coming to pass, know you that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things be accomplished.”
“These things” refers to the preceding events predicted by Jesus; the “birth pains,” persecution, the rise of “false prophets,” the proclamation of the gospel to all the nations, and the “abomination that desolates.”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus used the phrase “this generation” repeatedly for the generation of Jews that was contemporary with him, the same “generation” that rejected him. For example:
- (Matthew 23:32-36) – “Fill up then the measure of your fathers. You serpents, offspring of vipers, how shall you escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, and 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 upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily, I say unto you, All these things shall come upon THIS GENERATION.”
In the literary context, “this generation” can only refer to the “generation” that included the “scribes and Pharisees” who were denounced by Jesus. For that matter, the normal way to understand the clause is as a reference to the generation that is contemporary with the speaker. That is true whether spoken in English or Greek – (Compare also, Matthew 3:7, 11:16, 12:34,12:39, 12:41-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:33-36, 24:34).
On the lips of Jesus, “this generation” echoed references from the Torah to the “generation” of Israel that disobeyed Yahweh, and consequently, was condemned to die in the Wilderness. The verbal allusion is deliberate, for the same consequences were about to befall the “generation” of Jews that had rejected Jesus:
- (Numbers 32:13) – “And Yahweh’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of Yahweh was consumed.”
- (Deuteronomy 1:35) – “Surely there will not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land.”
- (Deuteronomy 2:14) – “And the space in which we came from Kadesh-Barnea until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as Yahweh swore to them.”
Earlier, Jesus had predicted the desolation of the Temple. In response, the disciples had asked, “when will these things (tauta) be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age”? That is, when would the destruction of the Temple take place? He provided a list of events that would signal the approach of the Temple’s destruction, the “these things,” and especially, the “abomination of desolation.” When the disciples saw it, it would be imperative for them to flee Jerusalem in all haste.
If the arrival of the “abomination of desolation” meant the end of the present age and the arrival of Jesus in glory, there would have been no point in fleeing Jerusalem. For the wicked, there would be no escape, and for the righteous, what would be the point?
Thus, Jesus predicted that the destruction of the Temple would occur within one “generation,” which is precisely what occurred when the Temple was destroyed by a Roman army in 70 A.D. When the disciples saw “all these things coming to pass,” they would know the horrible event was imminent. And especially so, when they saw the “abomination of desolation” standing in the Temple, for it would then be imperative for them to flee the city without delay.