SYNOPSIS – The “generation” contemporary with Jesus would see all the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple – Mark 13:30-31.
In this next paragraph, Jesus provides a more specific Chronological key – The disciples will see all “these things” come to pass before “this generation” ends. This is his definitive answer to the original question by the disciples – “When will these things come to pass?” – And his interpretation of the parable of the Budding Fig Tree.
(Mark 13:28-31) – “Even so you also, when you see these things coming to pass, know you that he is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation will not pass away until all these things be accomplished.”
The parable of the budding fig tree represented a set of events that would culminate in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem – (“These things”). The new foliage sprouted by the tree indicated the imminence of something. When the disciples saw “these things” coming to pass, they would know that “it” was near – “Summer.”
The term “these things” referred to the preceding events predicted by Jesus – The “birth pains,” the persecution of the disciples, the rise of the “false prophets,” the proclamation of the gospel to all the nations, the “abomination that desolates,” and the “tribulation.”
In the ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus made two chronological references – First, “this generation”; second, “no one knows when except God alone.” By predicting the fulfillment of his warnings within a “generation,” he claimed to know the general timing of “these things.” But apparently, that claim contradicted his declaration that “God alone knows the day or the hour.” Either Jesus made a contradiction or the two statements refer to separate events – The destruction of the Temple signaled by the appearance of the “abomination of the desolation,” and the “coming of the Son of Man in power.”
When the disciples saw the “abomination of the desolation” they were to flee Jerusalem with all haste. When the “Son of Man” arrived “on the clouds” the “elect” would be gathered to him from the “uttermost parts of the earth.” Each event has a different result for the disciples of Jesus.
Jesus was responding to two questions posed to him by the disciples. In doing so, he made predictions about two related but distinct events – The destruction of the Temple, and his return and the “conclusion of the age.” The first would occur within “this generation”; the second, God alone knows.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses the phrase “this generation” repeatedly for the generation of Jews contemporary with him that also rejected him. Note especially the related passages from his denouncement of the high priests, and of the “scribes and Pharisees”:
- (Matthew 21:42-45) – “Jesus said to them, Did you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore, say I to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits. And he that falls on this stone will be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it falls, it will scatter him as dust. And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them.”
- (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 unto 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. the phrase can only refer to the “generation” that included the “scribes and Pharisees” denounced by Jesus – (See also – Matthew 3:7, 11:16, 12:34,12:39, 12:41-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:33-36, 24:34).
As the example from Matthew demonstrates, the normal way to understand “this generation” is as a reference to the generation contemporary with the speaker. This is true whether spoken in English or Greek.More relevant, on the lips of Jesus, “this generation” alludes to references from the Torah to the “generation” of Israel that disobeyed Yahweh, and consequently was condemned to die off in the Wilderness, the “generation” of Israel that NEVER entered the Promised Land.
The verbal allusion is deliberate, for the same consequences were about to befall the “generation” of Jews that rejected Jesus. It was this “generation” from which God removed His “kingdom” and gave it to “another nation,” one that would produce the required fruit. Note the following:
- (Numbers 32:13) – “And the LORD’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 the LORD, 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 came 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 the LORD sware unto them.”
The analogy of the budding fig tree was a pictorial warning about the coming events that would signal the imminent destruction of the Temple. “This generation,” the one that was contemporary with Jesus would see all “these things” taking place – And it would not end until “all these things” had come to pass.
Clearly, Jesus predicted the desolation of the Temple that was standing in his day. In response, the disciples 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?
Jesus provided a list of things to occur that would signal the approach of the Temple’s destruction – “These things” – Especially, the “abomination of desolation.” When the disciples saw it, it would be imperative for them to flee Jerusalem in all haste.
Note carefully, whatever this “abomination” was, it was a localized event in and around Jerusalem. If the arrival of this abominable figure meant the end of the present order and the arrival of Jesus in glory, there would be no point in fleeing Jerusalem or anywhere else. For the wicked, there would be no escape, and for the righteous, what would be the point? The entire created order would be forever changed.