Something I came across the other day:
Jesus’ words, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” are the chief cornerstone in the preterists’ defense of their system. R. C. Sproul, a moderate or partial preterist, states, “The most critical portion of this text is Jesus’ declaration that ‘this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.’ ” Preterists point out that in all the other instances in the Gospels “this generation” refers to the then-present generation (Matt. 11:16; 12:41-42, 45; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12 [twice], 38; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32, 50-51; 17:25; 21:32).
Preterists also assert that Christ was warning people who were living then. For instance in the same general context the Lord said, “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:36). Dispensationalists agree that 24:34 refers to the Lord’s contemporaries. To make the saying even more emphatic, οὐ μή with the aorist subjunctive occurs in all three Synoptic references (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). The verse may be rendered, “By no means will this generation pass away.”
How then is this verse to be explained? Actually it is difficult for any theological position, including that held by moderate preterists. (They struggle to interpret “all these things,” which clearly implies the coming of Christ in glory described in verses 27-31 and 37-41.) A number of explanations of verse 34 have been proposed. First is the interpretation of the preterists, who say all the predictions of Matthew 24:4-33; Mark 13:5-29; and Luke 21:8-31 were fulfilled in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. However, this view can be held only by overlooking the meaning of several verses in the discourse, including Matthew 23:39; 24:22, 27, 30, and the meaning of παρουσία.
A second interpretation, held by a number of futurists, affirms that the noun γενεά means race, that is, the Jewish race. Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich give “clan” as a primary meaning, but they list only Luke 16:8 as an illustration in the New Testament. It is difficult for dispensational premillennialists to take this view because this would imply that Israel would cease to exist as a nation after the Lord’s return: “This race of Israel will not pass away until the Second Advent.” But Israel must continue after the Second Advent into the millennium in order to fulfill the promises God made to that nation.
A third interpretation, common among dispensationalists, is that “this generation” refers to the future generation of Jews who will be alive when the Lord Jesus returns. For example Hiebert says, “It seems best to preserve the natural meaning of generation as denoting the people alive at a given time and accept the view that the reference is to that future, turbulent, wicked generation that will see the actual beginning of those eschatological events (vv. 14-23). The assurance is that the end-time crisis will not be of indefinite duration.”
The near demonstrative pronoun may have the meaning of a near concept (cf. “this bread,” 1 Cor. 11:26). But the problem remains that in the New Testament “this generation” normally refers to the generation contemporaneous with the speaker or writer. As Carson affirms, ” ‘This generation’ . . . can only with the greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke.”
A fourth interpretation says this is an illustration of multiple fulfillment. As Mounce asserts, “Biblical prophecy is capable of multiple fulfillments.” He comments as follows on Matthew 24:32-35. In the immediate context, the “abomination of desolation” (v. 15) builds on the defilement of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, is repeated when the sacred temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman army in A.D. 70, and has yet a more complete fulfillment when the eschatological Antichrist exalts himself by taking his seat in the “temple of God” proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:3-4). In a similar way, the events of the immediate period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem portend a greater and more universal catastrophe when Christ returns in judgment at the end of time. Gundry is right in his observations that double fulfillment (I would say “multiple fulfillment”) involves an ambiguity that needs to be accepted as fact rather than objected to on literary grounds. A number of commentators agree with this explanation.
Another question for all interpreters is the meaning of “all these things” in Matthew 24:34 and Mark 13:30 (Luke 21:32 has “all things”). It is possible that the “these things” looks back to the question of the disciples when they asked, “When will these things [the destruction of the temple] happen”? (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7). But there are difficulties with this explanation. First, the question of the disciples is so far removed from the Lord’s statement in Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; and Luke 21:32 that it makes such an interpretation improbable. Second, when the Lord said “all these things,” He undoubtedly was looking at more than the destruction of the temple. “All these things” must include His glorious return to reign, as the immediate context clearly implies.
A fifth interpretation seems best. It takes the verb γένηται as an ingressive aorist. The same verb is found in all three Synoptics and is translated “takes place” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). As an ingressive aorist it emphasizes the beginning of the action with the meaning “begin to take place.” All those things would begin in that generation and find their ultimate completion at the Second Advent. This fits with the idea of not being deceived by the events mentioned in Matthew 24:4-8. The Lord specifically referred to these as “the beginning of birth pangs” (v. 8). Interestingly, although Mounce does not accept this interpretation, he suggests it as a possibility and gives no refutation of it.
[Stanley D. Toussaint, BibSac 161:644 (Oct 2004) p. 483-86]