Alas, I approach the text which makes preterists squeal with glee and Pre-mil’s faint with the malady of exegetical psychosis. Or perhaps I am being a tad melodramatic. I am referring to the ‘this generation’ of Matthew 24v34. I now endeavour to interpret this statement: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things happen” (Matthew 24:34).
Now, it’s important to note that preterists do not interpret consistently…. If we use the term ‘literal interpretation’ in a South African context. Since they wish to interpret ‘this generation’ literally’ but not verse 30; which talks about the physical Christ coming on the clouds of heaven with great glory. Either one is figurative, and the other literal or visa versa. However, should we use the phrase ‘naturally’ (in USA ‘literally’) we may then have a meaningful discussion.
Now either ‘the clouds of heaven with glory’ or ‘this generation’ must have a natural meaning which allows for the harmony of Scripture (a vital hermeneutical principle). I think that the argument that ‘clouds of heaven with glory’ have another meaning besides what it appears to mean to modern audiences is a weak one, a discussion which I shall go into another time (No, I don’t ignore that this is prophetic/apocalyptic literature). However, I think there is interesting evidence to suggest that ‘this generation’ has another natural meaning.
Christ starts off verse 34 by saying “Truly I tell you”, which suggests that what He is about to say has special significance. Then comes those words ‘this generation’, which will not pass away until all the things Christ has been speaking about occur. Now some would say this refers to the fall of Jerusalem, when Christ would reappear to usher in the end of the world (age). However this appears to be a bad interpretation of these words since two sentences later He says that He doesn’t know when these things will occur (v36).
What seems more reasonable is to say that ‘all these things’ refers to the events of v4-28, but this does not mean Christ’s coming would happen immediately after. Calvin says, “Christ uses a universal term, but does not apply His words in general to all the afflictions of the Church, but simply teaches that in one generation events would establish all He has said” (Book 3; pg 97). Problem with this is, I am not sure why is shouldn’t include everything up to v31.
So here my long rant about ‘natural’ interpretation comes in. What if ‘this generation’ has another meaning? Notice how this term is used in the Old Testament to describe a type of person:
“The Generation of the righteous” Ps 14:5
“The generation of those who seek Him” Ps 24:6
Ah! Tyrell, but these are all verses referring to those who are good. Well let’s look further….
“Guard us from this generation” Ps 12:7
“The generation of His wrath” Jer 7:29
If this is the meaning, then Jesus is saying ‘this generation, this type of person, will not cease until His words are fulfilled. It may be relevant to now notice Christ’s words earlier (23v35) when He said to the people whom He was speaking to “you killed Zechariah”, such a statement shows the unity of the ‘race/generation’ through the years.
Mounce points to the nature of multiple fulfillments: He shows that the ‘abomination of desolation’ was fulfilled by the desecration of Antiochus Epiphanes, and another by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies . “In a similar way, the events of the immediate period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem portend a greater and more universal judgement at the end of the time.” Thus the text would says ‘right up till all these things happen there will be people of this type, who rejected Christ while He lived on earth’
So either way, the decision must be made, but it must be known, even if ‘this generation’ meant the generation alive at the time of Christ, that need not mean that the distress must end in Christ’s time, but ‘all these things’ must occur in that time, the ‘second coming’ itself, only occurring when the Father knows it will (v36), thus ending the distress.