Was Jesus Wrong about the Generation of the Jews?

There is a prediction made by Jesus in the New Testament that has led many to conclude that Jesus was a false prophet, or merely wrong, and therefore not the Son of God at all.

Mark 13:30 (C.f., Matthew 24:34) says,

” Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Mar 13:30 ESV)

However, the prophecy in Mark 13 included details that actually had not happened by the time everyone in that generation of the original hearers had died. That “generation” all died by around 100AD (give or take a few years), but still Jesus has not returned 1915 years later at the time of this post. So was Jesus wrong?

A number of solutions have been proposed to resolve this difficulty. My favourite, until recently, was the argument that the Greek word, “genea” translated as “generation” can also mean “race” as in the ethnic group of the Jews. And so, I used to suggest, the prediction is actually that the Jews will survive as a people all the way up to the second coming of Christ. And I do believe they will. But I no longer think that is what Mark 13:30 and Matthew 24:34 mean.

I found the difficulty of interpreting vs 30 resolved by a clue in vs 29:

“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” (Mar 13:29 ESV, emphasis mine)*

  1. The things His hearers might see, and from which they would deduce the nearness of Christ’s return, could not include Christ’s return, described in v 26. Obviously it would make no sense for Jesus to say, “You will know my return is near when you see me return.” So the things Jesus’ hearers will see, according to verse 29, do not include events after verse 25, and possibly even further back as far as verse 23.
  2. The people who would see Christ’s return is a different group of people than Jesus is talking to in verse 29: in verse 26 Jesus says, “they will see” and in verse 29 Jesus says, “when you see”. Therefore there is a distinction in the whole prophecy about things Jesus’ hearers would live to see and things an unspecified future generation will be alive to see.
  3. These two considerations, (a) that in v 29 “when you see these things taking place” refers to events at least prior to verse 25 and maybe verse 23; b) that they are things Jesus’ hearers at that time would live to see, since Jesus says, “when YOU see” in v 29,) leave little wiggle room in the text for avoiding the implication that “all these things” that would take place while the then generation of Jesus’ hearers was still alive refer not to the predictions after verse 24, but exclusively to the predictions prior to verse 23.**
  4. This is the most likely understanding of the way Mark arranged this text, with a break at verse 23: “I have told you all things beforehand.” Everything Jesus wanted that generation living at that time to watch for, He had already predicted before verse 23. So why did Jesus go on after verse 23 to describe events far future from the lives of His disciples?
  5. The verses after v 23 then form a prolepsis looking ahead to what a future generation will be alive to see. Mark focuses Jesus’ prophecy in chapter 13 on the answer He gave to the disciples’ question in verse 4. But the disciples asked more than Mark records in that verse, and Jesus answered more than Mark records in chapter 13. The rest of the disciples’ question, according to Matt 24:3, included, “…and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” That’s why Jesus also prophesied about His second coming and the end of the age. But Mark chose not to make those future events that main point of this chapter, rather he focused on the answer to the first question of the disciples about the frightening prediction that the Temple would be levelled.  Nonetheless, as a fitting close to his account of Jesus’ prophetic words, Mark includes the final hope of the believer in this chapter: the second coming of Christ and of the end of the age. But He does not mean for the reader to interpret this to mean that the then living disciples would still be alive to see those future events. That’s why Mark records that Jesus switched the pronoun from “you will see” to “they will see” in verse 26.

For all these reasons this difficult text in verse 30 is rightly interpreted to mean that the generation of the disciples alive at the time Jesus spoke these words, would not be all dead yet before they saw the destruction of Jerusalem, of the Temple, the survival of the Christian Church by fleeing to Pella, and the BEGINNING of the Jewish Tribulation that began in 70AD and continued, as Leviticus 26:34 predicted, “as long as [the Jews are scattered to their] enemies’ land…”.

Events in France this past couple of weeks show that many of the Jews are still living in hostile lands to which their people were scattered following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. The hatred that drives the Jewish people to flee from country to country, and has for most of 2000 years, continues today. This phenomenon is the Jewish Tribulation the beginning of which Jesus predicted in verse 19 and the end of which Jesus foresaw in verse 24. The fact that the Prime Minister of Israel this past week could offer safe haven to frightened fellow-Jews is a Godsend first possible in the 20th Century. So maybe this Jewish Tribulation is over, or almost over? Time will tell. But the attack in Paris is one footnote of this Tribulation that, tragically, is more the rule than the exception. As one writer noted,

I can’t claim to have known Georges Wolinski, the 80-year-old cartoonist among the dead on Wednesday, but I met him briefly, a few years ago. Via Laura Rosen Cohen, I learn of the strange, circular journey of his life and death. His father was a Polish Jew who fled to Tunisia to lead a life free of pogroms. Georges was born there in 1934. Two years later, his dad was murdered, and the family moved again, this time to France.

And on Wednesday, like his father, the son was killed.

Wolinski [the father] fled Jew-hate in Europe to be murdered in the Muslim world.

Wolinski [the son] fled Jew-hate in the Muslim world to be murdered in Europe, by Muslims. [http://www.steynonline.com/6742/jesuischarlie-but-youre-not]

So far, Jesus’ predictions have been spot-on. That generation did not pass away before they saw His words come true. Armed with the knowledge of His predictions, the Christian Jews in Jerusalem survived the Roman siege in 70AD. May our generation also live by the words of Jesus:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mar 13:31 ESV)

 

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*The Greek literally reads, “So also you, when you see these things taking place…” emphasizing the the 2nd person “you” by the inclusion of the pronoun in addition to the 2nd person form of the verb, “to see”.

**Someone might object that verse 29 goes on to say that then, “you know that he is near, at the very gates”, and that this must mean the disciples living then were told to expect the return of Jesus in their lifetimes. But the Greek [c.f. the KJV of verse 29] only says, “it is near, at the very gates”, not “he”: the word is third-person singular, and not masculine or neuter. Some translators choose to refer the pronoun to the antecedent in verse 26, “the Son of Man”. But the metaphor of the fig tree provides an antecedent in “Summer”, and Jesus could just as easily have in mind, “that tribulation” of verse 26 and verse 19, or the “end” of the city mentioned in verse 7 and predicted as the theme of the whole passage in verse 2. My point is that the end of verse 29 does not settle the debate one way or another since the verb “is” is neither masculine nor neuter.