"This Generation"

So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled (Luke 21:31-32).

A generation is a period of time defined by the key life events of a group of contemporaneous individuals. Historically, as a body, we have devoted much of our attention to the time component of the term Recognizing the possibility of mathematically relating the shooting forth of the fig tree to the return of Christ has understandably lead to attempts to assign a number in years to this generation.1 Forty years stands on the evidence of Numbers 32:13: ...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. Seventy and eighty years are viable candidates based on Psalm 90:10: The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. We can even turn to less precise measures of time such as the actual lifespan of all those alive at the budding of the fig tree, the average time from birth to parenthood, or effectively when a generation replaces itself with the next. Despite the differing times periods, when coupled with the list of potential starting dates for the shooting forth of the fig tree, the conclusion is clear: the return of Christ is very near!

While the quantitative study applying a number of years to this generation is edifying and instructive, it is only half of the lesson. As stated above, the individuals living at that time define a generation. They define not only the length of time but also the feel, essence, and qualities of the time period. The Scriptures are the history of God's dealing with mankind throughout the generations. The history is accentuated with periods of great activity but it is also marked with periods of minimal comment (for example, much of the time between Seth and Noah) and relative silence (like the 400 years in Egypt and the inter-testamentary period). This generation spoken of by Christ is not one that escapes such attention; much is written on the character, actions and faith of those individuals who comprise this generation.

Who is this generation? Because the tragic and glorious events described by Christ far outlasted his immediate audience, we understand our Savior to be speaking of a generation subsequent to his own. From the context it is that generation positioned to witness the budding of the fig tree - the rebirth of the Nation of Israel. This generation, in effect, is the last generation of the Gentile dispensation. This generation is our generation!

Even though direct revelation from God ended 1900 years ago, the Word of the Lord has much to say about our generation. Again, we can consider the concept of a generation narrowly or broadly. A narrow view would be to only consider that which has been said about the household of faith in this generation. A broader construction would be an expansion to include the entire human race that composes this generation. The Scriptures take both viewpoints in warning of the perils of the time as well as extolling the benefits to those of this generation.

The perils of being in this generation are numerous. This generation is succinctly characterized by Jesus as: But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matthew 24:37). Our days are likened unto days of great wickedness and evil imaginations, a time that was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:5, 11). These traits are clearly characteristic of our generation. Wickedness and evil have always existed, however, this generation has managed to not only perpetuate deplorable acts and beliefs, but to promote them as acceptable and to glorify them to the impressionable. Most brothers and sisters are blessed to live in relative peace and safety but that does not mean the world is not dangerous and full of strife. We may be spared from some of the most egregious forms of physical violence but hatred and vitriolic speech dominate the conversations of the nations and our generation. Lastly, can we say the devices of this generation's hands and the imagination of this generation's heart are set to the glory of God? To what achievements and inventions does this generation pursue with the most zeal? Is the greatest attention to those that feed the hungry, protect the vulnerable and spread the Word, or is the world happiest with the products of men's imagination that make us richer, distract our brains from legitimate thought, cater to our whims and make life convenient?

The parallel or analogy of our generation with that of Noah indicates it is not a time of great faith. In the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5) only eight souls were saved (1 Peter 3:20). Of our generation Jesus asked, Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)? The greatest peril for this generation is our grasp of the Truth. The Truth will exist; it is our fidelity to it that is in jeopardy. We cannot say we weren't warned. With their last messages, the apostles warned of the perils of false beliefs that were arising from without and within. Paul told Timothy, For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4). This generation lusts after smooth things and would rather have deceits than hard truth (Isaiah 30:10). This generation is the generation of scoffers and those spiritually asleep. As the men of Noah's generation (who did not know judgment was upon them until the flood came − Matthew 24:39), this generation doubts the most fundamental promise concerning our Savior: that he shall so come (again) in like manner (Acts 1:11). Peter predicts they will say, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation (2 Peter 3:4). The peril of this generation is the tendency to believe it is not the last generation of this dispensation.

Yet, the blessings of being in this generation are great. While the perils are numerous, two great blessings are bestowed upon those living during this period of time. The first is our unique position to study and understand the prophetic word. On this subject H. Grattan Guinness commented, Hence it is evident that the treasures of chronologic prophecy were committed to earlier ages for the benefit of later ones, and especially of the latest. As the end draws near the mysterious predictions are gradually explained by their own progressive fulfillments, and the light grows stronger and clearer to the close. Prophets, priests, kings, and earnest believers in past generations all looked forward to the fulfillment of prophecy and attempted to understand it within an incomplete frame of reference. A great gift to our generation is we are able to look back with the aid of history to achieve a level of understanding not available to those previous generations. Also we are blessed with living at a time when we are witnessing prophecy being fulfilled. The case of the restoration of Israel and the taking of Jerusalem are prime examples.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews closes with a memory verse which speaks of the faithful, And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise (Hebrews 11:39). We cite this verse in evidence of the future resurrection, inheritance and Kingdom. The next verse says why we in this generation are blessed: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:40). Our brothers and sisters of great faith and service to God who sleep in the dust of the earth await their inheritance. We, brothers and sisters, are the fortunate recipients of the forbearance of God and the timing of His great plan of salvation. What is the some better thing for us? That our generation, this generation, was allowed the time to come into existence, so that we were born, heard, and given the opportunity to accept God's gift of justification through His son. We in this generation are the last to be able to look at that verse and see ourselves.

Josh Vest, Statesboro, GA

1 The Master's Olivet Prophecy speaks of two different generations both of whom would be witness to great events. First, there were those present when Christ spoke these words which were alive to see the end to Judah's commonwealth in A.D. 70 at the hand of the Romans. The second was a future generation that would be alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. We have focused our remarks on that latter generation that has witnessed the budding of the fig tree and the other signs given that today's believer might be encouraged to watch, to pray and to lift up his or her head.