May it not be that in speaking to us as he did the Lord was assuring all of his disciples that “this generation”—this fallen but beloved seed of Adam and Eve (and perhaps also “this present evil age” in which multitudes of them will be redeemed)—will not pass away until he himself—the divine Creator, Judge, and Redeemer of heaven and earth—fulfills all of the words he has so solemnly, graciously, and comfortingly spoken to the world in his great Olivet Discourse?
The Lord is mid-way through his Olivet Discourse. He has just revealed to his disciples the various signs that must occur prior to his providential coming in AD 70, and also his supernatural Coming at the end of the age. In a moment he will complete the discourse by speaking of the Judgment (Matt. 25:31–46). However, before doing so he desires to draw out some practical applications of the truths he has spoken so far.
He begins by admonishing his disciples—all of them—to watch for the signs of his (supernatural) Coming. To this end he bids them learn a lesson from the fig tree: When they see it put forth its leaves, they know that summer is near. Likewise, when they see “all these things”—all the signs he has just spoken of—they can know that his eschatological Coming (vv. 29-31) is at hand (vv. 32–33).
But how do we know that his eschatological Coming in view, and not his providential coming? We know it because “all these things” (i.e., all these signs) include events that did not occur prior to 70 AD: the global proclamation of the gospel (v. 14), the universal hatred of Christians (v. 9), the appearing of the eschatological Abomination that Causes Desolation (i.e., the Antichrist; v.15), unprecedented and unparalleled tribulation (v. 21), false messiahs and prophets who work deceptive signs and wonders (v. 24), and dreadful portents in the sky and sea (v. 29; Luke 21:25-26). All the saints must watch for all these things; and when they see them they must lift up their heads, for in those days the Parousia, the Consummation, and the fullness of their redemption will be near, even at the door (v. 33; Luke 21:28)!
Having thus outlined the remaining years of Salvation History, the Lord now solemnly pledges: “I tell you the truth: This generation will by no means pass away till all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:34-35). These verses are quite difficult, and have therefore generated a host of interpretations, some of which I will touch on before briefly sharing my present view.
Note first his preface: “I tell you the truth.” This strong affirmation fits hand in glove with verse 35, where he states that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words never will. The meaning? “My words—my predictions, warnings, and promises—come straight from the divine Creator and King of heaven and earth. They are eternal, true, and trustworthy. In the face of all events, temptations, and persecutions you can take them to the bank.”