The Generation That Will Not Pass Away Until Jesus Returns

Reinhold Federolf

Who belongs to it, and who will they be? An exploration.

C. S. Lewis and “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible”

C. S. Lewis is the best-known Christian author of the last century, becoming world famous after his death through the film adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia. Many people see him as an impressive example where biblical prophecy is concerned. The great thinker and World War I soldier published many works of apologetics (defense of the faith), because he had gotten the impression that professional theologians didn’t present Christian doctrine resolutely enough. And yet, Lewis suddenly appeared perplexed and helpless when reading Matthew 24.

In his essay The World’s Last Night, he agreed with critics who said that the Lord’s warning, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32), is “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” Lewis explained it using the Lord’s later statement, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32; Matt 24:36). To him, it served both as proof of the reliability of the Gospels (they recorded the Lord’s “error” instead of concealing it), and proof of the Lord’s incarnation (as a man He didn’t know everything, and could have been wrong concerning the question of the Second Coming).

C. S. Lewis belonged to the Anglican Church, where “end-time speculation” and prophecy are simply not topics of discussion. He wasn’t alone in that; many Christians today belong to churches and congregations where they hear nothing about the Rapture and Jesus’ glorious return, God’s plan for Israel, the signs of the times, the apocalyptic seven years of anti-Christian rule, and the messianic kingdom of peace. The situation could probably be quickly remedied by changing churches. But even those who are less radical can easily obtain good books on prophecy/the end times/Israel, track down relevant content online, or hear a corresponding sermon as a visitor.

C. S. Lewis certainly wasn’t lacking in intelligence or energy. So, why did he arrive at that solution for confusing prophecy, instead of searching for the interconnections in the prophetic Word itself to find the right answer, solving his dilemma? Even before sharing his statement, Lewis conceded the following:

“I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted to the correction of wiser heads.”

We recognize the challenge and the necessity of shedding more light on the generation Jesus was speaking of. In fact, this generation is very clearly defined. If there has been uncertainty about it, or incorrect calculations, it’s simply a result of inattention.

“And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time [3 ½ years], and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished” (Dan 12:7).

At the end of the Great Tribulation (the final 3 ½ years), Israel is like softened and prepared clay. She will repent and be transformed into a vessel of blessing through the coming of the glorified Messiah. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

Jesus, Israel’s prophets, and the Apostles—especially John in the book of Revelation—have revealed this so clearly that it can be identified beyond a doubt. “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:33-34; Luke 21:32). What’s going to happen? What will we observe?

A few points:
• Israel’s seven-year peace treaty with the charismatic, promising world leader

• The appearance of the two powerful witnesses in Jerusalem, reminiscent of Moses and Elijah

• Exactly 1,260 days after his induction, the world leader murders the two prophets

• The desecration of the Temple and the hideous statue of the Antichrist that comes to life

• The messages of the three angels, heard by everyone in the world

• The apocalyptic, earth-shattering, world-changing earthquakes

• Terrible wars and the annihilation of half of humanity

• Signs in the sky (of the sun, moon, and stars), meteorites, and giant hail

• Deception by the false prophet (miracles, the mark) and the most terrible persecution of all by the “risen” Antichrist

“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
Judging from the context of the passage, it is admonishing those living in the Great Tribulation. That generation—the one of the apocalyptic seven years—will not pass away. They are to persevere until Jesus’ glorious return, and then they will enter His kingdom.

Didn’t Jesus make a mistake?
Another seemingly difficult verse follows: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matt 10:23). When will this prophecy be fulfilled? There are three possible explanations for this verse:

1. Jesus has already come to judge Jerusalem in 70 AD, invisibly and allegorically, which is what the Preterists believe. But that just doesn’t make sense. Jesus clearly prophesied that when He came again, Israel would convert. He would not appear as a destroyer, but as Zion’s deliverer (Rom 11:26; prophecy from Isa 59:20-21).

2. Jesus was simply mistaken in His human limitations, as C. S. Lewis claimed.

3. There was a 2,000-year interruption. Israel was placed on standby, and punitively made to sit on the bench. Paul expressly proclaims this as the mystery now revealed: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved...” (Rom 11:25-26).

What does “the fullness of the Gentiles” mean? In God’s current redemptive work, the Gospel of Jesus is supposed to reach the ends of the earth. God, in His unlimited omniscience and omnipresence, has determined the number of Gentiles to be saved. When this multitude has come to believe, the Age of Grace will be concluded with the sudden Rapture, and then the process of Israel’s spiritual restoration will begin. The last of the three above explanations is the best, because it neither insults Jesus nor undermines prophecy.

If Matthew 24 (and its many parallel and more detailed chapters in Revelation) had been completely fulfilled by 70 AD, we should be asking ourselves where the extraordinary earthquakes, wars, and signs in the sky were clearly observed in the past. This interpretation is intellectual suicide, the opposite of Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would lead us into all truth.

The Preterist assessment of Bible prophecy and the end times
Preterism treats the book of Revelation as symbolic illustrations of early church conflicts, all of which are in the past, having already been fulfilled. This theological trend dismisses the possibility that Revelation is largely about future events.

To varying degrees, this tendency toward higher criticism combines allegorical and symbolic interpretation, with the belief that the book of Revelation doesn’t inform the Church of specific prophetic and future developments or judgments. So, the preterist movement mainly teaches that all New Testament prophecies about the end times were already fulfilled—namely, when the Romans attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and Israel in 70 AD.

The result is churches and congregations that show no interest in important apocalyptic prophecies, passages, and topics that concern the last days, and also hardly ever talk about Jesus’ return. The logical danger is that we can easily become overwhelmed by events. As we look out into the world today, we can very clearly and undeniably see the preparations for the apocalyptic world stage.

Midnight Call - 03/2024

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