Preterism is the belief that most, if not all, of Bible prophecy was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Essential to the preterist view is the belief that “all these things” mentioned in Matthew 24: 1-34 were “filled full” during the first century. How far the preterist follows this thread to its logical conclusions determines how preteristic he/she is. Preterists who only trace it out to verse 34 are known as “partial” preterists. Whereas those who follow it all the way through Matthew 25 are known as “Full Preterists.” Both teach that the parousia (second coming of Christ) was none other than the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Roman armies. According to Preterist eschatology, the second coming of Christ is not personal, but providential.
In previous articles, I’ve pointed out how essential a particular understanding of the phrase “This generation” is to supporting Preterist claims that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70. I’ve also shown that the term “this generation” means, in all cases, the nation of Israel, and not Christ’s first-century audience. Not only is this truth a valid starting-point to refuting Preterist heresy, but it is one that destroys the very foundation upon which Preterism rests.
In studying the usage of “genea” in the New Testament, I find that it is rendered “generation” in 36 instances–30 in the singular, 6 in the plural. Of these 36 instances, “genea” occurs 25 times when the nation of Israel is being addressed. The particular phrase “this generation” occurs 16 times in the New Testament. In each and every case, the phrase is used when Christ is speaking to the Jewish nation.
Incidentally, “this generation” is not used in any of the church epistles, but is found only in the three synoptic Gospels. It always has a distinct Jewish reference, and is never employed in any address, whether oral or epistolary, made to the Gentiles. This gives us our biggest clue as to the precise meaning of “this generation.” Since “genea” has several different meanings, the textual referent and established usage must determine our understanding of the term. When Christ said, “This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled,” we are warranted in our belief that He was speaking of Old Covenant Israel.
I believe that what Our Lord was saying is this: The nation of Israel will abide in the wilderness, and not enter into possession of the promises, until all these things be accomplished. Remember that throughout the Old Testament it was declared that “tribulation” would be necessary to bring Israel into the bonds of the New Covenant. And when they finally entered the New Covenant, then alone would the promises made to the fathers be fulfilled, and Israel would inherit the land “for ever.”
Christ teaches this in His Olivet Discourse. And an important key to Matt. 24: 34 may be found in Hebrews 3 & 4. Remember that Christ came to confirm, not to nullify, the promises made to the fathers (Rom. 15: 8). But Paul wrote that these promises would not be fulfilled as long as Israel remained in unbelief (Heb. 3: 18-19). In Hebrews 4: 1-9, he equates entrance into Canaan with the Sabbatical rest. In writing that “there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God,” Paul teaches that Israel had never truly entered Canaan. In other words, they were still in the wilderness.
Like those sent by Moses to search out the land Canaan, Israel was shown the glories of the kingdom during Christ’s earthly ministry. But because they brought up an evil report to Pontius Pilate, rejecting the kingdom, the nation was thrust into the wilderness and consigned to wander until the time they would repent and accept Christ as their Savior. This is the great truth which Peter preached after the resurrection of Christ. The one condition of Christ’s return is national repentance (Acts 3: 19-21; cf. Matt. 23: 39; Luke 13: 35). Far from being a new revelation, this was even foretold in the Old Testament:
(Hosea 5: 15) “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.”
(Micah 5: 3) “Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.”
Both the above verses imply that tribulation is needed to bring about national restoration. But this condition of national repentance has never yet been fulfilled. Hence, Israel has never been able to secure the promises made to the fathers. But Christ’s Olivet Discourse shows us the very course of things which will bring about the long-promised repentance and restoration of Israel.
(Ezekiel 20: 37-42) “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant… And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me… For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first-fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered, and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give unto your fathers.”
Here we learn the indisputable truth that national restoration must be preceded by national correction. Then, according to the prophet Jeremiah, once Israel enters the New Covenant, the land promises will be fulfilled. See Jeremiah 31: 31-40. Especially pertinent hereto is the fact that God promised to preserve Israel as a nation as long as the ordinances of the sun, moon, and stars continue (31: 35-37). This promise is repeated in Jer. 33: 20-26, where the preceding context speaks of the restoration of the Jewish nation under the reign of the Messiah (33: 10-18).
So, here’s where logic leads us: If Christ won’t return until the Jewish nation repents; and if tribulation is needed to secure repentance; then, seeing that Christ’s Olivet Discourse predicts those very times of tribulation required to bring about the repentance and restoration of Israel; and knowing that Israel has never entered into their everlasting inheritance of the land of promise: then we must conclude that the parousia is a future event. Therefore, the phrase “this generation” must bear another sense than that of “Christ’s first-century hearers.” The only other interpretation possible is that which understands it to mean “Old Covenant Israel.”
“This Generation” will “pass away” when Israel enters the new covenant, and receives a new heart and a new spirit. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36: 25-28).
Nationally speaking, old things must pass away and all things become new (2 Cor. 5: 17). As only Caleb and Joshua could enter Canaan, while the rest of the “that generation” passed away (Numbers 14: 22-22; 32: 10-12), so only those who follow Jesus Christ, the anti-typical Moses, can leave the wilderness and take possession of the everlasting inheritance. Only those who have a right spirit will obtain the land which God promised unto Abraham. Since the promise was by grace, and not through the law (Rom. 4: 13; Galatians 3: 18), Israel must come under the terms of the New Covenant (covenant of grace), that every jot and tittle of God’s purposes concerning Israel may be realized. This is what Christ meant when He said: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”