(Mt. 24:34) Did Jesus make a false prediction about his second coming?

CLAIM: Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mt. 24:34). If Jesus is referring to his hearers (“this generation”), then he falsely predicted his second coming to their lifetimes. Preterist interpreters argue that this passage supports the notion that Jesus made a secret coming in AD 70 at the destruction of the Jewish temple. For instance, Preterist Gary DeMar states,

Notice how many times Jesus uses the word you (second person plural) in Matthew 24 and in the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21… Now, if you heard Jesus say that all these things would happen to ‘this generation,’ and in every other instance of its use ‘this generation’ meant the present generation, and you also heard Him speak of when ‘you’ see these things, what would you conclude?[1]

Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Historically, there have been at least eight different interpretations of this verse.[2] Thus, if the Preterist case is being built on one verse, it is certainly a shaky foundation to build upon.

First, the word “you” does not always refer to the immediate audience as Preterists claim. Preterists say that the Jews received and understood Jesus’ judgment (Mt. 24:30) at the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. But, Jesus said, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Mt. 23:39) This verse claims that the next time the Jews see Christ (“until you say”), they bless him—not curse him. However, we highly doubt that the Jews considered the destruction of the Temple as a “blessed” event!

Moreover, in Matthew 23, Jesus said, “Upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Mt. 23:35). Of course, Jesus’ contemporaries had not personally murdered all of the prophets from the time of Abel!

Second, based on the grammar of this passage, we are not forced to believe in a first-century interpretation. Preterist sometimes argue that the grammar of this passage forces us to conclude that Jesus is referring to his hearers in the first-century. However, futurist Thomas Ice writes,

There is nothing in the Greek grammar of the phrase “this generation” that would disallow either Dr. Gentry’s or my interpretation. This is noted because some preterists say that if Christ were referring to a future generation. He would have said ‘that’ instead of ‘this’ generation. Not so! The timing of a passage is determined by how words are used in a particular context. Thus, if one is talking about something that will take place in the future, it is common to speak from the time perspective of the event.[3]

Third, Jesus is referring to the generation that sees all of the events in the context of the Olivet Discourse. When Jesus says “this generation,” he is referring to the generation who witnesses “these things.” Which generation is being described in context? Presumably, Jesus is describing the generation in which all of these things take place. In other words, he is saying, “This generation (the one that sees these things occur that I’ve been describing) will not pass away…” In verse 30, Jesus said, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:30). When this generation sees these things, then they will know that Jesus will return soon. In Mark’s account, it is paired with “when you see these things happening.” Because “these things” have not happened yet, we can concur that this must not be the same generation. Here, Jesus said, “Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mk. 13:29-30).

Fourth, the use of the ingressive aorist doesn’t limit time restraints for Jesus’ prediction. Futurist Stanley Toussaint writes, “A fifth interpretation seems best. It takes the verb gevnhtai as an ingressive aorist. The same verb is found in all three Synoptics and is translated “takes place” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). As an ingressive aorist it emphasizes the beginning of the action with the meaning “begin to take place.” All those things would begin in that generation and find their ultimate completion at the Second Advent. This fits with the idea of not being deceived by the events mentioned in Matthew 24:4–8. The Lord specifically referred to these as “the beginning of birth pangs” (v. 8). Interestingly, although Mounce does not accept this interpretation, he suggests it as a possibility and gives no refutation of it.”[4]


[1] DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness. Atlanta: American Vision, 1994. 43.

[2] Donald E. Green A Critique of Preterism [Unpublished Paper].

[3] Ice, Thomas, and Kenneth L. Gentry. The Great Tribulation, past or Future?: Two Evangelicals Debate the Question. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999. 126.

[4] Stanley Toussaint “A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse” Bibliotheca Sacra 161 (October–December 2004): 485