“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.”[Matthew 24:33-34]
Over the years, I have heard well-meaning preachers and teachers repeatedly say that virtually every generation of disciples –beginning with the Apostles — expected Jesus to return in their lifetime.
But is this what we really learn from the Bible?
Although it is clear that immediately after the resurrection, Jesus’ original followers were somewhat confused about the timing of the coming kingdom, Jesus quickly clarified their misunderstandings. We pick up the dialogue in the book of Acts, just before Jesus ascends to heaven 40 days after the resurrection.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”[Acts 1:6-11 — ESV]
We learn several valuable truths from this passage.
First, the disciples had a clear understanding of God’s future promise to restore the fortunes of Jacob and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel under the reign of the Messiah. Second, they reaffirmed their faith in Jesus — the Risen Lord — as the long-awaited and promised Messiah and King of Israel. And third, the disciples wanted to know if that time had finally come for Jesus to take His seat on David’s throne and establish His everlasting kingdom.
Jesus’ answer may have surprised them. Although the Apostles were given the unique privilege to be eye witnesses of the life, miracles, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus, they were not to be the generation alive on earth when He returns. He plainly tells them …. “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” [Acts 1:6]
Instead, the Lord had a different mission for the Apostles — to be His witnesses by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of every nation until the end of the age. And in all actuality, that same mission has not changed for the church throughout each and every generation.
In others words, Jesus has always commanded His followers to be focused on fulfilling the Great Commission and preaching the gospel to all creation. Jesus didn’t want the Apostles to get distracted with the “times or seasons” of His return because He had a mission for His church to carry out.
At the same time, Jesus and the Apostles taught extensively on the signs of the end times and the coming of Jesus at the end of the age. And according to the testimony of the Biblical prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Himself, there will be one last generation alive on the earth to witness these things unfold.
What unique signs are being observed today that have never been seen by any generation before?
Could we be approaching the end of the age? Is this the last generation before the coming of the LORD?
The End is Not Yet
When Jesus taught us about the beginning of birth pains that lead into the revelation of Antichrist and the great tribulation, he said some general signs will begin to surface but that the end is not yet. But like labor pains, these general signs will begin to become more frequent and more intense in nature the closer to end we get. Here is a list of these birth pains we can expect to observe.
- Spiritual Deception — “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” [Matthew 24:4-5]
- Beyond spiritual deception in general, Jesus warns us that there will be a specific satanic assault within the church to deceive many in the name of Christ. This sign perhaps has never been more evident than it is today, as the church is in a dangerous state of doctrinal compromise and spiritual apostasy.
- Instant access to news and current events — “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” [Matthew 24:6-7]
- A 7.0 earthquake shakes California, and I have access to the news story literally minutes after it hits. Iran attacks oil tankers in the Straight of Hormuz, and I hear the report within the hour. Hamas launches attacks in Israel, and I read about it that same day. Never before has mankind possessed the kind of technology that Jesus is speaking of here. Jesus uses a unique Greek word, akoém [rumor], which is the closest word to news report we have in the Bible. Jesus obviously was speaking of a future generation who would have instant access to keep track of reports and current events in diverse places all around the globe.
- As with the growing spiritual deception, we can expect the groaning of the earth to continue to writhe in labor pains, producing more intense and frequent earthquakes, storms, and other natural disasters. As Jesus says … “Men will faint from fear and anxiety over what is coming upon the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” [Luke 21:26] This is the first generation that has the technological capabilities to hear news reports from around the world at the touch of a button.
That DAY will Not Come Unless
The church in Thessalonica was concerned that somehow it had missed the second coming of Jesus, but the Apostle Paul comforted them and reminded them that it was impossible to miss the return of King Jesus because there were certain signs that must first transpire before Jesus comes back.
Again, this proves that the Apostles did not expect Jesus to return at any moment, but rather they affirmed certain signs that would be discernible by the last generation. Consider Paul’s words.
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”[2 Thessalonians 2:1-3]
Sealed until the Time of the End
The LORD repeatedly revealed glimpses of the future to the prophet Daniel, but then told him to seal up these prophecies until the time of the end. In other words, there is only one unique generation that is alive during the last days that will be able to understand Daniel’s prophecies as they begin to unfold in real time.
He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.”[Daniel 12:9-10]
This Generation will Not Pass Away
Jesus says that the last generation will be alive to witness the beginning of birth pains, the rebirth of national Israel, the revelation of Antichrist, the rebuilding of the third temple, the abomination of desolation, the great tribulation, the persecution of the saints, satanic deception, and the signs in the heavens.
Jesus says that just like we know summer is just around the corner because of the signs of spring, then we also will be able to know when His return is near because of these signs. We may not know the day or hour, but we will certainly know the general season — possibly with years, months or even weeks of His coming.
Are we THE Generation that will not pass away before all these things take place and Jesus returns?
I believe there is a strong possibility that we are!
And as we explore these signs in depth and continue to compare them with the current events of our day, I believe we will see that we are the unique generation that God is preparing for the final countdown of human history.
As the Apostle Peter says …
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness …”[2 Peter 3:11]