The final signs and the fig tree
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.
Observations & Reflections
This apocalyptical passage is troubling for most Bible readers. It would appear that for the most of chapter 21, Jesus is prophesying about the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. However, he is also speaking now of his 2nd coming and adds a small note which makes this passage problematic.
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Luke 21:32)
Is Jesus implying that the current living generation will not pass away until he returns in glory? It seems that there is no good workaround for this prophecy that would explain otherwise. Some have maintained that somehow the gospel is speaking of the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost but there is no language present to support that claim. Jesus said “the son of man coming” would happen before the generation passed away. There is another theory that Jesus was referring to the Jews as “generation” which is technically one way the word “γενεά” can be translated. This theory gets more credence since Jesus was actually talking to the Jews (at the Temple). However, this theory does not take into account that mixed into “these things” are events that appear to be both from 70 CE and also the end times.
The signs from verses 25-28 are specifically end times events and Jesus speaks as though they are going to happen while “this generation” is alive.
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28)
I have found virtually no scholarly commentaries that deal with this problem and most layman’s commentaries by pass it all-together by one of the 2 workarounds listed above. I find this to be troubling. However, I believe there is another explanation for Jesus’ conflation of the end times and the end of the Jewish “nation” and Temple. I think the gospel writers told snippets of Jesus’ message (as they always pick and choose at least somewhat) and they formed the story to support the narrative that the Jewish Christians were expecting…which was that Jesus was returning very soon. It is more than plausible that Luke and the other gospel writers believed Jesus’ words about “this generation” meant the Jewish people which is why the passages where formed in such a manner. Does that mean they made a mistake? I suppose, if true, that they may have been mistaken or confused by Jesus’ words. However, it would seem that the words were still recorded and transmitted faithfully, even if they were misunderstood.