28 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So you also, when you see these things happening, know that itis near—at the doors! 30 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
– Mark 13:28-31
The (Supposed) Problem
If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve come across this hackneyed “argument” against the Deity of Christ, and the validity of His claims and ministry. The “argument” typically goes like this:
“Jesus? Pfff! Didn’t He believe that the people during His own lifetime would see Him return? He wasn’t anything but a mere man, a good man (maybe), and an apocalyptic prophet, sure, but not God. If He was God, then why did He get this prophecy wrong?”
The verse they point to is Mark 13:30, as quoted above:
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
And the point is to try to cast doubt on Jesus’ divine nature, thereby showing His lack of credibility and, hence, the human origin of Christianity. But does this work?
Not at all.
There are a variety of exegetical problems with understanding the phrase “this generation” to mean only the generation to whom Christ was addressing this discourse. But in addition to those, there are methodological problems with picking this verse as an example of Jesus’ (supposedly) imperfect and “human all too human” (and thereby faulty) prophetic behavior. To put it in a brief question that summarizes the problem, we should answer such critics with a simple question:
“Considering that you believe that what is written about Jesus has been tampered with in order to make Jesus look divine, when in reality He wasn’t, on what basis do you isolate this verse as being a true statement coming from the mouth of Christ?”
They may refuse to say this aloud, for fear of revealing their own presuppositions to you and themselves, but the answer is pretty simple: It looks like a mistake, so they attribute it to Christ in an attempt to discredit Him. Now, to be fair, there are some who truly are seeking to understand this verse in light of the fact that “that” generation to whom the Lord was giving His discourse has passed away and Christ has not returned, so I’m not lumping all skeptics together. I just have encountered many, many unbelieving individuals who wish to remain so, and who try to stump believers with decontextualized fragments of Scripture. So this is mainly for them ;)
When confronted with Mark 13:30, therefore, I respond by asking about their methodology in assessing whether or not (i.)Christ is the real author of the prophecy, and (ii.)He was mistaken in stating that “this generation shall not pass away.” Anyone interpreting the Bible has a particular method whereby they assess such things. So, it must be asked of them: What is your method?
This question is poignant, when one considers the presuppositions these individuals typically hold to in an attempt to show that the Gospels are the hybrid offspring of true history and superstitious legend. For instance, here are some presuppositions that are typically connected to the “problem” of Mark 13:30.
1. The Gospels were written after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, seeing as they deny the supernatural as exhibited in prophecy and Jesus obviously makes reference to this calamitous event.
2. The Gospels largely consist of fabrications about Christ, which have been inserted into a basic story about Him, in order to make Him appear Divine. That is to say, they assert that Christ was “made into God” by the later church who had formed legends about Him.
And here is why the “problem” of Mark 13:30 is not a problem for believers, but for these skeptics. Addressing the above two presuppositions:
1. & 2. If the Gospels were after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, why would the authors include such a phrase if it were indeed a prophetic failure? Even if we assume that the writers were completely incompetent (as the majority of godless scholars – see Ehrman, the Jesus Seminar, and a host of others – do), can we reasonably believe that they were dumb enough to include a phrase that would completely overturn Christ’s credibility? Would this not directly take away from their assumed goal (i.e. to make Jesus appear to be Divine)?
I guess we could assume that the Gospel authors weren’t consistent enough in their wholesale fabrication of the life of Christ Jesus, but that would be inconsistent with the logic of skeptics who would argue that Jesus made a mistake in prophesying about “this generation.” Did they push the date back for their audience? If the Gospel writers merely included v. 30 for the sake of addressing their contemporary audience, then Jesus didn’t say it and their accusation that He was a prophetic failure is meaningless. We should then have to deal with the authors who, supposedly, made this mistake; for it says nothing of the Lord Jesus.
They want to have their cake and eat it too, but they simply cannot.
So Which Generation is Christ Referring to?
This is the principal question, I guess. And the answer is simple:
The Lord Jesus is referring to the generation which sees “all these things come to pass” (i.e. the generation that sees all of the events the body of His prophecy covers, see here). Since the events cover the future, He is referring to the future. Since the events cover a time period that extends beyond the destruction of the Temple, He is referring to the distant generation that sees the culmination of all of the events.
“This generation,” therefore, is not the group of disciples to whom He is giving His discourse, but a later generation that sees the fulfillment of all He prophesied.
This is a hackneyed subject, but one that needs to be addressed.