The word “generation” is used in many different prophetic passages in Scripture – “this generation” or “evil generation” or “unbelieving generation”. We get into trouble when we rigidly assign a literal meaning of 30 or 40 years of time to the word. This restricted meaning forces a mistaken reference limited to the apostolic age. Also in a few prophetic passages like Luke 21:29-32 this literal meaning is unadvisedly used by some to set dates for the return of Christ.
Unfortunately, these are examples of an unfounded restriction being given to the word as it is used by the Spirit of God, and leads on to misunderstandings. Rather, the word refers to a continuing class of people and the adjectives describing moral character. The phrases are descriptive instead of being historical – as long as the general evil or unbelief continues, it is still that generation. The unbelief of Israel has continued for over 2000 years, so that this evil generation has also continued (Matt. 12:45, 16:4, 17:17, 24:34).
Deut. 32:5, 20 NKJV
“They have corrupted themselves; they are not His children, because of their blemish: A perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus deal with the Lord, O foolish and unwise people…And He said: ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith.”
As long as the evil and unbelief continues, then the general class of people is the same. The same reasoning should be applied to Matthew 21:43 and the phrase, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you.” Instead of forcing an uncomfortable and untenable meaning that Jesus is referring to just that current generation of Israelites, the true meaning is that God has set the Jews aside and will no longer acknowledge them as His people – having killed the Son (Matt. 21:37-40) there would be no Messianic kingdom for Israel. The kingdom was promised to them, it was rightfully theirs’s according to known prophecy, but now it would be taken away from them, for they are set aside. Again this time has continued for almost 2000 years. The kingdom of God has been given to Christendom in general.
Luke 21:32 NKJV
“…this generation will by no means pass away till all things are fulfilled.”
This generation existed at the time Jesus spoke these words. It will last until the second advent of Christ. “All things” would have to include the fall of the city and temple in 70 AD, which Jesus just predicted in the previous verses (Luke 21:20-24). The generation stretches to include all the events predicted in the entire passage – Luke 21:20-32. The Christ-rejecting, unbelieving, evil generation of the Jews was not to pass away till all is fulfilled. The mass of Israel will remain in this moral condition until the return of Christ. Then this Christ-rejecting generation will pass away, and a new, believing generation will take its place – they will look on Him whom they have pierced, and will mourn with great sorrow (Zech. 12:10).
The point of correction being made is that the unbelieving, evil generation of Israelites the Lord Jesus was speaking to during His first coming (in all the gospels), is a generation that simply continues on in moral character for Israel until Christ’s second advent. This is clear from Matthew 23:37-39. Even though a literal hermeneutic points one to think of 30 or 40 years of passing time, it is obvious that when the Holy Spirit uses the word prophetically, it has a reference to a continuing moral class of people. Any hermeneutic is the wisdom of men and a system of men. Instead, what we must have is divine teaching from the Spirit of God, and a disciplined adherence to receiving only God’s thoughts from our study of Scripture.