Skip to content

The Meaning of “this generation” and “all these things” in Mark 13:30

November 30, 2010


In the eschatological discourse found in the gospel of Mark, Jesus makes an interesting statement that has sparked a whole spectrum of various interpretations from both inside and outside the Christian faith: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (13:30).[1] The interpretation of this verse hinges on the meaning of two key expressions: “this generation” and “all these things.”[2] Thus, in order to arrive at a correct understanding of this statement of our Lord, these two phrases must be examined.[3]

“This Generation”

Several interpretations have been put forward in an attempt to define what Jesus meant by the phrase “this generation” (genea).  Some have seen it as a reference to “mankind,” “the Jewish race,” “Christians,” or “unbelievers.”[4] While certain of these views have much to recommend them, they each seem to pose certain difficulties when it comes to the exegesis of the text.

It must be kept in mind that whenever Jesus uses the word genea, it always signifies His contemporary generation,[5] but at the same time carries a “qualifying criticism.”[6] The phrase is often used in the context of unbelief and judgment (see Mark 9:19; Matt. 23:36) towards those Jesus was addressing.  Thus the understanding that it is a reference to unbelievers carries some credit, though only in the sense that it is still unbelievers contemporaneous with Jesus.  Mark 13:2 clearly implies that the context for the eschatological discourse is also judgment.  So there are evidently no contextual factors that would require a different definition of genea.[7] It would seem inconsistent to subscribe any other meaning to this phrase.

Furthermore, the context of Mark 13 shows that Jesus was not speaking to an unspecified future generation, either of Jews or Christians or even mankind in general.  Verse 3 makes it clear that He was speaking to His contemporary disciples.[8] The whole discourse speaks of what “they shall see, they shall do, they shall suffer.”[9] It would therefore seem unreasonable to conclude that the disciples to whom Jesus is “privately” (v. 3) addressing would have seen any other reference to their own generation.

Based on the foregoing, it must be concluded that the most natural reading of the phrase would be to see it as a reference to the contemporaries of Jesus.

“All These Things”

This generation is not to pass away until “all these things” (tauta panta) take place.   There have generally been two ways that interpreters have understood this phrase: 1) as a reference to the fall of Jerusalem;[10] and 2) as a reference to the fall of Jerusalem and the Parousia.[11]

In the context of chapter 13, this phrase appears in the question of the disciples in verse 4: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things (tauta panta) are going to be fulfilled?”  Based on Matthew’s rendering of the enquiry, many have seen this question as twofold, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, “when will these things happen,” and the Parousia, “what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3).  However, when the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke are considered, it is evident that the disciples only had a single event in mind.[12] For them, the fall of Jerusalem would have been synonymous with the end of the age.

Those who limit the reference of tauta panta to the fall of Jerusalem contend that it must have the same meaning as tauta in verse 29, which clearly relates to the signs and not the Parousia.  George Eldon Ladd states succinctly that if the phrase were to include the Parousia, “it would obviously be pointless to say ‘When you see the Son of Man coming, you know that He is near.’”[13]

While this position appears convincing, it overlooks important evidence to the contrary.  First, tauta in verse 29 does not have to have the same meaning as tauta panta in verse 30.  The former phrase is by implication limited in its reference, while the latter is all inclusive.  It would be rather difficult to exclude any part of the discourse from the phrase “all these things.”  Comparison with Luke’s account also discredits this view by the fact that he omits tauta all together, and simply states “all things” (21:32).

Furthermore, the solemn tone in the following two verses (31-32) clearly indicate that it cannot be referring only to the fall of Jerusalem, but something of a far larger scale.  Also, the parable of the fig tree in verses 28-29 clearly teaches that the signs indicate that the end is near.  So even if tauta panta is only a reference to the signs occurring in that generation, surely it is implied that the Parousia would be included in that period.  Ford states that it would be “incongruous to teach that all the signs of the imminent event would take place, but [that] the event itself tarry for centuries!”[14]

Others such as Barclay have argued on the basis of verse 32 that tauta panta could not include the Parousia as not even the Son knows when that “day or hour” will be.[15] This view however, seems to miss the main point of what Jesus is saying.  His emphasis in this verse and the following (33-37) is not so much about when as it is about watchfulness.

It must be remembered that Mark 13:30 is not a one-off statement by Jesus, but is in harmony with others He made throughout His ministry.  For instance, in Mark 9:1 He declares “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”  Though an immediate fulfilment of this is generally ascribed to the transfiguration in the following verses, it hardly exhausts the fulfilment of the kingdom of God coming with power.  In Matthew 10:23, Jesus also says to His disciples that they would “not finish going though the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes,” also indicating that they would potentially live to see the Parousia.

Having now considered the two major views of tauta panta, it seems clear that the reference far more likely includes the fall of Jerusalem and the Parousia.  It is evident from the language, and both the immediate and wider context of the gospels, that the phrase does indeed refer to “the events leading up to and including the coming of the ‘son of man.’”[16]


After having thus examined the two phrases “this generation” and “all these things,” it must be concluded that what Jesus is essentially saying in Mark 13:30 is that all that has been prophesied in the eschatological discourse, including the signs and Parousia, will take place within His contemporary generation.

This leaves us with an important question: was Jesus wrong in His prediction?  It seems to me that the best answer to this question lies in understanding the conditionality of the Parousia.  In Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14, Jesus implies that His return is contingent on the finishing of the Great Commission.  Had this happened, Jesus could well have returned within the generation of those He addressed in Mark 13.[17] This notion is further supported by the wider witness of the New Testament writers, who also believed that they were living in the last days and would thus be alive to witness the return of their Lord.[18]

[1] The importance of this passage is highlighted by the fact that it is contained in all three Synoptic gospels (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32), that it directly follows the description of the Parousia in verses 24-27, and that it is also “solemnly introduced and emphatically affirmed.” William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 479.

[2] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 751.

[3] Due to the word limitation of this essay, alternative positions will not be explored in detail.

[4] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 409.

[5] See Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; cf. Matt. 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45, 23:36; Luke 17:25.

[6] Gerhard Kittel, (ed.). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 663.

[7] Lane states emphatically that “there is no consideration from the context which lends support to any other proposal.” The Gospel According to Mark, 480.

[8] Also the fact that the second person plural pronoun “you” is used 8 times in the discourse. Verse 13 also seems to imply that at least some of the disciples would survive the coming judgment and see witness the Second Coming.

[9] G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future (London: Macmillan, 1954), 168, emphasis his.

[10] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: Saint Andrews Press, 1975), 321; Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, 479.

[11] Desmond Ford, The Abomination of Desolation in Biblical Eschatology (Washington DC: University Press of America, 1979), 68-69; Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future, 261.

[12] See Ford, The Abomination of Desolation, 68. He also points out in footnote 40 on page 92 that Matthew probably distinguished the two events because the first had already happened at the time he wrote.

[13] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 209.

[14] Ford, The Abomination of Desolation, 69.

[15] Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 321.

[16] Craig A Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Word Biblical Commentary v. 34B) (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 335.

[17] Jonathan Gallagher, “This Generation?” Ministry (December 1989), 6; F. D. Nichol, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1980), 729; Ford, The Abomination of Desolation, 69. See also Don F. Neufeld,  “This generation shall not pass.” Adventist Review (5 April 1979), 6, for the wider implications of this view on Adventist eschatology.

[18] See for instance Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb 1:1, 2; 9:26; 1 John 2:18.


From → Academic Papers

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: