There are several passages in the gospels where Jesus says he will return in the disciples' lifetime (Mark 13:30, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34, Luke 21:32, etc.).Now although there is the Now/Not Yet tension throughout the New Testament, it certainly looks on the surface of things that Jesus apparently contradicts Himself. In this post I will only be dealing with the Matthew 24 passage. Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse:
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.As usual, the Infidel at Infidel.org overstates his case. We have seen this in the past with the Sabbath issues and dealt with them in other posts on this Blog. What is ironic is that I have already made reference to Sam Waldron's exegesis of this text. But not everyone has struggled with this text in the original Greek because most of us do not know Greek. It has been my experience that quite often, if there is a serious question such as this, the original language may clear up the apparent problem. So once again, here is a portion of Waldron's exegesis.
That there is a contrast intended in these verses is plain from three things high-lighted in these verses. First, the fact that verse 36 begins with the word, but, must not be overlooked. This conjunction in Greek commonly is used to introduced a contrasting thought.So here is Matthew 24:34-36
Second, the contrast in the two different demonstrative pronouns used in verses 34 and 36 respectively must not be overlooked. "These" is the immediate demonstrative pronoun used to designate something relatively near at hand. It is appropriately used to describe the relatively near occurrence of all the things associated with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. It is so used throughout the passage (Matthew 23:36; 24:3,8,33). "That" is the remote demonstrative pronoun used to designate something that is relatively distant. It is appropriately used to designate the day and hour of Christ's coming in glory.
Third, the contrast in the matter of time signs also cannot be overlooked. "This generation" as Murray shows is clearly a reference to the then living generation of Jews. Thus a general time sign is given for the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. When Jesus says that "no one knows" including Himself of the day and hour of His return, there is a plain distinction introduced as to time signs between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming of Christ.
34 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.Waldron makes clear that when Jesus says in verse 36 "but of that day", that there is a break from what must take place in their generation [the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem] with His Final Second Coming in judgment. Therefore, the Infidel.org is just wrong about the meaning of this passage.
Since Sam Waldron is a Baptist, I will also cite from Presbyterian, Kim Riddlebarger's book, A Case For Amillenialism.
After discussing the Temple's destruction Riddlebarger explains,
The questions put to Jesus by His disciples are the key to interpreting the passage correctly. For the disciples, the destruction of the Temple would be such a momentous event that it must mean the end of the age was at hand.On page 175 Riddlebarger explains why Jesus gave different signs for both judgments upon national Israel and then the judgment at the end of the age. He states,
The assumption is clear from the three questions they asked: When will this happen? What will be the sign of your coming? What will be the sign of the end of the age? The way the questions were phrased, the last two questions are clearly linked, the assumption being that the Parousia or the coming of the Lord and the end of the age occur at the same time. Jesus answered their questions but in doing so made plain that the coming destruction of the temple and the city Jerusalem, while connected to God's judgment on Israel, was not the Parousia nor the end of the age.... [page 163]
The reason Jesus did this was surely intentional. He set forth the tension between signs which precede His coming contrasted with the suddenness of His coming so that His people would live every moment in light of the promise of His coming. Yet, not knowing the day or the hour when He will come again, we are to live every moment to the fullest, going about our divinely mandated tasks of fulfilling the cultural mandate--marrying, raising families, fulfilling our [secular] callings, and taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.In conclusion, there is a contrast and tension with Christ coming in judgment against National Israel and Final Judgment at the end of the age. The language may seem evasive to the unbeliever. It may seem contradictory. But this is purposeful all throughout the New Testament. As Hebrews 1 tells us,
When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.And yet later the same author states in chapter 2:
YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET." For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.This is also taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:
But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.The language of the New Testament clearly teaches that there is an order and tension as to how the Kingdom of God will be advanced in this age and be consummated at the end of the age.