1. Why is this passage listed among difficult passages?
This saying about “this generation” is among the difficult passages because it seems in context, especially in Mark, to refer to Jesus’ second coming.
2. How do we deal with the difficulties in this passage?
Some have attempted to solve this dilemma by making “generation” mean the generation at the end of time just before Jesus comes. This is not really a good solution. First, it would not have been meaningful for Jesus’ listeners in that day. Second, Jesus often used the phrase “this generation” to refer to those alive at his time and it is unreasonable that he should suddenly mean something else by it.
The key to interpreting these passages is to recognize that at the beginning of each of these parallel dialogues, the disciples asked two questions, not one (Mt. 24:3; Mk. 13:4). The distinction between the two questions is obvious in Matthew but not obvious in Mark, yet it is the key to understanding the difficulty we have with the “this generation” saying.
We need to understand that Jesus’ teaching in these chapters is a mix of information about the time the temple would be destroyed, which is the original context of the discussion (Mk 13:1; Mt. 24:1), and information about the end of time, the time of his coming and of the end of the age, which was in answer to the second of the disciples’ questions. Perhaps the disciples assumed in their questions that the destruction of the temple and the second coming were at the same time. Maybe that is why the questions are together and the answers are also woven together.
The most satisfactory solution to this interpretive issue is to refer the “this generation” saying to Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple and accompanying upheaval. Both dialogues contain another verse which is the clear time answer to the second half of the disciples question. When will the second coming be? “No one knows that day or hour” (Mk 13:32; also in Mt. 24:36).
3. What are the key truths or inspirational messages of this passage?
First Jesus wanted to prepare his followers that the road would not be easy. There would be persecution. There would be deceivers. There would be wars and natural disasters. But none of these things would mean that God was not on his throne or that the plans of God had been derailed.
Second, Jesus encourages perseverance. God would be waiting for the preaching of the gospel to all nations and he would help his disciples accomplish that. We are to “be on guard, be alert … keep watch.” (Mk 13:33,34).
Third, it is one more reminder of the certainty of the second coming, accompanied by clear teaching that it will not be secret or hidden but powerful and obvious, even comparing its visibility to that of lightning (Mt. 24:26,27).