Israel was “reconstituted” as a nation after World War II in 1948. By any measure, this was a significant event, and it has ramifications for biblical eschatology. Some students of the Bible have used the re-formation of Israel to set an “end-times clock” leading up to the second coming of Christ. Specifically, some have said that Jesus will return before the generation alive in 1948 has passed away.
This concept is usually drawn from Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (see also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32). The previous verses in the Olivet Discourse describe a time of judgment and other end-times events in relation to Israel (Matthew 24:1–33). Some interpreters, taking “this generation” to be a reference to the generation alive when Israel once again became an independent, sovereign state, concluded that the end times and the countdown to the second coming began at that time.
Hardly anyone today takes the position that the generation alive when Israel was re-formed will be the same generation to see the second coming of Christ. As more and more time passed from 1948, the definition of generation had to be adjusted. Normally, a generation is thought to be about 30 years. It has now been over 70 years since the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, the passing of UN Resolution 181, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv—and 70 years is far beyond any standard understanding of one generation.
The biggest problem with this teaching is that it misunderstands Matthew 24:34. What the context appears to say is that, once the signs of the end-times events appear, the subsequent events will happen quickly. As one commentator puts it, “The generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations. It will happen within a generation. . . . If this view is correct, Jesus says that when the signs of the beginning of the end come, then the end will come relatively quickly, within a generation” (Bock, D., Luke 9:51—24:53, Baker Academic, 1996, pp. 1691–92). This quick fulfillment of end-times events agrees with Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:11 that He is “coming quickly” (NKJV).
It could be that Jesus’ prophetic words in Matthew 24 have a double fulfillment. Some of the events occurred in ad 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and Israel. Other events (in Matthew 24:29–31, for example) have clearly not yet occurred. Jesus’ prediction concerning “this generation” involves a time “when you see all these things” (verse 33, emphasis added). That is, there were some alive in the time of Christ who saw some of the signs, but there will be a future generation that sees all of the signs, including the darkened sun and falling stars. It’s that future generation that will not pass away before the second coming.
So, no, it is not scriptural to teach that the generation that sees Israel become a nation will also see the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is better to think of the generation alive when Jesus returns as the one who sees all of the signs in Matthew 24.