Atheist contradictions – Matthew 24:34

An atheist friend of mine, Kevin, used the unfortunate date-setting mess by Harold Camping to suggest that Jesus did the same thing that Camping did. Kevin said “Jesus himself seems to imply in Matthew 24:34 that the end times would happen within the lifetime of his disciples. But the reality is that, even after all these years, nothing has happened. It goes to show that no matter how certain you are about a specific belief, it doesn’t mean that that belief is true.”


To be fair, Kevin is not the only atheist who holds to the same view, in fact almost all atheists I know are adamant that Jesus promised His disciples that He’ll come back in their lifetimes, and they all quote Matthew 24:34. Matthew 24:34 says “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” It is from “this generation” that atheists assume that Jesus was referring to those who were listening to Him, meaning disciples, but was He? I could understand why atheists would assume Jesus was referring to His disciples, because they haven’t actually read the preceding verses but have only read verse 34. It’s normal for atheists to visit sites that promise to list contradictions in the bible, and what most atheists do is take these suggested contradictions at face value without investigating them themselves. Atheists have been told that verse 34 of Matthew 24 makes it clear that Jesus would come back in disciples’ lifetime, and since Jesus’ hasn’t come back yet then this is a clear contradiction, and that’s exactly what it looks like if you only read verse 34 and ignore all other verses.  But a Christian doesn’t only read verse 34; instead he reads the whole chapter.


The disciples asked Jesus: “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v3). By asking “when will this happen”, they were referring to the statement that Jesus made that the temple will be destroyed (v2), a historical event that actually happened in AD70. All that was left for Jesus to do was to give the signs that will precede “the end of the age”. Bear in mind that Jesus never set any date for the end of the age; He just simply said “no one knows about the day or hour” (v36). Jesus gave signs that will precede the end of the age, and they are all listed from verse 4 to verse 33 (and Luke 21:5-31). Having given all these signs, He then said “when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (v33). By this statement, Jesus made it clear that the end of the age will not occur before we see all these things happen. What things? The things He mentioned in verse 4 to verse 33! He proceeded to say “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Having looked at verse 33, it’s clear that the generation Jesus referred to is the generation that will see all the signs He mentioned occur, including His return mentioned verse 30.


Before you get confused, remember that the question from the disciples was:

  1. What would be the signs?
  2. When would the end of the age occur?

Jesus made it clear that the signs will precede the end of the age, and in verse 34, He made it clear that the generation that sees the signs will not pass away before the end of the age occur, which was the ultimate question of the disciples. So it is clear that Jesus wasn’t referring to the disciples, nor was He excluding them. All Jesus said was that the generation that will see the signs He mentioned will see the end of the age, and that included the disciples if they see these signs. But we know that the disciples are all dead, and they didn’t all these signs, except the destruction of the temple, so it’s clear that they are not the generation Jesus was referring to.


The most important point we need to understand is that Jesus didn’t and doesn’t know when the end of the age will occur, and there is no way He could have insisted that the disciples will see the end of the age; otherwise He would have been contradicting Himself. All Jesus knew was the signs that will precede the end of the age, and the fact that the generation that sees all these signs will definitely be “the generation”. Those who deny these facts have to explain why Jesus mentioned these signs, when He could have just given the disciples the date and time. The signs were not a parable; they were mentioned for a good reason and that is how the disciples understood them.


Speaking of disciples, did they think they were “the generation” that Jesus referred to? The answer is probably yes, just as today’s Christians think they are “the generation”. Does it mean we as today’s Christians are “the generation”? Probably yes, because most of the signs have occurred and verified, and only a few remain and there’s expectation they may occur in our lifetime. Reality is almost all Christian generations in history have thought they were “the generation”, and I know for a fact that Jerome (a 4th century Christian) really believed his generation was “the generation”. However, the disciples knew exactly what Jesus meant, and they looked for signs and expected them to occur first, but never did they go around waiting for the end of the age to occur before they die. We know for a fact that Peter mentioned these same signs Jesus mentioned that must occur first before the end of the age (see 2 Peter 3), while Jude repeated these same words in verse 18 on his letter. We also know that John, who was one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples, also went on to write the book of Revelations, which is the most apocalyptic book in the bible. And John wrote this book when most of his fellow disciples were already dead, and he repeated these same signs that Jesus mentioned one by one. So disciples were not under the delusion that Jesus promised to come in their lifetime, but they kept looking for signs that Jesus mentioned to occur first, and encouraged future generations to do the same as well.  


The issue is not whether or not this is a contradiction; the issue is the moral implications that face individuals who deny this fact. Atheists are not idiots, they know that if there are no contradictions in the bible then they owe their very breath to God, and He will call them into account. Atheist, you need to quit while you still have time, God demands repentance from sin!



  1. thesauros said

    I like the Spurgeon quote. Actually, when atheists go to hell, they’ll have had to step over Jesus’ dead body to get there. And they will do that.

  2. kyle said

    Typical Atheist “God is dead” comment… last time i checked He arose again.

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