commentary: This Generation Shall Not Pass
Uncertainty in Predictions
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 08-Dec-18; Sermon #1464c; 10 minutes
Richard Ritenbaugh re-evaluates his earlier speculation that some members of the "Great Generation" (a term coined by Tom Brokaw referring to the survivors of World War II) will likely be alive at the return of Jesus Christ. The World War II generation witnessed the horror of nuclear war and therefore lived in the era which "if time were not cut short, no flesh would be saved alive." It is theoretically possible that some individuals in that generation will be alive as late as 2040, but we must remember that no one knows the time Christ will return and that He will come at a time that we least expect Him. As we evaluate these times, which wax more unstable by the day due to peoples' turning their back on God, we intuitively sense a crisis at the close of the age. If we keep our goal firmly in mind, we will be ready whenever Our Lord returns.
I have a confession to make to all of you. I was wrong—or at least, I think I am going to be wrong. You see, years ago—it was September 1996—in a sermon on the Olivet Prophecy and the return of Jesus Christ called “Trumpets: Soon to Be Fulfilled?” I speculated that Christ would return before the generation that fought WWII—which some call “The Greatest Generation,” a term coined by news anchor, Tom Brokaw—died away. This, of course, came from my interpretation of Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; and Luke 21:23, which reads: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled.”
My reasoning back there in 1996—understand, that was 22 years ago, and I was just a young pup—was that that generation that Jesus was speaking of there was the generation of the atomic bomb and the ability to wipe all life from Planet Earth. What I did is I put those verses together with Matthew 24:22 and Mark 13:20, which reads, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved.” So, I put those two ideas together—"This generation" and "no flesh would be saved."
Well, yesterday, I opened up the Drudge Report (which I do pretty religiously every day, just to keep up on what is going on), and he has posted a headline that read, “For first time, no USS Arizona survivors to attend Pearl Harbor ceremonies.” A paragraph inside the article from HawaiiNewsNow.com reported:
That’s a first—all five of the survivors weren’t healthy enough to travel—and a stark reminder that World War II veterans aren’t getting any younger. With each passing year, their numbers dwindle. . . . [O]nly about 100 World War II veterans were at Friday’s ceremony. About 40 of them were survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That’s markedly smaller than the number of veterans who came out two years ago, for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
So, there are only five living survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona. None of them was well enough to attend the ceremonies. There were 100 veterans who were healthy enough to come to the ceremony this year, but only 40 of them were survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor. So these numbers are getting smaller and smaller.
Now, I realize that the WWII generation is still around, but as the article indicates, it is dwindling quite quickly. We just this past week experienced the death of George H.W. Bush, who was a WWII veteran—he flew planes during the war. Another former president, Jimmy Carter, was there in the front row. Did you know he is the very same age as George H.W. Bush? He is 94, as they both were. At 94, his life-expectancy is fairly short. So is the life-expectancy of everybody in that particular generation. Generational authors William Strauss and Neil Howe define what they called the “G.I. Generation” to have been born between 1901 and 1924. 1924 was the birth year of George H.W. Bush and President Carter. That means that members of this generation are as young as 94 and as old as 117! Of course, there are no 117-year olds in that generation.
Lately, the oldest person in the world has been dying around 116 years. At present, the oldest living person is a Japanese woman named Kane Tanaka, and she is 115 years, 340 days old exactly. The graph I was looking at had it down to today. She is almost 116 years old. She was born January 2, 1903. Now, let's do a little math here. If the last living member of the G.I. Generation, born in 1924—December 31, or whenever it was that the last of the G.I. Generation was born—if he or she lives to be as old as Kane Tanaka, that generation will die out in 2040. If George H. W. Bush had lived 12 more years, he would have died then in 2040. (1924 + 116 = 2040)
I realize that this math means that I could still be right, and I think most of you hope that I am. 2040 is still more than 21 years away. Do you realize that this number (21) is right about the average length of a generation? But, in reality, that is a pretty short time. I've watched 21 years go by pretty quickly in my life—a couple of times. Could Jesus Christ return in my granddaughter’s generation—before she finishes college? She's a little over a year and a half. Add 21 years and she will be about college age; a senior in college. Sure, it’s possible. Just look at the world. Look at the way it has been going lately as it moves further from Christian values, and therefore further from cultural and political stability.
I am the last one to talk about setting dates. I have preached against it a fair number of times. It has been a theme of mine at various points in my ministry. God clearly tells us in many places, especially in the Olivet Prophecy, that we will not know the day or the hour of His Son’s return because that time is in the Father’s hands. He is the One who will have to say, "God—now is the time!" Christ also says at the end of those chapters—especially the one in Luke—that He is going to come at a time when we do not expect Him. He is speaking to His disciples. It is kind of mind-boggling to think about that.
But we can look at the signs of the times and realize that time is short. God is being pushed to the margins like never before, which—to me—is the greatest sign of all. Humanity has finally decided to turn his back on God and look elsewhere. The world is increasingly ready to shift its allegiance to a human savior—a superman, if you will—who will promise them the power and prosperity and ultimately world peace that they yearn for, but on their own, carnal terms. And that will set up what Herbert W. Armstrong frequently called “the crisis at the close of the age.”
So, I just figured it was time to be reminded that we need to get ready for the unexpected. We need to be prepared, not just for the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, or even for the return of Christ—but also for the time of Christ’s rule over the earth, when we will be with Him as members of His government. If we have the ultimate goal in mind and prepare for it—whenever it comes—we will have a better chance to be ready whenever it comes.