32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!
34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
There are several opinions on what, exactly, the Lord was referring to when He mentioned the “fig tree” (v.32) and “this generation” (v.34). I have copied the two that make the most sense to me.
The fig tree is the picture of Israel. The parable of the fig tree in Luke 13 is well known, and its application is Israel, to whom the Lord came, looking for fruit, and did not find it.Luke 21, the record there of this discourse, mentions likewise the fig tree and all the trees; these are the Gentiles, the nations. In Matthew 21, we see in the withered fig tree a type of Israel’s spiritual and national death. but that withered tree is to be vitalized. The fig tree will bud again. However, the characteristic of the fig tree is that fruit and leaves are there together. As soon as the branch becomes tender the fruit is found. It is a rapid development. This is the lesson here. Israel’s blessing, new life, fruit and glory will quickly be realized in those end days.. When in these last seven years, and especially the last 1,260 days, all these things come to pass, they will know that all which is promised to Israel will be at hand. — Gaebelein, pages 512-513.
The word gena means not necessarily the same persons living, but it has also the meaning of race. The English word “generation” has this meaning of “family or a race of a certain class of people.” And so has the Greek. It is used in that sense in Luke 16:8. “This generation” is the race sprung from Abraham, God’s chosen earthly people. Well have they been called “the everlasting nation;” better still we could call them “the nation of destiny.” God has kept this race, and is keeping them for the fulfillment of His own great, revealed purpose. The verse, however, has also the meaning that the people living, when the end of the Jewish age sets in, will behold its termination; it will all be accomplished in a small space of time. — Gaebelein, page 514.
Some commentators refer “generation” to the nation of Israel. The meaning, then, would be that Israel would continue as a nation until the second coming of Christ. Some take generation to refer to an indefinite period of time (age) and, accordingly, take it as instructing the disciples that the age leading up to the second coming will not end until the event of the second coming itself. A third explanation is that the word generation means what it normally means, that is, a period of thirty to one hundred years, and refers to the particular generation that will see the specific signs, that is, the signs of the great tribulation. In other words, the same generation that will experience the great tribulation will also witness the second coming of Christ. — Walvoord, page 192-193.
One having passed through the rigors of a cold Judean winter would eagerly anticipate the coming of summer. When such a one sees the first green shoots appearing on a fig tree, he has an indication of the season in which he is then living (Matthew 24:32). He can anticipate the passing of the cold and the coming of spring. Christ applied this simple principle, saying, “when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (v.33). In the context “these things” refers to the signs of verses 4-28. Those who will see the signs will know that He, the Messiah, or it, Messiah’s judgment, is at the door. Since these signs will all occur in the seven years of Daniel’s seventieth week, the generation that sees the beginning of these signs will “not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34), for they all will fall within a brief span of time. These will not be signs given to a generation preceding the Rapture. Instead these signs will be given to a generation that cannot begin until after the church has been translated. — Pentecost, page 405.
The most simple explanation — that the Lord was speaking of the generation of people who were alive when He spoke these words — cannot be true because the Lord’s second coming did not occur while they were alive.
The possibility that the Lord was wrong also cannot be true because His Word is truth.
The position, held by Gaebelein (above), that the Lord was speaking of the nation of Israel and stating that the nation would survive until His return, while true, doesn’t feel right to me because of all the prophecies throughout Scripture that refer to Israel’s glorious future. Why would the Lord need to say it here?
So, for now, I’m leaning toward the view that the Lord was explaining that the generation that sees the signs that point to His second coming will also be there when the second coming occurs.