The generation teaching has been modified, yet again.
In the 60s & 70s (w65, 5/15, p. 293), the WTS taught that The Generation™ that was alive and able to understand the meaning of the events of 1914 would not die out before The Great Tribulation™.
After describing these and other features of the sign that would mark his second presence in Kingdom power, Jesus then gave this illustration: "Note the fig tree and all the other trees: When they are already in the bud, by observing it you know for yourselves that now the summer is near. In this way you also, when you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near."—Luke 21:29-31.
Is it not a fact that, when we see the buds appearing on the trees, we do not need anyone to tell us that the summer growing season is near? For many rural peoples it is a signal to make preparations for the busy time ahead. So, just as the appearance of buds on trees has real meaning, likewise, Jesus emphasized, it is significant when all these foretold things come to pass within one generation. Jesus said that it means God’s long-prayed-for kingdom is at hand! Yes, it means that Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies, and that soon, in God’s day of vengeance, he will exercise his power and destroy all opposers of God’s kingdom.—Ps. 110:1, 2; Heb. 10:12, 13; Rev. 12:7-12; 17:1-20:3.
What generation was Jesus pointing forward to? Has there been any one generation since his day that has experienced global war, great earthquakes, terrible pestilences, widespread famines, unprecedented lawlessness, persecution of Christians, world-blanketing fear, and the other things he prophesied? The farmer in springtime can look at the trees and tell that summer is near. Can we, by examining the events of our generation, tell that God’s kingdom is at hand?
Look around and see. Have you observed within this generation the mobilizing of entire kingdoms and nations for warfare in such a way that it stood out as different from preceding wars? Yes, indeed! In recognition of the fact that the 1914-1918 war was different from any previous one in human history, historians call it the FIRST WORLD WAR. It was the first war of its kind. But ‘nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom’ is only one part of the sign. Have the other parts also been in evidence during this generation since 1914?
Consider the facts. Is it not true that at the close of World War I the earth was being ravaged by an influenza epidemic that claimed far more lives than did the battlefields of that war? And have not sicknesses of many kinds continued to overrun the earth since then? With millions of men in the prime of life being pressed into combatant service, have there not also been great famines resulting from ruined crops, lack of farm labor and poor growing seasons? But, as Jesus foretold, these were only the beginning of pangs of distress.—Matt. 24:7, 8.
Since the second world war we have experienced a cold war, nations threatening one another with nuclear arsenals. Entire populations cower in terror of what they view as an almost certain third world war fought with atomic weapons of destructive power far beyond any yet used. At the same time lawlessness is rampant. "We find ourselves confronted with the worsteraoflawlessness in the Nation’s history," J. Edgar Hoover, director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, lamented. Authorities in other countries report the same situation there. Amidst these troubles Jehovah’s witnesses preach God’s kingdom as the only hope of mankind, and for doing so they suffer terrible persecution, just as Jesus foretold.
Briefly, then, are these not the very indications, as apparent as the buds on the trees, that should tell us that "the kingdom of God is near"? They surely are. It is evident that this generation that saw the beginning of these things in 1914 is the notable one about which Jesus spoke!
In the 80s (w84, 5/15, p. 5), they modified the teaching: The Generation™ included anyone who was alive in 1914 (including infants).
Jesus used the word "generation" many times in different settings and with various meanings. But what did he mean when he spoke of a ‘generation that would not pass away’? Some have interpreted "generation" to mean a period of 30, 40, 70 or even 120 years. However, a generation is really related to people and events, rather than to a fixed number of years.
The Greek word rendered "generation" in the Bible has been defined as, "Those born at the same time . . . Associated with this is the meaning: the body of one’s contemporaries, an age." (TheNewInternationalDictionaryofNewTestamentTheology) "The sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time generation,contemporaries." (AGreek-EnglishLexiconoftheNewTestament from Walter Bauer’s Fifth Edition, 1958) These definitions embrace both those born around the time of a historic event and all those alive at that time.
If Jesus used "generation" in that sense and we apply it to 1914, then the babies of that generation are now 70 years old or older. And others alive in 1914 are in their 80’s or 90’s, a few even having reached a hundred. There are still many millions of that generation alive. Some of them "will by no means pass away until all things occur."—Luke 21:32.
In w95 11/1 p. 17, 18, they modified it again:
Rather than provide a rule for measuring time, the term "generation" as used by Jesus refers principally to contemporary people of a certain historical period, with their identifying characteristics.
"A historical generation is not defined by its chronological limits . . . It is not a zone of dates." But he pointed out that World War I created "an overwhelming sense of rupture with the past," and he added: "Those who lived through the war could never rid themselves of the belief that one world had ended and another begun in August 1914." How true that is! It focuses on the crux of the matter. "This generation" of mankind since 1914 has experienced appalling changes. It has seen the earth drenched with the blood of millions. Warfare, genocide, terrorism, crime, and lawlessness have erupted worldwide. Famine, disease, and immorality have stalked our globe. Jesus prophesied: "You also, when you [his disciples] see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, This generation will by no means pass away until all things occur."
And most recently, in 2010 it was modified yet again, such that the "generation" that saw 1914, and the subsequent generation that overlaps this generation (due to the nature of legacy and storytelling from elder generations to younger generations), would not die out before The Great Tribulation™ occurred.