The generation we are referring to is the one in Matthew 24 that would see the end of this world, as we know it or in Watchtower language, ‘this system of things.’ Over the years the generation that would be alive when God set up His Kingdom on earth has changed as follows:
“Jesus was obviously speaking about those who were old enough to witness with understanding what took place when the ‘last days’ began.” - Awake!, 8 October 1968, p.13.“Thus, when it comes to the application in our time, the ‘generation’ logically would not apply to babies born during World War I. It applies to Christ’s followers and others who were able to observe that war…” - The Watchtower, 1 October 1978, p.31.
“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.” - The Watchtower, 15 May 1984, p.5.
“From Daniel’s prophecy, the Jews could have calculated the timing of Jesus’ appearing as the Messiah... Yet they were given no date for the ‘great tribulation’ that finally destroyed the apostate Jewish system of things. It was only after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple that they realized that the date was 70 C.E.” - The Watchtower, 1 November 1995, p.11.
Surely, we can still say that it is soon because the generation will soon die out and it must happen before then. No, even that has changed.
“...the masses of unrepentant Jews of that time obviously made up ‘this adulterous and sinful generation’... What, then, is the ‘generation’ so frequently referred to by Jesus in the presence of his disciples? What did they understand by his words... Surely, Jesus was not departing from his established use of the term... which he constantly applied to the contemporary masses with their ‘blind guides’ who together made up the Jewish nation.” - Ibid, pp.13,14.
“Those Jews who had paid attention to Jesus’ prophetic words realized that their salvation depended, not on trying to calculate the length of a ‘generation’ or of some dated ‘times and seasons,’ but on keeping separate from the evil contemporary generation and zealously doing God’s will.” Ibid, p.15.
“We do not need to know the exact timing of events. Rather, our focus must be on being watchful, cultivating strong faith, and keeping busy in Jehovah’s service - not on calculating a date.” Ibid, p.17.
“Eager to see the end of this evil system, Jehovah’s people have at times speculated about the time when the ‘great tribulation’ would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914. However, we ‘bring a heart of wisdom in,’ not by speculating about how many years or days make up a generation, but by thinking about how we ‘count our days’ in bringing joyful praise to Jehovah.” Ibid, p.17.
“Does our more precise viewpoint on ‘this generation’ mean that Armageddon is further away that we had thought? Not at all! Though we at no time have known
the ‘day and hour,’ Jehovah God has always known it, and he does not change.” Ibid, p.20.
“At times explanations given by Jehovah’s visible organization have shown adjustments, seemingly to, previous points of view. But this has not actually been the case. This might be compared to what is known in navigational circles as ‘tacking.’ By maneuvering the sails the sailors can cause a ship to go from right to left, back and forth, but all the time making progress toward their destination in spite of contrary winds."
“Awake! Is for the enlightenment of the entire family. It shows how to cope with today’s problems. It reports the news, tells about people in many lands, examines religion and science. But it does more. It probes beneath the surface and points to the real meaning behind current events, yet it always stays politically neutral and does not exalt one race above another. Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.”
“Awake! Is for the enlightenment of the entire family. It shows how to cope with today’s problems. It reports the news, tells about people in many lands, examines religion and science. But it does more. It probes beneath the surface and points to the real meaning behind current events, yet it always stays politically neutral and does not exalt one race above another. Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things.”
For thinking Witnesses this must still give problems. First, how can a promise of Jehovah fail? Finding they cannot answer that question they would ask, was it a promise of Jehovah in the first place? Concluding that it wasn’t would lead them to see that the Society that claims to be God’s mouthpiece is actually putting words into His mouth that He never said.
This change is also remarkable when you consider that just one year before in the Awake! 8 November 1994, referring to the reason for printing Awake!, as printed above, they said,
“The fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that we have been living in the time of the end since 1914... This time of the end is, however, to be a relatively short period - stretching over one generation (Luke 21:31,32) The fact that we are now 80 years beyond 1914 indicates that we can soon expect the deliverance that God’s Kingdom will bring. “- Awake!, 8 November 1994, p.10.
Whatever other things disturb the Witnesses today they certainly no longer have any hope that the end is just round the corner. No one will ever know when the system will end until after the events.