The book God’s Character and the Last Generation is at once well-timed and long overdue. It is well-timed because the topics presented are of massive importance for those of us believing or hoping to live in the last days of our corrupt earth’s history, and it is long overdue because some of the problems discussed have troubled the Adventist church for decades. A little paradoxical, I know. But when we think that the first century apostles also believed they lived in the last days, we realize that, in fact, this concept of the “last days” is as elusive as the notion of “present truth.” It’s certainly not unimportant, but maybe just a little broader and more contextual than we used to believe.
Still, the end of time is guaranteed in Scripture prophetically, and there will, indeed, be one generation alive on earth when Jesus returns—which constitutes properly the “last generation.” Much hype has surrounded this generation, and emotions ranging from fear (of persecutions), to anxiety (about living without an Intercessor), to hopeful expectations of sinless perfection have both troubled and inspired us. This book helps relieve some of the anxiety and boost appropriate hope and trust in our Almighty Creator and Savior and the work He does on our behalf.
Written by twelve Andrews University professors and structured in 14 chapters, the book addresses the following topics:
- Great Controversy
- Historical Roots of the LGT (Last Generation Theology)
- A Study of “Sin” in Romans
- Apocalyptic Identity and Lifestyle
- Psychology of Perfection
- Jesus Our Example
- The Cross
- The 144,000
- Adventist Myths about the End-Time
- The Delay of Christ’s Second Coming
- Triumph of Divine Love
As you can see, the book covers a broad range of topics in an attempt to provide both a historical framework for the discussion and a deeper understanding of Scripture on these issues. The historical part is, of course, crucial for grasping the development of LGT, and I will dwell on it in greater detail in an upcoming article. And while each chapter provides valuable key ideas, in this review I will highlight only a few sections that surprised me most in terms of approach, claims, and/or debunking traditions.
One such chapter is entitled “Misinterpreted End-Time Issues: Five Myths in Adventism” and is authored by Jiri Moskala. The five myths he lists are:
- Believers receive God’s seal at the end of time.
- Warning against the assurance of salvation.
- Believers are called into a pre-Advent judgment for inspection.
- After the closing of probation, believers will live without the help of the Holy Spirit.
- After the closing of probation, believers will live without the intercession of Christ.
On point number 1, Moskala brings into focus a distinction between the seal of the Gospel and the apocalyptic seal. The first is based on a few verses from Ephesians: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (1:13, 14, emphases mine). Also, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (4:30, emphases mine). Thus, the seal of the Gospel is the seal of the Holy Spirit, which is applied when the believer receives Christ, and will come into effect fully at a future event—Christ’s second coming.
The apocalyptic seal is based on a few prophetic messages: Revelation 7:1-4 and 14:9-11, describing a seal placed upon the chosen in order to protect them from the end-time plagues (standing in contrast to the mark of the beast), and Ezekiel 9:3-6, which describes the fall of Jerusalem as a typological event prefiguring the last-day events. Ellen White understands this seal as something that chronologically takes place after the Sunday law is issued:
“This is the test that the people of God must have before they are sealed. All who prove their loyalty to God by observing His law, and refusing to accept a spurious Sabbath, will rank under the banner of the Lord God, and will receive the seal of the living God. Thosewho yield the truth of heavenly origin and accept the Sunday Sabbath, will receive the mark of the beast.” (Letter 11, 1890, emphases mine)
While both the Gospel seal and the apocalyptic seal are placed on the believers, one is a seal of salvation and can be forfeited through unrepentance or rebellion, and the other is a seal of protection and is permanent, which means it cannot be forfeited. This distinction has important implications for our understanding of salvation. If only the apocalyptic seal is permanent, the concept that a believer could be called into judgment at some point before the close of probation and sealed for eternity is incorrect.
After debunking myth #2, Moskala wisely cautions against two extremes of either being too comfortable in the assurance of salvation, which can easily open the gate for deception and pride or being fraught with anxiety and doubt about one’s salvation. The balance, he says, lies in the words of Scripture, in living according to God’s will, and in taking hold of the grace of the Holy Spirit extended to us as a gift, all while being intentional about constantly reflecting on our spiritual journey.
These two myths, along with the remaining three, will be discussed more in depth in a future article, but I hope this has given a picture of the kind of valuable information the book offers.
Ranko Stefanovic’s chapter, entitled “What is the State of the Last Generation?” is primarily an exegetical study on the 144,000 in the book of Revelation. The chief claim of LGT, that the last generation must reach sinless perfection, is heavily based on two passages in Revelation: Revelation 7, in which LGT interprets the 144,000 to be a select group living at the end of time, and Revelation 14:1-5, which LGT interprets to mean that the last generation will reach a level of holiness never previously reached.
As Moskala, Stefanovic debunks this traditional view, which historically has spread beyond the frontiers of LGT. Thus, he argues for what today is a majority view in our church: the 144,000 and the great multitude are two terms that describe the same group from different perspectives.
One of the arguments provided is that, since the predominant elements of this passage are symbolic (four winds, the earth, the sea, the trees, the seal of God, virgins, etc.) the 144,000 must also be a symbolic number. He also argues that chapter 7 is an answer to the question concluding chapter 6: “Who shall be able to stand” during the wrath of God? The sealed 144,000 are those who will be able to stand. Therefore, this group refers to the end-time believers who will be alive at Christ’s Second Coming. Revelation 7:1-8 presents the church militant, described as the 144,000 ready to face the seven last plagues, while Rev 7:9-17 presents the church triumphant, described as a great multitude in heaven, subsequent to the tribulation. Thus, the 144,000 that John hear (Rev. 7:4) is the great multitude he saw (Rev. 7:9), one and the same group—the believers.
Another claim that appears to support LGT is the description of the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1-5 as not having defiled themselves with women, having been purchased as the first fruit of God, and being blameless. Stefanovic explains that, symbolically, the woman in the Bible represents the church, and the description as “virgins” should be taken to mean that the 144,000 (the believers living in the end-time) are dedicated and faithful to Christ. Furthermore, the idea of “blamelessness” does not indicate sinlessness, but faithfulness, as clear from the usage of the word in other Bible passages (such as 2 Thess. 5:23 and 2 Peter 3:14). Blamelessness, therefore, “is not an exclusive characteristic of the last generation of saints because all these admonitions applied equally to the original recipients of these letters two thousand years ago, not just to those who will live at the time before the second coming. Thus, the blamelessness of the 144,000 does not refer to an absolute sinless perfection, but rather it refers to their fidelity and total commitment to Christ.” (226).
Finally, I would like to mention a few ideas from a chapter written by Jo Ann Davidson and entitled “The Second Coming of Christ: Is there a Delay?” I am sure this topic has been part of your church conversations at some point or another, or it may even be an ongoing question for you. Is Christ’s Second Coming delayed?
The predominant views on the eschatology today are:
- God’s kingdom has already been manifested in our world through human progress and maturing, spiritually and otherwise.
- The Second Coming has already taken place at Christ’s resurrection.
- The Second Coming is a symbolic, personal, and timeless reality of the divine presence that excludes a literal, cosmic event.
- There will be a short time between Christ’s first coming and His return, and eschatology must be congruous with previous, related events.
While Davidson excludes the first three, she tackles the question of time as understood from human perspective and answers this question by providing a biblical incursion into the concept of delay in general, and in particular as it relates to the Second Coming of Christ.
Through this chapter, we learn that delay is a frequent experience in the Bible. The promise of salvation given as early as Genesis 3 was expected to be fulfilled in Eve’s first born, yet the fulfillment tarried. Later on, Enoch foretold the coming of Christ, but the fulfillment did not happen during his life. Job, likewise, looked forward to Christ’s coming. Noah waited for seven days in the ark before the rain started. Abraham and Sarah waited a long time for their promised son. The exodus was delayed until the Amorites filled to capacity the cup of iniquity. Jesus delayed in visiting Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus died. The apostles looked forward to Jesus’s return and the establishment of God’s kingdom, yet they died in their hope. In the parable of the wedding party, the bridegroom delays.
Delay, it seems, is not a problem from God’s perspective, and Davidson suggests that having to live with delay “must not be interpreted as God failing to keep His promise.” (257) The most important question is not when God will return, for His return will be a surprise, as clearly stated in the Bible (Luke 12:35-36 versus 45-47, Revelation 3:3; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2). The most important question is how do we live while we wait for Christ’s return? “The danger lies in being careless or forgetful,” (260) in becoming impatient, doubtful, or hopeless, and by doing so forfeiting our eternal life.
Thus, the author calls us to dwell neither upon the uncertainty of the time of Christ’s return, nor upon the perceived delay, but upon the certainty of the event itself. This may seem like a minor aspect of our life as Christians, but I have found that how we cope with the waiting determines not only our quality of life here (and implicitly the quality of life of those around us), but the very possibility of eternal life, from which our temporary experience on this corrupted planet will seem but a moment.
Much more valuable transformative information is available in the book for those seeking both a deeper understanding of Scripture on this topic, as well as a deeper relationship with Christ, and I have no doubt that the book will deliver very well on both levels.