The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 7: Sinless Obedience and the Last Generation

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The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 7: Sinless Obedience and the Last Generation

As we noted in our last article, a popular claim among opponents of Last Generation Theology is that this doctrinal construct is based primarily on Ellen White rather than the Bible. By now it should be clear that while the writings of Ellen White strongly support this particular theology, substantial Biblical evidence in both Testaments lies at its foundation. But much more of what Scripture presents on this subject remains to be considered.

 

This article will continue our discussion of sinless obedience, in particular as it applies to those Christians living in the final moments of this earth’s history.

 

The Harvest Principle and the “Mystery of God”

 

Jesus spoke of the process of character development with regard to the Second Coming in a parable we find in the Gospel of Mark:

 

And He said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground: and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself: first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come (Mark 4:26-29).[1]

 

Notice how preparation for the harvest is a process, not something that happens all at once. Any farmer or gardener understands that you don’t harvest produce until it is ripe. The sickle goes in “when the fruit is brought forth.” Not before.

 

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The apostle James speaks of how the timing of the second advent is comparable to the farmer who awaits the ripening harvest:

 

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (James 5:7-8).

 

The apostle John understood this principle and brings it into focus in the book of Revelation. In chapter 7 of this book we see how the spiritual unpreparedness of God’s people is responsible for holding up the last phase of the final crisis and thus the return of Jesus:

 

And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the winds should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God, and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads (Rev. 7:1-3).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Obedience in the Letter of Hebrews

Elsewhere in Scripture, this sealing imagery is linked with the Holy Spirit’s presence in the heart as the guarantee, or earnest, of His work in us (see II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). We also read that the Spirit’s inward presence enables us to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). No wonder Ellen White declares, in discussing preparation for the final sealing:

Those who receive the seal of the living God, and are protected in the time of trouble, must reflect the image of Jesus fully.[2]

In Revelation 10, verse 7, we read, “But in the days of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.” The following chapter informs us that the sounding of the seventh angel takes place when “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15). In other words, the sounding of the seventh angel’s trumpet takes place when Jesus is about to come back. And during this time, it is declared, “the mystery of God should be finished” (Rev. 10:7).

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The language of Revelation 10:7 is very similar to that of Daniel 2:44, which speaks of the time during which the ten powers that conquered imperial Rome would be reigning:

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44).,

In other words, these verses speak of a period of time, not a moment of time. In both cases, we are looking at a process, not an instantaneous event.

How does the New Testament define the “mystery of God,” which is to be finished before Jesus comes (Rev. 10:7)?

Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily (Col. 1:26-29).

Three points stand out in this passage:

  1. The mystery of God, the apostle is speaking of, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
  2. Verse 29 is clear that this is a reference to Christ working in the believer, not merely among believers as some have alleged.
  3. The task of presenting every man “perfect in Christ Jesus” does not refer to a mere declaration of righteousness while people continue sinning. This is clear, once again, from verse 29, where Paul says he is laboring toward the goal of perfection in Christ, “striving”—in his words—“according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.”

The work described in Colossians 1:29 is clearly something additional to Paul’s work for others. After speaking of his goal of presenting everyone perfect in Christ Jesus (verse 28), he says, “whereunto I also labor” (verse 29). In other words, the work he’s talking about in verse 28 is different from the work he’s talking about in verse 29. In verse 28 he is talking about his work for others. In verse 29 he is talking about his personal striving through God’s power for a perfect character.

 

Scripture and the Perfecting of the End-Time Saints

 

God has always wished for His people to be pure, obedient, and fully victorious over sin. The last generation of earth’s history is not the first to be summoned to this experience. It is, however, the first generation to actually live this experience, through the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. All promises to the seven churches of Revelation are given to the overcomers (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5, 12,21). But only to the church of Laodicea, the last of these is the promised victory compared to that of Jesus:

 

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne (Rev. 3:21).

 

This, we begin to see, is the mystery of God which the book of Revelation says will be finished in the days of the seventh angel, when he begins to sound his trumpet. When that mystery is finished at last (Rev. 10:7), “the kingdoms of this world [will] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

 

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Pulling all these Bible verses together, it becomes clear that the failure of God’s people to fully reveal in their lives the glorious character of their Lord and Savior is ultimately responsible for the delay of Jesus’ coming.

 

Returning to the harvest theme, we find that following the proclamation of the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14, the harvest of the earth—not yet ripe in the first verses of chapter 7—is now fully ripe:

 

And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.

And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in Thy sickle, and reap; for the time is come for Thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.

And He that sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped (Rev. 14:14-16).

 

What does it mean for the harvest to be ripe? Other Bible passages help us understand. The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes total sanctification on the part of Christians as a prerequisite for the return of our Lord:

 

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Thess. 5:23).

 

But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession: That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Tim. 6:11-14).

 

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? . . . Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless (II Peter 3:11-12,14).

 

The phrase “without spot,” used in two of the above passages, is especially noteworthy, as this phrase is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe the sinless character of Jesus (I Peter 1:19). Without question, according to these verses, God is summoning His people to duplicate in their practical lives the sinless obedience found in the life of our Lord.

 

Some would have us believe that the word “hasting” in Second Peter 3 doesn’t mean to make Jesus’ coming to happen sooner. Rather, they tell us, it simply means to look eagerly for His coming.[3] Yet the word translated “hasting” in Second Peter 3:12 is the same word (in various forms) found in a number of New Testament passages—in Luke 19:5,6, for example, where Jesus invites Zacchaeus to “make haste” and come down from the tree; in Acts 20:16, where the apostle Paul “hasted” so as to be in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost; and in Acts 22:18, where Paul recounted the Lord’s warning early in his ministry to “make haste” and get out of Jerusalem. Without question, this word means to “hurry it up,” not merely to look eagerly for something.

 

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This explains why at least nine major modern translations of the Bible show a rendering of Second Peter 3:12 identical—and in some cases, stronger—than what we find in the King James Version. The phrase “hasting unto the coming” (KJV) is rendered “hastening the coming” by the New King James Version (NKJV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The New International Version (NIV) uses the phrase “speed its coming,” the New English Bible (NEB) says, “work to hasten it on,” the New Living Translation (NLT), says, “hurry it along,” and Today’s English Version (TEV, sometimes called the Good News Bible), says, “do your best to make it come soon.”

 

The fact that Jesus’ coming is to be hastened by the spiritual preparedness of His people is clearly set forth in this passage. Other passages are likewise clear as to the character preparation needed by those who will meet their Lord in peace:

 

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (I John 3:2-3).

 

And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God (Rev. 14:5).

 

This last verse, like so many in Revelation, draws on themes from the Old Testament. This verse seems to have been taken directly from the prophet Zephaniah:

 

The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid (Zeph. 3:13).

 

Again we hearken back to the example of Jesus, who has shown how this is done:

 

Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (I Peter 2:21-22; see also Isa. 53:9).

 

Again we recall Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5, 12,21), and how only Laodicea—the last of the seven—is promised an overcoming experience identical to that of our Lord (Rev. 3:21).

 

Ellen White’s Signature Reference on Last Generation Theology

 

By now I am sure some have noticed that one particular Ellen White statement on Last Generation Theology has thus far gone without mention:

 

Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.

It is the privilege of the Christian not only to look for, but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:12, margin).[4]

 

The absence thus far of this statement from the present series is by design, not accident. This is because a number of persons in the contemporary church seem to consider this passage the linchpin of Last Generation Theology, perhaps assuming that if only an explanation were found to neutralize the forcefulness of this statement, this particular theological construct would collapse.[5] Referring to the above verse from Second Peter (3:12) and the above reference from Ellen White, some have alleged that “one biblical text and a key quotation of Ellen G. White are used to prove that we have the power to decide the time of Christ’s second coming.”[6] Another such author, referring to the above passages, states that “understanding what it means to be ready when Jesus returns must be informed by more than one text and/or quotation.”[7]

 

Another, more recent author has made similar claims:

 

Two assertions made by Ellen White that seem to support LGT: her statement in The Great Controversy and Early Writings according to which the final generation of believers on earth will experience the end-time tribulations without the intercession of Christ, and her assertion in Christ’s Object Lessons (p. 69) that ‘[W]hen the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own’.[8]

 

But hopefully, by now it is clear to the reader that more than one Bible text or Ellen White quotation is responsible for establishing the belief that reproducing Jesus’ character through Jesus’ power is both God’s requirement for meeting our Lord in peace when He returns and the means whereby His coming is hastened. Not only Second Peter 3:12, but other New Testament passages in our study confirm how the timing of the second advent is determined by the readiness or lack thereof on the part of the earth’s spiritual harvest (Mark 4:26-29; I Tim. 6:11-14; James 5:7-8; Rev. 7:1-3; 14:14-20).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Ellen White on Perfection and the Last Generation

 

And the above passage from Christ’s Object Lessons is by no means the only Ellen White statement which speaks of our role as Christians in delaying and hastening Jesus’ return:

 

By giving the gospel to the world it is in our power to hasten our Lord’s return. We are not only to look for but to hasten the coming of the day of God. 2 Peter 3:12, margin. Had the church of Christ done her appointed work as the Lord ordained, the whole world would before this have been warned, and the Lord Jesus would have come to our earth in power and great glory.[9]

 

But before that (second) coming, Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations.” Matthew 24:14. His kingdom will not come until the good tidings of His grace have been carried to all the earth. Hence, as we give ourselves to God, and win other souls to Him, we hasten the coming of His kingdom.[10]

 

There is nothing that the Saviour desires so much as agents who will represent to the world His Spirit and His character. There is nothing that the world needs so much as the manifestation through humanity of the Saviour’s love. All heaven is waiting for men and women through whom God can reveal the power of Christianity. . . . It is the privilege of every Christian, not only to look for, but to hasten the coming of the Saviour.

If the church will put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness, withdrawing from all allegiance with the world, there is before her the dawn of a bright and glorious day. God’s promise to her will stand fast forever.[11]

 

God had committed to His people a work to be accomplished on earth. The third angel’s message was to be given, the minds of believers were to be directed to the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ had entered to make atonement for His people. The Sabbath reform was to be carried forward. The breach in the law of God must be made up. The message must be proclaimed with a loud voice, that all the inhabitants of earth might receive the warning. The people of God must purify their souls through obedience to the truth, and be prepared to stand without fault before Him at His coming. . . .

For forty years did unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord’s professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years.[12]

 

We may have to remain here in this world, because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ’s sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action.[13]

 

In light of the above, we find ourselves both shocked and saddened by such statements as the following from leading thinkers in contemporary Adventism:

 

The last generation of believers has no power to determine the time of probation’s close by their performance. To finalize the big cosmic issues and close the drama of the great controversy is God’s prerogative alone.[14]

 

While we wait, we must not fall into another mistaken notion: thinking that the timing of the second coming is dependent on us reaching some standard of perfection.[15]

 

Such statements force us to the choice of deciding who we will believe: uninspired scholars—dedicated and sincere though they may be—or the written counsel of God.

 

More Ellen White Statements

 

Far from being based merely on “two assertions made by Ellen White,”[16] the imperative of end-time sinless conduct affirmed by Last Generation Theology is not only based on the substantial Biblical evidence we have considered, but also on numerous other Ellen White statements. The following are notable examples:

 

Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth. . . .

When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing.[17]

 

Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. . . . He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to His advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.[18]

 

I also saw that many do not realize what they must be in order to live in the sight of the Lord without a high priest in the sanctuary through the time of trouble. Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully. . . . I saw that none could share the ‘refreshing’ (latter rain) unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action.[19]

 

Those who come up to every point and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation.[20]

 

[From a chapter titled, “Pray for the Latter Rain”] By the power of the Holy Spirit the moral image of God is to be perfected in the character. We are to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ . . . Every individual must realize his own necessity. The heart must be emptied of every defilement, and cleansed for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.[21]

 

Only those who have withstood temptation in the strength of the Mighty One will be permitted to act a part in proclaiming it (the third angel’s message) when it shall have swelled into the loud cry.[22]

 

Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us, as the early rain fell upon the disciples upon the day of Pentecost.[23]

 

What are you doing, brethren, in the great work of preparation? Those who are uniting with the world, are receiving the worldly mold, and preparing for the mark of the beast. Those who are distrustful of self, who are humbling themselves before God and purifying their souls by obeying the truth—these are receiving the heavenly mold, and preparing for the seal of God in their foreheads. When the decree goes forth, and the stamp is impressed, their characters will remain pure and spotless for eternity.

Now is the time to prepare. The seal of God will never be placed upon the forehead of an impure man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of the ambitious, world-loving man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of men or women of false tongues or deceitful hearts. All who receive the seal must be without spot before God—candidates for heaven.[24]

 

The latter rain will come, and the blessing of God will fill every soul that is purified from every defilement. It is our work today to yield our souls to Christ, that we may be fitted for the time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord—fitted for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.[25]

 

May the Lord help His people to cleanse the soul temple from every defilement, and to maintain such a close connection with Him that they may be partakers of the latter rain when it shall be poured out.[26]

 

The refreshing or power of God comes only on those who have prepared themselves for it by doing the work which God bids them, namely, cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.[27]

 

Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads. Filled with His Spirit, they will be complete in Christ, and the recording angel will declare, ‘It is finished.’[28]

 

‘As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” God will have a people zealous of good works, standing firm amid the pollutions of this degenerate age. There will be a people who will hold so fast to the divine strength that they will be proof against every temptation.[29]

 

No impurity can enter the pearly gates of the golden city of God. And the question for us to settle is whether we will turn from all sin and comply with the conditions God has given us, that we may become His sons and daughters. . . .

When you are all ready, having overcome your sins, having put away all your iniquity from you, you are in a condition to receive the finishing touch of immortality.[30]

 

Every living Christian will advance daily in the divine life. As he advances toward perfection, he experiences a conversion to God every day; and this conversion is not complete until he attains to perfection of Christian character, a full preparation for the finishing touch of immortality.[31]

 

Jesus sits as a refiner and purifier of His people; and when His image is perfectly reflected in them, they are perfect and holy, and prepared for translation. A great work is required of the Christian. We are exhorted to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.[32]

 

When our earthly labors are ended, and Christ shall come for His faithful children, we shall then shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father. But before that time shall come, everything that is imperfect in us will have been seen and put away. All envy and jealousy and evil surmising and every selfish plan will have been banished from the life.[33]

 

We can never see our Lord in peace unless our souls are spotless. We must bear the perfect image of Christ. Every thought must be brought into subjection to the will of Christ.[34]

 

We must not think that we can wait till we get to Heaven before we perfect pure, chaste, lovely characters. The Christian will be Christlike here. There is diversity among us. We each have traits of character, tastes, gifts, and capacities peculiar to ourselves, all of which have been established or modified by education and habit. But by the grace of God all these varied characteristics may be brought into harmony with the will of God.[35]

 

When He comes, He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will be accomplished before that time. When the Lord comes, those who are holy will be holy still. . . . The Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation.[36]

 

It is no exaggeration to say Last Generation Theology is deeply embedded in the doctrinal DNA of classic Adventism in general—as noted in our first article—and the teachings of Ellen White in particular. Little wonder that an author quoted in our last article, who rejects Ellen White’s doctrinal authority, was constrained more than three decades ago to say that to repudiate perfection theology “would be to repudiate the very nature of Adventism.[37]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Remnant Sinless? When? How?

 

One recent critic of Last Generation Theology, commenting on the first of the Ellen White statements listed in this section,[38] writes:

 

What does she mean by “their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling” and “there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin”? Is she suggesting that the last generation needs to achieve sinlessness “while the investigative judgment is going forward”? If yes, then Christ’s death is no longer needed for them, for their own sinlessness could acquit them before God. But she clearly states that the purification takes place through Jesus’ blood (by the blood of sprinkling), which is in line with the overall Biblical teaching that no person can be saved but through Christ’s merits and His perfect, substitutionary sacrifice.[39]

 

But the above author fails to consider what our series has demonstrated from the Bible—that purification by Jesus’ blood includes the work of sanctification as much as it includes the work of justification (e.g. Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 10:29; 13:12,20-21). Merely because God’s forgiveness is no longer needed by the saints on a continuous basis, doesn’t mean they no longer need the empowerment Jesus’ blood provides. Whether we speak of forgiveness or empowerment, it is all the result of Calvary.

 

The above author goes on to say:

 

Moreover, this interpretation does not make sense, since, once again, salvation cannot be the purpose of purification and of standing before God without a mediator after the destinies have been irreversibly sealed (see GC 613-615; 2T 191).[40]

 

The author seems not to remember that the statement she has quoted speaks of the “special work of purification, of putting away of sin” as occurring “while the investigative judgment is going forward.”[41] Once this purification is complete, they have experienced through the sealing “a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so that they cannot be moved.”[42]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Redeeming the Time before It’s Too Late

 

But while they are totally saved from sin by the time probation ceases, while their destinies have been irrevocably decided, they are still free beings who must claim divine power to resist the enemy’s strongest onslaughts, which the great time of trouble will bring. The irrevocable sealing of the saints prior to probation’s close no more eliminates their free choice than does a happily married, totally committed husband and wife lose the freedom to choose infidelity.

 

Are God’s Requirements Inconsistent?

 

Our study has demonstrated from both Scripture and Ellen White that sinless obedience is possible for the Christian on this earth, through imparted divine strength. But often the question arises when this evidence is considered, Does God require a higher attainment from history’s final generation of believers than from previous generations? If so, wouldn’t this mean God has a double standard or at least an inconsistent one?

 

One recent critic of Last Generation Theology writes:

 

If character perfection is necessary for salvation, yet character perfection is only required of the 144, 000 – in the LGT view the last generation that vindicates God, does God then have a double standard of salvation, one for the last generation, and one of those who died before Christ’s return? This would not only be unbiblical, but it would also make God unjust, too.[43]

 

First of all, it is a fact of sacred history that succeeding generations receive greater divine light than former ones, and thus greater spiritual responsibility. Proverbs 4:18 observes that “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” In the parable of the sower Jesus describes the seed falling on good ground as achieving different levels of growth, “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” (Matt. 13:8)—all among the saved. Elsewhere Jesus declared:

 

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask for more (Luke 12:48).

 

Ellen White is clear, of course, that the condition of eternal life in every age has always been what it first was in Eden—perfect obedience to the law of God.[44] But since our loving God winks at the times of our ignorance (Acts 17:30), and says that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17), we must conclude that the perfect obedience God requires is in proportion to the volume of light and truth revealed. This, in fact, is the only kind of “relative perfection” Inspiration teaches—perfection relative to knowledge, not human weakness. For those who sin ignorantly, as we have seen already, God has provided a remedy, through the atonement of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. In Ellen White’s words:

 

The minds of all who embrace this message are directed to the most holy place, where Jesus stands before the ark, making His final intercession for all those for whom mercy still lingers and for those who have ignorantly broken the law of God. This atonement is made for the righteous dead as well as for the righteous living. It includes all who died trusting in Christ, but who, not having received the light upon God’s commandments, had sinned ignorantly in transgressing its precepts.[45]

 

Ellen White is clear that different generations throughout history have been accountable for different levels of light and truth, in contrast with history’s final generation:

 

We are accountable for the privileges that we enjoy, and for the light that shines upon our pathway. Those who lived in past generations were accountable for the light which was permitted to shine upon them. Their minds were exercised in regard to different points of Scripture which tested them. But they did not understand the truths which we do. They were not responsible for the light which they did not have. They had the Bible, as we have, but the time for the unfolding of special truth in relation to the closing scenes of this earth’s history, is during the last generations that shall live upon the earth.

Special truths have been adapted to the conditions of the generations as they have existed. The present truth, which is a test to the people of this generation, was not a test to the people of generations far back. . . .

We are accountable only for the light that shines upon us.[46]

 

History’s final generation, which will pass through the great time of trouble following probation’s close, will have a unique experience. “In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.”[47] Fully aware of the whole counsel of God—or at least that which is essential for the total conquest of sin—by His grace they will now live accordingly. All ignorant sin in their lives will before that time have been revealed and conquered, for the Mediator will no longer be available to make atonement for sin—whether ignorant or otherwise. For this reason, Ellen White declares that at the second coming, “the Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation.”[48]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: On Being the Remnant

 

Let us remember that Scripture identifies the last-day experience of God’s people as “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time” (Dan. 12:1). And according to the book of Revelation, this time is not permitted to come upon the earth until God’s servants are sealed and ready for it (Rev. 7:1-3). Ellen White is therefore in harmony both with Scripture and common sense when she writes that the latter rain and coming crisis will require of God’s people a deeper and greater experience than their present one if they are to successfully endure the final test:

 

The work that God has begun in the human heart in giving His light and knowledge must be continually going forward. Every individual must realize his own necessity. The heart must be emptied of every defilement and cleansed for the indwelling of the Spirit. It was by the confession and forsaking of sin, by earnest prayer and consecration of themselves to God, that the early disciples prepared for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The same work, only in greater degree, must be done now.[49]

 

The “time of trouble, such as never was” is soon to open upon us, and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess and which many are too indolent to obtain. It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us.[50]

 

Likewise, we recall again the following Ellen White statement:

 

Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth. . . .

When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing.[51]

 

Notice how she describes the work needed at this time as “a special work of purification.” Again, God has always demanded purity of character, but the final moments of history necessitate a purifying work not generally seen till then.  In past ages, God could use someone like Martin Luther, a beer-drinking anti-Semite whose hatred of Jews would later be celebrated by the Nazis.[52] But in the final hours of the controversy with evil, God seeks a higher attainment from those who would serve Him. Few in the present discussion would likely disagree here. (Some of our more worldly members might not see a problem with beer-drinking, but I doubt even they would want an anti-Semite teaching religion at one of our colleges or universities!)

 

Sometime ago an online blog discussion featured an article titled, “The Problem With Purity,” in which it was alleged that today’s conservative Christian notions of sexual morality represent a “new and improved” standard, beyond what was expected of Old Testament society in which multiple wives, concubines, and child-bearing slaves seem ubiquitous.[53] Aside from the confusion often created when what the Bible narrative recounts is mistaken for what the Bible approves, the Biblical passages we have seen give us ample cause to expect higher standards of conduct in successive ages of the church’s experience (e.g Prov. 4:18; Acts 17:30; James 4:17).

 

One would certainly hope for “new and improved” understandings of God’s requirements as time advances. David’s polygamy, Philemon’s slave-owning, and Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism may have been permissible in former periods of the sacred past, but history’s final generation cannot fail to recognize what many in previous times clearly missed—that a deeper consideration of God’s Word and its commands leaves no room among the faithful for such perversions of the divine ideal.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: 3 Ways to be an Enormous Force for God

 

This is the reason God gave His end-time church all the detailed, divinely-inspired counsel on faith, lifestyle, and institutional governance found in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. This explains why, based on this inspired instruction, Seventh-day Adventists insist on higher standards of diet, dress, relationships, worship, and entertainment than are found in any other Christian community. This isn’t because we consider ourselves superior to fellow Christians (or non-Christians) who order their lives differently. Rather, it is because we recognize that the last generation of believers must—through divine-human cooperation—develop an experience capable of triumph in an all-out death struggle with the most deeply-rooted, subtle, and pervasive sin in the history of the great controversy.

 

Thus will the greatest measure of light shine on their pathway, and thus—in harmony with the Biblical principles noted earlier (Prov. 4:18; Matt. 13:8; Luke 12:48)—a higher attainment will be expected of them. But they can praise God that, as with every previous command of their Lord, “all His biddings are enablings.”[54]

 

Far from being—as certain ones have alleged—an aberration contrived by fringe extremists, Last Generation Theology comprises the basic rationale behind the doctrinal uniqueness and moral purpose of Seventh-day Adventism. It is why we dare to summon fellow Christians of unimpeachable sincerity and devotion to Christ to a deeper awareness of God’s law and the binding claims of His holy Sabbath. It is embodied—as we have seen—in the investigative judgment doctrine and the significance of 1844, in the call of the first angel to fear God and give Him glory through a demonstration of divine character in human lives, as the heavenly tribunal opens its records and places the thoughts, words, and deeds of professed Christians in the glare of divine scrutiny (Rev. 14:7). It explains, in this age of postmodern permissiveness in which even many Christians exude doctrinal and moral indifference, why Seventh-day Adventists continue to maintain that truth matters and that “error is never harmless”[55]

 

Will the Last Generation Stand “Without God”?

 

Occasionally one still hears the assertion that those believing in Last Generation Theology think the saints after the close of probation will stand victorious in their own strength. A prominent, now-deceased Adventist author writes as follows:

 

A lot of people believe, based on a couple of paragraphs in the book The Great Controversy, that during the time of trouble that follows the close of probation, Christians are going to have to live on their own power.

Have you heard that? Have you heard that you’ll have to live without an intercessor?[56]

 

And don’t tell me that there has to be a time, during the time of trouble ahead, when we’ll have to live on our own steam. That is just not possible.[57]

 

A more recent critic of Last Generation Theology spends considerable time recounting the negative impact that this “stand on your own power after the close of probation” theory had on his own spiritual experience,[58] and demonstrating—correctly, to be sure—that this theory is false.[59] Unfortunately, this same author goes on to profoundly misstate the teachings of Last Generation Theology by insisting that according to this theology, “in the moment of the last generation’s ultimate victory, Jesus is actually ‘hiding.’”[60] Even more unfortunate, and outrageously untrue, is the same author’s claim that Last Generation Theology “is a self-centered, human-centered attempt to achieve great things and do it all themselves.”[61]

 

And in a recent series of articles attacking Last Generation Theology, another author asks, “Will Believers Live Without God?”[62] She goes on to write:

 

Let’s now clarify a major LGT claim and common misconception: that during the last days the special group of believers expected to reach sinless perfection (the presumed 144,000) will have to live without the help of the Holy Spirit and without the intercession of Christ. Do the Bible and Ellen White support this idea?[63]

 

While the above author doesn’t necessarily conflate the two, let’s be clear that living without the help of the Holy Spirit and living without the intercession of Christ are two entirely different things. A careless reader, perusing the above statement, might think they are the same.

 

With all due respect to these authors, I have never—as a fifth-generation Adventist deeply immersed in the church’s conservative culture—heard a single Seventh-day Adventist claim that the saints after probation’s close will live “on their own power” or “without God.” This doesn’t mean no one has ever taught or believed this heresy among us, only that for more than a few of us, its presence in the church seems very elusive, to the point where it approaches what sociologists call “urban legend.”

 

Without wishing to dispute the honesty of the above authors, it would have been helpful had they offered documented proof of this very grave accusation so far as the teaching of Last Generation Theology is concerned. Considering how often in my ministry I have heard this theory mentioned as an alleged feature of Last Generation Theology, it would truly be an instructive contribution to dialogue concerning this topic if someone, anyone, could give documented proof that anyone in the church has actually taught that the saints after probation’s close will stand in their own strength.

 

Aside from the confusion the first of the above authors creates by implying that living on one’s own power is the same as living without an intercessor (two very different things indeed), one is amazed how he claims that “a lot of people believe” they will have to stand in their own strength during this particular time.[64] The late Herbert Douglass, perhaps the most prominent exponent of Last Generation Theology in late twentieth-century Adventism, makes a statement on this point which every advocate of this theology known to the present writer could heartily endorse:

 

But during this reign of Satan the Christian who has reached the moral perfection that God says can be attained in this life will be saying No, as Jesus said No to all temptations. There will be no stopping place where the Christian may relax his guard or when he may no longer need the sustaining grace of the Holy Spirit.[65]

 

More recent advocates of Last Generation Theology have likewise stated:

 

There will be a difference in heaven after the close of probation, in that there will be no priestly ministry by Jesus. There will be no Intercessor, no Mediator, pleading the cause of sinners before the Father. Now this does not imply that the enabling power of Jesus with His people on earth will be removed. But the priestly ministry of forgiveness comes to an end at the close of probation.[66]

 

Even after the sanctuary is closed, we will have the help of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). No, not for forgiveness of continual sinning; that ministry will have closed. God’s people will have ceased from sin. But in order to live godly lives, we will still need His power. We will always need it, and it will not be withdrawn in the last generation.[67]

 

And from the pen of the present writer, in an online article titled, “Five Popular Myths About Last Generation Theology”:

 

Where this assumption (that the saints will stand on their own power) got started, one is permitted to guess. To the present writer’s knowledge, no one at any time in Adventist history who has taught Last Generation Theology has ever taught that the saints at any time, after the close of probation or otherwise, will stand on their own power. The only thing the saints will stand without during the period following probation’s close is the continuous availability of forgiveness. . . . The perfectly victorious believer needs Christ every bit as much as one who falls into sin. The only difference is that the one falling into sin needs both forgiving and empowering righteousness, while the one who has gained the victory needs empowering righteousness only. But one way or the other, it is all Christ’s righteousness. It is never any of our own.[68]

 

One of the authors cited earlier who opposes Last Generation Theology, speaking of the Ellen White statements which describe the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit in the last days, writes:

 

All these statements speak about the gradual withdrawing of the Holy Spirit from the earth, and this has been interpreted by LGT proponents to mean that the Holy Spirit will not be available to anyone during the last days.[69]

 

But at no point does this author identify any proponent of Last Generation Theology who teaches, or has taught, that the Holy Spirit will be unavailable to the end-time saints at any point during the final conflict. Following probation’s close, Ellen White does say that “the wicked have passed the boundary of their probation,” and that “the Spirit of God, persistently resisted, has been at last withdrawn.”[70] But regarding God’s people, this is not the case. Describing the agony of the saints during the time of Jacob’s trouble, Ellen White states:

 

Though God’s people will be surrounded by enemies who are bent upon their destruction, yet the anguish which they suffer is not a dread of persecution for the truth’s sake; they fear that every sin has not been repented of, and that through some fault in themselves they will fail to realize the fulfillment of the Saviour’s promise: I ‘will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.’ Revelation 3:10.[71]

 

Notice that Christ’s promise to preserve His saints from temptation is still valid following probation’s close, even though the continuous availability of forgiveness has ceased on account of the end of our Lord’s mediation. True, the people of God at this time will fear that every sin hasn’t been repented of, and will afflict their souls and search their lives to make sure all sin has been confessed and forsaken. But though they fear themselves unworthy of the Savior’s promise of power over temptation, that promise is still theirs. They are not standing on their own power.

 

Others who object to Last Generation Theology admit what it teaches regarding the saints needing to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power till Jesus comes, but claim such teaching denigrates Christ and supposedly makes the Holy Spirit a “substitute” Savior.

 

One author some years ago said it this way:

 

If that were true (to live without the need of forgiveness), it would mean that you would come to a place in your Christian life where you don’t need Christ any more. That teaching makes the Holy Spirit your Savior. It says that by the transformation the Holy Spirit does in your life, you can finally get to the place where you’re so good you don’t need Jesus any more.[72]

 

A more recent Adventist author, speaking of Last Generation Theology, says the same thing:

 

Again and again I have noticed what seems to be a diminishing need for Christ in this strain of theology.[73]

 

But to not need a continuous bestowal of forgiveness isn’t the same as not needing Jesus. As noted earlier, John the apostle writes,

 

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (I John 2:1).

 

Notice again that forgiveness is available if we sin, not when. But those who live without sinning can only do this through Jesus’ power, never in their own unaided strength.

 

According to Scripture, as our series has shown, Christians are saved by both justification (Rom. 3:24) and sanctification (II Thess. 2:13), both by Christ’s work for us (II Cor. 5:21) and His work in us (Titus 3:5). And Ellen White declares that “our sanctification is the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”[74] No competition exists among the Members of the Godhead regarding salvation. All are involved in each step of the process. The perfectly victorious believer needs Christ every bit as much as one who falls into sin. The only difference is that the one falling into sin needs both forgiving and empowering righteousness, while the one who has gained the victory needs empowering righteousness only. But one way or the other, it is all Christ’s righteousness. It is never any of our own.

 

In short, to not need a Mediator is not the same as not needing a Savior, nor is it the same as not needing Heaven’s power. To stand without a Mediator simply means to no longer need the continuous availability of forgiveness. It doesn’t mean the past sins of believers aren’t still covered, nor does it mean they can subdue their fallen natures without imparted divine strength.

 

What in fact is a mediator for? To resolve differences. When Chrysler and the United Auto Workers get along fine, no government mediator is summoned. Between God and man, differences are called sins. If no sin occurs, no Mediator is required. But the power of God is still required to keep fallen human beings from sinning.

 

“Their Earthliness Must Be Consumed”

 

In her account of the time of Jacob’s trouble following probation’s close and the struggle of God’s people during that period, Ellen White observes in one statement:

 

It is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected.”[75]

 

Some, therefore, assume Ellen White to be saying that God’s saints during the great time of trouble are not yet sinless.[76] Once again, when Ellen White—like Scripture—is permitted to explain herself, the message of this and similar statements become clear.

 

First, we should review other passages, noted earlier in this article, regarding just what level of character perfection God is seeking from the final generation of believers. Some of the strongest of these are the following:

 

Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God‘s people upon the earth. . . .

When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing.[77]

 

Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully.[78]

 

I saw that none could share the “refreshing” unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action.[79]

 

Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us, as the early rain fell upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost.[80]

 

Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads. Filled with the Spirit, they will be complete in Christ, and the recording angel will declare, “It is finished.”[81]

 

The Refiner does not then (at the second coming) sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation.[82]

 

In light of these statements, it is clear that whatever remains to be removed from believers’ lives at this point does not include sin. Many will not perceive until the ultimate crisis the need for absolute, exclusive trust in God at the deepest level.

 

Speaking of what the saints will experience during this crisis, Ellen White observes,

 

In the last great conflict of the controversy with Satan those who are loyal to God will see every earthly support cut off.[83]

 

Many earthly support systems—family, friends, the fellowship of the church—were divinely established, and to repose a certain trust in them is not sinful. But during this time God must remove from us these anchors for our souls to give total proof of our utter helplessness apart from Him. In another statement Ellen White helps us further understand this principle:

 

We may have special, select friends that, all unperceived and unacknowledged by us, we place in the heart where God should be, and we can never perfect a round, full Christian experience until every earthly support is removed, and the soul centers its entire affections about God.[84]

 

Now let us look again at the statement about earthliness needing to be consumed:

 

It is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected.[85]

 

Putting these statements together, along with the others we have seen about the total conquest of sin in believers’ lives before the close of probation, it becomes clear that the earthliness left in the saints during the great time of trouble is not sin, but rather, reliance on various earthly support systems which must be taken from the faithful in order to prove their fidelity in the deepest possible way.

 

“Incidental and Accidental Weaknesses and Mistakes”

 

Recent critics of Last Generation Theology have written the following so far as the alleged lingering imperfections of the Last Generation saints are concerned:

 

God’s sealed and faithful people are regarded as perfect in the sense that they are no longer cherishing sin or committing overt sins—sins that are deliberately or willfully performed. However, they will be imperfect in the sense that they still have sinful natures, so that all they do is less than the best. They still have unavoidable deficiencies, but they do not indulge in or commit premeditated acts of sin. Jesus is still making up for their “unavoidable deficiencies,” “defects,” “shortcomings,” “mistakes,” and “errors,” but He is no longer mediating for the unsealed—the rebellious, willful, high-handed, sin-excusing sinners.[86]

 

Another such author writes:

 

Biblical perfection refers to a total commitment and loyalty to God that reflects His character but that allows for the possibility of incidental and accidental weaknesses and mistakes.[87]

 

Two very egregious problems arise from the above statements. First, Jesus is not “making up” for sins of any kind—premeditated or otherwise—once His intercessory ministry is over. It isn’t merely the unsealed for whom He is no longer mediating, as Ellen White declares regarding the aftermath of probation’s close, “In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.”[88]

 

Second, you could drive a mac truck through the loopholes listed here—“defects,” “shortcomings,” “errors,” “incidental and accidental weaknesses and mistakes.” Some of the most hurtful sins committed by humanity could fall under these labels. Impulsive, non-premeditated sins include some of the most destructive conducted in human history. A good many acts of fornication, adultery, even physical violence could fit into the categories listed above. It is best we remember Ellen White’s warning, offered in her narrative of Moses’ sin in striking the rock at Kadesh:

 

The strongest temptation cannot excuse sin. However great the pressure brought to bear upon the soul, transgression is our own act. It is not in the power of earth or hell to compel anyone to do evil. Satan attacks us at our weak points, but we need not be overcome. However severe or unexpected the assault, God has provided help for us, and in His strength we may conquer.[89]

 

So far as “total commitment and loyalty to God”[90] are concerned, Ellen White is clear that perfect loyalty and perfect obedience are one and the same thing:

 

The law demands perfect obedience. ‘Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.’ James 2:10. Not one of those ten precepts can be broken without disloyalty to the God of heaven. The least deviation from its requirements, by neglect or willful transgression, is sin.[91]

 

The 144,000

Both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White identify the 144,000 of the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4; 14:1-5) with the Last Generation of believers, who will stand without a Mediator following probation’s close and be translated without seeing death.

 

The following Ellen White statements are perhaps the clearest in identifying the experience and divinely-empowered achievement of this final group of victorious saints:

 

With the Lamb upon Mount Zion, “having the harps of God,” they stand, the hundred and forty-four thousand that were redeemed from among men; and there is heard, as the sound of many waters, and as the sound of a great thunder, “the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” And they sing “a new song” before the throne, a song which no man can learn save the hundred and forty-four thousand. It is the song of Moses and the Lamb—a song of deliverance. None but the hundred and forty-four thousand can learn that song, for it is the song of their experience—an experience such as no other company have ever had. “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” These, having been translated from the earth, from among the living, are counted as “the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.” Revelation 15:2,3; 14:1-5. “These are they which came out of great tribulation;” they have passed through the time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation; they have endured the anguish of the time of Jacob’s trouble; they have stood without an intercessor through the final outpouring of God’s judgments. But they have been delivered, for they have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” “In their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault” before God. “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.”[92]

 

This was the time of Jacob’s trouble. Then all the saints cried out with anguish of spirit, and were delivered by the voice of God. The 144,000 triumphed. Their faces were lighted up with the glory of God.[93]

 

The graves opened, and the dead came up clothed with immortality. The 144,000 shouted, “Alleluia!” as they recognize their friends who had been torn from them by death, and in the same moment we were changed and caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air.[94]

 

And as we were about to enter the holy temple, Jesus raised His lovely voice and said, “Only the 144,000 enter this place,” and we shouted “Alleluia!”

This temple was supported by seven pillars, all of transparent gold, set with pearls most glorious. The wonderful things I there saw I cannot describe. Oh, that I could talk in the language of Canaan, then could I tell a little of the glory of the better world. I saw there tables of stone in which the names of the 144,000 were engraved in letters of gold.[95]

 

Four points, among others, stand out in the above statements concerning the 144,000:

 

  1. They have an experience no other company of believers has ever had, which is why they alone can sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.

 

  1. They endure the great time of trouble “such as never was since there was a nation” (Dan. 12:1), including the time of Jacob’s trouble.

 

  1. They stand without an intercessor or mediator.

 

  1. They are translated without ever seeing death.

 

Certain ones have alleged at times that the 144,000 is just another Biblical metaphor for all the saved of every age. The above Ellen White statements are quite clear that this is not so. The 144,000 have the unique experience of having endured the greatest time of trouble and anguish in the history of humanity, standing without a heavenly Mediator, and never having tasted death. This cannot possibly refer to all the saved. It can only apply to the Last Generation, who live to see their Lord appear in the clouds at last.

 

Some have argued that the tribulation mentioned in Revelation 7:14 refers to the trials and tribulations that every faithful follower of God has endured throughout sacred history. But the original language does not allow this interpretation. The New Testament translates the word thlipsis as “affliction,” “tribulation,” “trouble,” “persecution.” However, Revelation 7:14 does not say that those described in this context endured “tribulation,” “tribulations,” “trouble,” “affliction,” or even “many tribulations,” but rather, the tribulation,” “the great one.” The definite article appears before both of the words “great” and ‘tribulation.” In all other texts in the New Testament, the use of the word thlipsis stands unqualified by the definite article “the.”

 

It is true that sometimes the New Testament does qualify the word ‘tribulation’ with expressions such as “much tribulation” (Acts 14:22; II Cor. 2:4) or “light affliction” (II Cor. 4:17). However, the Greek text indicates that the tribulation of Revelation 7:14 is a specific tribulation that a specific group will go through at the end of time. It is parallel to the time of trouble such as never was nor ever shall be (Dan. 12:1).

 

The question of whether the 144,000 is a literal or symbolic number has for years fueled discussion among Seventh-day Adventists. For the purposes of our study, this question is beside the point. In the present writer’s view, a case can be made for either conclusion. Frankly, I can’t see how or why it matters. It is like Ellen White’s caution that we not enter controversy over “who is to compose the hundred and forty-four thousand.”[96] What matters to us, by contrast, is what the 144,000 are and to thus strive to perfect that kind of character, which is why the servant of the Lord admonishes us elsewhere:

 

Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the 144,000.[97]

 

And how, according to the inspired pen, are we to strive to do this? The following statement tells us:

 

John saw a Lamb on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 having His Father’s name written in their foreheads. The bore the signet of heaven. They reflected the image of God. They were full of the light and the glory of the Holy One. If we would have the image and superscription of God upon us, we must separate ourselves from all iniquity. We must forsake every evil way, and then we must trust our case in the hands of Christ. While we are working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, God will work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure.[98]

 

Conclusion: Is the Final Sealing Solely About Not Being Able to “Switch Sides”?

 

One prominent critic of Last Generation Theology, denying that “before the close of probation, God’s people will reach the state of sinless perfection,”[99] goes on to claim that the close of probation and standing without a Mediator only means that “the sinner ‘will no longer be able to switch sides.’”[100]

 

We will let the readers decide, from the evidence laid out in this series, whether or not the denial of sinless perfection this side of heaven is credible in light of the inspired evidence we have considered. But where many go astray is in deluding themselves that a single sin doesn’t cause a person to “switch sides.” After all, how many sins did it take to get our first parents removed from Eden? The Bible is clear that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Let us again consider Ellen White’s statement about perfect obedience and perfect loyalty:

 

The law demands perfect obedience. ‘Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.’ James 2:10. Not one of those ten precepts can be broken without disloyalty to the God of heaven. The least deviation from its requirements, by neglect or willful transgression, is sin.[101]

 

The imperative of sinless obedience in preparation for the great time of trouble has often frightened many among us, but it need not. God’s power to give total victory is all-sufficient (Phil. 4:13). Moreover, the close of probation is no arbitrary deadline, as some have feared. The whole principle of the delayed advent militates against this notion. God is restraining the winds of strife so His servants can be sealed (Rev. 7:1-3). He is delaying the final events so those sincerely striving for holiness through His strength can get ready. He wants us in heaven worse than we want to get there, being unwilling “that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

 

In that breathtaking, lyrical tribute to marital love by the wisest of kings, we glimpse the joy of the Savior in the unbroken triumph of His striving faithful in the final moments of sacred history:

 

Thou are all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee (Song of Sol. 4:7).

 

Reflecting this flourish of sacred passion, the New Testament speaks as follows of Jesus’ victorious saints:

 

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it. That He might sanctify and cleanse it through the washing of water by the word. That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).

 

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints (Rev. 19:7-8, NIV).

 

Thus the modern prophet echoes these oracles of splendor when she writes:

 

We can overcome. Yes: fully, entirely. Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might overcome every evil temper, every sin, every temptation, and sit down at last with Him.[102]

 

The next installment of this series will be titled, “The Great Controversy and God’s Vindication.”

Click here to read the rest of this series on Last Generation theology.

______

Notes.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the King James Version.

[2] Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 71.

[3] See Kendra Jo Haloviak, “Can We Hasten the Advent?” Adventist Review, Jan. 2, 1992, p. 13-15.

[4] White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69.

[5] See Roy Adams, The Nature of Christ: Help for a church divided over perfection (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1994), pp. 120-124; George R. Knight, Angry Saints: Tensions and Possibilities in the Adventist Struggle Over Righteousness by Faith (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1989), pp. 145,147-149; Sam Millen, “Why I No Longer Believe in Last Generation Theology,” April 17, 2014.

[6] Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 215.

[7] Ibid, p. 261.

[8] Adelina Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 2: Historical Development,” March 28, 2019.

[9] White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 633-634.

[10] Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 108-109.

[11] Acts of the Apostles, pp. 600-601.

[12] Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp. 67-69.

[13] Evangelism, p. 696.

[14] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 202.

[15] Ibid, p. 260.

[16] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 2: Historical Development,” March 28, 2019.

[17] White, The Great Controversy, p. 425.

[18] Ibid, p. 623.

[19] Early Writings, p. 71.

[20] Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 187.

[21] Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 506-507.

[22] Review and Herald, Nov. 19, 1908.

[23] Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 214.

[24] Ibid, p. 216.

[25] Evangelism, p. 702.

[26] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1055.

[27] Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 619.

[28] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118; see also Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 427.

[29] Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 472.

[30] From the Heart, p. 44.

[31] Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 505.

[32] Ibid, vol. 1, p. 340.

[33] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 427.

[34] Review and Herald, May 30, 1882.

[35] Signs of the Times, Oct. 22, 1885.

[36] Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355.

[37] Dennis Hokama, “Wallowing in the Gulley of Indecision—Christ’s All-Atoning Sacrifice versus Jesus the Model Man: An Analysis” Adventist Currents, July 1983, p. 14.

[38] White, The Great Controversy, p. 425.

[39] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 12: Ellen White on Perfection and the Last Generation,” July 12, 2019; (boldface emphasis original).

[40] Ibid.

[41] White, The Great Controversy, p. 425.

[42] Maranatha, p. 200.

[43] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 8: Biblical Perspectives: Sanctification,” June 13, 2019.

[44] White, Steps to Christ, p. 62; Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 76; Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 381.

[45] Early Writings, p. 254.

[46] Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 692-693.

[47] The Great Controversy, p. 614.

[48] Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355.

[49] Testimonies to Ministers, p. 507.

[50] The Great Controversy, p. 622.

[51] Ibid, p. 425.

[52] See William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), pp. 91,236.

[53] http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5578

[54] White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 333.

[55] Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 292.

[56] Morris L. Venden, Never Without An Intercessor: The Good News About the Judgment (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1996), p. 58.

[57] Ibid, p. 59.

[58] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), pp. 236-237.

[59] Ibid, pp. 246-250.

[60] Ibid, p. 203.

[61] Ibid, p. 206.

[62] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 4: Biblical Perspectives: Will Believers Live Without God?” April 1, 2019.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Venden, Never Without An Intercessor, p. 58.

[65] Herbert E. Douglass, “Men of Faith: The Showcase of God’s Grace,” Perfection: The Impossible Possibility (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Assn, 1975), p. 51 (italics supplied).

[66] Dennis E. Priebe, Face to Face With the Real Gospel (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1985), pp. 85-86 (italics supplied).

[67] Larry Kirkpatrick, Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 Points (Highland, CA: GCO Press 2005) p. 99.

[68] Kevin D. Paulson, “Five Popular Myths About Last Generation Theology,” ADvindicate, May 21, 2017.

[69] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 4: Biblical Perspectives: Will Believers Live Without God?” April 1, 2019.

[70] White, The Great Controversy, p. 614.

[71] Ibid, p. 619.

[72] Steve Marshall, What’s the Difference? (Arroyo Grande, CA: Concerned Communications, 1979), p. 23.

[73] Adams, The Nature of Christ, p. 23 (italics original).

[74] White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 908.

[75] The Great Controversy, p. 621.

[76] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), pp. 230-232.

[77] White, The Great Controversy, p. 425.

[78] Early Writings, p. 71.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 214.

[81] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118.

[82] Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355.

[83] The Desire of Ages, p. 121.

[84] Letter 6, 1894, quoted in The Fannie Bolton Story: A Collection of Source Documents (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), p. 36.

[85] The Great Controversy, p. 621.

[86] Woodrow W. Whidden, Ellen White on Salvation (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1995), p. 136.

[87] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 233.

[88] White, The Great Controversy, p. 614 (italics supplied).

[89] Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 421.

[90] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 233.

[91] White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 218.

[92] The Great Controversy, pp. 648-649 (italics supplied).

[93] Early Writings, p. 37.

[94] Ibid, p. 16.

[95] Ibid, p. 19.

[96] Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 174.

[97] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 970.

[98] Ibid, p. 978 (italics supplied).

[99] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 228.

[100] Ibid; see also Whidden, Ellen White on Salvation, p. 134.

[101] White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 218.

[102] Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 144.

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About the author

Kevin Paulson

Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and serves as a script writer for the It Is Written television ministry and other media ministries within the church. He also serves as the leading webmaster of ADvindicate.com, where many articles by him and others can be found which address a variety of denominational issues. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.