by Alden Thompson | 19 May 2022 |
Recently I came across some astonishing “last generation” comments from Ellen White in the chapter “Joshua and the Angel” in Prophets and Kings (582-592). As I pondered the chapter, I was startled but encouraged at how clearly Ellen White presents the case for a sinful people standing before God in the last days, but safe under the atoning blood of Jesus.
I outline some of the key points below. (The italicization in the quotations are added by me.)
Final perfect generation?
First, I suspect the idea of a “final [perfect] generation” (aka Last Generation Theology) never would have caught on if some conscientious soul had not isolated a quote from Christ’s Object Lessons from the rest of Ellen White’s writings:
When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” 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. – Christ’s Object Lessons, 69.
I have concluded that Ellen White must have viewed this quotation in a corporate rather than an individualistic sense. In other words, Christ is wanting his church, the corporate“body of Christ,” to perfectly reflect his character, doing what Christ did to minister to the “least” of God’s children (cf. Matt. 25:40). Interpreting it in an individualistic sense with salvation overtones not only places an impossible burden on sensitive souls, but also overlooks key elements in Ellen White’s interpretation, both in Christ’s Object Lessons and Prophets and Kings.
The rest of the story
But now let me introduce you to a remarkable statement that I came across years ago. (This was when I was preparing the material for the Sinai-Golgotha series which was published in the Adventist Review (1981-82).) The chapter from Prophets and Kings entitled “Joshua and the Angel” is based on Zechariah 3:1-5, which depicts the attacks of Satan against Joshua the high priest. Let me first share the entire passage from Zechariah:
Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the Lord was standing by (NRSV).
In the narrative interpreting this passage, Ellen White makes this striking comment:
But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves up to be controlled by the satanic agencies. They have repented of their sins and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin and also their penitence, declares: “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands. They may have imperfections of character; they may have failed in their endeavors; but they have repented, and I have forgiven and accepted them.” – Prophets and Kings 589.
But this is the astonishing sentence in her interpretation of Zechariah 3:
Zechariah’s vision of Joshua and the Angel applies with peculiar force to the experience of God’s people in the closing scenes of the great day of atonement (Prophets and Kings 587).
In other words, this is a vision of a flawed people is a vision of the “last generation”!
The final (flawed) generation
And we must ask the question: What kind of people are these who find themselves standing before God (and Satan!) in the great day of atonement?
Here are several excerpts from Prophets and Kings that indicate quite clearly that these are not people who stand in sinless perfection before God. No! Joshua was “clothed with filthy clothes” (Zech. 3:1). So were his people:
- “He does not claim that Israel is free from fault. In filthy garments, symbolizing the sins of the people, which he bears as their representative, he stands before the Angel, confessing their guilt, yet pointing to their repentance and humiliation, and relying upon the mercy of a sin-pardoning Redeemer” (Prophets and Kings 583-584).
- “Because of their sins, they had been well-nigh consumed by Satan and his agents for their destruction” (p.584).
- “Satan’s accusations against those who seek the Lord are not prompted by displeasure at their sins. He exults in their defective characters. . . .” (p.585).
- “In his own strength, man cannot meet the charges of the enemy. In sin-stained garments, confessing his guilt, he stands before God” (p.586).
- “As Joshua pleaded before the Angel, so the remnant church, with brokenness of heart and unfaltering faith, will plead for pardon and deliverance through Jesus, their Advocate. They are fully conscious of the sinfulness of their lives, they see their weakness and unworthiness; and they are ready to despair” (p.588).
- “The tempter stands by to accuse them, as he stood by to resist Joshua. He points to their filthy garments, their defective characters. He presents their weakness and folly, their sins of ingratitude, their unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer. He endeavors to affright them with the thought that their case is hopeless, that the stain of their defilement will never be washed away. He hopes so to destroy their faith that they will yield to his temptations, and turn from their allegiance to God” (p.588).
- “But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves up to be controlled by the satanic agencies. They have repented of their sins and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin and also their penitence, declares: ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands. They may have imperfections of character; they may have failed in their endeavors; but they have repented, and I have forgiven and accepted them’” (p.589).
That last quotation stands out like a beacon light, for Christ himself declares to the court that his people “may have imperfections of character.” God’s people can stand confidently in court, not because of their sinless perfection, but because their lives are hid in Christ.
When we compare the material from Christ’s Object Lessons with the material from Prophets and Kings, logically we must give the Christ’s Object Lessons passage a corporate interpretation, for Joshua and his cohorts as individuals have “imperfections of character.”
These imperfect saints take refuge in their “clean” clothes, which are symbolic of their total trust in the grace of Christ.
Therefore, we can conclude that if there is a “final generation,” it is a generation that trusts solely in the grace of Christ.
And all the discouraged Adventists shouted “Amen!”
Alden Thompson is a Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Walla Walla University. His classic book Inspiration is available on Amazon.