Both interest and opposition characterize recent discussion of Last Generation Theology (LGT). But the concept of LGT is inherently biblical.
There will be a last generation of Christians; there will be Christians living when the door of mercy closes forever, when Jesus finishes His ministration for repentant sinners in the sanctuary in heaven, and when He returns at last to take us home. This very concept is built into the idea of the Second Coming. Jesus returns literally for those Christians who are living in that last fragment of time. If there is a final atonement, cleansing the camp of all sin, there is a final removal of all sin from the people.
At that time, immediately preceding Jesus' Second Coming, God's power is manifest. Then, in His disciples all choices to rebel, all sinning, will have ceased. Their sins have gone before them to judgment. Jesus' disciples live in the sight of a holy God after Jesus' intercession for sin has closed. All are either sealed and on God's side, or, marked and on Satan's side. None will ever change sides again. All will have seen, understood and intentionally aligned their own character to a likeness to Jesus or a likeness to Satan.
Last Generation theology is simply Seventh-day Adventism. It is Christianity carried to its completion. It is following Jesus fully at the end of the age.
Yet some troubled hearts reject this concept--nevermind that they are fighting against the Second Coming theme built into the core of their faith. They are uncomfortable. There are certain viewpoints about what salvation is, and some voices have warned that the idea of a last generation is all wrong. So what is the truth?
Our goal this hour is, from a Bible standpoint, to survey what has been called Last Generation Theology.
Last Generation Theology: a Bible Picture
We begin at the book of Genesis. God gave a simple test. Man failed it. He chose rebellion against His Creator. Man's nature was changed. The human situation was rendered hopeless unless God intervened; Jesus understood this. And as soon as there was sin there was a Savior. God made His promise:
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed" (Genesis 3:15).
To Adam and Eve, God said, "I will do something for you. I will change this new relation between you and your adversary. You will be enabled to resist him. I will give you something that you do not have. I will put enmity."
Satan's plan to deprave humanity would be interrupted. Jesus implants grace in the person who lets Him implant it. He exercises His creative power to change the heart. In each of our lives the operation this converting grace, or, the lack of converting grace, is displayed. No one can be overcome without first giving his consent. Fallen angels can distress us but they cannot control our will; they cannot force us to sin.
Remember that Jesus particularly was the divine Person who acted in the creation of the world (Hebrews 1:2). Near the end of the book of Job, Jesus asks Job and his friends where they were when He laid the foundations of the earth. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He is the person in the Godhead whose task especially it is to communicate with humanity.
Keep this in mind as we think about the book of Job.
The first two chapters of Job reveal a remarkable contest. There was a day when beings from every created world came to appear before God. All were loyal subjects of the kingdom; all but one. On this occasion Satan invited himself along too. How busily he had been working to tempt into sin as many as he could. Now, here he was in full smirk.
But something amazing happens. Jesus and Satan are standing face to face, and Jesus brings up the name of one of His followers. "Have you seen My servant Job?" Jesus tells Satan that Job serves God faithfully. Job is a blameless and upright person, fearing God, turning away from evil.
Satan disagrees, claiming Job serves Jesus only out of self-interest. His claim is that Job is on God's team only for the benefits, the loaves and the fishes. Satan claims God is bribing Job. Satan provokes God to take it all away--then, he says, Job will curse Jesus. But Jesus refuses to move against Job for no cause. He permits Satan to make attacks upon Job. Jesus puts limits to the testing, while Satan speeds to do his worst to Job. He causes great sorrow and suffering. But Job's response is faithful. Job does not blame God; he blesses God. Job thanks God for the good he has experienced while serving God. Satan is defeated.
But the testing is not over. It goes up ten notches! So we come to Job chapter two. Satan returns with new claims. If Job's health is taken away, says he, then job will curse Jesus. And so, again Jesus permits Satan to do his worst. The only parameter enforced is that Satan is not permitted to kill Job. Satan strikes Job with extraordinary suffering. And this time Satan introduces even more subtle elements. He enlists Job's wife.
She tells Job to give up and die. Then Job's friends come to be with him in his misery remaining for several days. When at last conversation commences, they insist that Job's suffering has been the result of Job's own sin. They plead for Job to repent. Job disagrees; he has not sinned against God. The discussion continues three dozen chapters. At the end, Jesus intervenes. He asks, Where were all of you when I laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4)?
Most interesting in all this is the biblical data. Remember, Jesus went out of His way to raise the question of Job's righteousness. Before all the watching universe, Jesus made it a point to highlight the character of His servant Job. Here, says Jesus, is a person who serves Me voluntarily, who freely chooses to trust Me.
But Jesus also admits that at this stage of the contest between good and evil, Job is exceptional. In the age in which he lives, Job is the preeminent living example of human trust. But even this Satan disputes. Satan rejects aggressively even the possibility that even one such person exists. Satan is determined to demonstrate that there is not not even one human who can obey God's law. Says Satan, if Jesus removes the incentives, not even one human will persist in unselfishness behavior and continue to live God's way.
You will recall the end of the story. Job claims that God is fair and that if he, Job, could only explain his innocence, God would be fair and relent. Job doesn't know that it is Satan who is doing these things to him, or, that God so intentionally has drawn attention to Job as a living example of God's ways. In the end Jesus rebukes Job's three friends who, while speaking in defense of God, were actually misrepresenting Him. Job is vindicated. Satan, after his claims in chapter two, does not return. Jesus produced a character witness who gave evidence of unselfish faithfulness to Him under enormous duress. Because he endured, Job vindicated his own character, and also the character of Him whose representative he was--Jesus.
Job's example was very important, but ti could never be directly redemptive for all mankind. Job's character was in no way equal to the law broken. Job could not make atonement for himself or any number of people. What he could do was to offer an example of faithfulness. And that he did. How? Simply by being who he was. Be clear: within the parameters of God's purposes, it remained necessary for Jesus to come in human form, to take a fallen, human, mortal, sin-impacted body, to condemn sin in that body and to make sacrifice at the cross. This was the only way our doomed race might be delivered from destruction.
Without the cross there is no atonement, just as in the sanctuary system in the desert, without the offering on the bronze altar in the courtyard, there would have been no blood to minister in the most holy. Jesus' death on the cross is essential. The daily offerings for personal sin would be finally ineffectual were the camp not cleansed at the close of the year. We need a Savior both divine and human who both forgives and renews.
Just as the offering at the bronze altar in the courtyard is part of the atonement process, so too the priestly activities in the sanctuary system. God's processes for dealing with the sin problem and eliminating sin include all parts of His appointed system of atonement. The yearly cleansing of the sanctuary was as necessary as the daily sacrifices for sin.
What I am saying is that the cleansing of the sanctuary is as important as the Cross. Take away either aspect, and sin is not removed from the camp. Take away either aspect and God's people are not cleansed. Take away either aspect and sin is not eradicated.
The third chapter of Romans is very helpful. In Romans 1 Paul shows why the Gentiles are condemned. In Romans 2, he presents the reasons the Jews are condemned. And in Romans 3, he works through the dilemma of God's vindication. What if the Jews were unfaithful? Their failure does not negate the faithfulness of God. God will be justified in His words and prevail when He is judged! Matthew records Jesus' word in his book, 7:2:
"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." Jesus well knows that the judgments made by the judge reveal the character of the judge. Our choices reveal what we are. How God deals with sin reveals His approval or disapproval of sin. So, in Romans 3:4 Paul believes that God will be vindicated when He judges. When He judges others fair, He will be judged fair.
Further on, three fundamental questions and answers are treated:
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).
All people sin. At some point in every human experience, a person acts in rebellion toward God. This intentional rebellion places one forever in debt to His forgiveness. How gracious is His offer to redeem the transgression! Nor do any forgiven come ever to a place where this forgiveness is not needed. All who are forgiven are indebted to God forever. They placed themselves in a righteousness deficit for which no solution was humanly possible. God mercifully offers His grace as a gift. He demonstrates His righteousness by freely forgiving the sinner and then maintaining that forgiveness.
But there is another question. Does God change people? Can He repair His people? Can He save His people from their sins in fiction only, or, by actual demonstration? Can He be just and justify--forgive and make righteous--the sinner? And so, Romans 3:4 claims this so "That You [God] may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged."
Romans chapter eight is written a quarter century after the cross. And at that time something is still missing. There is something for which the whole creation continues to wait:
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now" (Romans 8:18-22).
The Son of God (Jesus) was revealed so that the sons of God (plural) could be revealed. The creation is not yet completely free. What remains to be revealed? The glory of the children of God.
Someone might claim that "glory" here is ambiguous. But have you read the chapter? It is precisely a moral vision that is presented. In 8:29 we are called to be "conformed to the image of His Son." "In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:38). In eight, 1-4, if we are in Christ Jesus, we are not condemned. Why? Because the principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the principle of sin and death.
God's law could not save us. That was not His plan for His law. But when He sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh and because of sin, He, Jesus, condemned sin in our sinful flesh. The result is not only that the righteousness of the law was fulfilled in Him, but that the righteousness of His Law is to be fulfilled in us. Eight-twelve tells us that we are not under obligation to the flesh; we live by the Spirit. And so the self-serving inclinations of the flesh are intercepted. The deeds of the body are put to death.
These lines teach not bondage but victory. The "glory of the sons of God" is a life of victory. Humanity and divinity combined can obey every one of God's precepts.
And yet, how many have been taught that Romans teaches a merely legal salvation! The power of God to salvation is reduced to a forensic fiction, to that which is counted only. It is understandable that some would accept such stories. But Adventists claim to be vigorously Scriptural in our practices. Are we? Sometimes we are just as guilty of refusing to think careful and godly, of refusing to seriously compare Scripture with Scripture. We take the easy road, accepting pleasant words from those we prefer to trust. We are in a time of shaking, of sorting out who will go all the way with Jesus, and who will bail out in the intensity of the time. Let us seek Jesus to make our calling and election sure.
The last book in the Bible is the Apocalypse, the unveiling. If named as were many Old Testament books, after the first words in the first line, it would have been known these past 2,000 years as APOKALUPSIS IESOU XRISTOU, the unveiling of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the very center of salvation, the height and depth of our hope, the gospel enfleshed, gave in the Bible a picture of salvation He inspired the Bible writer to call the revelation of Jesus.
John is in exile for His faith on the island of Patmos. In chapters two and three, God gives him a series of visions. Jesus has messages for His Church in seven epochs. Strangely, the last period, the Laodicean period, is the most self-satisfied of all. In the last days of planet earth, God's Church feels itself enriched in understanding. That is, just when God is bringing everything together to move the war between Christ and Satan to conclusion, many in His Church are wandering spiritually in a narcissistic, self-serving haze.
After the seven letters to the churches, the rest of the book is a collection of visions pertaining to the trials of God's people from John's time to the very end. We learn that God's Church will enter a period of great difficulty, be assailed from the outside and from the inside, yet prevail. God's people will keep His commandments and live out the faith of Jesus. They will be victorious. They will cease from sinning. They will be sealed and pass through the greatest time of trial in all eternity, and do so after Jesus' ministry of forgiveness has closed. This will occur immediately before His literal Second Coming. Jesus never leaves them, but the very last stage of the conflict occurs under unique conditions.
Among these visions in Revelation one is arguably the most startling of all. It is the most extraordinary vision given in all the Bible. The scene at Revelation 14:1-5 describes a people who pass through Job-like trials and who are the end-product of the gospel. They are the same group mentioned in Romans eight. The whole creation was waiting the revealing of the sons of God. Now, here they are.
Consider what John sees. Jesus (the Lamb) is standing victoriously on mount Zion. By conventional theology, the rest of the vision should not have been given; it should never have happened. It's all supposed to be about Jesus isn't it?
But look again. Yes, Jesus is standing on mount Zion, "and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads." The next four verses focus on this group. We see a victorious people. They passed through the greatest trouble there ever was. They are with Jesus. That is how they went through it. They had been sealed and never left the path of Jesus through the whole ordeal. He never ceases strengthening them with the help needed to get through.
Especially interesting is the detail John gives about this group. How are they described? They have Jesus and His Father's name in them. The name is not just anywhere. The name is written on their foreheads.
We know from the Scriptures that God's name stands for His character. In other words, we might say that the character of Christ has been perfectly reproduced in them. They are His own. Paul who wrote about the creation waiting for the revealing of the sons of God, also wrote "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). Satan said it couldn't be done. He said it could not even begin to be done. No one can keep God's law. But here they are! The name of Christ in their foreheads shows that they are His own. They have given themselves to Jesus fully.
This passage describes them as singing a new song--a song only they can learn and only they can sing. It is the song of their experience--an experience such as no other company have ever had. Furthermore, they are undefiled by women, that is, they have responded to Jesus' call to come out of Babylon, to flee those religious bodies which have become fully corrupted and which are on the point of destruction. They are described as following the Lamb wherever He goes. Whatever Jesus does, they have learned to do. Whatever Jesus does not do, they have learned not to do.
Think what we are here told. Satan claimed that if Job were assaulted he would reject God. But here are these who have passed through extraordinary trial, the trial of the ages. They have chosen to follow Jesus through the entire minefield no matter what it costs them. Revelation 14:4 shows that these pass the ultimate test. They are wholly for Jesus.
The fifth verse makes the outcome explicit: This group have no lying in them. They are without fault before the throne of God. They have ceased from sin.
Don't misunderstand. They are not absolutely perfect as God is absolutely perfect; they are finite beings. But they have come out of great tribulation, endured extraordinary trials. They are completely on Jesus' side. Who then are these shown to John right after Revelation thirteen tells us that all who have refused the seal of God will be coerced into receiving the mark of the beast?
They are the sealed. Revelation 7:1-3:
"After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, 'Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.'"
Here are angels guiding in measure the progress of the conflict. The Great Controversy War is not permitted to advance to its ultimate stage until God's people have been sealed. The seal is the law of God, the name of God, a reproduction of His character in the individual human reflector. In chapter seven, these are clothed in white robes and have come out of great tribulation. They are described as having "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14).
Revelation 19 further elaborates in verses seven and eight:
"Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints."
Both Revelation seven and 19 portray the bride as making herself ready. But chapter 19 makes it clear that her ability to make ready is itself a gift from God. There is divine-human cooperation in this. To be ready for the wedding is to become completely faithful to the Groom. All agendas are laid aside except God's agenda. Then in Revelation 22:11, 12 comes the final disposition. Characters have been decided, saints have been sealed, adversaries have received the mark of the great adversary. God accepts all these decisions. Jesus' ministry of forgiveness ceases. It is no longer needed.
Realize, those who have chosen His kingdom are fully given over to Jesus. All their sins have gone before them to judgment. All have been blotted out. They are fully connected to God. So fully as humanly possible, they are partakers of the divine nature. They are fully receptive. They are seeking and soaking up all His presence. They continue to receive His power for overcoming.
Meanwhile, the wicked have fully connected themselves to Satan. They are filthy and unclean. They have become relentless and determined completely to forsake Jesus. They are sinning and refuse even His forgiveness. They have convinced themselves of a sophisticated lie. They no longer even believe that there is such a phenomenon as sin. And so, Jesus' ministry of forgiveness is no use to them. They have received the mark of the beast. They are done. They are settled into error and selfishness as deeply as Christ's followers are settled into truth and unselfih love. They are joined to their idols. They cannot be moved.
The ministry of forgiveness ceases at last because all have aligned themselves. The righteous have completely stopped sinning, and the wicked have completely embraced selfishness; no longer do they even seek forgiveness. Put simply, Jesus doesn't stop forgiving, but people stop being forgiven. Every heart has chosen; every heart has achieved final alignment. Every heart has chosen for itself for eternity. This group, the righteous, refuse to sin.
God accepts those choices. Satan is still seeking to cause the followers of Jesus to defect. Probation has closed, but Satan tries. He could try for a day or for a million years. The outcome would be the same.
All of this brings us back to an idea, one we saw at the very beginning of this journey. Upon completing his letter to the Romans, Paul's thoughts turn again to the creation awaiting the revealing of the sons of God. We began with the clear statement in Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head, and Paul, a quarter century after the cross, encourages Christians, writing, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). Be clear, Paul does not say that they save themselves, or contribute merit to their own salvation. But he does tell them, and us, that a part of God's vindication is connected to the lives they live.
And so, as 2,000 years ago Jesus' life directly answered the question of whether God's law could be obeyed, the lives of God's people have a Heaven-defined role in what comes next. At the cross Satan's disguise was torn away, yet the angels did not even then understand all that was involved in the great controversy. Another deception was then brought forward, namely, that Jesus' death put an end to the law. That warfare continues.
It will be continued until the end of time. Every person will be tested. Obedience or disobedience is the question to be decided by the world. Every character will be fully developed; all will show whether they have chosen the side of loyalty or that of rebellion. When the great controversy is ended, the elimination of sin will vindicate God's love and establish His honor before a universe of beings who delight to do His will, and in whose heart is His law.
Last Generation Theology is Christianity. It is the Christian story carried to conclusion. It is not conventional Christianity, for the vindication of God's character is not highlighted in the common view. But it is a robust, whole-Bible Christianity. It is the completion of Jesus' atonement without any curtailed pieces, without any rounded corners.
Jesus and the last generation show what humanity and divinity combined can do in the power of God. This is not really even about personal salvation. It is about securing the universe against sin for eternity.
Understand, we are almost home. The title of this presentation ("Jesus and the Last Generation") makes it a sermon about us and Jesus. But only the choices you and I make today and tomorrow and everyday can make it so. Let us plead with God to help us to be willing to be made willing, and to give our hearts to the Planet-maker for their remaking. And we'll be there.
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