Crucial Question 18: Did God intend to end the world before all the attendees at a conference in 1856 died?
While attending a May 1856 conference in Battle Creek, MI, Ellen White was given a vision of the end. Her angel predicted that some of the conference attendees would die before the second coming of Christ, that others would be among the wicked who would suffer the seven last plagues, and that some persons present at the 1856 conference would be translated directly to heaven without passing through death.
From the Pen of Ellen White:
“At the conference a very solemn vision was given me. I saw that some of those present would be food for worms, some subjects for the seven last plagues, and some would be translated to heaven at the second coming of Christ, without seeing death” (2SG 208).
“I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: ‘Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.’
“Solemn words were these, spoken by the angel. I asked the angel why so few were interested in their eternal welfare, so few preparing for their last change. Said he: ‘Earth attracts them, its treasures seem of worth to them.’ They find enough to engross the mind, and have no time to prepare for heaven. Satan is ever ready to plunge them deeper and deeper into difficulty; as soon as one perplexity and trouble is off the mind, he begets within them an unholy desire for more of the things of earth; and thus their time passes, and, when it is too late, they see that they have gained nothing substantial. They have grasped at shadows and lost eternal life. Such will have no excuse.
“Many dress like the world, to have an influence. But here they make a sad and fatal mistake. If they would have a true and saving influence, let them live out their profession, show their faith by their righteous works, and make the distinction great between the Christian and the world. I saw that the words, the dress, and actions should tell for God. Then a holy influence will be shed upon all, and all will take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus” (1T 131-32).
“The hour will come; it is not far distant, and some of us who now believe will be alive upon the earth, and shall see the prediction verified, and hear the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God echo from mountain and plain and sea, to the uttermost parts of the earth. All creation will hear that voice, and those who have lived and died in Jesus, will respond to the call of the Prince of life” (R&H July 31, 1888).
Obviously, all attendees from the Battle Creek conference of 1856 are now dead, but for many years, this prophecy (which EGW reinforced in 1888) absorbed great attention from the SDA faithful. Lists were created and circulated containing the names of those present at the conference, with particular attention paid to the dwindling numbers still alive. Hope was finally extinguished when even the infants of 1856 were laid to rest.
An explanation had to be found, so Ellen White’s defenders began saying that the prophecy was conditional (see Jer. 18:7-10). Truly conditional prophecies involve either stated or implied conditionality. A stated condition reads, If you do this, I will do that (see Deut. 30:15-18). An implied condition occurs when God gives a warning of coming punishment. The act of giving the warning implies that the person or group might avert the penalty by changing their behavior. The story of Jonah’s warning to Nineveh is an excellent example of implied conditionality, which Jonah clearly understood even before he went to the wicked city (see Jonah 4:2). The problem for SDAs is that Ellen White’s angel neither stated nor implied conditionality in the prophecy. Conditionality must not be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for prophets whose predictions do not come to pass.
A final consideration is that since God knows the day and hour of His coming (Matt. 24:36), why would He give a prophecy that He knew would not come true? In fact, God knew that the gospel wasn’t even close to reaching the entire world as predicted in Matthew 24:14, so He knew that the end wasn’t close. Therefore, to make a specific prediction about certain individuals being alive during the plagues and at the second coming seems unlike God, but it sounds very much like an idea emanating from a former Millerite.
- Doesn’t God know the day and hour of the second coming? If so, how could there be a delay in His coming?
- When a prophecy is conditional, isn’t there a strong implied conditionality (e.g. Jonah’s message of doom contained an implied hope that God might relent—otherwise, the warning would never have been given)?
“When the word of a prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him” (Jer. 28:9).
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36).
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).
“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).
For Further Study:
- Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 208-209
- Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 131-132
- Nichol, Francis D., Ellen G. White and Her Critics, pp. 102-111
Continue on to Crucial Question #19: Predictions on Slavery
Go back to Crucial Question #18: Is the Investigative Judgment True?