The Investigative Judgment - Does This Teaching Have Any Biblical Basis?

The article discusses certain doctrinal differences be­tween those of Seventh-day Adventists and those presented in the recent book "The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism," by Walter R Martin.

Editor, "Israelite" Magazine

This is the second of a series of articles discussing certain doctrinal differences be­tween those of Seventh-day Adventists and those presented in the recent book "The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism," by Walter R. Martin. Other articles will ap­pear in subsequent issues.


THE Seventh-day Adventist view of the investigative judgment has come in for a good deal of criticism during the years. The author of the book The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism maintains that there is no Biblical basis for such a concept, and others have even declared that the teaching is "fantastic" and a "face-saving device." Furthermore, some affirm that even the term "investi­gative" is an alien term, not being found in the Scriptures. Others maintain that the child of God will not come into judgment in any case.

The Use of the Term "Investigative" in Connection With the Judgment

The use of this term has been challenged on the ground that it is not once mentioned in the Bible. That the term is not used in the Sacred Word, we readily concede; but does that mean that it could not be used if it expresses what we feel is a Biblical truth? Would we make the same charge against the word "incarnation" because it is not found in the Scriptures? The same can be said of such expressions as the "virgin birth," the "Trinity," the "millennium." We fully believe these doc­trines, but the terms by which we express them are not found in the Divine Word. Many other Christians speak of "rapture," or "secret rapture," yet these words are not found in the Bible.

Two Theological Camps in the Christian Church

There are two main theological camps in the Christian church. As to what one be­lieves on such doctrines as the sovereignty of God, the eternal security of the believer, whether one can lose his status as a born-again Christian and be lost, whether there is a difference between the forgiveness of sin and the blotting out of sin, and other matters will, to a large degree, be deter­mined by the camp with which he is as­sociated. If he is in the Calvinistic group, then he favors one concept. If he is in the Arminian group, another concept. Sev­enth-day Adventists, from their beginning, have held quite largely to the Arminian concept, as have many other Christian bodies, such as the Methodists. John Wesley-was for twenty years the editor of The Arminian Journal.

Three Schools of Prophetic Interpretation

Still another important item is the inter­pretation of passages from the books of Daniel and Revelation. The interpretation will be determined according to the school of prophetic interpretation to which one belongs. There are three such schools—the Praeterist, believing that these prophecies have already largely been fulfilled; the Fu­turist, maintaining that in the main, their fulfillment is yet in the future; and the Historicist, believing that they are being pro­gressively unfolded and fulfilled. We be­long to this last-mentioned group, and our concepts are naturally in harmony with this school of prophetic interpretation.


The Term "Investigative"

Now take the term investigative as used in this connection. Why should exception be taken to it? It is true we do not often use such an expression in referring to the work of our earthly courts of justice, but do we not in principle do the very thing this term implies before a decision is rendered? Do we not aim at a thorough con­sideration of all the factors involved, whether they be for or against the accused? As to whether one calls such a procedure an investigation or an examination matters not, the principle is the same. No decision is given unless such a procedure is fol­lowed.

In our earthly courts there is the "investigation" of the case. Then comes the "pronouncement" of the verdict. The ac­cused is either condemned or acquitted. If condemned, as in the case of a murder, then comes the carrying out of the sen­tence, which might be life imprisonment or execution.

Is not this what takes place in the judgement of the great day of God? Let us see—

a. There is to be a judgment (Eccl. 12: 13, 14; Heb. 9:27).

b. There is to be a judgment of all men (Rom. 14:10).

c. There is to be a judgment of the righteous and the wicked (Eccl. 3:17).

d. There will be an "investigation" of all cases, for the books of record are to be opened for an investigation, after which the redeemed ones will be "accounted worthy" (Dan. 7:10; Luke 20:35; 21:36; 2 Thess. 1:5).

e. There will be a pronouncement of the verdict (Rev. 22:11, 12).

f. There will be an "execution" of the judgment on the wicked (Rev. 20:11-15).

g. There will be the clearing of all the cases of the righteous (Dan. 12:1; Luke 10: 20; Heb. 12:23).

The Significance of the Second Advent

In the second place, think of what takes place at the second advent of our Lord:

a. There will be the resurrection of the righteous dead (1 Cor. 15:50-54).

b. There will be the translation of the righteous living (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).

c. The resurrection of the righteous is called the "first" resurrection (Rev. 20:5, last part, and 6). The "rest of the dead"

(the wicked) are not raised until the end of the 1000-year period (Rev. 20:5).

Now think of what the foregoing considerations postulate. The wicked dead are not raised at the second advent of our Lord, but the righteous dead are raised, and not only so, they are raised to immor­tality and to be forever with their Lord.

This being so, the cases of all, both righteous and wicked, must have been de­termined before the Second Advent. Re­member that what happens at the second appearing of our Lord is done "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52). There­fore, the cases of all have been determined before that event. That this is so is seen from the following:

a. There is an "accounting worthy" of the righteous before the Second Advent.— Luke 20:35; 21:36; 2 Thess. 1:5.

Note that the righteous are accounted:

Worthy to obtain that world, Worthy to obtain that resurrection (Luke 20:35)

Worthy to escape all these things, Worthy to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:36)

Worthy of the kingdom (9 Thess. 1:5) of God

It is interesting to note that the Greek word for "to account worthy" is kataxioo and according to Moulton and Milligan means not "to make worthy," but "to count worthy." This could refer then not to the result of the judgment work, but to a proc­ess or investigation before the result is known and declared.

b. Prior to the Second Advent a special preparatory message goes forth to the whole world, which among other things declares that the hour of God's judgment is come. Paul in his day could announce the judgment "to come" (Acts 24:25), but near the time of the Second Advent it can be said with assurance that the hour of the judgment is come (lit., came). That this message is to be heralded to the whole world before Christ returns in glory is, we believe, set forth in the sequence of events as outlined in Revelation 14.

The message of the judgment hour is given in verse 6 and onward; the character of the people who accept it is outlined in verse 12, and the Second Advent for which they are prepared is described in verse 14. Hence it would seem clear that the mes­sage is given to the world during this phase of the judgment to prepare a people to stand in the great day of God.

c. We believe that the prophecies of the Word of God foretell an aspect of the judgment before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We read in Daniel 7:9, 10 the following:

I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.

A fiery stream issued and came forth from be­fore him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

Note two expressions in the above scrip­tures. Mention is made that the thrones were "cast down." The R.S.V. and many others say "were placed." For "the judg­ment was set" the R.S.V. gives "the court sat in judgment." Again we read:

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him (Dan. 7:13).

This scene presented to the prophet is part of a larger vision dealing with the four beasts of Daniel 7:3. These are inter­preted by the angel to represent four consecutive kingdoms, or dominions, that were to rule the earth until the God of heaven sets up a kingdom peopled exclusively with His saints. "These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom" (verses 17, 18). Since these four world kingdoms par­allel the vision of Daniel 2, where the first kingdom is said to be Babylon, this vision of Daniel 7 must reach from the time of the prophet to the second coming of Christ, at which time the everlasting kingdom of righteousness will be set up. This is important to observe, for the judgment pictured in verses 9-14 takes place before the second coming of Christ. Some of its deci­sions regarding the beast are executed while world affairs are in progress, and the taking away of the dominion of the beast under the control of the little horn is a progressive work that continues "unto the end" (verse 26).

We should observe that in the seventh chapter of Daniel we have an over-all picture of the conflict between the saints of the Most High and the little horn, the papacy. This conflict wages fiercely through the years until the time when "one like the Son of man came to the Ancient of days," to the Father, (verse 13), at which time a session of the judgment began in heaven. This judgment issues in a con­demnation of the little horn, and a verdict in favor of the saints (verses 21, 22). The papacy claimed the right to decide cases, the power to forgive sins and to determine who belongs to the church of God. Daniel in this chapter declares that there is only one court that has this power, the one meeting in the heavenly sanctuary shortly after the close of the 1260-day prophecy (verses 25, 26). God alone knows the hearts of men. He alone has the records of the lives of men. And John declares: "The Father . . .hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). Who else could distinguish between the true and the false? Who else has that right? Thus before Christ comes the heavenly assize will de­clare in favor of the saints and against the enemies of God. This judgment, when completed, will result in the rewards to the people of God; "and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom" (Dan. 7:22).

As noted above, one of the acts of judgment is to give to the "Son of man" "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him" (verses 13, 14). This takes place before the second coming of Christ, for when He returns it is as "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:11-16).

We agree with T. Robinson that the judgment here predicted precedes the second coming of Christ:

We have before us a passage of overwhelming grandeur and sublimity; the description of a scene of awful solemnity. , . . The passage exhibits the judgment-seat of God, with myriads of attendant angels, and the infliction of pronounced doom on a large portion of the human race. The judgment is not indeed, like that in Rev. xx., the general judgment. ... As already observed, this is not the general judgment at the termination of Christ's reign on earth, or, as the phrase is commonly un­derstood, the end of the world. It appears rather to be an invisible judgment carried on within the veil and revealed bv its effects and the execution of its sentence. ... It may be sitting now.— "Daniel," The Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, pp. 136, 139.

Thomas Scott, in his commentary, remarks also that: "The fulfilment of this prophecy will precede the introduction of the millennium; the final judgment will succeed to consummation of all things here on earth." We quote these writers to showthat certain scholars have referred to a judgment prior to the Second Coming.

In this prophecy Daniel refers particu­larly to one group, symbolized by the "little horn" which came in for examination, for sentence, and for condemnation. He does not aim to list all whose cases are to be con­sidered: he mentions only the "little horn" which had persecuted and wasted the peo­ple of God. The fact that "the books were opened" would seem to imply the judg­ment of others. This could be so, and the writer quoted above mentions this:

Whatever may be the case in regard to the judgment we have been considering, and whatever share we may or may not have in it, it is certain that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive according to the things done in the body, whether good or bad. . . . Each [man] must then give account of himself to God, for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. . . . Am I pardoned and accepted now in the surety, the Lord our righteousness? A place in the New Jerusalem or the Gehenna of fire depends on the question.—Ibid., p. 140.

With this conclusion Ellen G. White is in full harmony, for we read:

Thus was presented to the prophet's vision the great and solemn day when the characters and the lives of men should pass in review before the Judge of all the earth, and to every man should be rendered "according to his works."—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 479.

The work of the investigative judgment and the blotting out of sins is to be accomplished before the second advent of the Lord. Since the dead are to be judged out of the things written in the books, it is impossible that the sins of men should be blotted out until after the judgment at which their cases are to be investigated.—Ibid., p. 485.

When the investigative judgment closes, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be.—Ibidd.

Another test to which our attention might be directed is Revelation 11:18:

And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.

There might be a question in the minds of some as to when this passage has its application. There is one clause, however, that might give us an answer, and that is "that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants . . . and to the saints." This act of our Lord in bestowing these special gifts upon the children is located at His second advent:

Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Rev. 22:12).'

Behold thy Saviour revealeth himself; behold the reward of them that perform his word is with him (Isa. 62:11, Targum).

Granting that this is so, and that rewards are given at our Lord's appearing, then "the time of the dead, that they should be judged" must, of course, precede His return from heaven.

So in the light of these considerations, we feel there is ample evidence that the "investigation" aspect of the judgment takes place during the hours of time just prior to and up to the coming of Christ in power and great glory.

II. Is it a Biblical concept that the chil­dren of God come within the scope of the judgment?

This question can be answered in the af­firmative by reference to the following scriptures:

"God shall judge (LXX Gr. krino) the righteous and the wicked" (Eccl. 3:17).

"We shall all stand (Gr. paristemi) before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom. 14:10).

In the first place, the Old Testament passage asserts that both righteous and wicked will have their cases reviewed, and that undoubtedly means at the heavenly tribunal. In the second place, specific refer­ence is made to church members, for Paul's letter is to the churches at Rome and Corinth. But, doubtless, his words included others, those who were not believers in Christ. This is seen in his use of the word "all," which in the Greek is in a position of emphasis. It is seen also in the effect of such a judgment, for that which is meted out to all men is for the things that are "good" and those that are "bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some students have said that the saints appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive their rewards, and by this they mean rewards for service, but the language of these texts means that they are there for the determination of character rather than for the bestowal of rewards.

It is true, of course, that the children of God are to receive rewards. These rewards are variously described as:

A "crown of life" James 1:12

"A crown of glory" 1 Peter 5:4

"A crown of righteousness"2 Timothy 4:8 "An incorruptible" crown 1 Cor. 9:25

But as we have already seen, these re­wards will be bestowed at the time of the Saviour's second advent:

"And, behold, 1 come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12)!

We repeat, the texts in Romans and Co­rinthians do not refer to this. Notice the apostle's words "we must all appear." This includes members of the church. Then he states why we must all appear. It is that "every one of us shall give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12), to "re­ceive the things done in his body, . . . whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Again we mention, this is not determina­tion of rewards but the determination of character.

Matthew Henry's comment is much to the point in this connection:

Christ will be the judge, and He has both author­ity and ability to determine men's eternal state according to their works, and before Him we shall stand as persons to be tried, and to give an account. —Commentary on Romans 14:10.

John Calvin also has an interesting comment on this point:

An account must one day be rendered before the judgment seat of Christ; for the man who seriously considers this must of necessity be touched with fear, and shake off all negligence. He declares, therefore, that he discharges his responsibility faithfully and with pure conscience (2 Tim. 1:3). He is one who walks in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31), thinking of the account to be rendered by him.—Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:10.

This is all in full harmony with what we have observed above, that "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked" (Eccl. 3: 17).

We are not unmindful of the fact that the Saviour remarked in John 5:24:

He who hears my word and believes him who

sent nre, has eternal life; he does not come into

judgment, but has passed from death to life


It must be remembered, however, that many versions give "condemnation" rather than "judgment." See the K.J.V. and others. While the two words come from the same Greek word krisis, the word does not always mean the judgment as a tribunal, but as an act of that tribunal in the condemnation of judgment. This dual aspect of krisis is reflected in the following excerpt from Liddell Scott:

Krima is an act of judgment, Krisis partakes of both concepts, that of trial and also of the sentence of the court. In such a case the meaning of the word in a given text must be determined by the context.— Greek-English Lexicon.

That condemnation is the idea in John 5:24 is evident from the words "but is passed from death unto life." Those who have rejected light and do not have eternal life are under "condemnation" (James 5: 12), and the condemnation is "that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Christians who walk in the light are not under con­demnation; they live in the assurance of acceptance with God through Jesus Christ our Lord, as beautifully expressed by the apostle Paul:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1).

In the next article we shall discuss the question: "Does the Bible Reveal the Time for the Beginning of the Investigative Judgment?"

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Editor, "Israelite" Magazine

July 1960

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