What Jesus said about a pre-Advent Judgment

When God examines those who have come to the wedding of the Lamb (Matthew 22), it is not for His own benefit, but to reveal to the universe who has put on the wedding garment.

Morris L. Venden is pastor of the College View Seventh-day Adventist church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

What would you think if the first thing you discovered when you got to heaven was that Billy Graham was missing? And then, on top of that, suppose you found out that Adolf Hitler was to be your next-door neighbor. Probably your first question would be "Did I somehow get to the wrong place?" But if you became convinced that you actually were in heaven, you'd have some big questions to ask, wouldn't you?"

Can you imagine going up to one of the heavenly beings passing by at that moment and saying, "Pardon me, but can we ask questions up here?"

"What is it you want to ask?"

So you voice your questions, but he replies, "Don't ask about that. The Lord knows who are His."

You surrender at that point, because you do love the Lord. But you go through eternity wondering about Graham and Hitler.

Now let's thicken the plot a little. Suppose that you get to heaven and find out that your own son is missing! At the same time you discover that the person who led your own son down the road into sin is living next door to you! You go back out into the street, stop an angel, and say, "Pardon me. Is it all right if I ask some questions?"

"About what?"

So you tell him your problem. And he replies, "No, don't ask that. The Lord knows those who are His."

About that time you say, "Could you please show me to the gate?"

I would like to propose that when we get to heaven and we have some big questions, the beings there are going to welcome our questions. They are going to say, "We're glad you asked. We want you to under stand." Because God has always treated His creatures as intelligent beings.

One of the reasons we need a pre-Advent judgment is for you and me to understand the decisions God makes in reference to our loved ones. Another reason is to silence the accusations of Satan, the accuser of the brethren. And a third reason is to vindicate God in the eyes of the entire universe.

Let me try to demonstrate the need for a pre-Advent, or investigative, judgment by a parable. It comes in two parts. The first part: "The Way It Was."

There was great excitement in the little town of Mill Creek, Illinois, that after noon in 1845. Eighth Illinois Circuit judge David Davis, of Bloomington, had just arrived, accompanied by several circuit lawyers, including one named Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's presence added to the stir of excitement, for in addition to being a good lawyer, Abe told the funniest stories anyone had ever heard.

It had been almost six months since the last court session in Mill Creek, and there was quite an accumulation of cases to be tried. Old Thomas Jacobs was suspected of setting fire to the blacksmith's shop. He and the blacksmith had had words; old Thomas had made some pretty dark threats; and that very night the black smith's shop had burned to the ground. Witnesses said that they had seen old Thomas there at the fire, laughing and slapping his knees.

Then there was the fight at the tavern between Henry Whitney and Ebenezer Bates. Whitney had finally pulled out his pistol and shot Ebenezer in cold blood. Some said that Ebenezer had asked for it and that Whitney was only defending himself, but others sided with Ebenezer and said it was murder, plain and simple.

Finally there was the case of Jesse Adams. He had ridden into town one day, gone straight to the Mill Creek Bank, shoved his gun under the teller's nose, and demanded all the bank's cash. He'd man aged to get about fifteen miles out of town before the sheriff and his deputy caught up with him. He had been in the town jail ever since.

In addition to these more spectacular cases, there were the usual disputes over property lines, debts and foreclosures, and slander suits, and the case of a man named Silas Foster, who had been accused of stealing pigs.

The announcement was made that court would convene the following week, and people brought in their legal business. The lawyers went to work at once on the cases assigned to them, and when the announced time arrived, the circuit court convened. The whole town crowded into the courthouse, and during each recess a number could be heard hotly discussing the pros and cons of each case. The lawyers examined and cross-examined and called out objections at every opportunity. Abe Lincoln had a knack for bringing the truth to light, and in the cases he defended, even the prosecuting attorney ended up admit ting that he was right. As the people listened and heard the evidence for them selves, they were convinced that justice was being dealt.

One by one the cases were brought before the court. The juries withdrew to deliberate, and a verdict was reached— guilty or not guilty. As Judge Davis sentenced those who had been found guilty, and as those found innocent were acquitted, the town was satisfied. The last morning the judge and his lawyers were in town, there was a hanging. Henry Whitney had been found guilty of murder. And the circuit judge and his company moved on to the next town.

That is the parable "The Way It Was." Now let's back up and go through the same story again, this time,  "The Way It Wasn't."

There was great excitement in the little town of Mill Creek, Illinois, that after noon in 1845. Eighth Illinois Circuit judge David Davis, of Bloomington, had just arrived, accompanied by Abe Lincoln and several other circuit lawyers. It had been almost six months since the last court session in Mill Creek, and quite an accumulation of cases waited to be tried.

Old Thomas Jacobs was suspected of setting fire to the blacksmith's shop. There had been a fight at the tavern between Henry Whitney and Ebenezer Bates. Bates was dead. Jesse Adams was in jail awaiting trial for bank robbery. And there was the usual assortment of lesser disputes.

Judge Davis announced that court would convene immediately. The whole town crowded into the courthouse; the judge banged his gavel on the desk and declared, "Thomas Jacobs, not guilty. Silas Foster, not guilty. Henry Whitney, guilty as charged, to be hanged at sunrise. Jesse Adams, not guilty. Court is closed."

The prosecuting attorney jumped to his feet. "You can't do that!" he cried. "Who do you think you are? You can't acquit these people without a fair trial or sentence them before they're proved guilty."

The townspeople sided with the prosecution. "He's right," they shouted. "How does the judge know who's guilty and who isn't?"

Abe Lincoln raised his voice to be heard above the tumult, "Don't you people trust the judge? The judge knows those who are his to acquit. He's been keeping tabs on things while he's been back in Bloomington. He has kept careful records. He has evidence and he doesn't make mistakes."

But the people became even more upset. "The judge may have evidence, and he may not," they said. "But we don't have evidence. It's not enough just to claim to have evidence. It must be examined openly before sentence is given. The whole court, not just the judge, needs to see the evidence."

The circuit lawyers kept trying desperately to convince the people of Mill Creek that the judge could be trusted. But the people insisted that trust had to be based on an intelligent understanding of the reasons for the judge's decisions.

The last morning the judge and his lawyers were in town, there was a hanging. It was the judge who was hung.

Does that speak for itself? God intends to handle this great controversy so transparently, He wants to lay out the evidence so clearly, that even Satan and his angels, and the wicked of all ages, will bow the knee along with the redeemed and say that God has been fair and just (see Phil. 2:10, 11). Those in His kingdom, even if some loved one is missing, will have no misgivings or questions forever, but will say from the heart, "Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints" (Rev. 15:3).

Some have gotten the idea that the purpose of a pre-Advent judgment of investigation is to allow God time to pore over the books to decide who is going to make it to heaven. God could settle that question in a microsecond. The real purpose of the investigative judgment is not simply to decide who is going to make it, it is to reveal something about God and about His people that needs to be revealed to the entire universe.

I don't have space in this article to go into a detailed exegesis of Daniel 7, 8, and 9, and the book of Revelation, to trace the doctrine of the investigative judgment. But God never does anything this significant without revealing it to His servants and the prophets (see Amos 3:7). So we can expect that an investigative judgment will be taught in prophecy. If Daniel 7, 8, and 9 are studied as a unit, realizing that they are parallel prophecies covering the same time period, there will be no problem seeing the prophetic delineation, of a pre-Advent judgment of investigation. The first angel of Revelation 14 announces, pre-Advent, that the hour of God's judgment is come. Not that it is coming, or will come, or shall come, but it is come.

One of the purposes-of such a judgment is to reveal those people who have accepted Christ's invitation, and who have, as described in Matthew 24:13, endured to the end. And during this pre-Advent judgment, not only are God's people vindicated but there is also preparation for the vindication of God's character before the entire universe.

When Jesus died on the cross, He purchased the right to forgive everyone in the entire world. But not everyone is forgiven. So during the pre-Advent judgment, God's course in forgiving those who are forgiven is vindicated. And during the thousand years following Christ's return (see Revelation 20), God is justified for not forgiving the ones who are not forgiven.

What did Jesus have to say about the pre-Advent judgment? Both His parable of the net and His parable of the wheat and tares indicate a time of determination and decision-making before the final rewards are given. But His major comment on a pre-Advent judgment is in Matthew 22. You may want to read the entire chapter to get the background. Verses 2-7 give the history of the Jewish people and God's invitation to them up until the destruction of Jerusalem, in A.D. 70. Verses 8-10 indicate the gospel being taken to the Gentiles. "And the wedding was furnished with guests." What is the wedding? Revelation 19 tells of a time just before Jesus comes when He is united with His bride, the church, and the marriage and wedding feast takes place. So Jesus' parable is referring to the last events before He comes again.

In the days of Christ a wealthy person, a king in particular, sent not only a wedding invitation but a wedding garment for the invited person to wear. That solved a lot of problems. Imagine receiving an invitation to the wedding of a king's son today! What would be the first thing the wife would say? "What am I going to wear?"

Back then, the problem was already solved. It made no difference whether you were rich or poor, whether you were from the palace or the ghetto. Anyone who received an invitation to the wedding of the king's son also received a wedding garment. Even the poorest could look like a millionaire.

Obviously, the king went to a great deal of expense to provide the wedding garment. If anyone was to show up at the wedding without wearing the provided garment, it would be an insult to the king and to the king's son, and in a sense, the whole kingdom would feel the sting. So two things came with a prominent wed ding in the days of Jesus—an invitation and a beautiful robe to wear to the occasion.

With that in mind, notice verse 11: "And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment." Evidently the king came in to investigate, to examine, the guests before the festivities began. And he saw this man without the wedding garment. In Revelation 3 we find that the ones who lack the robe of Christ's righteousness are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So this man wasn't just dressed in common apparel; he was naked'. If you think this is going too far, the most we could allow him, scripturally, would be a few filthy rags, because all of our righteousness are as filthy rags.

Notice what the king said to this guest, verse 12: "And he saith unto him, Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speech less." The king called him "friend"! Isn't that good news? God is not interested in seeing how many people He can keep out of heaven; He's trying to see how many people He can get in. He said, "Friend, was there some misunderstanding? You must have received the invitation; you're here. But was there some slip-up about the robe? Do you have an explanation?"

The king gave him a chance, didn't he? He treated him with dignity. But Scripture says the man was speechless. He had nothing to say. Only then did the king say to his servants, "Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen" (verses 13, 14).

What is Jesus trying to tell us in this parable? First of all, we are all invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. All we have to do is to accept the invitation. Jesus provided it all. When He bowed His head and died He earned the right to forgive everyone who was ever born in this world. We have only to accept His forgiveness. We are all invited to the wedding

But what about the wedding garment? Revelation 19 describes the marriage sup per of the Lamb. "For the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (verses 7, 8). Some modem translations say the fine linen is the "righteous deeds" of the saints.

What are the righteous deeds of the saints? What is the righteousness of the saints? Jeremiah 23:6 reminds us that the Lord is our righteousness. So any kind of righteousness seen in the saints is still the Lord's work, isn't it? This story reminds us of the twofold aspect of righteousness: first, the righteousness of Christ for us at the cross, in providing the invitation; and second, the righteousness of Christ in us, worked out in the life through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is represented by the wedding garment. Both are of faith; both come from Him.

So the king came to examine the guests. He saw there a man who had not on the wedding garment. Evidently he wanted to accept the invitation, but he didn't want to wear the wedding garment. This man was interested in getting to heaven, but he had no desire to accept Christ's righteousness lived out in the life, for the purpose of bringing honor to Him. "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (Psalm 23:3). There is something more important than just getting ourselves to heaven, and that is to bring honor and glory to the King and His Son.

So when the King comes to view the guests in this pre-Advent judgment, He finds a man without the wedding garment. Apparently the King examines at least two things before the Advent in this investigative judgment. First, He examines whether or not the invitation has been accepted, and second, He investigates whether the wedding garment has been accepted and put on.

Revelation 3:5 uses the same imagery: "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." God wants us not only to respond to the invitation to the heavenly country but to be overcomers, by His grace, as well. And that's what putting on the wedding garment is all about.

So when He comes in to examine or investigate the guests, it is to reveal before the universe those who not only have accepted the invitation but have become overcomers through His power, as well.

Well, you may say, "I'm not doing too good on that. I fall and fail every day." I'd like to remind you that overcoming is primarily God's area of responsibility, not yours. The invitation to the wedding is free, and the wedding garment is free tool Obedience comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. It isn't something we achieve; it's something we receive through a continuing relationship with Christ. Putting on the wedding garment is simply accepting what God has offered.

Sanctification is just as much a gift as is justification, and many in the Christian world are still waiting today to hear and understand that good news. Some of us have worked hard to try to obey, to try to overcome, to try to get the victory. We forget that one doesn't work for a gift. The wedding garment is free—a gift from the King Himself.

Are you interested not only in the invitation to the gospel feast but in wearing the robe, as well? Both are offered to you freely today.


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Morris L. Venden is pastor of the College View Seventh-day Adventist church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

September 1982

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