The May, 1983, issue of MINISTRY contained an editorial that responded to recent allegations in regard to theological dissension within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. At the end of the editorial we promised our readership that future articles would carry an examination of the teachings in question. Here one of MINISTRY'S own editors takes an introspective look at the doctrine of the pre-Advent, or investigative, judgment.
Three great themes—Creation, redemption, judgment—run like golden threads throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. These three great truths cluster around a single Person, Christ, who is Creator, Redeemer, and Judge (John 1:1 -3; Luke 19:10;John 5:26, 27, 30). To understand and appreciate these three themes is to understand and appreciate all the more the work of Christ on our behalf.
Creation exhibits the wisdom, love, and perfection of the Creator. From the highest shining seraph to the lowliest buttercup in the meadow, from the sparkling jewels of the midnight sky to the tiniest cricket in the blackest cave—all carry with them the trademark of their Creator. The words "very good" were embossed upon each article to issue forth from the Creator's workshop. The very air of Eden was absolutely free of taint. The whole world, saturated with God's very presence in its sparkling beauty, was given to Adam and Eve as their dowry to remind them of its Giver continually. But somehow the spoilage and rot of sin took root in a perfect planet. It certainly wasn't because of any flaw in the Creator's work or in His finished product. Otherwise the reputation of the Master Designer could be impugned. It started with a seed of pride, of self-will, and that seed germinated within the human breast until man of his own volition found himself in rebellion against the government of the One who had graciously given him life.
Redemption is the Creator's plan for restoring man to his unfallen pre-Fall condition—to full harmony with the world around him and more important, to complete harmony with his Maker. All too often man has scorned this perfect plan and resorted to his own self-created plans for self-help and self-righteousness. Man has no innate powers by which he can elevate himself to the pure moral state in which he once stood. It takes power from without. To save a soul from the gutter takes just as much creative power as to create animate man from inanimate clay. Just as the powers of demons were exerted to keep the divine Redeemer in the tomb, but could not, so all the powers of evil cannot enslave the weakest soul who wants the unshackling grace of Christ. Creation is a miracle, and redemption is a miracle! The work of salvation is to make man's best efforts nothing, so that Christ can become everything, "all, and in all."
In reality, judgment is a continuation of the work of redemption. Its ultimate purpose also is to restore the image of the Creator in man, the image that was defaced at the Fall. Man's own self-centeredness is the chief stumbling block on the road that leads from Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored. One purpose of the judgment is to incinerate man's best efforts and the garments of his self-appointed dignity into mere ashes, so that the saving robe of Christ's righteousness may be placed around him (Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:1-5). Only then can Christ's creative power re-create the lost image in us.
From one standpoint, Creation was the work of separation. Night was separated from day; dry land from the waters; and the waters above from the waters below. The crowning work was a work of .separation: a lump of clay was excised from the soil to form man, and a rib was extracted from man to form woman. But we must never forget that man is much more than mere clay, and woman more than a rib. Redemption has continued the work of separation. The cross is the great separator of mankind. Sadly, it separated Judas from the twelve; it put a wedge between Jesus and the Jewish leaders; it put a Roman governor beyond the saving power of the Crucified One. But it also created a church by forging the twelve into an unconquerable unity, and it melted the heart of a Roman soldier at Calvary, separating him from his comrades, but uniting him to his Saviour.
Just as Creation and redemption are interrelated, so there is an unbroken continuity between redemption and the judgment. In judgment the work of separation must continue. Just as the hidden motives of Judas did not come to light until he threw down the thirty coins in the judgment hall on that early Friday morning, even though largely undetected by the other disciples just the evening before, so the motives of the innermost recesses of the mind will not be thrown wide open until the judgment day (Eccl. 12:13, 14; Matt. 12:36). At that time we will stand naked in the presence of our Creator (Heb. 4:13) a striking replay of what our first parents experienced on their first day of rebel lion.
True, the judgment is a time when the good are separated from the bad, the righteous from the wicked, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. But it is more, than a time for giving awards for service or rewards for disservice; it is a time when Christ Himself is given to His people. The climax of the judgment, according to Daniel 7, is the granting of the kingdom to the saints (verse 18). It is inconceivable that a kingdom could exist without a king; thus the granting of the kingdom is the granting of the King of kings permanently to His people. The occasion for this is the great wedding supper (Rev. 19:6-16). Redemption at Calvary was consummated when the Son of man refused the kingship of this world, and the judgment will be consummated when He takes the kingdom that rightfully is His, purchased by His own blood, and makes His people both' recipients and subjects of this kingdom (Dan. 7:26, 27). The sequence of Creation, redemption, and the judgment is crucial. Just as redemption could not have taken place until after Creation and the Fall had occurred, so the judgment could not convene until after the price for man's redemption had been paid at Calvary. However, there is a sense in which one aspect of the judgment took place at the cross, for Christ said with His eye on the cross, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). It could be said that the obituary of Satan was written at the cross, but his end was not yet. As with Satan so with all his agents, both demonic and human, Scripture describes a waiting period before the final execution of the sentence. They are "reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4; cf. verse 9).
From the perspective of the Biblical author, the judgment of the rebellious was yet future—"a fearful looking for of judgment" (Heb. 10:27). Does this mean that the judgment of the righteous likewise is yet future? Some may feel that the righteous are granted a certificate of exemption from judgment, based on the fact that Christ died as our Substitute. If He died the death that is ours, does that mean that He also endured the judgment that we are supposed to face? Here it is easy to confuse the work of redemption with the work of judgment. The confusion is owing in part to semantics because of the various shades of meaning the word judgment can have in the original language. The Greek krima refers to the judicial sentence and is most often translated as "judgment" in the K.J.V. and less often as "condemnation" or "damnation." The Greek krisis refers to the act or process of judging as well as the execution of the sentence, and is translated some forty-one times as "judgment" and only a few times as "accusation," "condemnation," or "damnation."
The case for our exemption from judgment is usually argued from John 5:24, where Christ says, "He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life: he does not come into judgment [krisis], but has passed from death to life" (R.S.V.). * It may be easy to pause here and exclaim, "Great, I'll never have to face the judgment," not realizing that what Christ is talking about is "condemnation," or an unfavorable sentence. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Thank God that the power of the cross is able to efface completely the condemnatory stain of our sins and is able to transfer the guilt from the ones who deserve it to Him who is so undeserving!
We dare not treat John 5:24 in isolation from verses 25-30. Looking at the sequence of logic that follows, we find Christ saying that He possesses the "authority to execute judgment" (verse 27). Is the execution of the judgment directed only toward the wicked, the righteous being exempted? Surprisingly not. Verses 29 and 30 amplify what is stated in verse 27, and suggest that the execution of the sentence has a dual aspect: (1) the raising of the righteous to a reward of eternal life, and (2) the raising of the wicked to a reward of eternal death. The execution of the sentence, which includes both the "resurrection of life" and the "resurrection of damnation," implies that a prior process of judging has already taken place involving both groups. If the righteous and wicked alike must come under the execution of the sentence, which is favorable for the one and unfavorable for the other, then we would expect that both groups must be involved in a preresurrection judgment in which their lives are carefully scrutinized.
To exempt the righteous from judgment cuts diametrically against such clear Pauline passages as Romans 14:ID- 12, "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. ... So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God," and 2 Corinthians 5:10, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive ..." Not only this, to deny the judgment of the righteous is to blunt the strong note of accountability and to remove a motivational impetus for moral behavior used by Paul in these passages, which have an overriding ethical tone. It would result in putting Paul into direct conflict and contradiction with John.
This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the judgment of the righteous did not occur at the cross. True, the cross provides the only anti dote and the only means whereby a struggling Christian can ever have the hope that he will indeed survive the devastation that will occur when the glaring record of his own sins will come to light. Thank God that the words "condemned to die" etched upon Christ's cross are transformed to read "no condemnation" on the cross each of us individually is commanded to carry and to be crucified upon!
The removal of our sins is a paradox in that on the one hand cleansing from sin is simultaneous with confession, yet on the other hand those very sins will be held against us if we apostatize. The blood of Christ is completely efficacious in removing our sins the moment we make confession and restitution (1 John 1:9; Eze. 33:14, 15). Sin and guilt are completely removed from us, "as far as the east is from the west" (Ps. 103:12), yet we have the unhappy thought that if we eventually turn our back on the Lord, then none of our righteousness will be remembered, and we will die for the sins we have committed, presumably those sins that we once confessed and obtained forgiveness for (Eze. 18:23, 24). How can this be? From a human standpoint sin is completely removed from us at the moment proper confession and restitution is made, but from the Creator's standpoint the record of every aspect of our lives, both good and bad, is retained on the record books until the judgment day (Eccl. 12:14; 2 Cor. 5:10). There fore, we find from Scripture that the removal of sin comes in two phases: (1) experientially, at the moment we ask divine forgiveness, and (2) judicially, when the forgiven sins are completely expunged from the divine record books. We can make this distinction because redemption and judgment are not one and the same event.
Judgment is more than an examination of the heavenly archives to see what a person's life pattern has been and what his eternal destiny should be. Deity already knows what the destiny of each should be, for "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). More than a divine inspection, judgment involves a vindication of the character of God, a testimony to the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice, as well as the occasion for the removal of sin and guilt. The task of sin removal is not only experiential but also judicial, as suggested in Peter's Temple portico sermon: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Daniel speaks of this blotting out as a work of cleansing of the temple, and not an earthly one, because the setting and context is that of heaven (Dan. 8:14; cf. chap. 7:9-14). The book of Hebrews symbolically portrays Christ, the High Priest, as purifying "the things in the heavens" from the effects of the sins of the righteous (Heb. 9:23). Final disposition is made of these sins, so that they are as good as buried in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). The sins of the wicked are thrown back upon their own heads, as well as upon Satan, the instigator of all sin (Eze. 18:4, 10-13; Rev. 20:10).
When is it, then, that our sins will be blotted out judicially from the divine records, and when will our lives come up for review? Many of the parables of the kingdom told by Christ depict the judgment as an event reserved for the end-times: the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13), the net (chapter 13), the laborers in the vineyard (chapter 20), the man without a wedding garment (chapter 22), the ten virgins (chapter 25), the talents (chapter 25), and the sheep and the goats (chapter 25). All of these parables presuppose that lives have been lived prior to the judgment: the wheat and tares both have grown to maturity, the fish have grown to the size that they can be caught in the mesh of the net, the laborers of the vineyard have worked till sunset, the talents have been used and invested, and a wedding suggests a period of maturation, preparation, and advance planning. The plain teaching of Christ is that we are not judged until we've had the opportunity to live our lives. This concept is reiterated in Hebrews 9:27: "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
If the righteous have not been judged before birth, and if they have not been judged at the cross, then precisely when are they judged? Some assert, It doesn't really matter when they are judged, as long as they are covered with the robe of Christ's righteousness. The same statement could be applied to the Advent. It doesn't really matter when Christ comes the second time as long as I'm ready. But if it doesn't really matter, then why has Christ given such detailed signs to alert us to the nearness of His coming? The fact is that in part our readiness impinges upon the timing of the Advent. So with the judgment: a knowledge of the time when the judgment occurs aids us in making sure that we are ready.
If God had a particular time when He descended through the hazy mists of this cosmos to create an inhabitable planet, and if Christ, His Son, descended incarnate into the bosom of this sin-darkened planet at a particular time ("the fulness of the time," Gal. 4:4), we would likewise expect that He would have a special time in which to judge the world. And so it is. "Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained" (Acts 17:31). Like its counterpart, Creation, which has a well-defined starting point (Gen. 1:1) and completion point (Heb. 4:3), judgment, too, has a particular point in time for beginning and ending. Its beginning is of sufficient importance in the eyes of Deity to send an angelic envoy to earth announcing, "The hour of his judgment is come," and in the same breath calling men everywhere to "worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (Rev. 14:7). Here is additional evidence of a strong link being forged between Creation and judgment. Both are events of cosmic proportions, the reverberations of which extend like ripples to the farthest bounds of the universe. It was an angelic choir that provided the anthem to celebrate the birth of our planet, and it will be the angelic hosts that are summoned to the judgment as participants to eulogize the death of the old and to welcome the birth of the new (Job 38:7, Dan. 7:10, Rev. 5:9-13).
If the time of the judgment is of such prominence to capture the attention of every created being, certainly God would not leave the human race in the dark in regard to this event. Whereas the New Testament Epistles are concerned more with the meaning of the event, the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation are concerned not only with its significance through symbolism but also with the timing of the event. In Daniel 7 the judgment is described as occurring during the time when antichrist, or the "little horn" power, is yet in existence, and prior to the time when all earthly kingdoms are destroyed. The judgment, then, is a pre-Advent and therefore a preresurrection event, since the Second Advent and the resurrection are considered to be simultaneous (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
It is important to interject an idea here that has far-reaching implications: the manner in which we view the resurrection will largely determine the manner in which we view the judgment. If the resurrection is the union of soul and body, the soul coming down from heaven to unite with the body coming up from the grave, then the judgment will take on a different aspect than if we view both soul and body remaining in the grave until the resurrection morning in the latter days. If we view heaven as a place where the soul will have a spiritual body, devoid of any physical aspect, then the judgment will be seen in a different light than if we believe that man will be resurrected as a complete unit, body and soul, when Christ comes the second time for His own (1 Corinthians 15; Dan. 12:2). The reason is simple: If the soul goes to its heavenly abode immediately at death, then this would presuppose that we are judged individually at death. We must appear before Christ's judgment throne before entrance is given into the Holy City. Under this construct, there would be no latter-day judgment when all the righteous collectively are brought before the judgment bar to receive their rewards. Whereas if we believe that the soul rests in a state of total unconsciousness in the grave until the resurrection day, then the day of judgment can take on an eschatological aspect. It is inconceivable that the righteous would be allowed to set up residence in heaven without having been judged first having been completely clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness and having His name, or character, imprinted upon their minds (Rev. 7:9-17; 14:1-5; 19:7, 8; 22:3, 4). An entrance into heaven presupposes a judgment that determines what rewards will be given (chap. 22:12). If, as we believe, the resurrection is the doorway event to heaven, then the judgment must be a preresurrection event.
One of the most striking parables of the judgment told by Christ and shared by the Gospel writer is the parable of the sheep and the goats. Notice the eschatological flavor in this parable: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (Matt. 25:31, 32). First, we should note that this parable combines the judgment of the righteous and the wicked into a single event, as in other parts of Scripture. Second, we should keep in mind that judgment has two phases: an investigation of the records (Daniel 7) and the granting of the rewards (John 5:28, 29). This parable describes only the second of the two phases. Third, we should remember that parables should not be used to develop a systematic treatment of doctrine. A story by nature is not systematic, but it does offer a central lesson. The point of this parable is that the final separation of the wicked and the righteous, as in the parable of the wheat and the tares, does not take place until the Second Advent.
Like the parable of the sheep and the goats, other parables, such as the wed ding supper, seem to combine the work of judgment with the second coming of Christ. But such parables given in symbolic language must not be divorced from Christ's eschatological discourse (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), much of which has been given in straightforward literal terms. Speaking of His coming, Christ declares: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matt. 24:36). If no one knows the time of this momentous event, and if the judgment is simultaneous with the coming of Christ, then it's also impossible for anyone to know the time of the judgment. But we have just said that God esteems the judgment to be of such magnitude that He has announced its arrival in advance. The solution to this dilemma is found in separating the judgment into more than one phase, the first being the actual work of judgment and the second being the execution of the judgment, or the giving of the rewards. The second phase is the only one that actually takes place at the Advent.
The first phase of the judgment occurs before Christ returns in glory back to this earth. The investigation of the records, according to Scripture, precedes the time when the righteous enter heaven. In fact, they are not even present at their own trial! Look at Daniel 7:9, 10: "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." Notice that this awesome event has no mention of human beings. The "thousand thou sands" and "ten thousand times ten thousand" are in reality the angels who are summoned as witnesses to the judgment. Revelation 5:11 explicitly denotes them as "angels." The righteous appear at the heavenly assize not in reality, but by means of the meticulously detailed books that record each act, word, and thought. Christ, their Advocate (1 John 2:1), appears as their representative in the judgment so that they do not have to appear in person.
This idea is supported by two strong lines of scriptural evidence, both of which were given in symbolic form. The first symbolic portrayal of the judgment is found in the Day of Atonement ceremony, which was the only one of the sanctuary services to culminate within the Holy of Holies (Heb. 9:7). The Day of Atonement in reality was a figurative portrayal of the final judgment: the Shekinah glory representing God as the judge, the ark of the covenant being the throne of judgment, the tables of the law being the standard of judgment, and the high priest representing Christ as lawyer and saviour. According to the description of this earthly preenactment of the judgment found in Leviticus 16, the believer is not allowed in the sanctuary itself, or even in the courtyard during the Day of Atonement services. His case is carried by the high priest into the Holy of Holies while he must wait expectantly and penitentially perhaps at the door of his own tent or at least outside the door to the sanctuary's courtyard. The point is that the believer does not attend the judgment in person.
The second symbolic portrayal of the judgment is found in a vision described in Zechariah 3. The imagery is that of the sanctuary: Note the description of the seven-branched golden candlestick (chap. 4:2) and the reference to the priestly miter (chap. 3:5). Joshua, the high priest, stands before God as the representative of his people, while Satan standing beside him lashes out at him in a scathing verbal attack. The issue is sin in the life of God's saints. The solution to this sin problem is the placing of the divine robe (Christ's righteousness) around the sinner. Thus justification takes place here in a judicial setting. In the judgment portrayal of Zechariah 3 the sinner himself does not appear in person in the heavenly judgment, but vicariously in the person of his representative, the high priest. So in the latter-day judgment, "Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands . . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:24). Thank God that we have a divine Representative to appear in the judgment in our place!
The vast majority of God's saints are resting in their graves at the time the latter-day judgment takes place in the heavenly courts. If there is any credence to the text that says, "The dead [including the righteous dead] know not any thing" (Eccl. 9:5), then the righteous who are in their graves awaiting the resurrection know not that they are being judged. Just as Adam was yet dust when God was making a home for him and preparing a perfect world for his enjoyment, so the majority of God's people quietly rest in the dust while their lives are being examined in the divine tribunal and while their Maker is preparing a restored Eden for them. A few righteous at the close of time will be alive when their cases come up for divine review in the heavenly courts—Scripture says the "living" as well as the "dead" are involved in the judgment (2 Tim. 4:1).
In summary, the great themes—Creation, redemption, and judgment—cover the scope of human history and the breadth of God's activities on man's behalf. Creation vindicates the great power of God, redemption vindicates the unending love of God, and judgment vindicates the absolute justice of God. God receives all the glory, and His Son all the praise, as the judgment concludes with this anthem: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12).