The pre-Advent judgment: fact or fiction?

The pre-Advent judgment: fact or fiction? (part 2)

The final part of a fresh look at the Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment.

Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D., is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

Editorial Note: The first in this two-part series appeared in the December 2003 issue of Ministry.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the judgment in Daniel 7 is a pre-Advent, investigative judgment. Is this concept scriptural or an unbiblical Adventist fiction?

The investigative judgment concept throughout Scripture

Right from the beginning of God's dealing with fallen humanity in Genesis 3, a pattern of judicial procedure emerges. First comes the investigation: "Where are you?" "Who told you?" "Have you eaten of the tree?" (Gen. 3:9- 13). Following this investigation God announces the verdict in verses 14-19. We find a similar divine approach in God's dealings with Cain (Gen. 4:9, 12) and in His handling of the Sodom and Gomorrah incident. It is significant that the New Testament projects the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah as an "example," or a "type," of God's judgment at the end (2 Pet. 2:6 and Jude 7). Most of Genesis 18 and 19 describes God's investigations and deliberations before a punitive action on His part.

In the writings of Israel's prophets, Israel or the nations are arrayed before God's judgment seat. An investigation is made, facts are stated, witnesses are called upon, and finally a verdict is pronounced (e.g., Isa. 5:1-7; 43:8-13, 22-28). The sequence is always the same: sin, investigation, and judgment.1

The concept of a pre-Advent, investigative judgment appears also in the New Testament. The parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 is a prime example. "When the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment" (Matt. 22:11, NKJV). The king's inspection of the guests represents a process of investigation. The result of this investigation determined who of the guests could remain and who could not. In this sense it is a picture of the investigative, pre-Advent judgment in heaven going on now.

Other New Testament texts that presuppose a pre-Advent judgment are John 5:28, 29, where John mentions a resurrection for life and a resurrection for condemnation, and Revelation 20:4-6. Most biblical exegetes agree that Revelation 20 teaches two literal resurrections of the dead, separated by one thousand years. Inasmuch as only the "blessed and holy" come up in the first resurrection, a prior judgment must have taken place to determine who will take part in the first resurrection.

The Lutheran theologian Joseph A. Seiss recognized this and wrote, "The resurrection, and the changes which pass in the twinkling of an eye upon the living, are themselves the fruits and embodiments of antecedent judgment. They are the consequences of adjudications then already made. Strictly speaking, men are neither raised nor translated, in order to come to judgment. Resurrections and translations are products of judgment previously passed upon the dead as dead, and upon the quick as quick. The dead in Christ shall rise first, because they are already adjudged to be in Christ, and the living saints are caught up together with them to the clouds, because they are already adjudged to be saints, and worthy to attain that world."2

In Revelation 14, the harvest of the earth is preceded by the first angel's message, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come" (Rev. 14:7, NKJV). The sequence of events portrayed in this chapter clearly indicate that the judgment spoken of in 14:7 precedes the execution of the judgment at Christ's second advent described in verses 14-20.3

Thus throughout Scripture we find the concept of an investigative judgment before the Second Advent

The judgment in Daniel 7

Daniel 7 consists essentially of a vision, its interpretation, and the prophet's reaction to the vision. It is framed by a prologue (verses 1, 2a) and an epilogue (verse 28). The vision (verses 2-14) depicts four beasts, with the focus on the fourth beast, which has ten horns out of which arises another little horn. This little horn becomes the main opposition to the "Most High" and the saints in the rest of the chapter.

While the activities of the little horn continue here on earth, Daniel's attention is drawn to a heavenly judgment scene (verses 9-14) in which the little horn is condemned, the saints are vindicated, and dominion, glory, and a kingdom are given to "one like the Son of Man."4

The judgment passage in Daniel 7:9-14 contains three scenes: (1) a judgment in heaven in verses 9 and 10; (2) the end of the fourth beast, i.e., the outcome of the judgment in verses 11 and 12; and (3) the reception of the kingdom by a Son of Man (Christ) in verses 13 and 14.

It is important to recognize that this judgment is going on while the little horn is active on the earth. At the end of verse 8, Daniel hears the "pompous words" of the little horn. Then his attention is diverted to the heavenly judgment scene (verses 9, 10). But after describing the judgment scene, Daniel's attention is again arrested by the great words which the horn spoke. The text says "at that time," that is, while he was beholding the heavenly assize, this speaking—with great words—took place here on earth.

Having dealt with the little horn and the beasts, whose dominions had been taken away while their lives were prolonged here on earth (verses 11, 12), the vision returns to the heavenly realm and the ultimate tri umph of God's plan (verses 13, 14).

The time of the judgment

Three passages in Daniel 7 refer specifically to the judgment. These are found in verses 9, 14, 21, 22, and 26. Because the actions of the little horn clearly intersect and, for a time at least, coincide with the heavenly judgment, this judgment cannot be the final judgment of Revelation 20. Rather it must be a preliminary judg ment going on in heaven before the Second Advent, as Seventh-day Adventists have always believed.

This has been recognized by a number of non-Adventist commentators: The Roman Catholic author F. Diisterwald, for example, wrote, "Without question, the prophet Daniel here describes God's judgment concerning the hostile powers. The judgment ends with the total condemnation of the world empires and the triumph of the cause of God. However, what is described here is not as many older interpreters (Theodoret and others) have assumed the general judgment of the world, it is not God's judgment here on earth, rather the place of the judgment is in heaven. The context indicates, that it is a preliminary judgment which is later confirmed in the general judgment of the world."5

The Protestant interpreter T. Robinson saw this judgment sitting during the nineteenth century when he wrote his commentary on Daniel. He said, "As already observed, this is not the general judgment at the termination of Christ's reign on earth, or, as the phrase is commonly under stood, the end of the world. It appears rather to be an invisible judgment car ried on within the veil and revealed by its effects and the execution of its sentence. As occasioned by the 'great words' of the Little Horn and followed by the taking away of his dominion, it might seem to have already sat. As, however, the sentence is not yet by any means fully executed, it may be sitting now."6

Who is being judged?

In this judgment scene books are opened and studied (verse 10). In the Old Testament we find references to the "book of the living" (e.g., Ps. 69:28), the "book of remembrance" (e.g., Mal. 3:16), and to God's "book" (e.g., Exod. 32:32; Ps. 56:8). The same thought occurs in the literature of later Judaism and in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Enoch 47:3; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:12; 21:27). The important question is, who is being judged from the records in these books? From the context we conclude that this judgment includes:

1. God's people. Because "a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High" (Dan. 7:22, NKJV), they must be in some way the subject of this judgment. This fact is not recognized outside of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though this should not surprise us. Because most Christians believe in the immortality of the soul, they believe that a per son's future state is decided the moment when he or she dies.

A pre-Advent judgment, therefore, in which a final decision is rendered as to whether a person is saved or not, does not make sense to them. They see the dead already in heaven or hell (or purgatory for Roman Catholics).

2. The little horn. The context of the judgment scene repeatedly refers to the little horn (verses 8,11). The judgment, therefore, must somehow also involve the little horn. "Internal con textual evidence suggests that the saints and the little horn share equally in the pre-Advent judgment verdict" 7—the saints in the sense that they receive the kingdom (verse 27) and the little horn in that dominion is taken away from it. Thus the vindication of the saints (verse 22) implies the condemnation of the little horn.

The purpose of the pre- Advent judgment

The primary purpose for the investigative pre-Advent judgment is the final confirmation of salvation and vindication of God's people (7:22). "From time to time some of these saints have been ajudged guilty of various crimes by earthly tribunals when actually they were serving God and man faithfully. In the pre-Advent judgment these unjust sentences by earthly courts will be reversed by the courts of heaven. In this way God will vindicate his saints."8

Beyond the vindication of the saints and the condemnation of the little horn, the pre-Advent judgment also vindicates God's justice in His dealings with humanity. When the unfallen beings in the universe examine the records of the saints during the pre-Advent judgment, they will come to the conclusion that indeed God has been just and merciful in each case.

In this way the character of God that has been at the center of the great controversy between Christ and Satan will be vindicated.


In conclusion, our study confirms that Daniel 7 depicts a judgment before the Second Advent. This judg ment concerns both God's people and the little horn. While the evil tyrant suffers extinction, God's people experience His saving justice and receive eternal life.

Moreover, through this judgment process God Himself is vindicated before the universe. At the second advent of Jesus, when rewards are bestowed, those who have main tained a living relationship with their Savior and whose names remain inscribed in the book of life become partakers of the eternal kingdom.

1 For other examples of investigative judgments m the Old Testament, see William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, revised edition, DARCOM. (Silver Spring, Md/ Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 1-29, Enc Livmgston, "Investigative Judgment: A Scriptural Concept," Ministry (April 1992). 12-14.

2 J. A Seiss, The Apocalypse (reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.. Zondervan, 1973), 136

3 For other examples, see Samuel Bacchiocchi, "The Pre-Advent
Judgement in the New Testament," Adventists Affirm (Fall 1994), 37-44.

4 Concerning the identity of the "Son of Man," see Arthur J. Ferch, The Son Of Man in Daniel Seven, Andrews University Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series vol. 7 (Bemen Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1979).

5 F. Dusterwald, Die Weltreiche und das Gottesreich (Freiburg. Herder'scheVerlagsbuch-handlung, 1890), 177.

6 T. Robinson, Daniel, Homiletical Commentary, vol. 19 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1892), 139 Similarly, S. P Tregelki, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, 8th edition (Chelmsford. The Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony, n.d.), 36-38.

7 Norman Gulley, Cfirist is Coming! (Hagerstown, Md.. Review and Herald, 1998), 413. See also Arthur J. Ferch, "The Pre-advent Judgment: Is It Scriptural?" Australasian Record, August 28, 1982, 5-7

8 William H Shea, "Theological Importance of the Preadvent judgment" in 70 Weeks, Leviticus, Nature of Prophecy, ed. Frank B. Holbrook (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Research Institute, 1986), 328.

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Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D., is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

February 2004

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