“The books were opened”

“The books were opened”: A survey of the Pre-Advent judgment

Learn more about the pre-Advent judgment in Scripture.

Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, is retired associate director, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

 “I watched till thrones were put in place,

And the Ancient of Days was seated;

His garment was white as snow,

And the hair of His head was like pure wool.

His throne was a fiery flame,

Its wheels a burning fire;

A fiery stream issued

And came forth from before Him.

A thousand thousands ministered to Him;

Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.

The court was seated,

And the books were opened” (Dan. 7:9, 10).1

Seventh-day Adventists were not the first ones, but today they are the only ones who teach a pre-Advent judgment. In the early 1840s, Josiah Litch, a Methodist theologian and the most influential Millerite, taught that “the divine act of raising some persons to life and others to death at the second coming constitutes an ‘executive judgment’ that must necessarily be preceded by a ‘trial.’”2 He linked this trial to the judgment scene of Daniel 7, suggesting for its commencement the date 1798, the close of the 1260 days. By 1844, many Millerites believed that the judgment had already begun.

Other commentators in the past have recognized that the judgment in Daniel 7 does not represent the final judgment. The Roman Catholic author Friedrich Düsterwald, 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 God’s judgment here on earth as many older interpreters (Theodoret and others) have assumed; 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.”3

The Protestant interpreter Thomas Robinson located the timing for this judgment in the 19th century when he wrote his commentary on Daniel. He believed that the judgment in Daniel 7 “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 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.”4

These commentators saw the judgment as a judgment of the little horn, not of the saints as Seventh-day Adventists do.

The investigative judgment concept in Scripture

Critics hold that the pre-Advent judgment was simply a face-saving device after the Great Disappointment of 1844.However, the concept of an investigation prior to the pronouncement of a judicial sentence can be found throughout Scripture. Right from the beginning of God’s dealing with sinners in Genesis 3, a pattern of judicial procedure emerges. First, the investigation: Where are you?Who told you? Have you eaten of thetree? (Gen. 3:9–13). Following this investigation, God announces the verdict in verses 14–19.

We find a similar situation in God’s dealing with Cain (Gen. 4:9, 10) and His handling of Sodom and Gomorrah. Most of Genesis 18 and 19 describes God’s investigations and deliberations prior to His punitive act. 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; Jude 7).

 In the Old Testament prophetic writings, 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.6

The concept of a pre-Advent investigative judgment appears also in the New Testament. The parable of the wedding (Matt. 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” (v. 11). 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, this reveals a picture of the pre-Advent investigative judgment in heaven going on now.

Other New Testament texts that presuppose a pre-Advent judgment are John 5:28, 29 and Revelation 20:4–6. The Gospel passage mentions a resurrection for life and a resurrection for condemnation.

Most biblical exegetes agree that Revelation 20 teaches two literal resurrections of the dead, separated by 1,000 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 in his book on the apocalypse: “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.”7

In Revelation 14, the harvest of the earth (vv. 14–20) is preceded by the first angel’s message, “ ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come’ ” (v. 7). The sequence of events portrayed in this chapter clearly indicates that the judgment spoken of in verse 7 precedes the execution of the judgment at Christ’s second advent in verses 14–20.8

Thus, throughout Scripture we find the concept of an investigative judgment.

The judgment in Daniel 7

Daniel 7 consists essentially of a vision, its interpretation, and the prophet’s reaction to the vision and framed by a prologue (vv. 1, 2a) and an epilogue (v. 28). The vision (vv. 2–14) depicts four beasts, with the focus on the fourth beast that has ten horns out of which arises the 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 (vv. 9–14) that finds the little horn condemned; the saints vindicated; and dominion, glory, and a kingdom given to “ ‘One like the Son of Man.’ ”9

We must recognize the importance of the fact that this judgment goes on while the little horn stays active on the earth. At the end of verse 8, Daniel hears the pompous words of the little horn, and then his attention is diverted to the heavenly judgment scene (vv. 9, 10). But after describing the judgment scene, Daniel’s attention is again arrested by the great words that the horn spoke (v. 11). In other words, while he was beholding the heavenly assize, this speaking with great words took place here on earth.

The time of the judgment

There are three passages in Daniel 7 that refer specifically to the judgment:

  • Daniel 7:10: “ ‘The court was seated, and the books were opened.’”
  • Daniel 7:22: “ ‘Until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High.’”
  • Daniel 7:26: “ ‘ “The court shall be seated.”’”

To know when this court shall sit, we have to look at the historical sequence of the powers symbolized by the four animals.

 

Daniel 2

Daniel 7

 BABYLON

 Golden Head

 Lion

 MEDIA-PERSIA

 Silver Chest

 Bear: One shoulder higher

 GREECE

 Brass thighs

 Leopard with four heads

 ROMAN EMPIRE

 Iron Legs

 Dreadful beast

 EUROPE AS DIVIDED  ROME

 Feet and toes of iron and clay

 The extension of Roman iron from the legs i  into the feet symbolizes continuation in  Europe of characteristic Roman concepts

 Ten Horns

 Roman Church

 Little Horn

 Persecutes saints

Speaks against God

 (1260 days (538–1798)

At the center of this vision is the little horn; 7 of 28 verses deal with the little horn. The context indicates that the little horn is a religious power:

  • Daniel 7:24: “ ‘ “He shall be different from the first ones.” ’ ”
  • Daniel 7:25: “ ‘ “He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law.” ’”

Although this power is religious, it has strayed far from God’s truth and is the historical fulfillment of our sinful human tendency to wander away from God. Paul predicted a departure from the faith: “‘For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves’ ” (Acts 20:29, 30).

Beginning in the first century, we find that the church had to do battle with such men. In the fourth century when the Christian church became the state church, rapid apostasy set in. Pagan customs, like Sunday keeping, were accepted, and by the sixth century, the state church had become the little horn of prophecy.

From the sixth to the end of the 18th century, for more than 12 centuries (1260 years according to Daniel 7:25), the church dominated the life and thinking of the people. No other power in history fits the description of the little horn except the papacy. In Daniel 7:25, 26, we are told, “ ‘ “He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.

“‘“But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever.” ’ ” After the 1260 years, the judgment shall sit:

 

Daniel 2

Daniel 7

 BABYLON

Golden Head

Lion

 MEDIA-PERSIA

Silver Chest

Bear: One shoulder higher

 GREECE

Brass thighs

Leopard with four heads

 ROMAN EMPIRE

Iron Legs

Dreadful beast

 EUROPE AS DIVIDED  ROME

Feet and toes of iron and clay

The extension of Roman iron from the legs into the feet symbolizes continuation in Europe of characteristic Roman concepts

Ten Horns

Roman Church

Little Horn

Persecutes saints

Speaks against God

 JUDGMENT SITS

 

Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days

 NEW KINGDOM

Stones become a mountain

Son of Man gives dominion to the saints

 Daniel 2 gives a general overview; Daniel 7 provides more detail by introducing the little horn. Since the kingdoms are in sequence—one follow­ing the other—the judgment mentioned in verses 9, 10, 22, and 26 must follow the period of the little horn that always appears in the texts prior to the judg­ment passages in verses 8, 21, and 25.

Daniel 7:8

Little horn

Daniel 7:9, 10

Judgment

Daniel 7:21

Little horn

Daniel 7:22

Judgment

Daniel 7:25

Little horn

Daniel 7:26

Judgment

The earthly powers are given in historical sequence; the judgment, therefore, must also be part of this historical sequence.

Who is being judged?

In this judgment scene, books are opened and studied (v. 10). In the Old Testament, we find references to the “book of the living” (Ps. 69:28), the “book of remembrance” (Mal. 3:16) and to God’s “book” (Exod. 32:32; Ps. 56:8). The same thought occurs in the literature of later Judaism and 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 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’ ” (7:22), they must be, in some way, the subjects of this judgment. This fact is not officially 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 person’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 as already being in heaven or hell (or purgatory for Roman Catholics). Hence, Christians, by and large, have no room for a pre-Advent judgment, though the context in Daniel 7 clearly demands it.

2. The little horn. The context of the judgment scene repeatedly refers to the little horn (vv. 8, 11); the judgment, therefore, must somehow also involve the little horn. “Internal contextual evidence suggests that the saints and the little horn equally share in the pre-Advent judgment verdict.”10 The saints receive the kingdom (v. 27), and the little horn’s dominion is taken away from it. Thus the vindication of the saints (v. 22) implies the condemnation of the little horn.

The purpose of the pre-Advent judgment

The pre-Advent judgment is actu­ally the first of four cosmic judgments in Scripture:

  1. The pre-Advent or investigative judgment (1844 to Second Advent).
  2. The executive judgment at Christ’s second coming (Matt. 25).
  3. The investigative judgment of the wicked during the millennium (Rev. 20:4–6).
  4. The executive judgment after the millennium before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11–15).

The different judgment scenes can be thought of as different phases of God’s end-time judgment. With the last of these phases, the plan of salvation comes to a close. Each of these phases has its own special focus:

  1. Pre-Advent judgment—God shows why the righteous are saved.
  2. First executive judgment—the righ­teous dead and the living saints are saved.
  3. Judgment during the millennium­ God shows why the wicked are lost.
  4. Second executive judgment—the wicked and Satan are destroyed.

The primary purpose of the pre-Advent investigative 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 judged 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.”11

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, which has been at the center of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, will be vindicated.12

What happens in the pre-Advent judgment?

A picture of what happens in the pre-Advent judgment can be gained from a scene that the prophet Zechariah portrays. The scene takes place in the heavenly courts. Joshua the high priest is “standing before the Angel of the LoRD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the LoRD said to Satan, ‘The LoRD rebuke you, Satan! The LoRD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’

“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.

“Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’

“And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’

“So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him” (Zech. 3:1–5).

From this description, try to get a picture of what happens in the pre-Advent judgment. Satan stands before the throne of God and makes his charge: “Brother X is a great sinner, you cannot possibly accept him.” Satan shows Jesus a long list of X’s sins.

Jesus answers, “I know he is a great sinner, but I have forgiven him. Blot out his sins. I have died for him; put a new robe on him.” Judgment is thus given in favor of X.

This Jesus does for all who put their trust in Him, all who accept Him as their personal Savior. If we accepted Him as our personal Savior, then the judgment is good news for us because “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1).

 References:

1 All scriptures are from the New King James Version.

2 Josiah Litch, Prophetic Expositions, vol. 1 (Boston, MA: Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 49.

3 Friedrich Düsterwald, Die Weltreiche und das Gottesreich (Freiburg: Herdersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1890), 177; translation my own.

4 Thomas Robinson, Daniel, Homiletical Commentary, vol. 19 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1892), 139. Similarly, Samuel P. Tregelles, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, 8th ed. (Chelmsford: Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony, n.d.), 36–38.

5 Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985), 479.

6 For other examples of investigative judgments in the Old Testament, see William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, rev. ed., Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 1–29; Eric Livingston, “Investigative Judgment: A Scriptural Concept,” Ministry (April 1992): 12–14.

7 Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973), 136.

8 Other examples are found in Samuel Bacchiocchi, “The Pre-Advent Judgment in the New Testament,” Adventists Affirm (Fall 1994): 37–44.

9 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 (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1979).

10 Norman Gulley, Christ Is Coming! (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1998), 413. See also ArthurJ. Ferch, “The Pre-Advent Judgment: Is It Scriptural?” Australasian Record (August 28, 1982): 5–7.

11 William H. Shea, “Theological Importance of the Preadvent Judgment,” in 70 Weeks, Leviticus, Nature of Prophecy, ed. Frank B. Holbrook (Washington, DC: Biblical Research Institute, 1986), 328.

12 Because of challenges to the sanctuary doctrine in the 1980s, the General Conference established a committee with our best scholars to study the issue of the pre-Advent judgment and our interpretations of apocalyptic prophecy. The Daniel and Revelation Committee, as it became known, studied the matter for ten years, and between 1982 and 1992, it produced seven volumes dealing with the questions raised by the critics.


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Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, is retired associate director, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

August 2014

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