The Investigative Judgment in
Light of the Gospel

The Rationale for the 1844 Investigative Judgment |
Problems with the 1844 Investigative Judgment Doctrine |
Conclusions on the 1844 Investigative Judgment Doctrine |
The Judgment in Light of the Gospel

Introduction to and Background History of the Seventh-day Adventist 1844 Investigative Judgment Doctrine

by Wayne Willey

Edited by Rolaant L. McKenzie

INVESTIGATIVE JUDGMENT. A Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) term for the preliminary phase of the great final judgment by which God intervenes in human affairs to bring the reign of sin to a close and to inaugurate Christ's eternal reign of righteousness (Daniel 7:9, 10, 13, 14). This opening phase is called an investigative judgment because it consists of an examination of the life records of all who have ever professed to accept salvation in Christ and whose names are therefore inscribed in the "Lamb's book of life." Its purpose is to verify their eligibility for citizenship in God's eternal kingdom. At the close of the investigative judgment the sins of those who have endured to the end are "blotted out" from the books of record and the names of all others are stricken from the book of life (Exodus 32:32-33; Revelation 3:5, 20:12, 15, 22:19). SDAs teach that in view of the fact that at His second coming Christ rewards "every man according as his works shall be" (Revelation 22:12; Romans 2:5-11), it is evident that this investigation of the life record takes place before He returns to earth to gather the elect. The divine proclamation, "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come," is specifically presented as preceding the Advent (Revelation 14:7, 14). [As defined by the SDA Bible Commentary, v.10, p. 669-673]

The Millerite Adventists had been preaching for several years that Daniel 8:14 said Christ would return in or about the year 1843. After the year 1843 passed, they discovered an error in their calculation of the 2,300 years (there was no zero year in history) so they revised their date for the return of Jesus to 1844. Most of these Adventists expected Christ to return in the spring - about the time of the Feast of Passover. They had concluded that it would be appropriate for God to deliver His people from slavery in this world on the same day that He had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. Others were teaching that the Day of Atonement which ushered in the year of Jubilee would be a more appropriate time for the deliverance and restoration of God's people. The Adventists suffered their first disappointment when Christ did not return in the spring at the time of the Passover. After Christ did not return on the Passover, they began to focus on the possibility that Christ would return and usher in the Great Jubilee on the Day of Atonement in 1844.

In August of 1844, an Adventist preacher named Samuel Snow claimed that he had been able to discover the exact day when Christ would return. Using the calendar of the obscure Karaite sect of Judaism which had been founded in Persia in the 8th century A.D., Snow claimed that Christ would return on October 22, 1844 - the Day of Atonement on the Karaite calendar. (The calendar used by the majority of Jews said the Day of Atonement would occur on September 23, 1844.)

Bible scholars in most Christian denominations argued that no one would be able to calculate the time of Christ's return because Jesus had said, "no one knows the day or hour" (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). But the Adventists were certain that the "seventh month message" was "the true midnight cry" in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, so they dismissed the arguments of the non-Adventist Bible scholars. They preached "the true midnight cry" with great fervor.

The passing of the 22nd day of October without the return of Christ led to bitter disappointment. Adventists still refer to the passing of that date as "the Great Disappointment." Many of the disappointed Adventists decided the Advent Movement had been based upon error and returned to the non-Adventist churches where they had fellowshipped before they had become involved in the Advent Movement. But some of the Adventists remained confident that the Advent Movement had been right and tried to find a way to explain what had happened to them. Some claimed Christ had come, but not visibly. They claimed that Christ had come spiritually into the hearts of the Advent believers. A few claimed that Adventist believers had been right about the date, but wrong about the event which was to occur. So they began searching earnestly for some other event which might fit the prophecy. A small group of Adventists concluded that Christ had entered into a new phase of ministry in the second apartment of a heavenly sanctuary; that Christ had just begun a ministry similar to the ministry of Aaron the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

There are some very obvious problems with each of these explanations for why Christ had not returned in the clouds of heaven on October 22, 1844. The idea of a spiritual coming contradicted the clear teaching of Scripture. First, Jesus said He would come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 26:64) in the same manner in which He had ascended to heaven (Acts 1:11). Revelation 1:7 says "every eye will see Him" when He comes. Only a literal and visible coming would fulfill these promises.

The idea that Christ had begun a new aspect of ministry on October 22, 1844 similar to the ministry of Aaron the high priest in the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement was based on the description of the ministry of Aaron in the book of Leviticus. Christ was therefore made a priest after the order of Aaron.

There are several problems with making Christ a priest after the order of Aaron. God clearly showed that the ministry of the sons of Aaron had come to an end by tearing the veil in the Temple which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place when Jesus died on the cross. The Jewish priesthood did not understand the significance of this event, so they merely replaced the torn veil and continued the Levitical services and rituals. Those Levitical services and rituals finally ended when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

In 1844, the disappointed Adventists concluded that the two apartments of the sanctuary on earth showed there was also a literal veil in the heavenly sanctuary which separated Christ from the Father. They said Christ had performed a ministry similar to "the daily" ministry of the Aaronic priesthood for nearly 1,800 years. Whereas the high priest of the Aaronic priesthood had gone into the Most Holy Place (the presence of God) once each year, this "new theology" of the sanctuary said that Christ, the Son of God, was not able to go into the presence of His Father in the Most Holy Place for 1,800 years - until October 22, 1844. This "new theology" of Christ's "daily" ministry in the heavenly sanctuary not only contradicted the clear teaching of the Bible, it also contradicted the plain logic of godly reason.

The book of Hebrews clearly teaches that the old order of the priesthood of Aaron ended when Christ ascended and entered "within the veil" (Hebrews 6:19-20), going into the presence of the Father (Hebrews 9:24) to be our High Priest. Christ's ministry as High Priest is more effective than the ministry of Aaron and his sons. The death of Christ the Lamb of God on the cross was a better sacrifice than the animals Aaron offered every day and on the Day of Atonement once each year. Christ's perfect sacrifice of atonement only needed to be offered one time to be effective forever (Hebrews 10:12). Our Day of Atonement took place more than 1,960 years ago when Christ went into the presence of His Father. Christ sat down at God's right hand (Mark 16:19; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12) where He is waiting until God puts His enemies under His power (Hebrews 10:13).

There are other problems with applying the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14 to Christ's ministry in heaven. Those disappointed Adventists who looked to a new phase of Christ's ministry in a sanctuary in heaven were not aware that the measurement of time at other locations in the universe will be considerably different than the measurement of time on earth. For example, let us look at the two planets which are closest to Earth. While a "day" (one rotation of the planet) on Mars is only about six minutes longer than a "day" on earth, the "year" (one revolution around the sun) on Mars is equal to 687 "earth days" rather than 365 days. A day on Venus is 243 "earth days" while the year is only 225 "earth days" - so each "day" on Venus is almost twenty "earth days" longer than the year! A change of location changes the measurement of time. The prophecy of Daniel 8:14 says that the sanctuary was to be "cleansed" (KJV) or restored to its rightful state (NASB) after 2,300 evenings and mornings (days). Is the time stated in Daniel 8:14 to be fulfilled in earth time or in the time of some other location? If Daniel 8:14 is to be fulfilled in heaven, how long is a day in heaven? In 2 Peter 3:8, we read that there is no difference in the Lord's sight between one day and a thousand years. To Him the two are the same. If a prophecy is given in earth time (2,300 days) and is to begin with a specific event on earth (the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem), then it is only logical to expect that prophecy to be fulfilled in some other event which will occur on earth. If the fulfillment of a time prophecy is to take place at some location other than earth, then we would have no single, uniform standard for measuring the period of time which had been stated in the prophecy.

What was the proper state or purpose of the sanctuary? Was the sanctuary on earth to be merely the center where people gathered to worship God? Was the sanctuary merely to be the place for offering sacrifices? Or was the sanctuary and its services also to be an object lesson of how God would save humanity?

The sanctuary was the center where people gathered to worship God. The sanctuary was the place where the priests offered sacrifices. But the primary purpose of the sanctuary and its services was to give the people of Israel graphic object lessons of how God would save those who would place their trust in Him and His plan to save them from the penalty of their sins.

The people of Israel lost sight of God's purpose for the sanctuary. They became so involved in the rituals and forms of the services in the sanctuary that they lost sight of the purpose of the sanctuary. After the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Jews shifted the focus of their worship from the services of the Temple to the teaching of the Law, which then became the central focal point in the services of the synagogue.

Christians have not done much better than the Jews when it came to understanding the purpose of the sanctuary. Rather than seeing the sanctuary and its services as graphic object lessons which teach the basic principles of the plan of redemption, the sanctuary was "spiritualized" to become a symbol of the earth, the universal Church or the individual believer. Therefore, the cleansing of the sanctuary was to be the cleansing of the earth by fire (as the followers of William Miller believed), the cleansing of the universal Church by the Holy Spirit or the cleansing of the individual believer from sin (as many perfectionists, including Seventh-day Adventist perfectionists, still believe).

The Great Disappointment in 1844 discredited most of those symbolic interpretations of the sanctuary which had developed and accumulated over hundreds of years. Those symbolic interpretations had distorted the simple object lessons of the sanctuary and its services. After the Great Disappointment in 1844, Bible scholars in various denominations began to study the purpose and meaning of the sanctuary and its services. Many of those Bible scholars published books about the sanctuary and its services during the next 25-30 year period. Those books showed how the symbolic lessons taught in the sanctuary were fulfilled in Christ. Some of the books which were written by these scholars are still considered the best books ever written on the subject of the sanctuary and its services (Edersheim's The Temple and Its Services, Fairbairn's Typology of Scripture, Jukes' The Law of the Offerings and Soltau's The Tabernacle, the Priestly Garments, and the Priesthood). These new studies focused on the sanctuary as a graphic teaching tool or a series of object lessons about God's plan to save humanity. The sanctuary had been restored to its rightful state.

Why were none of those great books which explained the spiritual lessons taught by the sanctuary and its services written by people who were known to have been active in the Advent Movement in 1844? It seemed Adventists were not writing those books about the lessons to be learned from the sanctuary and its services because the majority of the Adventists who passed through the Great Disappointment had become totally preoccupied with defending a date (October 22, 1844) and their experience in the Advent Movement; and they were more interested in the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation and uniquely Adventist doctrines like the Sabbath, the judgment and the second coming than they were in the message of the Gospels about Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension. As a result, they did not see the graphic object lessons about the plan of salvation which were so clearly taught in the sanctuary and its services. It would be more than fifty years before a new generation of Adventist writers such as Uriah Smith (Looking Unto Jesus (1898)), F.C. Gilbert (Practical Lessons from the Experience of Israel (1902) and Messiah in His Sanctuary (1937)), S.N. Haskell (The Cross and its Shadow (1914)) and M.L. Andreasen (The Sanctuary Service (1937)) would publish books which would show how the sanctuary and its services provided a series of very graphic object lessons on the plan of salvation through Christ.

Why were so many of those early Adventists willing to accept ideas which were based on so little Biblical evidence? Why were so many of those early Adventists willing to accept ideas that plainly contradicted the clear teaching of the Scriptures? Because they were only human, like the rest of us.

Most people find it very difficult to deny past spiritual experiences. Most people also find it difficult to admit when they have been wrong, especially in matters as important as religion or theology. Therefore, it is understandable why so many of the disappointed Adventists in 1844 found it relatively easy to accept new concepts which may have seemed to offer an explanation for why Jesus Christ had not returned to earth in 1844.

People who are in the midst of a severe emotional crisis are not able to do the careful and accurate evaluation of information necessary to make the best decisions. Times of crisis are not the best time to make major decisions or make major changes in one's life. Times of crisis are not the best time to form new doctrines. In times of crisis, we will do better by focusing on what is really essential. That is, maintaining our relationship with God. We will have all eternity to learn correct doctrine from Christ Himself.

The Rationale for the 1844 Investigative Judgment

by Wayne Willey

Edited by Rolaant L. McKenzie

The roots of the 1844 Investigative Judgment lie with the 2,300 days prophecy of Daniel 8, the Year-Day Principle, the Heavenly Sanctuary, and the role of Jesus as High Priest.

The 2,300 Days Prophecy

Daniel 8:13-14

  1. Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, "How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled -- the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?"

  2. He said to me, "It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated."

This prophecy, in the context of Daniel's vision about Medo-Persia and (Greece), and the sacrifices being interrupted, has ambiguous meaning, to say the least.

Note that, even though Daniel found this the most disconcerting part of the vision (the only part he asked questions about), Gabriel, in his explanation, doesn't seem too concerned about it (at least, he offers no explanation).

Using the year-day principle, 1844 - 2300 (years) gives 455 B.C. or so. Daniel 8:9-12 speaks about the "little horn'" who wars the "prince of the host" and "takes away the continual sacrifice" and "throws down the base of the sanctuary." For Daniel, this probably means the destruction of Solomon's temple (the first temple).

The destruction of the first temple happened in 598 B.C. The destruction of the second temple was much later, in 70 A.D. In any case, either one is not a candidate for 455 B.C.

Current criticism of Daniel (The Anchor Bible), gives this as 1,150 days of sacrifice stoppages (evening and morning sacrifices) or the familiar three and a half years of "desecration" so familiar in Daniel (and matching very well with the approximate three and a half years of desecration brought by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.). Since basically all other clues point to final redaction of the book in this time period, this is almost certainly the original meaning.

The Year-Day Principle

Ezekiel 4:6

  1. "And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year."

The context here contains absolutely no clue that "day" means "year" in all prophetic writing in Ezekiel, much less the apocalyptic of Daniel. It is given clearly as a symbol that Ezekiel is to spend 40 days lying on his right side to mean the 40 years that Judah was evil, just as he lay on his left side for 390 days, to symbolize the evil of the northern kingdom.

Support for this is given from the Daniel 9 prophecy that there are "seventy weeks" (490 years) from the order to rebuild Jerusalem until Jesus' coming (Christian reading of the prophecy). The temple was started in 520 B.C., which gives about 30 B.C. for the first advent, which is about right.

Again, current criticism (The Anchor Bible) of Daniel 9, taking into account the fact that Daniel here is worried about Jeremiah's 70-years vision, gives very close agreement with actual events (certainly as close as the original writer in 165 B.C. had) from 594 B.C. to 165 B.C. (That is, seven weeks of years in captivity, then 62 weeks of years in the second temple, then a final week, half of which [score 3 and a half years again] is spent in desolation.).

The Heavenly Sanctuary

Revelation 15:5

  1. "After this I looked and in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, was opened."

One reading of this is that the heavenly temple contains the sanctuary (the tabernacle) just as the first temple did.

Another, more probable (I think), reading is that the writer of Revelation considered 'tabernacle' and 'temple' to be basically synonymous, especially for referring to vision items.

In any case, the heavenly temple doesn't seem to receive mention outside the apocalyptic writings, and so probably did not have any significant role in early Christian theology, at least.

Jesus as High Priest

Hebrews 3:1

  1. "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;"

Hebrews 4:14

  1. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession."

Hebrews 6:20

  1. "Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek."

Jesus was pictured as high priest by the author of Hebrews. I couldn't find any similar reference in Revelation, however, where Jesus is usually pictured as a judge, or triumphant king, and those kinds of roles. At any rate, Jesus is seen as a 'high priest' like Melchisedek was -- that is, someone entitled, for mysterious reasons, to receive sacrifice from those who have the Blessing (i.e., Abraham). This is apparently to give us the assurance that Jesus has the stature necessary to perform the function of priest for anyone. Furthermore, there is no hint that this function is sacrificial in nature. Melchisidek the immortal High Priest just took tithes from Abraham.

Preliminary Conclusions

It seems, upon examination of the constituent factors composing this doctrine, that no evidence can be found that the 2,300-days prophecy relates in any way to judgment, that the year-day principle has any kind of remote validity to it, that the heavenly sanctuary is any more than a metaphorical and symbolic device, and that Jesus' role as High Priest, in any case, is completely decoupled to His possible actions in any theoretical symbolic heavenly sanctuary.

Problems with the 1844 Investigative Judgment Doctrine

by Wayne Willey

Edited by Rolaant L. McKenzie

The problem is not with the general concept of an investigative phase of judgment which will occur prior to the second coming of Jesus. Since Jesus promises to bring His reward with Him when He returns for His people (Revelation 22:12), there must be some type of judgment prior to the second coming. The problem is not with the general concept of a pre-advent judgment. The problem is in the details.

On what basis is judgment given? Is judgment based on whether God offers forgiveness from all our sins (blanket coverage) or whether God offers forgiveness only for those specific acts of sin that we have been able to remember and confess?

Many SDAs seem to think of the investigative judgment in legalistic terms. That is, every act of sin which we have ever committed must be remembered and confessed in order to be completely forgiven. Of course, such a concept would completely undermine, even destroy, a person's assurance of salvation because that person could never be certain that he/she has confessed every act of sin.

The essential message of Christ's parable of the Pharisee and the publican is that a general confession that I am a sinner will be sufficient to secure justification; to be declared righteous by God.

The primary question to be answered in the investigative phase of the judgment can be answered with a Yes or a No. The question? Did this person accept/trust God's provision to save him/her from his/her sins? Yes or No? Believer or Unbeliever? John 3:18 says we are already condemned if we do not believe.

Why is the judgment taking so long? While it may have been credible from a human point of view to talk about a long period of time being necessary to sift through the database of information about everyone who has ever lived on earth during a time when all data was sorted manually (as was the case 150 years ago), such a view is much less credible in the computer or information age where mere mortals are able to process massive amounts of information in seconds.

The Book of Life can be compared to a database of everyone who has ever accepted the death of Jesus as payment for the penalty of their sins and the life of Jesus as their righteousness before God (righteousness by faith). That database would not need to contain very much data about each person in the database -- the name or identification code of the person, the date on which that person came into the relationship of faith in God and that person's status of believer or unbeliever at the end of life or at the Second Advent. How long would it take to process those three or four data fields for the few billion people who have lived on earth since creation? A desktop computer could process that amount of data in just a few hours.

Why has the investigative judgment taken 150 years? Do SDAs believe that an desktop computer is more efficient than the Creator God who brought this world in existence by merely speaking words? To those who say that the investigative judgment began in 1844 and God has taken more than 150 years to perform the investigative judgment, one can only say as J.B. Phillips said, "Your God is too small!"

God does not need more than 150 years to investigate who should be saved. God knows even the number of the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30). In fact, keeping an accurate count of the constantly changing number of hairs on one's head could be much more complicated than finding a phone number on a computer database. God knows those who are His (John 10:14; 2 Timothy 2:19) at any specified moment in time and those who have been His since the beginning of time.

How does the priestly ministry of Christ described in Hebrews differ from the 1844 Investigative Judgment Doctrine?

In the Old Testament sanctuary services described in Leviticus, the sins of believers accumulate in the sanctuary for a year until the Day of Atonement when the high priest would go into the presence of God in the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the sanctuary and the people. The main point of the Old Testament sanctuary service was that the high priest in the earthly sanctuary/temple had direct access to God only one day each year -- the annual Day of Atonement.

In the New Testament sanctuary as described in Hebrews, Christ is now (at the time that the book of Hebrews was written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) in the presence of God (the Most Holy Place in the universe) interceding for His people (Hebrews 9:24). While Stephen saw a vision of Christ "standing" (present tense) at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55-56) when he was before the council in 34 A.D., the writer of Hebrews in 65-70 A.D. says that Christ had sat (past tense) down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12) where He "is sitting" (present tense - Hebrews 8:1; 12:2).

What is the most significant difference between the ministry of Aaron and the ministry of Christ?

When Aaron was high priest, the believer had to wait a year before the high priest took his sins into the presence of God in the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. Now that Christ is our high priest, the believer has immediate access to God because Christ our high priest is in the presence of God every day.

The traditional Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment has Christ ministering outside the Most Holy Place for more than 1,800 years before He enters the Most Holy Place to begin the cleansing ministry foreshadowed in the ancient Day of Atonement services on October 22, 1844. The traditional SDA doctrine teaches that Christ's cleansing ministry in the Most Holy Place has been going on now for more than 150 years.

How is this description of Christ's ministry a better way or an improvement over the Levitical priesthood which provided atonement once each year and completed that atonement in one day?

Some would have Christ popping up and down or in and out of the Most Holy Place like a "jack in a box" offering the sacrifice of His blood for our sins. Others would have God sitting on a movable throne which rolls from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place. These people ignore the texts which say that Christ's sacrifice only needed to be offered to the Father one time (Hebrews 10:12). "Now he is sitting at God's right side, and will stay there until His enemies are put under His power" (Hebrews 10:13). These people also ignore the fact that no place in the universe can be more holy than the place that is made holy by the presence of God.

When Christ stands up again, it will be to leave the presence of His Father and return to earth to gather His people. Until that day comes, Christ remains seated in the presence of His Father in the Most Holy Place in the universe where He has been since He returned to heaven after He rose from the dead nearly 2,000 years ago!

The traditional SDA doctrine of the 1844 Investigative Judgment contradicts the description of Christ's ministry which is provided in the book of Hebrews. It does so because those who initiated this doctrine focused most of their attention on the services of the Old Testament sanctuary described in Leviticus and gave very little attention to the services of the New Testament sanctuary described in Hebrews. We can understand that the Adventist pioneers were blinded by their great disappointment and grief because Jesus had not returned in 1844. What excuse do Adventists have today for maintaining a doctrine of the Investigative Judgment which contradicts the book of Hebrews?

Conclusions on the 1844 Investigative Judgment Doctrine

by Wayne Willey

Edited by Rolaant L. McKenzie

What is so objectionable about the traditional Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment?

First, it ignores or minimizes the beautiful description of Christ's heavenly ministry in the book of Hebrews and makes the description of Aaron's earthly ministry in the book of Leviticus the ultimate model for Christ's ministry in the presence of the Father.

Second, it places Christ in the robes and role of Aaron and requires Him to perform the ministry of the Levitical priesthood for almost 2,000 years.

Third, it makes the ministry of Jesus Christ, the One who brought the world into existence by speaking mere words, less effective than the ministry of a fallible and sinful human being named Aaron. On the ancient Day of Atonement, Aaron offered the sacrifice of a goat, brought its blood into the presence of God in the Most Holy Place and made an atonement for the people of Israel in just one day. But the traditional Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment says that even though Christ offered the sacrifice of His own perfect life and brought His own sinless blood into the presence of the Father when He ascended to heaven, Christ has not been able to make a complete atonement for the people of spiritual Israel in almost 2,000 years. To say that the blood of a goat and the ministry of a sinful human priest in the old covenant type was more effective than the blood and ministry of the risen Christ in the new covenant is nothing less than blasphemy to anyone who truly understands the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet that is what the traditional Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment teaches.

Finally this doctrine robs the believer of the assurance of salvation in the present by making his/her salvation dependent upon some event which is to take place in the future. The Gospel teaches us that our salvation is assured by events which took place in the past -- the death of Jesus Christ on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins and the sinless life of Jesus Christ which provides the perfect righteousness we need to be acceptable in the judgment. The Gospel gives the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and that we are now accepted by God because Jesus is our Saviour and Lord. The Gospel gives the assurance that God has already provided everything that will ever be necessary for salvation. The only thing that stands between us and salvation is whether we will continue to accept the gift of salvation on God's terms by trusting in the life and death of Jesus or whether we will return to self-centered, futile and foolish attempts to earn acceptance with God and salvation by our own feeble works. God does not need more than 150 years to compile a list of those who were trusting in Jesus as their Saviour at the time of their death or at some future date. Surely it would not take God more than 150 years to search through the few billion names of people who have lived on earth and extract the names of those who "died in faith" and those who were "living by faith" at the Second Advent. God is more efficient than any computer human beings can devise.

The Judgment in Light of the Gospel

by Dale Ratzlaff

Edited by Rolaant L. McKenzie

The good news of the judgment is that Christ has taken our place. He was judged a sinner on the cross. There, He paid the price for all sin -- yours, mine, past, present, future -- once and for all! Our sins were laid upon Christ and forever judged. His righteousness was accredited to our account. This is the Gospel which transformed the lives of the apostles. This is the Gospel that is to be proclaimed to the world.

There are three aspects to the judgment. First is the righteous life of Jesus, His death, His burial, His glorious resurrection, and His ascension to God's right hand. Second, there is our response to this. We are truly judged by the Gospel. And third, when Christ comes the second time He will reveal the results of His choosing us and of our choosing Him. Those who respond to His gracious offer of salvation, the ones chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, will be ushered into the blessings of eternity with God. Those who have rejected the free gift of salvation will be assigned to the lake of fire.

There is judgment in Christ. Isaiah 53:4-5 shows just one of the numerous types and shadows of the coming Messiah which found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus truly was a bearer of our sorrows, afflictions, and iniquities. Shortly before He took on human flesh, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream concerning Mary and told him that Jesus would be the One to save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21). When John the Baptist introduced Jesus at the Jordan River he called Jesus "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Throughout the ministry of Jesus we see Him steadily, with determination and forethought, moving toward the cross -- the judgment of the world. He came to "give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). While He was with His disciples, Jesus kept pointing out that He would suffer many things, be killed, and be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21). And Jesus declared, "Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out" (John 12:31).

Jesus knew well what lay ahead of Him just before His betrayal. At the Last Supper He described His body as being given for His disciples, and he described the pouring of His blood as bringing about the new covenant (Luke 22:15-22). Later that same night, Jesus, looking forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit, said these insightful words about judgment and righteousness:

And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16:8-11).

These are very significant words. Notice that after the death and resurrection of Christ, sin is defined as not believing in Jesus. Righteousness is in the person of Jesus Christ who is at the Father's right hand. Judgment deals with Satan who has already been judged. The message of the early Church was: he made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We are judged by the Gospel. Ephesians 1:4-7 teaches that we are chosen in Christ. We are predestined to be the adopted sons of God through Christ. In Christ, we have redemption through His blood due to the greatness of His grace. Scripture also teaches that we must respond to God's gracious in Christ (John 1:12, 3:16-19). These verses indicate that believing and judgment are related. He who believes is not judged. Judgment is set forth in the context of one's choice when confronted with the light of the Gospel of Christ. And this is diametrically opposed to the traditional SDA investigative judgment. Jesus clearly said that those who hear Him and believes has eternal life and does not come into judgment (John 5:24).

This is the judgment of justification. It takes the reality of the past historical event of Christ's substitutionary life and death, which provides the righteousness needed for us to pass in the coming future judgment day of God, and applies complete forgiveness of sin and imputed righteousness to the present experience of the believer. Therefore, Paul could say that we died with Christ (Romans 6:2, 7-8, 7:6, Colossians 2:20 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:11). We were raised with Him to newness of life and we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12, 3:1). In other words, the truth of justification by faith is that the verdict of "not guilty" has already been given to those who believe! And that is the good news of the Gospel! And that is why true believers do not come into judgment, because they have already been judged in Christ (Colossians 1:12-14).

The focus of the investigative judgment is on personal deeds in order that one might be found worthy of eternal life. The good news of the Gospel is that the Father has already qualified us, who believe in Christ, to share in the eternal inheritance in Christ. We have already been delivered from the domain of darkness. We now have redemption. The vindication of God's justice in the way He saves helpless, ungodly sinners who were enemies of God has already been settled (Romans 3:21-26; 5:6-11).

Adventists look to the future for the vindication of God when the "remnant" will fully reflect the image of Jesus. The Bible, however, states that the blood of Christ vindicated God's character, and this was done by Christ without any help from some last-day remnant people.

Notice that this takes place apart from law or outside the realm of old covenant law. In the new covenant, the focus is not on law, but on belief in Christ. Our complete justification is apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28). Our salvation is not dependent upon our good works, but upon God's mercy (Titus 3:4-7). Those who hear and then reject the Gospel are judged as unworthy of eternal life (John 5:39-40, 9:39-41). People are judged by their response to the good news of the Gospel. The light of the mercy of God has been brightly revealed in Christ. Now, the darkness of sin has no excuse.

The second coming of Christ reveals God's judgment. The verdict of the judgment has already been given (Romans 2:5). In that sense, it could be said to be a pre-advent judgment. However, this pre-advent judgment is not some investigative judgment where Jesus and the onlooking universe are pouring over the record books of heaven, measuring character to see who is worthy of eternal life. Rather, this judgment results from one's response to the Gospel when it has been proclaimed, understood, and received or rejected. This last judgment simply reveals who by faith accepted God's free gift of eternal life and who did not (1 Peter 1:7).

In summary:

  1. Jesus, as our substitute, was judged in our place on the cross. He has paid the price for all sin for all time. He credited to our account. By His death on the cross, Jesus judged Satan and demonstrated God's justice in the way God saves sinners.
  2. The good news of the judgment is that all who believe and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ can say with assurance, "I've been acquitted!" We have already been judged in Christ. Those who reject the Gospel, judge themselves unworthy of eternal life.
  3. The second coming of Christ will be a revelation of how men responded to God's gracious gift of salvation.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24).

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