Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Investigative Judgment: Is it Biblical? Part 2

by Herbert E. Douglass

This article is Part 2. Part 1 was in the September/October 2008 issue, also available here.


Many good books have been written on the significance of 1844 as the terminal date for the majestic time prophecy of Daniel 8:14.[i] Our concern here is to focus on what has been going on in heaven since 1844.

  • From the standpoint of angels, some kind of investigative judgment must occur before Jesus comes. Once Jesus resurrects the sleeping saints the angels will obviously know how to link up families and which ones to gather for the trip to Heaven.[ii]
  • From the standpoint of people on earth, some kind of examination should be going on in their lives. If ever we take Paul’s advice it should be now: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And Peter’s counsel: “Therefore brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10). And Ellen White’s encouragement: “Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven . . . . there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God's people upon earth. When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing.”[iii]
  • From the standpoint of God in heaven, another kind of investigative judgment must occur before Jesus comes. The first angel of Revelation 14 announced “the hour of His judgment has come” (v. 7, italics supplied).

What could the angel mean? Yes, the time would come, prior to the Advent, when God permits Himself to be placed on trial! Can we imagine greater love or humility than this—that the Creator of the universe should put Himself in the dock and have the entire universe judge whether He has been fair, just, and merciful in His dealings with sinners?

John tells us how this “trial” turns out. The judgment of the universe is: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints” (Revelation 15:3); “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments” (Revelation 19:1, 2). But what kind of trial did God go through before He was accorded this magnificent acquittal?

Keep Eyes on the Big Picture

We must keep our eyes on the big picture. Whatever else we may learn about the pre-advent, investigative judgment, the primary focus is on how this remarkable event vindicates God’s side of His controversy with Satan. This is done with a double emphasis:

  • The eyes of the universe are on God’s judgment as to whom He says are safe to save. Our Lord’s evidence will be endorsed by onlooking angels and beings on other inhabited worlds.
  • The eyes of the universe will see the consequences of rebellion in final display, ending with the din and crash of the seven last plagues. Satan’s argument from the beginning has been that God intimidates, that He asks for the impossible from created beings, and thus He is unfair in the way He runs the universe. And now it is showdown time![iv]

C. S. Lewis noted that “ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. . . . Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”[v] If Lewis could have seen the bigger picture, he would see how his insights would have taken on universal proportions. In a very real sense, during the investigative judgment, God indeed is in the dock, as we shall now see.

This emphasis on the big picture—final vindication of God’s justice, patience, and loving wisdom—is foretold in Daniel and Ezekiel, and amplified in Revelation.

In Daniel 7: 9-27, we trace the prophet’s grand vision of the court session in heaven prior to the end of the last days. This overview of a court session wherein the Son of man, symbolically depicted, enters a new phase of our Lord’s mediatorial work is not describing Christ’s second advent.[vi] (No reference is made to the symbolic “stone” of Daniel 2:44, 45 or to any other indication that Daniel is referring to the first resurrection or to the end of this world as we now know it.) This court scene is describing the events begun on October 22, 1844.[vii]

The investigative judgment is not necessary to inform an all-wise God who are eligible to live forever. He certainly knows what has been written in “the books.” But He wants every angel and every inhabitant of unfallen worlds to see the evidence, to make up their own mind as to whether Jesus is fair when He makes up His kingdom.

Whose names are in “the books [that] were opened” (Daniel 7:10) leading to the “judgment . . . made in favor of the saints” (Daniel 7:22)? These books, called the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12), contain the names of “all those who have ever entered the service of God.”[viii] (The names of sinners who have never responded to God’s entreaties, who have never asked for His pardon and power, are not recorded in the Book of Life.)

Why are “Books” Opened?

Again, “the books” are opened in the pre-advent judgment for two special reasons:

· To give angels and created beings in unfallen worlds an opportunity to review God’s judgments “made in favor of the saints of the Most High” (after all, they are really interested in who their eternal neighbors will be).

· To prepare the angels for those who will be raised in the first resurrection (Matthew 24:31; 25:31).

Throughout the Bible God has made it clear that He is interested in character, not mere words or even acts that are only a pretense of full commitment. On different occasions, Jesus spoke of those who profess loyalty but who did not practice their profession. He likened them to the foolish that built on sand (Matthew 7:26), to tares who at first looked like wheat but were more fully revealed in the harvest (Matthew 13:30), to the five foolish bridesmaids (Matthew 25:10), to the lazy servant entrusted with talent (Matthew 25:30), and to “goats” (Matthew 25:46).

All these representations of those who had once professed loyalty to God had their names in “the books” (probably considered “members in good and regular standing” in their local churches!), but their characters did not reflect what they “believed.” During the investigative judgment, their life records are reviewed and found wanting. Their names are “blotted out . . . from the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:5).

Daniel wrote about other matters that will be accomplished during the time of the investigative judgment. In some magnificent way, the universe will be cleansed from all the lies and misrepresentations that Satan has heaped upon God, on the one hand, and on God’s people, on the other. God’s final witness to the power of the Gospel (Matthew 24:14; Romans 1:16) will be manifested through those whose neural patterns are cleansed of desires and habits that once were in contradiction to God’s will.

In Part Three we will focus on the three nuances that translators have employed in Daniel 8:14—“to set right,” “to cleanse,” and “to vindicate.”

[i] See Roy Gane, Altar Call (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Diadem, 1999); Frank Holbrook, The Atoning Priesthood of Jesus Christ (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventist Theological Society Publications, 1996); Arnold V. Wallenkampf, Richard Lesher, Frank B. Holbrook, editors, The Sanctuary and the Atonement (Silver Spring, Md.: Biblical Research Institute, 1989).

[ii] See Matt. 25:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Might there be a connection between the investigative judgment and Paul’s insight in 1 Corinthians 4:9—“For we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men?”

[iii] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1950), 425.

[iv] 1 Corinthians 4:9—“spectacle [Lit. “theater”] to the world, both to angels and to men.” That this planet is a stage for the universe to observe the interplay of good and evil and how every person since Adam has had his or her part to play in the drama— is an awesome thought. Imagine: “The Monarch of the universe and the myriads of heavenly angels are spectators . . . they are anxiously watching to see who will be successful overcomers, and win the crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1948), 34. “The whole universe is looking with inexpressible interest to see the closing work of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. At such a time as this, just as the great work of judging the living is to begin, shall we allow unsanctified ambition to take possession of the heart.” Idem., Testimonies, vol. 5 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1948), 526.

[v] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans 1970), 244.

[vi] “The coming of Christ here described is not His second coming to the earth. He comes to the Ancient of days in heaven to receive dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, which will be given Him at the close of His work as a mediator.” White, The Great Controversy, 480.

[vii] For the validity of October 22, 1844, see Siegfried Horn and Lynn Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7, 2nd Edition (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1970); William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982), pp. 132, 137; William H. Shea, “When Did the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9:24 Begin? Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, vol. 2, no. 1, 1991.

[viii] White, The Great Controversy, 480.

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