Investigative Judgment—Good News!
I remember the afternoon well. The sun was streaming through my office window at Pacific Union College. I was busily correcting examination papers. And the door burst open. A former theological student, now graduated, flung himself into the chair beside my desk.
I had not seen him for several years. His face was wrinkled with despair. Out poured his anguish. He had been in jail for a few months. Over and over he repeated to me that probation had closed for him! He was certain that his name had “come up” in the investigative judgment and that he was a lost man!
He was always a very likable young man—full of courtesies and smiles. But somehow, after graduation, an intense battle had been fought over his soul. On top of everything else, his new agony was caused by a wrong understanding of what Jesus had been wanting to do for him as his High Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary. This led to a scary understanding of the pre-advent, investigative judgment.
What notion had muddled his thinking? Unfortunately, the thinking goes like this: Since 1844, angels have been turning pages in the books of heaven, each page representing the record of each person’s life, beginning with Adam and Eve. Pages turning, day and night! Each person’s future—eternal life or damnation—is settled after each person’s page is examined. Never tiring, the angels move through the years until the present. When the pages of the living come up— judgment time, ready or not! If one is judged to be unfit for eternal life on the day one’s name “comes up,” probation is over—you are either In or Out. For those who are Out, the Holy Spirit no longer speaks —their probation is closed. The unsaved now live out their selfish desires and passions, unrestrained by the Holy Spirit speaking to the conscience. That’s all very scary! As well as very wrong!
I think I have heard the echo of my young friend’s agony in certain sermons through the years. Perhaps a camp meeting sermon: “Get right with God today, at this camp meeting! Who knows when your name will come up in the investigative judgment? It may be tonight! You may never have another camp meeting!”
What is wrong here? It is hard to know where to begin! Let me list some obvious misunderstandings:
1) God doesn’t close our probation—we do. God will keep pressing His appeal, night and day, never holding back its promises of pardon and power—unless men and women tune out the Spirit’s pleading. God’s gracious promises are always on the table, His front door is always open, His light is always on: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). In other words, We close our own probation--not God!
2) The investigative judgment does not focus on pages being turned but on the maturing of a person’s life. The one question is: Is that person maturing into one who can be trusted with eternal life?. In other words, am I becoming more like Jesus or like Satan? We have no other options!
3) God the Father is not the Judge “for the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22, 27-30). But the kind of “judgment” given to Jesus is not like an earthly court: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’ (John 3:17).
How does Jesus do His job of saving the world (which is His way of “judging” the world)? By bringing light “to every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9), by revealing truth in some way to everyone on which moral decisions are made. Thus, those who reject this light are condemning (judging) themselves (John 3:18-21).
4) Now I am going to say something that some may wonder about: Contrary to a lot of books and preachers of the past few years, Christ’s record does not stand in place of our records when our names come up in the investigative judgment. “In that day Christ does not present before men the great work He has done for them in giving His life for their redemption. He presents the faithful work they have done for Him.”—DA: 637. Truly, we are not to be saved by our works, but we surely will be judged by our works: “They were judged each one according to his works” (Rev 20:13; 2 Cor 5:10). “For the Son of man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27). In other words, the redeemed will be more than admirers of Jesus; they will be His followers who are determined to overcome evil even as He had overcome (Rev 3:21).
5) The whole point of the gospel is to restore men and women to the place where they can be trusted with eternal life. The angels want to make sure that we are safe to save. Why? Because they don’t want neighbors in heaven who would start the sin problem ever again!
This does not mean that we “deserve” salvation or that we have in any way “earned” eternal life. Hardly! The righteousness of Christ not only pardons and provides our “title” to heaven—but our fitness as well, by supplying the grace to overcome our self-centeredness.
6) The issue is not who has absolute perfection but who has given the angels, the unfallen worlds, and God Himself, a trajectory of what his or her life would be like if they had more time to live it. That’s why the thief on the Cross could be saved as well as Enoch who walked with God for 300 years! In other words, what was the trend line when life stopped?
Listen to this common sense: “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.” SC:57, 58; COL:315, 317, 319. It’s the projected trajectory that counts!
In contrast to these misunderstandings, here are some basic thoughts that we must understand before we get too far into our description of what has been going on in heaven since 1844: The judgment books (Rev 20:12) record our choices, whether we are becoming more like Jesus or more like His adversary, the Devil. The Bible uses various analogies, such as sheep and goats (Matthew 25:32, 33), wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and the seal of God and the mark of the beast (Revelation 7:3; 13:16, 17; 14:9).
How these records are kept are beyond our imagination. However, with modern computer memory systems, with trillions of computations performed virtually simultaneously, we get a faint idea of how the mind of God “records” the DNA plus character configuration of every one who has ever lived. Then when we think of the marvels of modern CD or video recordings and storage, we get further glimpses of how any episode since creation can be replayed instantly. Nothing will be subject to guesswork. As Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 13:37). (GC:482, 482)
Here is more common sense:
Adventists believe that sins are forgiven when they are confessed and forsaken. Adventists don’t wait until the investigative judgment to know whether their sins are covered by the mercies of Jesus.
But since 1844, He has added a new phase to His work as our Mediator. In addition to forgiving and empowering all those who call upon Him, He now oversees the investigative judgment which is now reviewing everyone’s life history since Adam to see who will be safe to save.
It is absolutely essential that we understand why Satan is doing his fiercest to muddle our thinking regarding the investigative judgment. My dear college graduate I mentioned at the beginning is a classic example of what happens when wrong notions are believed.
How does Satan go about this nefarious work? He “hates the great truths that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful Mediator.”GC: 488. Can you see the importance of the ellipse of truth wherein two great truths must be kept in equal focus?
He doesn’t mind if we sing songs about the Cross and focus on Jesus as our Saviour, as long as we don’t join our Lord’s work as “atoning sacrifice” with His role as our “all-powerful Mediator. Why? Because he knows that gazing at Jesus on His Cross (“atoning sacrifice”) without following Him to heaven as our High Priest (“all-powerful Mediator”) will divert us from understanding the power of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Satan will do anything and everything to keep us from recognizing that “the intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the Cross. By His death He began the work which after His resurrection he ascended to complete in heaven.” (GC:489)
Let that thought sink in. Let’s keep our eyes on where Jesus is now and what He is now doing on our behalf!
I know, some of you are thinking, If all this is true, why do so many scholars reject the concept of the investigative judgment. Their problem is twofold:
1) Those who have difficulty with the concept of an investigative judgment believe that Christ did whatever had to be done on the Cross. They seem to be blinded to our Lord’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary as set forth in the Book of Hebrews. They have a limited gospel and can not see that the work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary is as essential as His work on the Cross. Limited gospels lead to incomplete pictures of what Jesus is doing now.
2) The investigative judgment concept is built into the core Adventist belief that before Jesus returns a world-wide movement will reflect the messages of the three angels in Revelation 14. Those messages focus on preparing a people to meet the Lord before the crash and horror of the seven last plagues. God will have a prepared people. The investigative judgment in heaven reflects this preparation on earth!
So what really has been happening since 1844?
From the standpoint of people on earth, some kind of serious examination should be going on. If ever we take Peter’s advice it should be now: “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.” (GC:425)
But from heaven’s standpoint, another kind of investigative judgment is going on before Jesus comes. The first angel of Revelation 14 announced that “the hour of His judgment has come” (verse 7 ).
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 all the 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? 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:
1) The eyes of the universe are on God’s judgment as to whom He says are safe to save. Our Lord’s judgment will be endorsed by on-looking angels and intelligent beings on other inhabited worlds;
2) The eyes of the universe will see the consequences of rebellion in final display, ending with the horror 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 show-down time!
God does not need the investigative judgment to figure out 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.
Throughout the Bible God has made it clear that He is interested in character, not mere words or even good works that are only a pretense of an honest heart. On different occasions, Jesus spoke of those who profess loyalty but who did not practice their profession. He likened them to the foolish who built on sand (Matt 7:26), to tares who at first looked like wheat but more fully revealed in the harvest (Matt 13:30), to the five foolish bridesmaids (Matt 25:10), and to “goats” (Matt 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.” Remember when Jesus told those very religious people in the judgment: “I don’t know you for what you say you are!” Their names are “blotted out . . . from the Book of Life” (Rev 3:5). I think of John Greenleaf Whittier’s lines in “Maud Muller”—“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
To put this another way, in view of the sanctuary symbolism, the investigative judgment since 1844 is a matter of making more faithful bridesmaids and separating sheep from goats—in other words, “cleansing” the human temple from the defilement of sin.
In a sermon delivered at the Minneapolis General Conference in 1888, Ellen White emphasized this point: “Now Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary. And what is He doing? Making atonement for us, cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the people. Then we must enter by faith into the sanctuary with Him, we must commence the work in the sanctuary of our souls. We are to cleanse ourselves from all defilement. We must ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’” Cited in A. V. Olson, Thirteen Crisis Years, RHPA, 1981), p. 276.
Many last-day events are held in suspension until this “cleansing” reaches that point where God will not be embarrassed to give His end-time people the promised “latter rain.”(5T:214).The eyes of the unfallen universe are not on this world’s dreary parade of wars, famines, natural disasters as they try to figure out when Jesus will return. They have been patiently waiting for God’s professed people to cooperate with Him in “hastening the advent” (2 Peter 3:12).
One more thought needs to be said: For those living during this time of judgment, it should be their hour of rejoicing, not fear. Fear, yes, for those who have a wrong picture of God that Satan has painted so effectively since his rebellion in heaven But for those who see God through Jesus, judgment time is good news—He doesn’t make mistakes, and His coming is near!.
God’s loyalists rejoice in Daniel’s categorical declaration that the investigative judgment is “made in favor of the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:22). Loyalists rest in our Lord’s assurance that “he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
Men and women of faith are not afraid of the investigative judgment. They know that Jesus, their Intercessor, their Mediator, met Satan face-to-face on this earth. He proved that with the same human equipment we all have, without any special advantages, that men and women this side of Eden can overcome any temptation hurled by Satan. He gave us courage and took away our excuses. He not only led the way through a world of “fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16) to show it could be done, He comes back through His Holy Spirit to give us the same power He had. That is why John could pass on to us our Lord’s promise that we too “may overcome” even as He “overcame” (Revelation 3:21).
I repeat, God’s loyalists know that Jesus stands today in the courts above as their High Priest, not only as their Example showing the way to overcome sin, but also as their Enabler to help them prove Satan wrong, even as He did. This biblical truth sparkles with heavenly dynamics:
“Everyone who will break from the slavery and service of Satan, and will stand under the blood-stained banner of Prince Immanuel will be kept by Christ's intercessions. Christ, as our Mediator, at the right hand of the Father, ever keeps us in view, for it is as necessary that He should keep us by His intercessions as that He should redeem us with His blood. If He lets go His hold of us for one moment, Satan stands ready to destroy. Those purchased by His blood, He now keeps by His intercession.” BC:vol 6, 1078.
If I should see man with a baseball bat entering the room behind your back, my instincts would be to intercede and do all I could to keep him from hurting you. I would be your “intercessor” at that point in your life, standing between you and the evil one. Jesus is doing just that every hour of the day and night for you —through angels and the Holy Spirit. We can count on His powerful intercessions in our lives today, even as we have been counting on the fact that He died for us on that horrible Cross!
All that adds up to sky-high assurance for loyalists during the investigative judgment! One day soon, if we keep abiding in Christ, walking into the Light He gives us daily, making a habit of not saying No to known duty, we will be part of that great multitude that declares God’s judgments to be “true and righteous” (Revelation 19:2). We will be part of the eternal answer to Satan’s lies. We will be part of the reason that guarantees to the unfallen worlds and unfallen angels that the whole universe will finally and eternally be secure from all rebellion. (DA:759).
The faithful know that their loyalty to God is not based on their efforts to impress God but in their privilege that they can honor God in “the hour of His judgment.” The questions we must always ask ourselves: Do we enjoy known duty? Am I responding as one who wants to honor God in every aspect of my life? If so, God is winning and Satan is losing! And you are building on solid rock!
This heavenly review, this investigative judgment, simply mirrors what is happening in the lives of those in the end-time who have taken Peter’s counsel seriously: “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:11, 12).
There is no despair in all this “good news!”
© 2002 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org