Investigating the Investigative Judgment (Part 1)

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Investigating the Investigative Judgment (Part 1)

Obviously, the doctrine of the 1844 investigative judgment stands as firm as the Word of God itself. But what is the importance of the judgment? And what does it mean for our lives today?

To understand the judgment, we must understand the universality of the great controversy and that sin is not an earthly issue alone. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning” (Isaiah 14:12)! Sin began in heaven, with Lucifer. It involves all of the creation, who have questions concerning sin, the law, and the character of God— questions that for thousands of years have been battled out on the earth. “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Revelation 12:12).

Jesus won the decisive victory at the cross. Here the penalty for transgression was paid in full, and those who claim the blood of Christ in their behalf have been redeemed.

But what of the onlooking universe? Were all their questions about sin, the great controversy, the law of God answered at the cross?

Apparently not, because Paul wrote that God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10,11, NIV).

This text, written years after Jesus died, shows that not everything the “principalities and powers in heavenly places” needed to know about the “manifold wisdom of God” was revealed to them at Calvary. Instead, God was going to reveal more of that wisdom “by the church.”

Notice, too, that this plan to reveal God’s wisdom to the universe through His church was “according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We often think of Christ’s death as planned from the beginning—and it was! But this verse teaches that God’s plan to reveal His wisdom to the universe through His church is also part of God’s “eternal purpose.”

How, though, are we to be used in revealing this wisdom?

“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

We were created not only for good works, but these works were “prepared beforehand,” just as the plan for the church to show God’s wisdom to the universe was planned from the beginning. Does any link exist between our good works and God’s wisdom being revealed to the onlooking universe?

Indeed! “Herein is my Father glorified,” said Jesus, “that ye bear much fruit” (John 15:8). “Let your light so shine before men,” He also said, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

The book of Job shows that God, before the “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” was glorified by the character and good works of Job, whose faithfulness under adversity proved Satan’s accusations wrong before the onlooking “sons of God”—the heavenly beings mentioned in the first chapter. No wonder Paul writes that we are a spectacle unto men and angels. See Corinthians 4:9.

This idea of God being glorified in His people is a crucial concept, and it is found in other parts of the Bible. “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). “Thy people also shall be all righteous…that I may be glorified” (Isaiah 60:2). 
In Genesis 3:15, the first Gospel promise, God says to the devil, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
We know that at Calvary the head of the serpent was bruised by Jesus. Yet in Romans 16, Paul writes to believers, warning them against false teachers. He says in verse 19 that he would have Christians “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” Then, in the next verse, he says, “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”

Under our feet! God will bruise Satan under the feet of believers? Paul is obviously referring to Genesis 3:15, where Satan is told of his demise. Yet Paul implies that believers will have a part in that demise. Here’s a text written years after the cross, which shows that God’s people themselves are going to be involved in the defeat of the devil!

How can we bruise Satan? Can we literally stomp on him
 under our feet? Hardly. Instead, through the power of the indwelling Christ, we can allow Jesus to transform us into His 
image, allow Him to give us victory over all our sins, allow 
Him to make us “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” and thus by the characters we form bring
 glory to God. We will show that the devil’s accusations against 
God’s law are wrong. God’s law can be kept, and He will use us 
to help prove it!

What other evidence proves that not everything the heavenly host needed to know about the plan of salvation was answered at the cross? And what else will God use to answer these questions?

Envision the sanctuary in the wilderness. The altar of burnt offerings symbolized the cross. The laver symbolized cleansing. The first apartment symbolized reconciliation and forgiveness, and in it stood the lamp stand (a symbol of the Holy Spirit), the table of shewbread (a symbol of Jesus), and the altar of incense (symbol of Christ’s righteousness ascending with our prayers).

The second apartment was where the judgment occurred. The ark contained the Ten Commandments, which expressed God’s law, and the gold cover on the ark—the mercy seat— symbolized God’s mercy in dealing with those who break that law. Above the mercy seat sat the two angels looking down, symbolic of the heavenly host’s interest in the plan of redemption.

Here the Jews had a pictorial representation of the entire plan of salvation: atonement, forgiveness, justification, confession, sanctification, judgment—it was all there!

Now, if everything that the heavenly host needed to know about the plan of salvation was revealed at the cross, then when the Lord made the sanctuary model (a symbol of that plan), why didn’t He place those two Cherubim—who symbolized the heavenly host’s interest in salvation—over the altar of burnt offerings, looking down at what symbolized the cross? Instead, God placed them all the way in the second apartment, looking down at the judgment!

God chose to symbolize heaven’s interest, not at the cross, but where the investigative judgment occurs!

This position does not diminish from what Jesus accomplished at the cross. Instead, it simply shows that as far as the whole universe is involved—and they are involved— everything was not answered at Calvary. Instead, they are answered at the judgment, which is why the Lord placed the angels in the second apartment, overlooking the judgment and not on the altar of burnt offerings, overlooking Calvary (angels were embroidered in the first apartment, but that representation is not as strongly expressed as in the two statues of gold). Apparently, the judgment is also involved in answering the universe’s questions.

Notice Romans 3:4, which talks about God Himself being judged. “Let God be true though every man be false, as it is written, “That thou mayest be justified in thy words, and prevail when thou art judged.'” RSV.
 The New English Bible reads: “Will their faithlessness cancel the faithfulness of God? Certainly not! God must be true though every man living were a liar; for we read in Scripture ‘When thou speakest thou shalt be vindicated, and win the verdict when thou art on trial.’” Verses 3, 4.

In Today’s English Version: “Does this mean that God will not be faithful? Certainly not! God must be true, even though every man is a liar. As the scripture says, ‘You must be shown to be right when you speak; you must win your case when you are being tried.'”

The Phillips says, “That thou might be justified in thy words, and mightest prevail when thou contest into judgment.”

These verses all convey the idea of God Himself coming under judgment—that He will be tried, and the out come of that judgment vindicates God. “You must win your case when you are being tried.”

The King James Version reads: “That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.”

The verse quoted above is taken from Psalm 51: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” Verses 1-4.

David is asking God to cleanse him from sin, to wash him from iniquity, and to blot out his transgressions. Why? “That thou [God] mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” In other words, God will be “justified” and “clear” according to how He deals with His people’s sin.

The other versions give the idea that God Himself is being judged: “when you are being tried;” “when thou art judged.” Yet both concepts together brilliantly convey the idea that God will be judged by how He judges His people. Indeed, Psalm 51 talks not only about the cleansing of sin, but the blotting out of sin too. When is sin blotted out? In the judgment—the second apartment of the sanctuary, where the two angels, symbolizing heaven’s interest, sit above the mercy seat. Obviously, God will win His “case,” He will “prevail” or “be shown right” in the judgment, when He blots out our sin. But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment” (Isaiah 5:16).

Before whom will He “be exalted,” or “vindicated” or “shown right”?

In Daniel 7 we saw a description of the investigative judgment, which was given “to the saints.” Verse 22. And who stood before God as the judgment session began? “Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Verse 10. Literally millions of heavenly beings—symbolized by the two cherubim in the second apartment—witness the judgment of God’s people. Because the whole universe is involved and interested in the great controversy and the plan of salvation, God convenes this divine judgment before them. His universe is not run like a fascist state, where people are arrested, tried, and sentenced in secret. Instead, God deals with the questions of sin and rebellion in a wide open manner—before all heaven, who will have their questions about His character answered. God Himself will be “clear when [He] judgest.”

What is the first angel’s message? “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come” (Revelation 14:7). Does this mean that God begins judging, or does this verse refer to the beginning of God Himself being judged: “the hour of his judgment?” It can mean both! He is being judged on how He judges!

Indeed, Revelation 14:7 heralds the message that the hour of God’s judgment “has begun.” The judgment begins in chapter 14. Two chapters later, in the time of the plagues (which means that probation has already closed, something that hadn’t happened in Revelation 14) heavenly beings cry out: “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Revelation 16:7).

How do they know His judgments are true and righteous? Because they were witnesses to the judgment scene. This is why they declare: “Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus” (Revelation 16:5).

God is righteous “because thou has judged thus!”

Clearly, the Bible teaches that not everything the universe needed to know about the “manifold wisdom of God” was learned at Calvary. God was going to give them more. And two things He will use to answer these questions will be the character development of his people and the judgment in heaven.

With these two points established, we are ready to understand the investigative judgment.

This article was originally published as a chapter in Clifford Goldstein’s book, 1844 Made Simple.

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About the author

Clifford Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein has been editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide since 1999. From 1992–1997, he was editor of Liberty; and from 1984–1992, editor of Shabbat Shalom. He has an M.A. in Ancient Northwest Semitic Languages from Johns Hopkins University (1992). He has authored about 21 books, his latest are God, Godel, and Grace (Review and Herald) and Graffiti in the Holy of Holies (Pacific Press).