Why is Jesus Returning?[i]
The second coming of Christ is an event many Christians look forward to but it is important to understand what it entails and what it does not. So, why is Jesus returning to earth? In short, to reward each human being according to their choices (Matt. 16:27). Christ’s return is not a time of deciding who is saved; it is the time to bring salvation to those already awaiting Christ’s return (Heb. 9:28).
The implication is that sometime before Christ’s return, a judgment has taken place in which the destinies of all human beings have been decided. This is consistent with Romans 2:5, where Paul describes the day of God’s return as a revelation of his correct judgment:
“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” (Romans 2:5, NASB, emphases mine)
So, the second coming is a time of reward, not of judgment, and humans are not aware of God’s decisions until He reveals who is saved and who is condemned at His appearance. The judgment, therefore, is a legal process known only to God, and it includes three phases: a pre-advent investigative judgment (Dan. 7:10, 26, 27; Rom. 2:5, 6), a judgment during the millennium (Rev. 20:4; 1 Cor. 6:1-3), and a concluding, executive judgment at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:11-15; Matt. 25:31-46).
Related Article: Answering Objections to the Investigative Judgement Doctrine
While not all Christians view the judgment in a similar fashion (especially given the different views on death and immortality/non-immortality of the soul), the Adventist pre-Advent investigative judgment has probably been the most questioned aspect of judgment from both within and outside the church. This teaching also has some bearing on our understanding of salvation, so let’s dwell a little on it.
The Cleansing of the Sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment[ii]
The main sources for understanding the investigative judgment are in the book of Daniel, particularly Daniel 7 and 8. Roy Gane suggests that the parallelisms between these two chapters warrants a connection between the pre-Advent judgment and the sanctuary cleansing. In short, Daniel 8 covers the historical period of Daniel 7, with the exception of Babylon, which was in the past. This parallelism enables equivalency between the pre-Advent Judgment in verses 7: 9-14 and the Cleansing of the Sanctuary in verse 18:4. Thus,
“the pre-Advent judgment and the justifying of God’s sanctuary are different ways to describe the same event: Vindication of God before His created beings through an end-time Day of Atonement judgment that demonstrates His justice in condemning the disloyal but saving His loyal, holy people.”[iii]
Let’s backtrack a little.
Daniel 8:14 mentions neither a judgment of the saints nor a judgment of the “little horn.” So, how do we conclude an investigative judgment here? Gane clarifies that the 2,300 days timeframe concerning the cleansing of the sanctuary comes as an answer to a question in verse 13: “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply?”
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” 14 He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.” (Daniel 8:13-14, NASB)
Furthermore, verse 13 refers to the vision in 8:1-12 (clarified in 8:15-26), which covers the time from Medo-Persia through the “little horn,” so the ending point of the evils caused by the “little horn” is the end of the 2,300 days. Gane summarizes these connections as follows:
“At the end of a long period of 2,300 ‘days’… reaching from the Medo- Persian period through to the end of the period of domination by the ‘little horn’ power, a sanctuary will be justified. This end-time event … will remedy problems caused by the “little horn,” which has disrupted worship of the true God, set up an opposing, counterfeit worship system, attacked the place of Christ’s sanctuary, and harmed some of Christ’s subjects.”[iv] (emphases mine)
In what way does the cleansing of the sanctuary put an end to the problems enumerated above? The cleansing of the sanctuary means “justifying” God’s headquarters in heaven. In other words, it implies a vindication of His government – a righteous leadership in stark contrast with the abuses of the “little horn.” The language in Daniel 8:14 is legal,
“indicating a judicial process which demonstrates that God’s administration, represented by His sanctuary, is in the right.”[v]
In this process, God’s people are saved (by virtue of their faith in Christ’s sacrifice, whose righteousness has been imputed to them), while the “little horn” is condemned and eventually destroyed. It is worth noting here that the text does not speak at all about the behavior of the saints; it only describes them as belonging to God. The emphasis is not on what they do (though being in opposition with the “little horn” implies their allegiance and obedience to God), but on the God to whom they belong.
Related Article: Why Critics of the Investigative Judgement Have Failed
The Day of Atonement referenced in Daniel 8:14 was a ritual purification of the sanctuary through which God’s justice in affirming His people and condemning the rebels was vindicated. Similarly, the end-time cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and investigative judgment will involve a vindication of God’s justice in saving and condemning people.
Apocalyptic Prophecy Different from Classical Prophecy[vi]
What allows for this interpretation is maintaining a distinction between classical prophecies and apocalyptic prophecies. The major differences refer to their purpose and the conditional/unconditional aspect. Thus, while classical prophecies were given through God’s spokespersons with the purpose of calling people to repentance, and therefore their fulfillment was conditional upon human response (Jer. 18:7-10), apocalyptic prophecies reveal “God’s cosmic timetable for the final supernatural appearance of the kingdom of God”[vii] and are not dependent on human response.
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Both God’s first coming and His second coming are considered by Adventists to be apocalyptic prophecies, and therefore unconditional events, independent of human response. Christ’s first coming took place at the fullness of time (Daniel 9:24-27, Gal. 4:4), and His return will also be independent of human activities. Apocalyptic prophecies reveal to us what God has both foreseen (foreknowledge involving human choice) and predestined (predestination not involving human choice). As Pfandl notes,
“The 2,300 evenings and mornings and the three and a half times in Daniel 7 and 8 … are not conditional. They cannot be repeatedly applied to different ages as the interpreter sees fit. In the sweep of history they can only have one fulfillment, just as the 70-week prophecy in Daniel 9 only had one fulfillment.”[viii]
The correct interpretation of these timelines is a historicist interpretation (as opposed to preterist or futurist), which includes the year-day principle. It is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate on why this principle is valid, but suffice to say that, for consistency, the context requires a symbolic interpretation in which these periods are long time tables. The result is that,
“When the year-day principle is applied to the time prophecies in Daniel 7 and 8, a pre-Advent judgment beginning in 1844 emerges from the text.”[ix]
The Investigative Judgment: A Biblical Concept[x]
I have already touched on this above, but let’s elaborate a little more.
Pfandl notes that God’s process of investigation begins with the appearance of sin in Genesis 3 and involves a series of juridical questions followed by a verdict. A similar process occurs in the narrative of Abel’s death, where Cain is interrogated and then sentenced (Gen. 4:9, 10), as well as in God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18, 19) – an example of God’s final judgment (2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7). In the prophetic writings of Israel, the nation’s standing before God follows the same procedure: an investigation of sin and a pronouncement of judgment (Isa. 5:1-7; 43:8-13; 22-28).
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In the New Testament, the concept of a pre-Advent investigative judgment is illustrated in the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22), in John 5:28-29, and in Revelation 20:4-6, these latter passages referencing two parties: one saved and one condemned. Revelation 20:4-6 also mentions two literal resurrections of the dead, one at Christ’s second coming, and the next at Christ’s third coming at the end of the millennium. Since only those who are saved have a part in the first resurrection, a judgment must have taken place before, while they were dead. Each case was determined before Christ’s second coming. Lastly, the events in Revelation 14 suggest that the judgment mentioned in verse 7 precedes Christ’s return (vs. 14-20).
The Book of Life
A concept related to the investigative judgment is the famous and frightening “open books” image of Daniel 7:10.
“A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him;
Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,
And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat,
And the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10, NASB, emphases mine)
No doubt it has caused many of us to squirm. But should this be a cause of fear?
This imagery is actually based on the Israelite practice of keeping name records of their citizens in a given city. In conjunction with genealogical ordering, it served to determine the social, legal, and religious rights and responsibilities, and the deletion of names was severely punished. (Ezra 2:62, Ezek. 13:9)[xi] Angel Rodriguez writes:
“One could conclude that the register of a city may be called a ‘book of life’ in the sense that those inscribed in the list had the right to live there and enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of a citizen.”[xii]
This practice of recording names in registers is given eschatological overtones in prophetic writings (Isa. 4:3), as well as in other sections of the Bible, as listed below. These registers include the names of those saved, who, by accepting the imputed righteousness of Christ, have become citizens of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 13:8).
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven. (Luke 10:20, NASB, emphases mine)
But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written! (Ex. 32:32, NASB, emphases mine)
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. (Dan. 12:1, NASB, emphases mine)
and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27, NASB, emphases mine)
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8, NASB, emphases mine)
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:8, NASB, emphases mine)
It is important to mention that the expression “from the foundation of the world” in Revelation 17:8 does not imply that God predestined those who would be saved, but that he foreknew who would be saved. The difference allows for a free response on the part of the believer and exonerates God from being arbitrary and controlling.
Equally important is where we place the emphasis in this depiction of a vital reality. Rodriguez again offers a valuable perspective:
“The liberation of souls from darkness into the kingdom of God is not only celebrated in heaven but is also recorded in the book of life.”[xiii]
While the importance of being saved may be a reason for anxiety, our freedom and joy come from knowing that the source of our salvation is Jesus Christ. Through Him alone, we are justified and presented before God as spotless. Through Christ alone and His mediation are our names preserved in the book of life (Rev. 3:5).
Related Article: Investigative Judgement Series
Yet as we realize that we are already citizens of heaven by virtue of accepting Christ’s sacrifice, we also recognize that citizenship comes not only with rights but also with responsibilities. We have a part to play in how we live out our citizenship. With the help of God, we can be sanctified and brought closer and closer into harmony with God and the moral virtues of His government.
Who Is Being Judged in the pre-Advent Investigative Judgment?
In the conclusion of this article, let’s recapitulate a vital question in this doctrine: Who is being judged during the investigative judgment?
According to the Bible, the judgment includes the exoneration of the saints by virtue of Christ’s substitutionary death, as well as the condemnation of the “little horn” and his followers, who refused to accept Christ’s imputed righteousness either by providing their own as a means of salvation (as Cain did), or by outrightly declining the gift of salvation.
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Ultimately, however, this entire process is a vindication of God’s character. As noted earlier, the pre-Advent investigative judgment is first and foremost a declaration of God’s righteousness in dealing with sin and deciding the eternal destiny of each human. His decisions to preserve some names in the book of life and blot out others are not arbitrary but are a clear demonstration of God’s justice and mercy. This serves to exonerate God before all created beings – including the angels, of the accusation Lucifer brought him and through which sin appeared in the universe. “In this way the character of God which has been at the center of the great controversy between Christ and Satan will be vindicated.”[xiv]
[i] This section is based on Angel Manuel Rodriguez’s “The Judgement and the Second Coming,” https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/theology-judgment/judgment-and-second-coming
[ii] This section is based on Roy Gane’s “Is There a Pre-Advent Judgment of God’s Loyal People in Daniel 8:14?” Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/theology-judgment/there-pre-advent-judgment-god%E2%80%99s-loyal-people-daniel-814.
[iii] Gane, “Is There a Pre-Advent Judgment of God’s Loyal People in Daniel 8:14?” 3.
[iv] Gane, “Is There a Pre-Advent Judgment of God’s Loyal People in Daniel 8:14?” 2.
[v] Gane, “Is There a Pre-Advent Judgment of God’s Loyal People in Daniel 8:14?” 2.
[vi] This section is based on Gerhard Pfandl’s “The Pre-Advent Judgment – Fact or Fiction Part I,” Biblical Research Institute
[vii] Pfandl, “The Pre-Advent Judgment – Fact or Fiction Part I,” 1-2.
[viii] Pfandl, “The Pre-Advent Judgment – Fact or Fiction Part I,” 2.
[ix] Pfandl, “The Pre-Advent Judgment – Fact or Fiction Part I,” 3.
[x] This section is based on Gerhard Pfandl’s “The Pre-Advent Judgment – Fact or Fiction Part II,” Biblical Research Institute, https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Pre-Adv%202.pdf
[xi] Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “God’s Heavenly Books.” https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/theology-judgment/gods-heavenly-books
[xii] Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “God’s Heavenly Books.”
[xiii] Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “God’s Heavenly Books.”
[xiv] Pfandl, “The Pre-Advent Judgment – Fact or Fiction Part II, 4.