Not Under Judgment: Thoughts on John 5:24, Part 1

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Not Under Judgment: Thoughts on John 5:24, Part 1

Seventh-day Adventists have long believed that Christ is now conducting the second and last phase of His atoning ministry in heaven.[1] The cleansing of the sanctuary mentioned in Daniel 8 is believed to refer to an investigative judgment that began in 1844 when Christ left the holy place in the heavenly sanctuary to begin a new work in the holy of holies. This investigative judgment must occur before Christ’s second coming (being often referred to as the “preadvent investigative judgment”)[2] if God is to take to heaven those who are in Christ. As it is expressed in their fundamental beliefs: “The investigative judgment reveals to the heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom”.[3] Also, “the purpose of this investigative judgment is to review the lives of the saints for the purpose of blotting out their sins from heaven’s record books, or, in the case of those who are not found worthy, to retain the record of their sins”.[4]

The most iconic biblical text that makes reference to this judgment and the use of books is Daniel 7:9-10: “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; […] The court was seated, and the books were opened.”

This work of investigative judgment was “typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices”. Likewise, the heavenly sanctuary must be cleansed, “but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus.”[5]

Another interesting point raised by Gerhard Hasel is that during the Hebrew Day of Atonement, “only Israelites came into judgment. Non-Israelites had no part in the Day of Atonement experience.”[6] This doesn’t mean that all Israelites were prepared to participate in the ceremony. “Unfaithful Israelites who did not humble themselves on this special day […] would ‘be cut off from’ their people. The expression ‘cut off’ is a technical term for the loss of life either by direct intervention of God or by capital punishment. Thus, the Day of Atonement would bring to all Israelites either vindication and life or condemnation and death, depending on their willingness to remain faithful to God or to remain in their state of rebellion and unfaithfulness”.[7]Therefore, if we consider the end-time judgment as the antitype of the Jewish Day of Atonement, we must logically conclude that only the professed people of God enter into judgment.[8]

This Adventist doctrine, however, has come under criticism by some evangelicals and even some within Adventism. Edward Heppenstall, for example, raised the question in his book Our High Priest: “How shall we understand the ‘investigative judgment’ of God’s people? Such a judgment can hardly mean that God needs to make such an investigation on the presumption that He is ignorant of the facts about His people. […] Obviously, there can be no doubt or question in the mind of God concerning those who have kept the faith.” He then goes on to mention those who have already been resurrected and are in heaven, like Enoch, Moses, Elijah, or the multitude of captives resurrected when Christ had completed His work on earth. “Do they have to wait until the preadvent judgment begins to learn whether their position in heaven is secure? Do they anticipate the possibility of a reversal of the divine verdict that led God to resurrect and translate them to heaven? Obviously not.”[9]

We take it to be obvious to all Christian believers that God is not ignorant about who will be saved. Therefore, “if God needs no investigation, then why have one? If God has known all along who are saved and who are lost, why bring the saints to judgment?” In summary, “if a person is a forgiven, redeemed child of God to the end of his life, why bring up the past for consideration?” Heppenstall then goes on to mention the text of John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, 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”.[10] “If Christ promised immunity from judgment to His followers, how can God hold such a judgment without breaking His promise?”[11]

Edward Heppenstall is not alone in his remarks. Desmond Ford, while presenting his concerns at Glacier View, also pointed out that “God’s great judgment does not place in jeopardy any who are trusting in the merits of Christ. They are continually being adjudged worthy through His intercession—this is the meaning of ‘it is Christ that justifies.’ […] Justification is an anticipated last judgment, and the final judgment is but the ratification of justification”.[12] For him, justification equates to the investigative judgment. Furthermore, Ford disqualifies any effort to connect the mention of “books” in Daniel 7 to a judgment on the people of God. “The books enshrine the records of willful transgressions of Satan’s followers, not the failure of the worshippers of Yahweh”.[13] More explicitly, “the ‘books’ of Dan. 7:10 apparently contain the record of the evil deeds of the fourth beast and the little horn. There is nothing here whatever about the saints being scrutinized by the heavenly court. None of their sins are indicated, and there is nothing to indicate that these books contain a record of their lives”.[14] To him, it is clear, “never are the saints the focus of divine investigation. If they are in right covenant relationship with God, their status is not open to question at any time”.[15]

Furthermore, while commenting on Adventists’ interpretation of Daniel 8, Ford again argues that the judgment is focused on the wicked, not the saints: “After describing the success of the wicked little horn against the sanctuary and its worshippers, the inquiry was made by an angel as to how long such ravages would be permitted to continue. When would heaven intervene to punish the wicked aggressor? Verse 14 was the answer to that inquiry”. Ford recognizes that his concern goes against Seventh-day Adventist teaching: “Instead, we switch from the theme of the verses about the evil deeds of anti-God powers and concentrate instead on the sins of the saints defiling the sanctuary. Let it not be missed—the context says nothing about believers doing despite to the sanctuary, but unbelievers”.[16]

In summary, Adventists should never use Daniel 7 and 8 in order to establish a preadvent investigative judgment theology on the just. According to his understanding of salvation, those who accepted Jesus have already earned salvation. They need not fear judgment but maintain the assurance of their salvation. The New Testament stresses “on a completed atonement and the impossibility of condemnation for any trusting in the merits of Christ”.[17]

Ford also sees a problem between the gospel message of justification by faith and the doctrine of the pre-advent investigative judgment. Rather than believing in an eschatological even, Adventists should see justification as an anticipation of the latter. “The justification that primarily means acquittal at the final judgment has already taken place in the present. The eschatological judgment is no longer alone future; it has become verdict in history. Justification that belongs to the age to come and issues in the future salvation has become a present reality inasmuch as the age to come has reached back into the present evil age to bring its soteric blessings to men.”[18]

These considerations raise a few important questions: Are Adventists correct in their belief of a preadvent investigative judgment? If yes, how should we interpret John 5:24? Will the saints be under judgment or not? Walter Martin, when commenting on Adventist teaching, highlights the importance of this biblical text. According to him, John 5:24 “deals a devas­tating blow to the Seventh-day Adventist concept of investigative judgment”.[19] For these reasons, we find it important to spend some time analyzing what John intended when he wrote these words and how they fit within biblical teaching about the judgment. During the next three articles, we will be digging into these issues and their implications for Adventist theology

 

John 5:24

Most English Bible translations render the greek “είς κρίσιν ούκ έρχεται”[20] as “shall not come into judgment” (NKJV), “will not be judged” (NIV, GNT) or do “not come into judgment” (ESV, RSV). In John, the word krisis is translated either as “condemnation” (Jo 3:19; 5:29) or “judgment” (Jo 5:22, 24, 27, 30; 7:24; 8:16; 12:31; 16:8, 11; 1Jo 4:17). Its use in the New Testament is usually understood as the “decision of the judge”, “the judgment”. It is used to refer to the “world judgment of Christ, originally future”.[21] Although some refer to the judgments mentioned in the gospel of John as future, there are a few instances where it is clearly referred to as taking place in the present, such as John 12:31 and 16:11.

Within the context of John 5, the word appears in Jesus’ discourse as He is arguing for His equality with the Father. In verse 22, He adds to the argument the fact that both He and the Father have the power to judge mankind – the Father, because of His inherent position; and the Son, because this responsibility was imposed on Him by the Father. Here, krisis transmits “a sense of impartial evaluation”,[22] “neutrality or unbiased judgment”,[23] and therefore is correctly translated as “judgment”.

However, when it comes to John 5:24, most commentators agree that the sense of krisis changes and acquires a negative overtone. Hence, “condemnation” becomes a preferable translation.[24]

This dual meaning appears again in verses 26-29, where it is stated that the Father has “given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man”. Once again, krisis is understood in its context as simply judgment. However, in verse 29, “resurrection of life” is set in opposition to “resurrection of condemnation”, suggesting that krisis be translated as condemnation. “The contrast of this word with ‘life’ indicates that it is to be understood here in the sense of ‘adverse judgment’”.[25] Both, verses 24 and 29, speak of God’s judgment and the condemnation of the wicked. In both cases, the contrast set by Christ between life and condemnation (both a divine verdict) is more natural than between life (a verdict) and the absence of judgment (a judicial process). The rest of verse 24 (“but has passed from death into life”) concurs with this line of reasoning: you either receive life or death. In conclusion, those who believe in Christ do not undergo condemnation. This does not mean they are not subject to judgment, for even believers will be judged by their works. “Because believing is often superficial (cf. 2:23-25), the integrity of believing is to be judged by a person’s activity, not merely by what a person says”.[26] This means that the believer “does indeed come into judgment but leaves the court acquitted.”[27]

In conclusion, the concept that those who believe in Christ and accept His lordship over their lives will not suffer condemnation appears also in John 3:19: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”. It is also part of the message set by Paul in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit”. By adding “now” to his message, Paul highlights the instantaneous effects of justification. This gives immediate assurance to the repented sinner that, through faith, he has hold of salvation. “Eternal life becomes the possession of the believer at the moment of acceptance; the future judgment will only confirm what has already taken place. The assurance of salvation does not begin at death or at a future judgment.”[28]

Click here to read the rest of this series on the investigative judgment.

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Notes.

[1] For a historical review of Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the preadvent investigative judgment, see João Antônio Rodrigues Alves, “El Juício Investigador Anterior al Advenimiento: Uma Evaluación de su Desarrollo Histórico em los Escritos de Urías Smith, Edward Heppenstall y William H. Shea” (Doctoral thesis, Universidad Adventista del Plata, 2005).

[2] “One of these titles refers to its time; the other refers to its nature.” William H. Shea, “Theological Importance of the Preadvent Judgment”, in The Seventy Weeks, Leviticus, and the Nature of Prophecy, Frank B. Holbrook, org., Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1986), p. 324.

[3] Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of fundamental Doctrines (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005), p. 347-348. Gerhard Hasel, “Divine Judgment”, in Handbook of Seventh-Day Adventist Theology, Raoul Dederen, org., Commentary Reference Series, vol. 12 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2001), p. 834.

[4] Marvin Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 2010), p. 155.

[5] Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of fundamental Doctrines, p. 347-348. Gerhard Hasel argues that “the preadvent judgment corresponds antitypically to the Day of Atonement of the earthly sanctuary services”. “Divine Judgment”, p. 840.

[6] Hasel, “Divine Judgment”, p. 840.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 841.

[9]Edward Heppenstall, Our High Priest (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1972), p. 207-208. On Heppenstall’s theology of salvation, atonement and judgment, see Armando Juárez, “An Evaluation of Edward Heppenstall’s Doctrine of Redemption” (Doctoral thesis, Andrews University, 1991).

[10] All biblical texts in this paper come from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

[11] Heppenstall, Our High Priest, p. 208.

[12] Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14, The Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment (n.p. 1980), p. 367, 368.

[13] Ibid., p. 353.

[14] Ibid., p. 371.

[15] Ibid., p. 355.

[16] Ibid., p. 346.

[17] Ibid., p. 475.

[18] Ibid., p. A-176.

[19] Walter Martin, The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), p. 178.

[20] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Jo 5.24.

[21] Friedrich Büchsel and Volkmar Herntrich, “κρίνω”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, orgs. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), p. 941.

[22] Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), v. 25a, p. 239.

[23] Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on the Gospel of John, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), p. 155.

[24] Borchert, John 1–11, p. 239. Francis D. Nichol, org., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary(Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980), v. 5, p. 952. Beauford H. Bryant and Mark S. Krause, John, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1998), Jo 5.24. Merrill C. Tenney, “John”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, Frank E. Gaebelein, org. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), v. 9, p. 65.

[25] Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, v. 5, p. 953.

[26] Borchert, John 1–11, v. 25a, p. 241.

[27] C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (London, 1955), p. 217

[28] Tenney, “John”, v. 9, p. 65.

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About the author

Glauber S. Araujo

Glauber S. Araujo is a PhD student in systematic theology at Universidad Adventista del Plata. He holds a master's degree in Sciences of Religion and works as editor at Casa Publicadora Brasileira. Passionate about Physics and Astronomy, he enjoys reading and writing about the intersections between science and religion.