Not Under Judgment: Thoughts on John 5:24, Part 2

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Not Under Judgment: Thoughts on John 5:24, Part 2

As we saw in our previous article, John 5:24 teaches that by believing and obeying the words of Christ, and sustaining a faithful relationship with Him,[1] His followers should not fear condemnation. Once that has been settled, we now turn to other important questions related to the subject of salvation and judgment, raised by the study of the text. Why does God need an investigative preadvent judgment? Isn’t this a flat contradiction of God’s promise of instantaneous forgiveness of our sins? What does an “investigative judgment” really mean? How can we be sure we have eternal life if we are going to be judged by our works? Shouldn’t our justification settle our eternal destiny and make the end-time judgment unnecessary? We will try to deal with these topics in due course.

 

Who will appear before the judgment?

One misconception that many have is that only the wicked will appear before God during the judgement. Since believers have their name written in the Book of Life, what is the point of reconsidering their case during the investigative judgment? Doesn’t God already know who will be saved? Doesn’t the fact that one’s name is in the Book of Life settle the question?

To start with, the Bible is abundantly clear that everyone will appear before the throne of God and have their life examined. As Paul clearly states, “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rm 14:10). It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, He “will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ec 12:14). Both Old and New Testament are unanimous on this: “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Co 5:10). No one can transfer the responsibility for their actions to others, “each of us shall give account of himself to God (Rm 14:12).

Some could counter argue by saying that these texts were directed to nonbelievers, and that the author didn’t have the faithful of God in mind. However, this line of reasoning is not correct. Even believers should be attentive to what they do and say:

“whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3:23-25, emphasis mine).

While writing to the Hebrews, Paul appeals to those who accepted the gospel: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hb 10:26-31). In the book of Romans, famously known for its message of righteousness by faith, Paul contends with the Christians in Rome: “Why do you judge your brother?” (Rm 14:10). His conclusion is unmistakable “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (v. 10). Here we see the apostle seeking to settle a dispute using the last judgment as an equalizer. No Christian is in a position of judge above his brethren, because we are all subject to the judgment of God. Here, Paul’s reprimand is clearly not directed towards unbelievers, he is talking to professed Christians. Likewise, James exhorts his brethren in Christ to “speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (Jam 2:12).

Still, some argue against the judgment of the saints based on their reading of Daniel 7. Apparently, Daniel 7:9-13 is a judgment scene whose focus is on the little horn, not the saints. Desmond Ford, in his manuscript Daniel 8:14, The Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment argues that in “Daniel 7 and that judgment scene which is the heart of the book, we see it is the wicked who are examined, condemned, and destroyed. The judgment goes ‘in favor of’ the saints, because their enemies are convicted and condemned. This, not an investigation of the sins of the saints, is the real meaning of the judgment of Daniel 7.”[2] On the parallel prophecy of Daniel 8:14, Ford again makes his point: “The judgment brought to view has the lost as the focus—not the people of God. It is the little horn that is being investigated, not the suffering saints. The books enshrine the records of willful transgressions of Satan’s followers, not the failures of the worshippers of Yahweh.”[3] From this, he concludes: “Judgment throughout apocalyptic is judgment upon the wicked and in favor of the saints. 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.”[4]

These allegations are not entirely correct. While it is true that, from the context, the judgment in Daniel 7 and 8 has the wicked power in focus, Ford goes too far when he excludes completely the saints from the judgment. The notion that the people of God do come under judgment is, contrary to what Ford believes, quite frequent in the Bible. William Shea, for example, argues that in the Old Testament passages mentioning judgment, “more attention is directed toward Israel – the professed people of God – than toward the surrounding nations”. Interestingly, “20 of the 28 passages having to do with judgment from God’s sanctuary specifically involved a judgment of God’s people”.[5] Also, the books mentioned in Daniel 7:10 add to Shea’s point. “Every reference in the Old Testament to a Book of God in heaven is connected in one way or another with God’s people rather than with His enemies.” This suggests “the books referred to in the judgment scene of Daniel 7 should also have some record of God’s people in them”.[6]

Ford takes a dangerous step when he decides to limit his interpretation based on the silence of the text. It is true that Daniel 7 doesn’t explicitly refer to the sins of the saints or a judgment on them. But as with so many other cases in biblical interpretation, a text may focus on some aspect of a discussion and leave out a component which, later on, is picked up by another text and set at the center of the discussion. As Marvin Moore correctly puts it, it may be the case that “their sins aren’t the issue in this particular prophecy, but that doesn’t mean the judgment won’t consider their sins […]. What the prophecy does say is that a verdict is rendered for both parties. The dragon and its little horn are condemned […] the saints are vindicated.”[7]

The judgment on God’s people is particularly evident when we remember that the preadvent investigative judgment is the antitype of the Old Testament Day of Atonement ritual. Just as the earthly sanctuary ritual was divided into two phases (daily sacrifices and yom kippur), so is Christ’s priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary divided into two phases (intercession/forgiveness and investigative judgment). Because the link between the Jewish Day of Atonement and the investigative judgment is clear to Adventists, I find it unnecessary to discuss it here. What I would like to point out is that during the Day of Atonement, considered also as a day of judgment, those who had benefitted from the rituals throughout the year knew they were under judgment during that special day. This was a day of judgment for the house of Israel. Only those who were in a covenant relationship with YHWH were under the scrutiny of the Judge. If we follow the parallel between type and antitype, we must conclude that during the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, the preadvent investigative judgment, the case of the saints will be under consideration of the eternal judgment. Ellen White puts it this way: “In the typical service, only those who had come before God with confession and repentance, and whose sins, through the blood of the sin-offering, were transferred to the sanctuary, had a part in the service of the day of atonement. So in the great day of final atonement and investigative Judgment, the only cases considered are those of the professed people of God.”[8] Because the investigative judgment precedes the second coming of Christ, it is only concerned with those who are under consideration for redemption.

As Richard Davidson points out, this has profound implications for the people of God as they live during the days of the last judgment. “Seventh-day Adventists interpret [Daniel’s] prophecy as pointing primarily to the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:23-28), but as the heavenly sanctuary is being cleansed, there is a corresponding special work of cleansing to be accomplished in the soul temple of each individual worshiper”.[9] He continues, “The Day of Atonement brings a call to holiness, but the life of holiness is rooted in justification by faith in the atoning blood of Christ. […] The cleansing of our soul temple is by virtue of Christ’s blood alone, and Christ by His Spirit takes responsibility for this cleansing as we allow Him to do His purifying work in our lives. At the same time, it is true that when our name comes up in the heavenly courtroom, there is an examination of the heavenly records (Dan. 7:10; 12:1). According to Adventist understanding of the biblical data, the cleansing of the sanctuary involves an investigative judgment, in effect, a judgment according to works”.[10]

 

Righteousness by faith and judgment by works

While there is abundant biblical evidence showing us that salvation is attained by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible is also clear that we will ultimately be judged by our works. Paul assures us that “whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord” (Eph 6:8). James warns us to live a life that is up to the standards of “the law of liberty” (Jam 2:12), and Christ heightens our understanding of this law by showing that even our words will be taken into consideration during the judgment: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt 12:36-37).

For those who intend on fooling God by publicly accepting His grace but maintaining a secret life of sin, Paul warns: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Gal. 6:7-8). This message is again proclaimed while writing to the Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Cor 5:10).

“This idea permeates the New Testament from the teaching of Jesus (Matt 7:17-18; 10:40-42; 25:31-46; Luke 15:11-32; John 14:12; 15:1-11) and Paul into the book of Revelation (Rev 20:12; 22:12). There is a motif of the believer’s need to fulfill the law (Rom 8:4; 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14; 6:2). The imperative in the New Testament is to do the will of God, to keep His law and to manifest the living fruit of justification by faith in Christ through good works”.

So, by stating that the judgment of the saints opposes the doctrine of righteousness by faith one couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, “the doctrine of judgment by works is the constant presupposition of the doctrine of justification by faith. Without it, the latter loses its seriousness and depth”.[11]

For these reasons we find it essential that a judgment be conducted by God before Christ’s second coming. It ultimately differentiates between the authentically saved and those who denied God’s saving grace in their lives. This is something that, in our current condition, would be impossible to determine considering the fact that we are unable to read people’s thoughts, know their secret intentions or their every deeds. Although God knows every heart and every intention, He wants to publicly pronounce His decision so that everyone may be on the same page when the cosmic conflict ends. By reviewing the works of those who are inscribed in the Book of Life, He will be able to show to the created universe who truly accepted Him as Savior and Lord.

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

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Notes.

[1] According to Ivan T. Blazen, “the Greek words for hearing and believing are in the present tense, hence they refer to a continuous action and not a mere onetime hearing or believing. It is by continually hearing and believing that one continually has eternal life and avoids the judgment of condemnation that comes upon those who have done evil. […] eternal life is contingent upon continual belief”. “Justification and 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. 385.

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

[3] Ibid., p. 353.

[4] Ibid., p. 355.

[5] William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, org. Frank B. Holbrook, Revised Edition, vol. 1, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1992), p. 147.

[6] Ibid., p. 148.

[7]  Marvin Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 2010), p. 100.

[8] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, vol. 5, Conflict of the Ages Series (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1911), p. 480.

[9] Richard Davidson, “Assurance in the Judgment”, in Salvation: Contours of Adventist Soteriology, Martin F. Hanna, Darius W. Jankiewicz and John W. Reeve, eds. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2018), p. 404.

[10] Ibid., p. 406-407.

[11] Büchsel e Herntrich, “κρίνω”, v. 3, p. 938. Cf. Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of fundamental Doctrines (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005), p. 362.

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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.