Not Under Judgment: Thoughts on John 5:24, Part 3

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Not Under Judgment: Thoughts on John 5:24, Part 3

In this last article, we will establish the need for and the nature of the investigative preadvent judgment. What needs to stay clear is that the judgment is a confirmation of the saving effects of God’s grace on the believer’s life from the moment of his conversion. The investigative judgment “reveals our relationship to Christ, disclosed in the totality of our decisions. It indicates the outworking of grace in our lives as we have responded to His gift of salvation; it shows that we belong to Him”.[1] Likewise, “this judgment represents a summary and affirmation of the salvation that individual saints have obtained previously through their relationship to Christ.”[2]

To some, this seems to put into question the authenticity of God’s constant and saving offer. If God offers salvation to the repented sinner, why the need for a confirmatory judgment?[3] The reason why the saints will be judged is that, although they profess to follow Christ and have faith in Christ, throughout their journey with Christ, they may at moments commit sins or fall back to their old sinful life. Some may even commit sins that were condemnable by their fellow human peers, taking them to their condemnation by earthly courts. If they are brought into heaven, many would ask: Can God do that? Can He bring to heaven sinful saints? Why didn’t he also take other sinners to heaven? Is that justice? The books that will be reviewed during the judgment will help decide whether these believers really lived a repented life and were cleansed by the blood of Christ, or if they fell from faith and became stiff-necked unrepented sinners. The judgment highlights the ethical demands of the gospel.[4]

In other words, because Satan constantly persecutes God’s children and accuses them of sinful deeds, the investigative judgment helps to define who are those that accepted Christ’s purifying grace and who are those that fell from grace. Furthermore, through the judgment, God vindicates His name before the accusations that Satan has been throwing upon him since the beginning of the cosmic conflict.[5]

God isn’t just our Savior and Redeemer. He is also the moral Governor, the Legislator of the universe. Therefore, it is crucial that He remains

“true, just, and merciful in all of His dealings not only toward hopelessly lost sinners but also with all who have professed His name. Furthermore, judgments are not just the concern of those of this world. He also desires that all of the loyal beings who inhabit heaven and the unfallen worlds will see the justice of His judgments. In other words, the entire host of intelligent beings in the universe will review the sum total of the good and bad deeds of all professed believers and compare them against God’s decisions regarding their destiny”.[6]

In this context, Davidson’s word seem quite appropriate!

“At last Yom Kippur is here! The final judgment has begun—the process through which God reveals to the unfallen inhabitants of the universe the evidence in favor of His people, the reality of their repentance and faith as demonstrated by the faithful fruits of their actions, and His forgiveness of their sins. Satan’s accusations against His people are shown to be false, and the full truth can finally come out vindicating God’s people. […] Vindication of the saints in the judgment is assuring good news”.[7]

 

Nature of the investigative judgment

Concerned by the accusations raised by Desmond Ford and others to the pre-advent investigative judgment doctrine, some have felt that Adventism needs to review the doctrine and perhaps frame it in a new way. The idea that the records of saints would be investigated seems to come too close to the human parallel of a criminal being investigated in court. Even the term investigative judgment became problematic and a new nomenclature was needed. Perhaps for these reasons, some began to look for other interpretations that, although not denying the judgment, emphasized the saving effects of justification by faith and gave more assurance of salvation to the believer.

Arnold Wallenkamp, for example, referred to the investigative judgment as an audit and assured that “anyone who has remained steadfast and faithful in his committal to God has nothing to fear. ‘There is … no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). Jesus is his advocate, and his case has already been settled. In this audit the believer’s lifelong loyalty to Jesus is only confirmed. On the man of faith—the person who has thrown himself upon the mercy of God and accepted Jesus as his Savior and been justified by faith—his judgment of acquittal has already been guaranteed.”[8] Wallenkamp defends his preference for the word audit:

“Possibly the term investigative judgment is infelicitous since it may connote that decisions as to a person’s destiny are being made during it. But such is not the case. Probably it might more correctly be called an audit. An audit of paid financial bills just verifies that the debts have been liquidated. No decisions are made in an audit. The audit is just confirmatory. The investigative judgment might therefore more appropriately be called the preadvent heavenly audit.”

Since God, being omniscient, already knows those that will be saved and those that will be lost, He doesn’t need the investigative judgment. For this reason, the saints do not come into judgment. [9]

Calling the investigative judgment an audit, however, is problematic. As we have seen, the investigative judgment is about God investigating the books and identifying those who have lived up to the standards of the law and have benefitted from the forgiving and purifying effects of the blood of Christ. It is a singular moment in history when there is an actual work that hasn’t been done previously, an actual cleansing, blotting out of our sins, both in the heavenly sanctuary and within believers.

To make the investigative judgment just an audit with judicial undertones misses completely the cleansing aspect of the Day of Atonement. As the Bible shows, in the Old Testament sanctuary ritual, there was a daily transfer of sins from the repented sinner to the sanctuary (Lev. 16:16-19).[10] Once a year, the earthly sanctuary needed to be cleansed, and all sins blotted out. This was done during Yom Kippur. During the ceremony, these sins were then laid on a scapegoat, which was set loose in the desert, ending the atonement process.

If we want to maintain the parallel between type and antitype, the investigative judgment cannot be treated as a “making sure everything was done right”. There must be an actual process of cleansing, removing, and transferring of all sins from the heavenly sanctuary, otherwise, it can´t be truthfully considered “contaminated” by our confessed sins and subsequent atonement becomes fictitious. Just as the earthly sanctuary needed cleansing, so does the heavenly sanctuary (Hb 9:23; Dn 8:14). If we adopt the audit analogy, the cleansing, transferring, and atoning motifs are completely lost.

Another attempt to incorporate Ford’s ideas into the investigative judgment doctrine is to downplay the role of Christ as High Priest and Judge by transferring some of it to the angels and heavenly witnesses of the judgment. Since God already knows who will be saved and who will not, the investigative judgment becomes a space for the angels to decide whether the saints truly should get into heaven and if God is correct in letting them in. According to this reasoning, God does not judge, He simply informs the unfallen beings what the condition of each human is, and then the angels agree or not. This is still somewhat the audit scenario proposed by Wallenkampf, but with an emphasis on the role the angels play, particularly with a twist—from witnesses, the angels assume the role of a jury.

One who has recently proposed this idea is Marvin Moore. In The Case for the Investigative Judgment, he proposes that the “judgment is for the benefit of the angels, not for God. God is simply revealing to them the reasons for His actions and His judgments in the past so that they can understand and affirm the decisions He has made”.[11] To him, God’s true people will not be condemned in the judgment. “To the contrary, God has already acquitted them. But their cases will be considered in the judgment with the result that the angels will agree that God’s acquittal of them was justified”.[12] In other words, this is a confirmation judgment. No one will have their case settled then, for it has already been previously settled by God. Curiously, Moore even proposes that during the investigative judgment, God ceases to be the judge and the angelic host occupies this position:

“Please note that the ones who make decisions at that time are the angels, not God. He made His decision about the worthiness of each human being for salvation at the time that person lived and died. The investigative judgment is when the books are opened for the angels to examine. That’s what the judgment scene in Daniel 7:9, 10 is all about. When that judgment is concluded, every angel in heaven will declare that every one of God’s decisions about the salvation of His people is fair and just. God will be confirmed in His decisions, both about those who are saved and those who are lost”.[13]

Later on in his book, Moore returns to the issue of angels as judges. Although he defends that it is God who will preside the judgment, he still emphasizes that the angels act as a jury. “In our human court systems, there’s a jury as well as a judge, and the jury has to reach a conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the person on trial. That, I believe, is how we need to understand the decisions that are made in the investigative judgment.”[14] He further tries to use Ellen White’s depiction of the judgment to prove his point, but all he can do is show that the angels are participants in the judgment. Ellen White mentions nothing of them acting as judges or a jury.[15]

Moore is conscious of the eyebrows he is raising and tries to discuss possible objections, but his defense is poor. While God and human beings are mentioned as judges in the Bible, nowhere does it mention angels acting like judges in the final judgment. While they may come to conclusions for themselves and take a position in the cosmic conflict between Jesus and Satan, no reference is made of them as acting judges or participants of a jury. This is not an audit conducted by angels, but a judgment executed by the divine Judge, under the curious watchfulness of the angelical host. It does include a work of ratification or confirmation, but this is a ratification of the condition of those who are already inscribed in the Book of Life, who “have truly repented and by faith claimed the blood of Christ’s atoning sacrifice”, not of the Judge’s final decision.[16]

Moore is also aware of the need for a cleansing motif in his depiction of the investigative judgment.

“The sanctuary in heaven needs cleansing from the sin of the saints only in the sense that Satan has thrown those sins up before God and the angels as evidence for his claim that the saints don’t deserve to be granted eternal life. […] Satan’s attacks against God’s people—and especially his challenge that they are unworthy of salvation—are dealt with once and for all at that time. This is why an investigative judgment is needed”.[17]

Although Moore refers to a cleansing of the sanctuary, he mentions this because Satan would be the one doing the contamination of the heavenly sanctuary through his accusations.  This new source of contamination is nowhere mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Here, Gerhard Hasel’s comment is quite relevant. “Israel’s sanctuary can be defiled by only one source—sinful man”. He adds: “It has been shown that pagan sanctuaries can be defiled/contaminated by demonic incursions. […] In Israel there is a sharp distinction to this notion, because Israel’s sanctuary can only be defiled by the sins of human beings”.[18] Never is Satan presented as the one doing the transferring of sins. Should we now interpret the priestly ritual of sprinkling blood on the sanctuary as a type for Satan’s defamatory activity?[19]

Justification and Judgment

The compatibility between justification and the final judgment has also been questioned by adepts of Ford’s views. Isn’t justification traditionally considered in Protestantism a judicial declaration of God on the repented sinner? If so, wouldn’t it imply that a judgment just took place as the heavenly Judge forensically absolves the sinner and declares him/her just? Then why the need for an investigation before Christ comes and takes the saved to heaven? The apparent contradiction between justification and judgment has led some to abandon completely the belief in an end-time investigative judgment of the saints.[20]

Once again, from what we have seen so far, the investigative judgment is a biblical doctrine, and so is justification by faith. But how can the two be harmonized? Jiri Moskala is one who has tried this by dissecting the final judgment into several minor judgments, each with a distinctive name: pedagogical/typological judgment, central judgment, decisive judgment, affirmative/confirmatory judgment, realization judgment, attestation judgment, annihilative judgment, and executive judgment. While this strategy at times may prove helpful, one wonders whether the whole new nomenclature doesn’t create more confusion. According to him, the decision which the sinner makes during his lifetime to accept Christ and believe in Him (what we would traditionally call “justification”) is seen as a “decisive judgment”. “When personal decisions are made in relationship to God, this judgment occurs.” Here, Moskala equates justification to an early divine judgment in the life of the believer. “This means that the eschatological judgment breaks into the life of the believer.”[21]

In the case of John 5:24, Moskala argues that, if krisis is translated as “judgment”, “it means that such a person will have no part in the Last Judgment because he will be affirmed by Jesus as His at the affirmative judgment and will be resurrected at the second coming of Christ and live forever!”[22] This affirmative judgment is quite different than the judgment Adventists usually depict when they refer to the investigative judgment: “All humanity, those who ask for forgiveness but also those who refuse to accept Jesus as their personal Savior, are the participants at this judgment. God is the primary witness, because this judgment has a more or less private character—it occurs between God and the believer.”[23]

While I do agree that the act of justifying the sinner upon repentance presupposes some sort of judgment on the part of God,[24] I wouldn’t go as far as equating it with the anticipation of the last judgment upon the lifetime of the sinner.[25] In terms of the sanctuary ritual, it would be like confusing the ritual of the Day of Atonement with the daily service.

This issue is what many theologians refer to as “future eschatology” and “realized eschatology”. Although this tension between the “already” and “not yet” occurs at many instances in the Bible, never does one rule out the other. “We now are justified by faith (Rom. 3:28), yet await the final justification (James 2:22, 23). We now are redeemed (Gal. 3:13; 1Pet. 1:18), yet await final redemption (Eph. 4:30). We now are adopted (Rom. 8:14-17), yet await the final adoption (Rom. 8:23). Now we are saved (2 Tim. 1:9), yet await final salvation (Matt. 24:13)”.[26] Likewise, we are judged by God throughout our life, but that won’t cancel our obligation to stand before the final judgment. “Present judgment does not rule out a future judgment”.[27] Ivan Blazen framed this concept nicely: “justification and the judgment do not stand in the relation of tension or contradiction, but in that of inauguration and consummation.”[28]

 

Conclusion

Jiri Moskala is right when he asserts that “there is no Gospel without judgment”.[29] The message of salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ also alerts of impending judgment. It is a guarantee that sin will ultimately be eliminated from the universe. To be saved, those who accept the offer of redemption must do so continually as they journey through life and its many perils. Accepting Christ in our lives does not seal one’s destiny, but if we maintain an active and living relationship with Christ, we need not fear condemnation, for Christ is our Judge and our Advocate.

As we have seen, John 5:24 is not talking about being exempt from judgment, but of condemnation. Therefore, this text shouldn’t be used as a pretext for opposing the preadvent investigative judgment doctrine. Rather, the text speaks of the assurance the redeemed can have of God’s forgiveness and of their rightful state despite having to stand before the judgment. The fact that the believer is justified upon the confession of his sins and can have eternal life at that exact moment doesn’t contradict the biblical teaching that everyone will have to appear before the throne of judgment and be accountable for their actions. This judgment of our works is necessary to ascertain that the redeemed truly lived in accordance with God’s moral standards and benefited from his purifying grace. It also allows the heavenly host to understand the decisions made by God as we are nearing the end of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan. Therefore, it would be wrong to conclude that the investigative judgment doctrine favors the false teaching of righteousness by works. Rather, “we are saved in the judgment, not by faith plus works, but a very real and practical faith that works!”[30]

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

______

Notes.

[1] Frank B. Holbrook, org., Doctrine of the Sanctuary: A Historical Survey (1845–1863), vol. 5, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1989), p. 232.

[2] 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. 327.

[3] For examples of investigative judgment in the Bible, see Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, “Sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment”, in The Word: Searching, Living, Teaching, Artur A. Stele, ed. (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2015), p. 36-41.

[4] Shea, “Theological Importance of the Preadvent Judgment”, p. 331.

[5] “The reason the sins of the saints come in review during the final judgment is not because God and Christ bring them up or because the angels bring them up. It’s because Satan brings them up! The books of record are God’s response, and when the angels have completed their review of the lives of the saints, they will all be satisfied that God is right and Satan is wrong. All of Satan’s charges against those who are truly God’s saints will be proved groundless. The tragedy is that in some cases Satan’s accusations are correct – some of those who have claimed to be on God’s side have actually been on Satan’s side (see Matthew 7:22, 23; 25:11, 12), although, of course, God has known their true spiritual condition all along”.  Marvin Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 2010), p. 105.

[6] Woodrow W. Whidden II, The Judgment and Assurance: The Dynamics of Personal Salvation (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2012), p. 41.

[7] 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. 412, 413.

[8] Arnold V. Wallenkampf, “Challengers to the Doctrine of the Sanctuary”, in Doctrine of the Sanctuary: A Historical Survey (1845–1863), org. Frank B. Holbrook, vol. 5, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1989), p. 215.

[9] Ibid., 214.

[10] Cf. Frank B. Holbrook, The Atoning Priesthood of Jesus Christ (Berrien Springs, MI: Adventist Theological Society Publications, 1996), p. 122-124.

[11] Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment, 23.

[12] Ibid., p. 24.

[13] Ibid., p. 162.

[14] Ibid., p. 320.

[15] Ibid., p. 321.

[16] Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of fundamental Doctrines (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005), p. 356.

[17] Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment, p. 161.

[18] Gerhard Hasel, “Studies in Biblical Atonement – II: The Day of Atonement”, in The Sanctuary and the Atonement, Frank B. Holbrook, ed. (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1989), p. 108.

[19] To be fair, along his book, Moore seems to defend the traditional Adventist belief of sins being transferred to the sanctuary via blood. However, it is curious to read his argumentation when his attention turns to the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. His effort to reconcile justification by faith and the final judgment seems to blind him of biblical typology at times.

[20] In a previous work, I refer to this issue as the foundational reason that led Desmond Ford to finally change his mind and assume an opposing stand against the investigative judgment and the prophetic interpretation of Daniel 7–8 that Adventism has traditionally sustained since 1844. Cf. Glauber S. Araújo, “Desmond Ford e a Doutrina do Santuário: Análise Comparativa de Duas Fases Distintas”, Kerygma 3, nº 1 (2007), p. 12-13.

[21] Jiri Moskala, “Toward a Biblical Theology of God’s Judgment: A Celebration of the Cross in Seven Phases of Divine Universal Judgment (An Overview of a Theocentric-Christocentric Approach)”, Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 15/1 (Spring 2004), p. 148. Moskala here echoes the ideas of Desmond Ford: “Justification is an anticipated last judgment”. Daniel 8:14, The Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment, p. 368.

[22] Moskala, “Toward a Biblical Theology of God’s Judgment”, p. 148.

[23] Ibid., p. 149.

[24] Jiri Moskala, “The Gospel According to God’s Judgment: Judgment as Salvation”, Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 22/1 (2011), p. 31-32.

[25] This same idea is framed by George Ladd: “The doctrine of justification means that God has pronounced the eschatological verdict of acquittal over the man of faith in the present, in advance of the final judgment. […] Thus the man in Christ is actually righteous, not ethically but forensically, in terms of his relationship to God.” A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 446.

[26] Richard M. Davidson, “The Good News of Yom Kippur”, Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 2/2 (1991), p. 10.

[27] 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. 818.

[28] Ivan T. Blazen, “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. 344.

[29] Moskala, “Toward a Biblical Theology of God’s Judgment”, p. 141.

[30] Whidden, The Judgment and Assurance, p. 39.

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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.