by Roy Gane
Part VIII: Altar Call
Things can lose their relevance with time. In Michigan where I live, an air conditioner makes a difference in July or August. But just wait until January or February!
Situations change. If the war in Bosnia had stopped while O'Grady was there, it would not have been necessary to rescue him in the same way.
World War II did stop in 1945 while a Japanese soldier named Schoichi Yokoi was hiding out in the jungle on the island of Guam. Leaflets dropped from U.S. planes proclaimed the end of the war, but Yokoi thought it was a trick. He had vowed never to surrender, so he continued to live in his primitive shelter. Since he had no contact with civilization, he lived on what he could find in the jungle, making his clothes from tree bark.
In 1972, 27 years after the end of World War II, hunters came across Yokoi while he was fishing, and he learned that the war had ended. While the rest of his people had been enjoying peace for decades, Yokoi had been enduring the privation and stress of war.
If we are two centuries beyond 1798, when the political power of the Roman church came to an end, and more than a century and a half beyond 1844, it looks like the war has ended some time ago. Bringing up the conflict all over again as if we are living in the past would seem to make us like Yokoi: still fighting a war that has already ended.
God's judgment has come. But has it gone? The fact that the judgment began in 1844 does not mean that it ended in 1844. What Christ does at any point in salvation history has an ongoing effect. When He died on Passover as our Passover lamb, He began a new era of freedom from slavery to sin and Satan. When He rose from the dead on the day of the wave sheaf ritual, He began a new era of hope that we too can be raised from the dead. When He ascended and inaugurated His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, He began a new era of direct access to the throne of God. Following this pattern, when Christ went to His Father at the time of the judgment (Dan 7:13), He began a judgment era.
The idea that Christ began a judgment era in 1844 is strengthened by comparison with the ancient Israelite Day of Atonement. When the high priest had finished cleansing the sanctuary, he confessed over Azazel's goat and sent it into the wilderness (Lev 16:20-22). This ritual represented the banishment or "imprisonment" of Satan at the beginning of a 1,000-year period known as "the millennium" (Rev 20:1-3). The 1,000 years will begin just after Christ comes again to announce the verdict of the judgment (Matt 25:31-46; Rev 19:11-21). Since Christ has not yet come, it appears that He is still involved in the investigative phase of the judgment that is represented by the cleansing of the sanctuary. As in our human law courts, a verdict is announced after investigation is completed.
Why would it take God so long to judge the Roman church for what it did centuries ago? God's judgment not only deals with past history, it judges loyalty or disloyalty to Him in the present. Likewise, the Israelite Day of Atonement not only cleansed the sanctuary from past sins, it gave forgiven Israelites an opportunity to show loyalty to God on that very day by humbling themselves before God and keeping a Sabbath. Those who disobeyed God on this day were rebelling against Him. Similarly, in Daniel 7 and 8 the judgment/cleansing condemns and breaks the power of the "little horn" for its opposition to God and His people during the time when the judgment is going on (Dan 7:11, 21-22; 8:25).
But didn't the Roman church die in 1798? How could it be judged for what it does after 1844? The Roman church lost its political power in 1798 and looked as though it were dead, but it is experiencing a remarkable revival that has not yet reached its climax. Revelation 13 tells us what is going on:
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. They worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?" (Rev 13:1-4).
The "beast" here represents a blasphemous power that has a remarkable recovery after a serious injury. The next verses give us some past background information to identify the "beast":
The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered (Rev 13:5-8).
This looks like the "little horn" of Daniel! In case there should be any doubt, the "forty-two months" of domination by the beast equals the period of domination by the "little horn" in Daniel 7:25 and Rev 12:14: three and a half times/years. Three and a half years of 12 months per year equals 42 months. "Forty-two months" of 30 days per month also comes out to 1,260 days (Rev 12:6). This refers symbolically (day for year) to the time of political domination by the church of Rome: 1,260 years from 538 to 1798.
After the "forty-two months," when the beast's "mortal wound" has been healed, it finds a powerful political ally:
Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name (Rev 13:11-17).
All of this takes place after 1798. Now we can see how the judgment that began in 1844 has ongoing relevance. While the church of Rome lost its political power by the end of 1,260 years of domination, it has been recovering. Sometime in the future, another power will support the Roman church and compel people to pledge allegiance to it rather than to God. People will need to decide whether to be loyal to God or to Roman authority that is in rebellion against God. This sounds like the conflict between God and the "little horn" that we see in Daniel 7 and 8.
If those who are loyal to the Roman power receive a mark of loyalty to it so that they will not be killed, what happens to those who are loyal to God? Revelation 14 goes on:
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads... these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless (Rev 14:1, 4-5).
The Lamb is Christ, Mount Zion is the New Jerusalem, the holy city of God (Rev 21:2). This scene shows God's people, who are victorious over the beast. Instead of the beast's mark, they have the name of Christ and of His Father written on their foreheads. God has redeemed them. They follow Christ wherever He goes, just as they did while living in the evil world. They are blameless.
Even if the beast threatens you with death, you can be loyal to God. If you choose to be with Christ, He will give you the victory.
The test of loyalty and the reward are in the future. What are we supposed to do now? Revelation 14 continues:
Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water" (Rev 14:6-7).
The angel proclaims "an eternal gospel," that is, "everlasting good news." The good news is: "... for the hour of his judgment has come..." Because of this good news, we are supposed to "Fear God and give him glory... and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."
What judgment is this? It must be the judgment that began in 1844, which saves God's true people from the oppressive Roman "beast" of Revelation 13, the same power represented by the "little horn" of Daniel.
What is good news about the judgment? It is not good news for the "beast," but it is great news for God's true people because the judgment gives them justice and deliverance from the beast. Since 1844 it is good news that the time of God's judgment has come. The judgment that will result in Christ taking away evil power and returning to take over the world is already in session.
God tells us to worship Him rather than the beast, who is doomed by the judgment. The beast tries to intimidate people so that they might fear him and therefore pledge allegiance to him. But the eternal good news is that the one who has the real power is the eternal God, who created everything. Because He alone is the Creator, only He deserves to be feared, glorified, and worshiped as God.
The "fear" of God here is not the kind of fear that drives out love. It is the kind of awesome respect that God-fearing people of all ages have had, knowing that God has absolute power of life or death over them. We are ultimately accountable to God, not to any human power.
Revelation 14 tells of two more angels who proclaim messages from God. The third angel explicitly states what the outcome of the judgment will be:
"If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Rev 14:9-12; NASB).
If you are inclined to follow the beast, think again. The beast can kill the body, but Jesus said: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). It is God who controls hell. He is to be feared more than the beast.
Jesus said that hell destroys. It ends in death, the second death (Rev 20:14). Verses saying that "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever" (14:11) and "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (20:10) mean that pain will not stop until death. The Greek expression translated "forever and ever" means here: as long as people last. But death will bring an end to the pain. Compare Jude 1:7, which says that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were punished by eternal fire. This refers to Genesis 19:24-25, 28-29, which describes how God destroyed these cities with fire. The fire was eternal in the sense that it lasted until the cities were completely gone. I know that the fire is not still burning because I have visited that part of Palestine.
The common idea that God will make people immortal to torture them throughout the infinite ages of eternity is due to a misunderstanding of the Greek expression "forever and ever." God is just, but not cruel.
The third angel utters what is arguably the most blood-curdling threat in the entire Bible. Why would God send us such a message? Is this a loving God?
What if God didn't warn us of the results of rebellion against Him? Would that be loving?
I'm grateful for warnings. My friend Jeff taught me how to use a chain saw. When we went into the woods to cut firewood I was inclined to be a bit "drifty," that is, absent-minded. Jeff cured my driftiness by bluntly telling me that if I relaxed my concentration for a moment I would start sawing on my leg or get killed. His warnings were graphic and spine-chilling. But Jeff cared about me and wanted me to be safe. Thanks to him I have been careful and have not been injured during hundreds of hours of chain saw work.
The third angel not only threatens, he appeals: "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12). God's "saints," or holy ones, are those who keep God's commandments and hang on to Jesus' faith (compare Rev 12:17). Revelation 14:4-5 puts the reference to the commandments and Jesus in different words and reverses the order: "these follow the Lamb wherever he goes... in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless."
God's judgment boils down to a test of loyalty. Will people pledge allegiance to Him, His law of love, and salvation through faith in Christ, or will they rebel against Him and the life He freely offers? By the end of the judgment, as on the Israelite Day of Atonement, two groups will be clearly apparent: Those who are loyal to God and those who are not.
Unlike the ancient Day of Atonement, the end-time judgment deals with organized, institutional rebellion against God on a grand scale. There will be vindicated saints and syndicated sinners.
Just after the call of the third angel, "one like the Son of Man" comes to "reap" the earth. This represents Christ coming to carry out the results of the judgment (Rev 14:14-20). The warning of the third angel is the last warning that God gives to the world. It is now or never.
The fact that the message of the third angel is a warning has a positive side: There is still hope. You don't warn someone for whom there is no hope. That would be as pointless as trying to talk to a dead person.
I have seen someone try to talk to a dead person. Well, not a real dead person. Years ago, as I was doing yard work to pay for my education, I was mowing a lawn at the home of a dentist. His eight year old son was running around the yard playing cowboys and Indians. He pointed his finger and yelled: "Bang! You're dead. YOU'RE DEAD! YOU'RE DEAD!!" Amused by this behavior, I asked the boy: "How can he hear you if he's dead?" He paused, thought a moment, and calmly replied: "I missed his ears." I didn't argue with him. I was too flabbergasted by his logic.
People for whom there is still hope need to be warned of the judgment. But they also need to know that the God who warns says to those who will listen and turn back to Him: "I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely..." (Hos 14:4).
Christ is still in His sanctuary forgiving sins and changing lives. His mediation did not stop when the judgment began. If it had stopped, there would be no further hope for those who had not already accepted Christ, and therefore no need for the warnings of the angels in Revelation 14, which are given during the time of the judgment.
Christ came to His Father at the beginning of the judgment (Dan 7:13), just as the Israelite high priest came before God in the most holy place when he began to cleanse the sanctuary (Lev 16:12-16). But at that time Christ did not stop intercessory ministry equivalent to what the priest did in the holy place and at the outer altar.
Compare the fact that on the Day of Atonement the morning and evening regular rituals of mediation by the priests (Exod 27:20-21; 29:38-42; 30:7-8; Num 28:1-8) were performed as on any other day. In fact, the morning burnt offering was supplemented by additional burnt offerings and a sin offering on behalf of the whole community (Num 29:7-11). The Day of Atonement was Israel's judgment day, but it had even more mediation than usual!
Over a century and a half after 1844, God's judgment has come and is still here. The event lives on, just as American independence lives on more than two centuries after 1776.
God's judgment is moving toward the climax. Warnings
will be given. Decisions will be made. Christ will come.
The week before I had written exams for three of these teachers. The exam in my major area had been a 24 hour take-home on which I wrote for the entire 24 hours except for some short breaks. Connie had endured the marathon with me. She even cooked a meal for me at 1 a.m.!
Now it was time for the professors to further probe my knowledge by asking questions in person. It was a terrifying experience because so much depended on my performance. But my teachers were kind and relaxed, so they put me at ease. They knew that I had worked hard and done well in their classes, so they didn't try to give me a hard time.
One thing was a bit unusual about the event. There was a dog in the room, six floors up in Evans Hall! Earlier that day a student had found the stray animal wandering in Tilden Park. So she had brought the dog to the chairperson of my exam committee, who loved dogs. Having nowhere else to put the animal for the day, my professor kept the dog in her office, where my exam was held.
When the questioning was over, I left the room and waited outside while my professors discussed my fate. I could not see them or hear what they were saying, but my professional future depended on their decision. All I could do was to wait and pray.
Connie had been waiting and praying for me the whole time. My future would be her future.
The door opened and I was invited to come back in. The four professors rose, shook my hand, and congratulated me warmly. The dog had been completely quiet during the exam, but he sensed the excitement and barked his hearty congratulation. The tension melted away. The judgment was over.
God's judgment is going on now in His sanctuary in heaven. I can't see or hear what is going on. In that sense it is like the evaluation phase of my oral exam at Berkeley. But the stakes are much higher: eternal life, not just a career.
How does God's judgment affect my attitudes and the way I live? While my professors were deliberating for a few minutes, I was waiting in the hallway, with nothing to do but pray. But God's judgment has been going on throughout my whole lifetime. Obviously I must do more than pray.
Those who respond to God's last warning message during the time of the judgment "keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12). Keeping the commandments of God and holding to the faith of Jesus are not separate; they are aspects of the same experience. This is demonstrated in the life of Christ, whose full obedience to His Father was due to His complete trust in Him.
As our experience with God's commandments and the faith of Jesus grows, our obedience and faith deepen and mature. In the Bible we see examples of this kind of growth. In spite of mistakes like calling Sarah his sister and trying to get an heir by Hagar, Abraham learned to trust God so completely that he obeyed God's command to take his son Isaac to Mt. Moriah in order to offer him as a sacrifice (Gen 22).
Obedience to God and holding to the faith of Jesus include going wherever He leads us, just as Abraham went where God commanded him (Gen 12:1, 4; 22:1-3). Those whom God saves follow Christ (Rev 14:4) because that is what they are used to doing: following His leading and example.
Having the "faith of Jesus" means both trusting in Jesus and having the kind of faith He had when He lived on earth. Once God's people are safely on Mt. Zion it will be easy to be blameless and follow Christ (Rev 14:4-5). But it is not Mt. Zion that suddenly produces this kind of character.
Haven't God's loyal people always had obedience and faith? Why is there a special need for these during the time of the judgment?
The basic call of the Christian life remains the same. But obedience to God and holding to the faith of Jesus may be challenged by different circumstances at different times. Challenges can grow in difficulty. This was true in the life of Abraham and it is true for us. We may be having an easy time now, but Revelation 13 tells us that the faith of God's true people will be severely tested. The intensity of this test is indicated by the fact that Revelation 14:12 calls upon God's holy people to have endurance.
Obeying God and having Jesus' faith during the end-time judgment corresponds closely to what the Israelites were to do on their judgment day, the Day of Atonement. Even though they could not see their high priest as he went into the sanctuary to cleanse it on their behalf, they were to participate in what he was doing by humbling themselves and refraining from work (Lev 16:29). In this way they obeyed God and pledged allegiance to Him and His law. They acknowledged that they had sinned against God's law, but God had forgiven them and was now cleansing them. By humbling themselves they foreshadowed Christ's experience of faith: "he humbled himself" (Phil 2:8).
The Israelites were to participate because the cleansing of the sanctuary was a life and death matter for them. An individual who did not receive the benefit would be rejected by God.
What do you do when someone is doing something for you that is a matter of life and death? Do you go out to eat? Is it business as usual?
When Queen Esther agreed to risk her life by going before the king to save her people, she wanted some serious support. She told Mordecai:
"Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish"(Esth 4:16).
Esther's people could not come into the palace while she approached the king on their behalf. But if they valued their lives, the least they could do would be to fast with her.
Why did Esther fast? Going on a crash diet would not increase the likelihood of her finding favor with the king. In those days men preferred their women to be pleasantly plump. Not stated but implied is the idea that Esther was petitioning the God of heaven to be with her. She wanted her prayers to be accompanied by those of her people.
The idea that humbling oneself, or denying oneself before God by fasting, could be associated with prayer at a special time of need is found in Ezra 8. Ezra and a group of Jews were about to go on a dangerous journey: returning to Palestine from captivity in Babylon. Ezra says: "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions" (verse 21).
Psalm 35:13, 14 also connects fasting with prayer in a special time of need. Here the Psalmist says that he expressed grief for the sickness of his former friends and entreated God on their behalf by wearing sackcloth, denying himself with fasting, praying, bowing down, and mourning.
Daniel humbled himself before God because of a different kind of need: he wanted to gain understanding from God. Daniel 9:3 describes what he did: "Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes" (Dan 9:3). If Daniel's prayer in chapter 9 is any indication, he was mourning because of the sins of his people and the desolation that had come upon them. Mourning for sins was also associated with fasting when the prophet Joel called upon his people to express repentance through fasting and mourning at a time of crisis, when a terrible plague of locusts was devastating their country (Joel 2:12-17).
Daniel 10:2-3 describes another occasion of self-denial: "At that time I, Daniel, had been mourning for three weeks. I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks." This was not a complete fast. Daniel did eat, but only plain food. He also abstained from using oil to keep his skin moist.
In answer to Daniel's need, a heavenly being came to him and said:
"Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you." So while he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. He said to me, "Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words" (Dan 10:11-12).
Imagine having a heavenly being call you "greatly beloved"! By mourning and humbling himself before God, Daniel had been concentrating on gaining understanding with regard to the future of God's people (compare Dan 9:2-3). He had put aside earthly comforts in his desire for heavenly wisdom. And God had heard his prayer.
Now we can understand better why the Israelites were to humble themselves by practicing self-denial on the Day of Atonement. This was a special time of need, when the high priest went before God to gain full acceptance for his people. By putting aside the fulfillment of their physical needs and by abstaining from work, the people could concentrate completely on their relationship with God. There was nothing they could eat or drink and no work they could do that could help them now. They were utterly dependent upon God and the ministry of His priest.
Hadn't the people already been forgiven? Why should they have an attitude of repentance that was associated with mourning? When you're justified, why do you need to be mortified? It was the sins of the people that had defiled God's sanctuary. The sanctuary was cleansed with blood that had to be shed because of what they had done.
It is when we are forgiven that we truly comprehend the enormity of our mistakes in light of what they have cost God. The person who enjoys peace with God asks, "How could I have done such a thing?"
Hadn't the people already shown their sorrow for sin when they brought their sacrifices? Why bring up this sorrow all over again?
The question on the Day of Atonement was: Were they still sorry? Did the experience of forgiveness last, or was it superficial? Did they want to go back to disobeying God?
The point was not to have people groveling before God in abject terror. Rather, it was to show that they had a genuine relationship with God based on acceptance of the forgiveness that He had already given.
God wanted His people to have a "heart" relationship with Him: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart" (Deut 6:5-6).
Jeremiah prophesied a time when God's dream would come true:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jer 31:31-34).
This is the experience God wanted His people to have all along. Jeremiah called it the "new covenant."
God desires for His people to internalize His law and be fully united with Him. But they cannot put His law into their own hearts. It is God who takes responsibility for enabling them to obey: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."
God said, "they shall all know me." People who have God's law in their hearts are people who know God. Why? Because God's law is His moral character, which is love (1 Jn 4:8; Matt 22:36-40).
God stated the basis of the new covenant experience: "for I will forgive their iniquity..." We do not begin our relationship with God with a clean slate as the Israelites thought they did when they promised, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exod 24:3). We start off "in the red," owing a debt we cannot pay. From the humble position of acknowledging our need for forgiveness, we are ready to accept all that God has to give.
According to Jeremiah, God not only says that He will forgive His people, He says that He will "remember their sin no more" (Jer 31:34). Not remembering sin makes forgiveness irrevocable. How could forgiveness ever be canceled if the sin is not even remembered?
Until sin is forgotten, forgiveness is not irrevocable. Remember Jesus' parable of the unjust steward: Because he failed to forgive his fellow servant, his master canceled the forgiveness that he had already granted. The master had forgiven, but he had not yet forgotten (Matt 18:23-35).
How can God forget sin? Will He suddenly have an attack of amnesia? No. The point of God not remembering sin any more is that He will make the sin eternally irrelevant, so that it can never be brought up again.
The two phases of atonement in the Israelite sanctuary correspond to forgiving sin and making it eternally irrelevant. A sinner was forgiven when he/she brought a sacrifice (Lev 4). But the sin was not irrelevant; it remained in the sanctuary. As a result of the Day of Atonement services, however, the Israelites were "clean" from all their sins (16:30). Their sins could never again have even the possibility of relevance to their relationship with God. Forgiveness had become irrevocable. To express it like Jeremiah, the sins would be remembered no more.
Making sin eternally irrelevant is tied to life after forgiveness. The unjust steward lost forgiveness because of his attitude after forgiveness. To be "clean" from sin, an Israelite who had been forgiven earlier was required to be loyal to God on the Day of Atonement, as shown by practicing self-denial and not working.
When God pronounced the Israelites "clean" at the end of the Day of Atonement judgment, He meant "blameless." Similarly, the people whose loyalty goes through the end-time judgment to Mt. Zion are "blameless" (Rev 14:5; compare 7:14). They will already be clean/blameless by the end of the judgment.
The Israelites were to humble themselves and show repentance by practicing self-denial and abstaining from work during the entire Day of Atonement. This was only one day out of the year. Obviously we cannot fast and abstain from work during the entire period of the end-time judgment that began in 1844. God does not ask us to do this. What He does ask us to do is the end-time equivalent: to humble ourselves and to show repentance by keeping the commandments of God and holding fast to the faith of Jesus (Rev 14:12).
The commandments of God include abstaining from work once a week on the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-11). This is a sign that God, our Creator, is re-creating us into harmony with Himself and His law by making us holy (31:12-17). Becoming holy/sanctified is not some abstract, sanctimonious, theologizing, pie-in-the-sky religiosity. It is learning how to love as we interact with others and with God (compare 1 Thess 3:12-13).
An especially important part of becoming holy and "blameless" is growth in our love for members of our families, with whom we have the most intimate contact. The prophet Malachi ended his book by predicting that an appeal for reconciliation between family members would come just before the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5-6). No message could be more relevant today, when all kinds of forces are pulling the hearts of family members away from each other.
With sanctification the rubber meets the road on the practical level, including the little things of life.
Little things! That's where I'm weak. Give me a big challenge and I'll see it coming, but it's easier to knock me over with the little irritations and interruptions.
If God's law consisted merely of the do's and don'ts of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20), I could come tolerably close to saying that I have kept them since I was young (compare Lk 18:21). But the love of Christ goes further. It aggressively seeks to fill the needs of others (verse 22).
As I learn more about the depths of Christ's love, which expresses the heart of God's law, I am awestruck and humbled by the unselfish, humble mind of Christ:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8; NASB).
Should I humble myself by living my whole life in an attitude of mourning, just as the Israelites mourned for their sins on the Day of Atonement? Some Christians have lived like this. In 1989 my wife and I visited an old Christian monastery in northern Iraq, dating from about the fifth century A.D. Nearby were some small holes in the ground where hermits stayed for decades without coming out. Feeling sorry for sins and focusing on God are certainly important. Some days may need to be dominated by these things. But Jesus has shown us a path of humility that includes much more: outgoing love expressed in service for others. Rather than becoming melancholy hermits, we can have the joy of helping people. Rather than trying to be holy by staying in a hole, we can answer Jesus' call to an active life: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20; NASB).
By helping others, we keep the commandments of God, hold fast to the faith of Jesus, and participate with our heavenly high priest as He draws people to Himself during His judgment. Best of all, we encounter Jesus everywhere we go. As Mother Teresa said:
Jesus comes to meet us. To welcome him, let us go to meet him. He comes to us in the hungry, the naked, the lonely, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the prostitute, the street beggars. He may come to you or me in a father who is alone, in a mother, in a brother, or in a sister. If we reject them, if we do not go out to meet them, we reject Jesus himself. (Mother Teresa: In My Own Words, compiled by Joseå Luis Gonzaålez-Balado [New York: Gramercy Books, 1996], p. 29).
As Jesus said: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one
of the least of these who are members of my family, you did
it to me" (Matt 25:40).
Every action increased our commitment. The more we did to get ready to leave, the harder it would have been to turn back.
The day of our departure arrived. Not quite seven years old, I was mightily impressed by the 42,000 ton ship that would carry us to America. I had drawn pictures of the Oriana based on a travel brochure, but the real thing was even bigger than I had imagined.
My mother, father, five-year-old brother, and I boarded the Oriana and stood on the deck facing the dock. We and others on the ship held long paper ribbons called "streamers." Each streamer was held on the other end by a relative or friend on the dock.
My grandparents were standing in the crowd on the dock. Their handkerchiefs were busy mopping up tears. America was a long way away.
It was not too late to get off the ship. People were still coming and going. We could call off the whole plan and stay in Australia.
The opportunity to change our minds did not last long. The gangplank was raised, the water churned, and the streamers broke. There was no turning back. We were going to America.
I was not quite seven years old. To me it was a grand adventure. I didn't know the pain of good-byes that my grandparents felt. Besides, we were only planning to go to America for three years.
My family never returned to reside in Australia. When 42,000 tons pulled away from the dock, it was the end of the first part of my life. I am now an American citizen, married to an American woman. Everything has been affected by the fateful moment when the streamers broke.
Groups of people can commit themselves to important decisions, with no turning back. This happens many times every day at docks and airports all over the world.
According to the Bible, eight people decided to get on a big boat thousands of years ago. Everyone else decided to stay. There was plenty of time for people to make up their minds. But the day came when the Lord shut the door of Noah's ark (Gen 7:16). That was it. Commitments were final.
Before the Lord shut the door, He did not force anyone to get on or off the boat. He honored the decisions people made. There was time. But time ran out.
There were no streamers on Noah's ark. There was no dock. The boat had no engines or even a sail. When the door was shut, the boat just sat there. But the door was shut. When water poured from above and below, it was the eight people in the ark who continued the human race. Everyone now living is descended from those eight people. Everything has been affected by the fateful moment when the door was shut.
As in the days of Noah, God's judgment does not move people from one side of the door to the other; it simply recognizes them for what they have chosen to become. Before the judgment has reached its decisions there is time for people to change their minds. But this time will not last forever. When Christ comes again, final commitments will already have been settled.
At His Second Coming, Christ will not preach a sermon in order to win people over. He will not make an appeal while the angel choir sings "Just As I Am." He will separate His loyal people from those who are disloyal as a shepherd separates sheep from goats (Matt 25:31-46). He will already know who belongs to Him.
The apostle John indicates that God will allow people to settle into the courses of action they have chosen and then Christ will come to reward them according to the kinds of individuals they have decided to be: "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy." "See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work" (Rev 22:11-12).
Before the verdicts of judgment are reached, God appeals to people to change, but there is only so much He can do. There comes a time when God says, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?" (Isa 5:4).
God does not force anyone to accept Him. He honors the decisions into which people settle. Then He shuts the door. He holds each person accountable for his/her decision.
Does God hold billions of people accountable for deciding for or against Him when most of them don't even comprehend the issues involved? Does God treat decisions as final if many people have not yet made up their minds? It is one thing to consciously get on a boat or plane. But how can a religious decision be that clear?
God promises that He will not shut the door until the decision is clear. Jesus said: "And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come" (Matt 24:14). The end will not come before God's invitation penetrates to every corner of the globe. The last invitation consists of the powerful appeal and warning messages of Revelation 14, which are given to the entire world during the time of the judgment (verses 6-12). People will understand these messages because they are God's answer to the power of the revived "beast," whose fame is known throughout the world (Rev 13:3-4).
When the "beast" is in worldwide news, God is ready to hit the headlines. When the "beast" poses a threat, people will be interested in the alternative God offers. Compare the fact that Dwight D. Eisenhower became known because he was successful in meeting the threat of an oppressive power. Without that challenge, many people would never have heard of Eisenhower.
The prophet Joel speaks of another way in which God will help people to settle into their decisions before the "great and terrible day of the Lord comes":
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes (Joel 2:28-31).
The "beast" and its supporters do not have a monopoly on signs and wonders. God shows His power in nature and in His people through His Spirit. These signs leave no doubt that God is the Creator (Rev 14:7).
The fact that God pours out His Spirit in a special way just before Christ's Second Coming is extremely important. In the early Christian church an outpouring of the Spirit that began on the Day of Pentecost brought powerful conviction to the hearts of thousands of people (Acts 2). We can expect the same before Jesus comes again.
It is the Spirit who convinces people that they are sinners in need of righteousness and they will be held accountable (Jn 16:8). It is the Spirit who provides the renewal of spiritual new birth (Titus 3:5). It is the Spirit who makes us holy by pouring love into our hearts (Rom 5:5).
There is no limit to what God can do with us as long as we keep on accepting His Spirit. He isn't finished with us yet. Through the Spirit, God can help us to settle into our decisions for Him so that we become righteous people who still do right and holy people who remain holy (Rev 22:11).
By giving us more of His Spirit, God will speed up the effects of our decisions for Him, just as more rain at the right time speeds up the ripening of crops for harvest (Joel 2:23-24). Corn and wheat are still corn and wheat, but they are more mature corn and wheat. Holy and loving are still that way, but only more so.
To use another analogy, God lets you choose the elevator, but then He speeds it up.
As God's people mature, they outgrow sin. Christ makes them holy by cleansing them with His word (Eph 5:27).
By the end of the judgment, God's people are "clean," just as God wanted to make the Israelites "clean" by the end of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:30). But there is a difference. After an Israelite Day of Atonement there was another year of sacrifices for sin and another Day of Atonement. However, at the conclusion of the end-time judgment Christ stops His work of forgiving sins in the heavenly sanctuary and comes to earth again to announce and then carry out the positive and negative verdicts of the judgment.
A person cannot be saved without being forgiven. So how can Christ stop forgiving sins? Won't people be lost who would otherwise be saved? Apparently not. That would not be in harmony with the character of God, who does not want any to perish (2 Pet 3:9).
By His Spirit, God can speed up the spiritual growth of His people so that they outgrow sin. By cleansing His people and presenting them to Himself without blemish, Christ works Himself out of the job of forgiving sins. He does not walk off the job. We could say that He is "laid off" from this work because there are no more forgivable sins to forgive.
The fact that Christ will stop forgiving sins does not mean that after that point God's people will stand before God in their own strength, without the Holy Spirit. Nor does it mean that Christ will abandon them. In Ephesians 5:25-27, it is clear that Christ loves the church and wants to present her to Himself as His bride. Will He abandon her for some time? No! Would any decent groom abandon his bride?
The time before Christ's coming will not be easy. In the book of Daniel, when Michael stands up, just before God's people are delivered, there is a time of trouble because those who are evil still do evil (Dan 12:1; compare Rev 22:11). In fact, they do evil more intensely than ever because they are completely bent on pursuing evil. Compare the people who lived before the Flood: "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually" (Gen 6:5).
If evil people hate Christ, they will also hate His followers (Jn 15:20). For a time we may find ourselves with our faces buried in the dirt. Like Christ on the cross, we may have no earthly evidence whatsoever that God has not abandoned us. We may struggle with doubts and fears of the unknown, just as Jacob wrestled alone with an unidentified person (Gen 32:24).
Where was the Lord during the time of Jacob's trouble, when he wrestled in the darkness? As one of my students pointed out, He was in Jacob's armsas close as He could get (Gen 32:24, 28-30)! Like Jacob, we can say: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me"! (verse 26).
The Lord will carry us over the abyss. He will bring our faces out of the dirt and make us "shine like the brightness of the sky" (Dan 12:3).
If you are worried about the time of trouble and the time when the filthy will still be filthy and the holy will still be holy (Rev 22:11), think about Jesus' words: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). "To the end of the age" includes the time of judgment, the time of trouble, and reaches to deliverance at Christ's Second Coming.
If we were expected to change ourselves and cleanse our characters from sin, we would all be lost. By ourselves, it is impossible for us to keep from sinning. But God "is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing..." (Jude 1:24).
When God says He wants to do the impossible, to transform us through His Spirit (Titus 3:5-7) and to put the presence of Christ within us (Gal 2:20), we can say with the virgin Mary: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). People who respond like Mary will not be threatened by final events because they are under the control and protection of the same God who controls these events.
For God to make a whole group of people "blameless" will be special. But God has done special things in the past, such as making a virgin pregnant through the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35). When Gabriel announced Christ's conception to Mary, she could have said: "Let me check with my physician to see if there is a documented case of this kind of thing happening in the past." But she accepted God's word that He could do as He said.
Our role is like Mary's: accepting what God wants to give us. Those who follow Christ everywhere He goes (Rev 14:4) have the same kind of loyal faith as Caleb, who "wholeheartedly followed the Lord, the God of Israel" (Josh 14:14). God may lead us to places where nobody has gone before, but the kind of faith we need to follow God is not unique to us.
When God asks us to "keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12) or "follow the Lamb" and be "blameless" (verses 4-5), it is not more than what He asked of Abraham: "walk before me, and be blameless" (Gen 17:1). There have been individuals, such as Abraham, who have grown in faith to the point that they blamelessly followed God. What is special about the end-time people of God is that they will be blameless as a group. Jesus isn't finished with us yet.
If being "blameless" consisted of making sure I don't violate any items on a list, I could be tempted to try living up to God's standard through legalistic effort. But God's law is love, which is limitless. It must be written on the heart (Jer 31:33) because tables of stone or even CD ROMs cannot contain it. Lists of laws in the Bible are only examples of God's love. There are no loopholes in love, no cracks to squeeze through.
Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20). To be truly loving is to be re-created in God's moral image. This is possible only through the power of the Creator Himself. If I try to do it on my own, I am attempting to put myself in place of God, adding inadvertent blasphemy to pathetic stupidity.
It is pointless to look around at other people to see what God can do with me. If I limit my aspirations to the standard set by faulty human beings, I will fall far short of God's ideal for me. I don't need to compete with anyone to get to heaven. The law of the playing field or the back-country of the Sierra mountains doesn't apply. I heard a story about two men who were enjoying an evening campfire in the Sierras. One looked up and saw a bear in the distance. He yelled, "A bear is coming!" The other man quickly started putting on his running shoes. Puzzled, the first man asked, "What are you doing that for? Do you think you can outrun the bear?" His "friend" replied: "I don't have to outrun the bear. All I have to do is outrun you!" God is not like that bear.
When I think about becoming perfect in character, I start contemplating my faults and become afraid. Like Peter when he was walking on the water, I become distracted by obstaclesthe wind and the wavesand I begin to sink (Matt 14:30). But when I think of being loyal to Christ, the picture changes because my gaze is on Him. He is my example, shepherd, and guardian (1 Pet 2:21-25). I gain courage because all I need to do is follow Him where He wants to take me, including to perfection of character. The result is similarperfection of characterbut the focus is different.
As a well-educated modern person, I find it tough to admit that I can't do something on my own. But that's exactly what I must do. I must humble myself and rely on a humble Lamb, who is not only a lamb, He is my Shepherd. By faith I can follow Him wherever He goes, even into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, where He is reaffirming the forgiveness of His people. With Christ I shall not be lacking in His judgment because He "restores my soul" and He "leads me in right paths for his name's sake." (Ps 23:1, 3). The right path may go through the darkest valley of a time of trouble, but He will lead me to the banquet on the other side (verses 4-5).
"On the other side." Everything in my life has been affected by the fateful day when the streamers broke, when I sailed away to America on the other side of the ocean.
Even more will be affected when all my earthly support
and ties are cut, when the door of the ark is shut, when
there is no turning back from going to the other side with
Jesus, on the day the streamers break.
We had no choice but to attempt packing out to our car before dark. Pumped by adrenaline, we made it up several thousand feet to the top of Elephant Back Mountain before we lost the trail in the total blackness of night. There were cliffs all around. To go on would be suicide.
There was no shelter at 9,000 feet elevation and the wind was ferocious. It came sweeping up out of the ravines sounding like a freight train: whoossssH!
We somehow managed to crawl into our sleeping bags, but Connie couldn't sleep. She was terrified. It was not the wind, but rather a small rustling sound close to us on the mountain. She was sure it was a mountain lion. She could have found out what it was in a moment, by turning on her flashlight. But she was so paralyzed by fear that she could not even pick up the flashlight.
When Connie told me about her fear, I pointed my flashlight at the sound, and we looked into the beady eyes of a tiny mouse. She was terribly relieved. Connie, that is.
After Connie saw the mouse, its rustling sounds comforted her. She knew that as long as she could hear the mouse, there was no large predator in the vicinity. So the same sound that had given her fear now gave her peace. The difference was that some light was shed on the source of the fear.
Does God's judgment give you peace and confidence? Or does fear paralyze you?
It is easy to be afraid of the judgment. If you are judged, your life is examined and assessed. People on the threshold of the twenty-first century tend to resent assessment as an invasion of privacy. Saul Bellow expresses well the current feeling: "Socrates said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' My revision is, 'But the examined life makes you wish you were dead.'" (New York Times, quoted in Time magazine [June 9, 1997], p. 15).
Consider the picture that the judgment conjures up in the minds of some Christians. Our ghostly legal souls file in somnolent obsequiousness (sleepy submissiveness) before the King of Kings. Our entire lives are naked before the onlooking universe. Our fate is conferred upon us in heaven, in absentia. We don't even have a chance to speak up for ourselves. There's no magna cum laude or even A-. It's just saved or damned.
While this scenario may reflect some biblical truth, its decontextualized, impersonal form has about as much appeal as the fires of hell. It can scare a person right into the churchor out of the church.
There are several factors that have contributed to fear and tend to make the judgment a negative topic for many Christians. First, it is true that we are judged by our works. Some say that if this is true, our salvation must be dependent upon our works. Salvation based on works is legalism, which contradicts the good news of salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).
It is true that the forgiveness we have received can be undone if we are not found faithful in the judgment. Some find that this leads to discouraging uncertainty as to whether or not they are forgiven and saved.
Some Christians believe that we vindicate God by the good works that we perform. To others, this sounds arrogant, as if God is dependent on our help to save His reputation.
It is true that the judgment takes place in heaven, so we don't know when we are being judged. If we had an appointment of which we were aware, we could at least be on our best behavior at the right time to make a decent impression.
For some, the end of the judgment is even worse than its investigative phase. When investigation is finished, all cases will have been decided. God will no longer forgive sins after this point. So His people will need to live for a time before Christ's Second Coming without sinning at all. The thought of not sinning at all is almost as foreign and frightening as the idea of not breathing.
We need godly fear in the sense of awesome respect for God. Abraham feared God (Gen 22:12) and at the same time he was God's friend (Jas 2:23). But if we fear God as an arbitrary tyrant who makes us run the gauntlet of the judgment without giving us a fair chance, fear of God will drive out love for Him.
If we fear God in the negative way just described, we have three basic options. We can be paralyzed by legalism and paranoia, condemning ourselves and everyone else, hating God but hiding under a pharisaic cloak of self-righteousness. We can retreat to the safety of a state of denial, thinking and talking about other aspects of God and His plan of salvation, but avoiding the judgment and ignoring Bible passages that tell about it. Another option is to investigate the judgment in the Bible in order to gain a balanced and realistic understanding of it within the context of God's plan of salvation.
Compare these three approaches with ways in which you deal with a powerful or intimidating person. You can be prejudiced and despise the person but be nice to his/her face. You can be prejudiced, but go away and ignore the person. Or you can get acquainted with the person, thereby overcoming your prejudice or initial impressions and gaining valid reasons whether to pursue friendship or not.
I prefer the third option because it is honest, open-minded, realistic, and it works. It works with people: I have made some of my best friends this way. It also works with situations such as the judgment. Because I learn more does not guarantee that I will have a positive view. But by looking into things, I can base my opinions on information and experience rather than on ignorance.
Through Bible study, my fears of the judgment have been answered by a more realistic view of the factors that are involved. First, we are judged by our works, but works are only evidence of the faith through which we are saved. There is no room for legalism here because it is God who empowers our works through faith.
Forgiveness that we have received is undone in the judgment only if we sever our new covenant connection with God, refusing to allow Him to give us the change that goes with forgiveness. As long as we continue to accept His transforming power, we have complete assurance that our sins are forgiven.
We do not vindicate God by the good works that we produce. God vindicates Himself by what He does for us, in us, and through us. He cleanses His own sanctuary/reputation by His High Priest and He makes us clean. For people who are truly converted, the only works relevant to the outcome of the judgment are works that follow conversion, which are empowered by God. The outcome for such people is positive because of what they have allowed God to do.
The judgment takes place in heaven, so we don't know exactly when our names come up in the judgment. Apparently this is because God is interested in genuine, ongoing commitment by faith rather than hypocritical show that lasts just long enough for a person to squeeze through the pearly gates. But God clearly tells us when the judgment as a whole begins and He lets us know what He expects His people to do during this time: "keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12).
For those who continue to accept God's transforming power, the end of the judgment is a relief. God matures them to the point that they have outgrown sinning and their commitment will have passed the point of no return. This does not mean that they cannot experience further moral growth. Such growth will continue throughout eternity as they learn more of the depths of God's love.
For those who reject the Christ who came to "save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21) and who have no desire to give up sin, the judgment holds no prospect but total terror:
For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-27, 31).
Since the judgment is double-edged, condemning those who are disloyal while delivering those who are loyal, it is not in danger of losing its awesomeness in order to become "user friendly." But our fear can become less than paralyzing if we fully take into account the concept that for God's true people, the judgment is about mercy and its results for us and for our divine King and Judge, who is also our Father. When we enter the judgment cherishing the forgiveness that we have already received, the judgment sets our confidence in concrete.
During the judgment we can have at least five kinds of confidence: confidence that God is fair, confidence of our access to God, confidence that we are in a covenant relationship with God, confidence in the imminence of Christ's Second Coming, and confidence in deliverance from oppression.
Confidence that God is fair
Our world is chaotic, but God is in charge. He has all the power necessary to take care of us. As our King, God has the kingly role of Judge. This is good for us because He is honest and fair, unlike some human rulers and judges.
Psalm 96 celebrates salvation and just judgment by God in His sanctuary as Creator, King, and Judge. The end of the Psalm bursts with joy at the prospect of the Lord's judgment:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
While the judgment is solemn and awesome, it also gives joy because we have confidence that our Lord will take care of us in and through His judgment.
Confidence of our access to God
It is true that we do not have physical access to the place of judgment. This is also true with regard to the place where Christ has been interceding on our behalf since He ascended to heaven. But we can enter by faith to the throne of grace now (Heb 4:14-16), just as we can accept by faith the cross event that we cannot see because it is in the past. We can pray to God as our Father and know that He hears us. "And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 Jn 5:14-15; NASB).
Confidence that we are in a covenant relationship with God
Like the ancient Day of Atonement, the end-time restoration of the heavenly sanctuary identifies God's loyal, covenant people and vindicates His justice in saving them. Compare Psalm 50:3-6:
Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: "Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!" The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.
God's faithful ones, who have made a new covenant with Him by accepting Christ's sacrifice, have nothing to fear in the judgment. "The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned" (Ps 34:22). Rather than removing the assurance of God's people, the judgment reaffirms it.
In the ancient sanctuary, when the high priest enacted the judgment on the Day of Atonement, he didn't cleanse the sanctuary by wiping off the bloodstains that had been applied for sins during the year. No, he put more blood in several of the same places (Lev 16:14-19; compare 4:6-7, 17-18, 25, 30, 34), reaffirming the forgiveness that had already been given.
Whose blood did that represent? Christ's blood! Christ's sacrifice is so great that it not only purchases our forgiveness, it pays the cost of mercy after forgiveness, thereby reaffirming our atonement, our reconciliation with God. Let's hear it again for the blood of Christ!
Christ's blood applied to you in the judgment says: You are really forgiven and finally cleansed from any impediments to your covenant relationship with God. You belong to God, not to Satan.
For God's faithful ones, Christ's work of judgment involves a special kind of mediation in a special phase of representing them before God. Just as the Israelite high priest mediated for his people during the year and mediated for them again by applying blood to the sanctuary on their behalf on the Day of Atonement, Christ mediates to give us forgiveness and then He represents us again so that we can receive cleansing in the judgment.
The promise of Revelation 3:5 has special application for the time of judgment: "If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels." In the book of Revelation, those who conquer and are clothed with "white robes" are people who are faithful to the end (Rev 6:11; 7:9, 13). So Christ promises to acknowledge those who are faithful to the end in order that their names will not be blotted out of the book of life. This sounds like the time of the judgment, when God's people are shown to be faithful.
Rather than having their names blotted out of the book of life, God's people have their sins blotted/wiped out. There is a sense in which God wipes out sins when He forgives (Isa 44:22), but in the judgment before Christ returns to earth, He wipes them out in the ultimate sense that they are eternally and irrevocably irrelevant. Acts 3:19-21 appears to cover both phases of wiping out sin:
Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.
As a result of the judgment, Satan is shown to be a malicious, false witness (compare Deut 19:16-19) because he lies when he says that we are not really forgiven. It is Satan, not God, who is trying to take away our assurance. The judgment is bad for us only if we are not on God's side.
The judgment puts the finishing touches on the process of atonement. If we are in Christ, the judgment makes us more saved. It does not devalue the forgiveness that we have already received; it reaffirms that forgiveness. It does not deny the blood of Christ; it applies that blood again. It does not confirm the accusations of Satan; it answers them. It does not take away our assurance; it sets our assurance in concrete. Let's say with the Psalmist: "Judge me, O Lord my God...!" (Ps 35:24; NASB), that is, "Vindicate me...!" (compare 26:1; 43:1).
If we truly believe in Christ, we have eternal life: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 Jn 5:13). We can have confidence that we are in a covenant relationship with God.
Confidence in the imminence of Christ's Second Coming
The judgment is the last phase of Christ's saving activity before He comes again. Since we are already in the period of the judgment, we are about to meet Christ! The fact that the judgment began in 1844, over a century and a half ago, does not mean that Christ is coming later now than He was in 1844. It may mean that He is waiting in order to give people an opportunity to be saved, just as He kept the Israelites waiting for their land for hundreds of years while He gave the inhabitants of Canaan an opportunity to turn from evil (Gen 15:13-16). But God's mercy is not tardiness. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9; NASB).
We are closer than ever to the end. "For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay" (Hab 2:3). Therefore, "prepare to meet your God" (Amos 4:12)!
Confidence in deliverance from oppression
In Daniel 7, God's judgment condemns evil power that oppresses God's people and brings about their deliverance from oppression. While the results of the judgment may not be immediately apparent, deliverance will come. God's judgment is like a D-Day invasion against evil that is absolutely certain to bring a V-Day of liberation and peace.
While we humble ourselves during the time of the judgment, we can rejoice even if we are persecuted (Matt 5:11-12), looking forward to a great victory celebration:
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed" (Rev 15:2-4; compare Ps 9:1-4).
Fear of the judgment can paralyze our faith. But by learning more about it from the Bible, we find that what seemed like a mountain lion can give us confidence, especially when we know that Christ, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev 5:5), is on our side!
Christ on the cross is the ultimate paradox: horrifying in ugliness, supreme in beauty. We gaze at the grotesque form of the carpenter from Nazareth, lifted up between earth and heaven, cursed by both. There we see a mirror of ourselves, of the fate that we deserve, but for the grace of God. And there we see the heart of God, reaching out with love so mysteriously pure, so alien to our selfish world, that we come out of curiosity and hope. From deep within us the cross event awakens a primal longing for something we once had and lost: love the way it is meant to be.
There is evidence all around us that God exists. But it is Christ on the cross who answers our questions about God's character, draws us to desire an intimate relationship with Him, and gives us hope that we can be and have all that is good.
Having come to the altar, what will you do now? Will you go back to your busy life as if nothing has happened? Or has the encounter at the cross changed you forever? Will you rely on yourself? Or will you humble yourself as Christ humbled Himself? Can you be satisfied with a temporary vision? Or will you walk through the vision into a new world beyond?