At Issue Index
by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf
15. Justification and the Judgment
The judgment is prominent in both the Old and the New Testaments. On several occasions Jesus Himself pointed forward to a time when every mans work will be scrutinized by God (see Matt. 10:15; 11:24; 12:36, 41, 42; Luke 11:31, 32; John 5:28, 29). He also made clear the surety of judgment in the parable of the man without a wedding garment (see Matt. 22: 1-14), the Talents (see Matt. 25:14-40), the sheep and the goats (see Matt. 25:31-46), and others. In the teachings of Jesus about a final judgment at which every person will receive his just due, there is no uncertainty.
The apostles likewise presented the certainty of a judgment to come (see Acts 10:42; James 2:13; 2 Peter 2:4, 9; 1 John 4:17; Jude 6).
Paul, the ardent proclaimer of salvation by faith through Gods free grace, saw no conflict between salvation by grace and a judgment. He repeatedly taught the certainty of a judgment for both saints and sinners (see Acts 17:31; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:3-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27). In Romans 3 he introduced the teaching of justification by faith only after having shown, in chapters 1 and 2, that all men are sinners and will face a final judgment.
About this the theologian Herman Ridderbos says: "The idea of the final divine judgment is so fundamental in all of Scripture and Paul appeals to it in a great many connections so much as a matter of course (cf., e.g., Rom. 3:6), that it is inconceivable that by proclaiming the righteousness by faith as the content of the gospel he would consciously or unconsciously have deprived this fundamental religious notion of its force. Rather, one will have to see in this self-evidentness the proof that for Paul both these realities, on the one hand that of justification by faith, on the other hand that of Gods judgment of every man according to his works without respect of persons, are in no respect whatever in contradiction with one another."1
When Jesus and the Bible writers describe the coming judgment, they often give the impression that the judgment of the righteous and that of the wicked are one and the same. The parable of the separation of the sheep and the goats certainly gives that impression (see Matt. 25:31-46).
When a person starts to climb a certain mountain, it may appear as one mountain. But when he begins his upward climb he may find that several smaller peaks intervene before he can reach the highest one, which he had seen from below. The mountain consists of not one peak but several. But he discovered this only as he moves toward the top.
Viewing unfulfilled Bible prophecy from a distance of thousands of years, several Bible events are likewise telescoped and seem to merge into one. But approaching them in time, one discovers that they are not one but several events, separated in time. So it is with the judgment.
There are three facets in the final judgment: "Gods own people are the first to be judged" (1 Peter 4:17, TEV) in a pre-Advent investigative judgment. This is, as Peter says, for Gods people, or for all those who ever responded to the pleadings of the Holy Spirit and claimed salvation through Jesus Christ. For the redeemed, this investigative judgment might be called a pre-Advent heavenly audit, since it is just confirmatory in nature. Its purpose is to reveal who of those who responded to Christs searching love remained in that love and will be saved, and who lapsed and will perish. The records of those who never responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit need not be verified. They are lost by default and automatically slated for eternal death, since "there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Second, there is a millennial judgment (see Rev. 20:2-4), during which the righteous will find out why the lost will forfeit salvation; and third, the executive judgment at the end of the millennium, when Satan and all his impenitent followers will be destroyed in the fires of hell (see Rev. 20:11-14).
There needs to be a pre-Advent audit or judgment based on the heavenly records. When Jesus returns, He comes to raise those who are "blessed and holy" (Rev. 20:6) to eternal life and to take them to the wedding feast in heaven. In this pre-Advent audit their entitlement to salvation will be verified before all heavenly intelligences so that there will be no question in the mind of any intelligent being in the entire universe why some are saved while others are damned.
The pre-Advent heavenly audit/judgment is referred to by the prophet Daniel: "As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened" (Dan. 7:9, 10). It is also referred to in Revelation 14:7. The time for the beginning of this audit/judgment is derived from a historicist interpretation of the prophecy about the "two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings" in Daniel 8:14. Since these embrace the "seventy weeks" of Daniel 9:24, 25, they take us to A.D. 1844 when "Gods sanctuary," "cast down and profaned" for 2300 years, would "be cleansed and restored" (see Dan. 8:11-14, Amplified).
In the ancient Jewish sanctuary/temple ritual, the day of atonement was such a day of cleansing or removal of the records of all sins from the sanctuary/temple (see Lev. 16). It was both a day of audit and of judgment. Those who had repented of and confessed their sins and brought their animal sacrifices (which pointed forward to Christ), had the records of their sins destroyed. Those who had not done so were "cut off from his [Gods] people" (Lev. 23:29). This presupposes a prior judgment.
This is also the import of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary that began in 1844. At its end the records of the sins of the redeemed will be destroyed. Those who did once profess Christ but did not remain in Him, by trusting His promises, repenting of and confessing all their sins, and placing their wills on the side of His will, to them this audit will indeed become a judgment to eternal damnation. They will be "cut off from life in the executive judgment at the end of the millennium, as were the unrepentant sinners in ancient Israel at the close of the day of atonement.
In this audit/judgment the Father is seated on the throne, surrounded by myriads of angels. Before Him stands Jesus, the Advocate of all the redeemed (see 1 John 2:1). Books are opened. Among them is the book of the law of God or the Bible. This is the standard in the judgment (see James 2:8-12; Eccl. 12:13, 14). There are also books of record, such as the book of life, spoken of in Philippians 4:3 and Revelation 20:15; the book of remembrance, mentioned in Malachi 3:16; and the book of sins or death, alluded to in Isaiah 65:6, 7.
There are no faulty entries in those heavenly ledgers. They have been kept by unerring angels who have witnessed every act, both good and bad. But not merely deeds and words are recorded, also the secret motives and purposes prompting acts, words, and feelings are there chronicled, with the sins that might have been committed had there been opportunity (see 1 Cor. 4:5).
The purpose of this audit/judgment is at least threefold. It will convince the unfallen inhabitants of the universe that it is safe to readmit former rebels into their society. For this reason, Jesus makes intercession for the redeemed before the Father (see Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1). He does not plead with the Father to take them to heaven. There is no need for this. The Father Himself loves His blood-bought children. He gave His Son for their redemption. Both the Father and the Son are eager to see their loyal followers come home to the mansions Jesus has prepared for them (see John 14:2). Assured by their leader, Jesus, that these earth-children—former rebels—will be eternally loyal to their heavenly King, the loyal angels are glad to admit these newcomers into their society.
But the pre-Advent heavenly audit is not primarily for the benefit of the unfallen angels. It is specifically for the benefit of Satan and his followers. Satan, at the head of the fallen angels, is constantly reminding God of the sins of His followers and their lack of faith and commitment to Him, His will, and His ways. He has always been "the accuser" (Rev. 12:10) of Gods children. He will challenge the salvation of every redeemed man and woman by asserting that if God admits them into heaven He must also accept him and his followers. " Are these, he says, the people who are to take my place in heaven and the place of the angels who united with me? While they profess to obey the law of God, have they kept its precepts? . . . Look at the sins which have marked their lives.. . . Satan has an accurate knowledge of the sins which he has tempted them to commit, and he presents these in the most exaggerated light, declaring: Will God banish me and my angels from His presence, and yet reward those who have been guilty of the same sins? Thou canst not do this, 0 Lord, in justice. Thy throne will not stand in righteousness and judgment. Justice demands that sentence be pronounced against them."2
The pre-Advent heavenly audit will show Satan and his angels that God is fair and just in barring them and their followers from heaven and depriving them of eternal life, while taking other earth-children to live with Him forever in glory.
Let us, in imagination, feature what will happen when the life-records of the first two kings of Israel are checked. Both entered the service of God and had their names written in the book of life. In the first part of King Sauls record in the heavenly ledgers, every sin has been marked "paid" by the shed blood of Jesus and forgiven. But toward the end of his life unconfessed and unforgiven sins remain. King Saul faltered in his loyalty to God. As a consequence, even those sins that Saul repented of and asked God to forgive during the early part of his life are returned to him as unforgiven. In this way all the sins that Saul ever committed are charged back to him. This is in keeping with Ezekiel 18:24, which says: "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die."
Jesus teaches this same truth in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Even though the first servant had been forgiven his huge debt of 10,000 talents, when he refused to forgive his fellow servant, who owed him only 100 denarii, or about 1 millionth part of the debt he himself had been forgiven, the kings forgiveness was withdrawn and his huge debt was charged back to him. According to this principle, all the good deeds of Saul are erased. Finally, Sauls name is also stricken from the book of life (see Rev. 3:5) while his name is retained in the book of sin and death. Historically "Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord" (1 Chron. 10:13). For the same reason, he will also die eternal death.
King David committed several gruesome sins. Among them is his sordid adultery with Bathsheba, and his scheming murder of her husband Uriah. But every sin of Davids has been marked "paid" by the shed blood of Jesus. Not one of Davids heinous sins stands unforgiven. Therefore, his record of sin is erased from the book of sin and death, while his good entries in the book of remembrance remain. David did indeed sin, but he repented of his sins (see Ps. 51), and became a man after Gods own heart (see Acts 13:22). His name is therefore retained in the book of life, and he is redeemed for eternity by Gods grace.
With reference to the redeemed, this pre-Advent heavenly audit of their life records is comparable to the experience of Abraham on Mount Moriah. The test that befell Abraham in the sacrifice of his son was not essentially for Gods benefit. God already knew Abraham would pass that searching test. If Abraham had not been ready for it, God would not have given it to him at that time because God will never test His children above what they are able to endure (see 1 Cot. 10:13). Nor was the test given primarily for Abrahams sake. By that time Abrahams faith had matured to the point that he knew that "God was able to raise Isaac back from death" (Heb. 11:19, TEV) if he sacrificed him, so that Gods promise to him of descendants through Isaac, as numerous "as stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17), might be fulfilled.
The test was given to demonstrate Abrahams loyalty to God before the questioning universe. About this test given to Abraham, we read: "The sacrifice required of Abraham was not alone for his own good, not solely for the benefit of succeeding generations; but it was also for the instruction of the sinless intelligences of heaven and of the other worlds. The field of the controversy between Christ and Satan—the field on which the plan of redemption is wrought—is the lesson book of the universe. Because Abraham had shown a lack of faith in Gods promises, Satan had accused him before the angels and before God of having failed to comply with the conditions of the covenant, and as unworthy of its blessings. God desired to prove the loyalty of His servant before all heaven, to demonstrate that nothing less than perfect obedience can be accepted, and to open more fully before them the plan of salvation."3
Even though we are living in a post-Copernican age we are too often geocentered in our concepts. We are prone to believe the plan of salvation is solely for the benefit of our little world. "But the plan of redemption had a yet broader and deeper purpose than the salvation of man. It was not for this alone that Christ came to the earth; it was not merely that the inhabitants of this little world might regard the law of God as it should be regarded; but it was to vindicate the character of God before the universe"4 Paul says, "We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men" (1 Cor. 4:9, NIV).
God definitely does not need this audit to find out who is worthy of salvation. He is omniscient. He knows those who have accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord. "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Tim. 2:19). And Jesus Himself says "I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:14). He also knows those who have remained faithful to Him to the end (see Cot. 1:23; Matt. 24:13). Such do not come into judgment. Jesus assures us: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24).
But God does need this audit to prove before the entire universe that His ways and doings have always been fair and just. Many of the redeemed who are sleeping in their graves during this audit were looked upon as unworthy of life while on earth—they were martyred. During long ages they have symbolically cried "with a loud voice, saying, How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10, KJV). In this audit their reputations will be cleared before the whole universe. Their records will show that they were not gross sinners worthy of death, but saints of God and worthy of salvation. Thus this audit will vindicate Gods deeds and character before the universe. It will justify or condemn every professed follower of Christ (see Matt. 12:36, 37). It is for this purpose that even the records of the redeemed remain until this pre-Advent audit/judgment.
Gods handling of sin is illustrated by the Jewish sanctuary ritual. As soon as a sin was committed, it was symbolically recorded at the sanctuary. Jeremiah says it was "written on the horns of their altars" (Jer. 17:1). The blood of the slain sacrificial animal was smeared on the horns of the altar of burnt offerings or on the altar of incense to indicate that the sins, written on the horns of the altars, had been atoned for by shed blood. The blood expressed the repentant sinners "desire for pardon through faith in a Redeemer," as Ellen G. White phrased it on page 420 of The Great Controversy. As far as the repentant sinner himself was concerned, his confessed sin was thereby blotted out (see Isa. 43:25; 44:22), or separated or removed from him "as far as the east is from the west" (Ps. 103:12). It was cast "into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19) when he repented of and confessed his sin.
Everything we do, think, or feel is chronicled in the records of heaven (see Dan. 7:10; Rev. 20:12; Eccl. 12:14), as were the sins of Israel "written on the horns of their altars." God has a perfect transcript of our characters. "Opposite each name in the books of heaven is entered with terrible exactness every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, and every secret sin, with every artful dissembling." "As the features of the countenance are reproduced with unerring accuracy on the polished plate of the artist, so the character is faithfully delineated in the books above."5 But when we accept Jesus as our Saviour and remain loyal to Him, our sins too are blotted out as far as we are concerned, although the heavenly records remain until the pre-Advent audit/judgment.
The deliverance that is experienced in coming to Jesus and being saved by His grace is like being discharged from a hospital. During a patients hospital stay his temperature, blood pressure, heart beat, etc., are recorded several times a day. Those records remain in the medical records library of the hospital even after the patient has regained his health and has been discharged and sent home.
In the same way, the person who has chosen to live by Gods will rejoices in the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life (see 1 John 5:12). He knows that as far as he is concerned, his sins are blotted out. He knows that nothing stands against him, because all his sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus.
When the names of the redeemed come up in this audit Jesus will represent them. But He does something paradoxical. Instead of defending His clients, He admits their guilt before the whole universe. He does not try to justify their salvation by referring to anyones ethical or moral goodness, irrespective of how far a believer may have advanced in his dedication to God. Zechariah 3 vividly demonstrates what Jesus does for the sinner. Here Satan presses his charges against Joshua the high priest, a sinner and the representative of all sinners. Joshua stands before God in garments stained with personal sin. "And the Lord said to Satan, The Lord rebuke you, 0 Satan!... Is not this a brand plucked from the fire? Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, Remove the filthy garments from him. And to him he said, Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel "(verses 2-4).
Jesus compelling and only argument for Joshuas and anyones redemption is, "My blood, My blood, My blood."6
The following scene took place in a courtroom some time ago. A young woman who had been cited for speeding stood before the judge. He asked her, "Guilty or not guilty?" She answered quietly, "Guilty." The judge fined her $75 or seven days in jail. But after the judge had done this he arose from his chair, took off his judges robe, walked around to the side of the young woman, and paid the $75 fine. The judge was the young womans father. To be a just judge he must, upon her confession of guilt, declare her guilty and mete out a suitable fine for her lawbreaking. As a good judge he had no other option. The law must be upheld. But being the young womans father, he also chose to take her punishment; he paid her fine.
Jesus is an honest judge. In the pre-Advent audit/judgment before the onlookers of the universe He admits to the guilt of every redeemed soul He represents. But He is also our Saviour, and though He must condemn every one of us to death because of our transgression of Gods law, on Calvary He chose to take our place and suffer death for us.
By pleading His shed blood as payment for the sins of the redeemed, Jesus comes before
His Father as a conqueror claiming His victory. "His offering is complete, and as our
Intercessor He executes His self-appointed work, holding before God the censer containing
His own spotless merits and the prayers, confessions, and thanksgiving of His people.
Perfumed with the fragrance of His righteousness, these ascend to God as a sweet savor.
The offering is wholly acceptable, and pardon covers all transgression."7
This pre-Advent searching of the heavenly ledgers is thus both an audit and a judgment. For those who have accepted Jesus as their Saviour and remained in that faith relationship, it is an audit verifying that their debts of sin have been fully paid. Their receipt for full atonement for every sin committed is Christs death on Calvary. To those who remain faithful to Christ this audit/judgment is of no more concern than an audit of bills for which they have receipts for payment in full. As a matter of fact, most of the persons whose heavenly records are being audited are asleep in death. But before the redeemed went to sleep they had the sweet assurance that all their debts of sin had been covered.
For Gods elect who are still alive during this audit, it will be a day of great rejoicing. Their entitlement to salvation will then be declared before the whole universe.
Unfortunately, some Christians view this divine audit/judgment with dread and fear. To many Bible characters, the thought of the final judgment brought comfort. The reason for this was that the ancient Jews looked upon judges as helpers, deliverers, and defenders more than as punishers of crime. The book of Judges illustrates this.
"The clue to the meaning of the Hebrew word for judge may be found in chapter 2:16, And the Lord raised up judges, which saved them out of the hand of those that spoiled them (RV). The judges were primarily the saviours or deliverers of their people from their enemies."8
The psalmist repeatedly expressed a desire to be judged by God because he regarded God as his helper and defender. (See Ps. 7:8; 9:8; 10:17, 18; 26:1; 35:24; 43:1; 54:1.) The believers in Gods Word knew that God—their Judge—would make everything right. In this way "the hour of his judgment" (Rev. 14:7) to them was a day of unspeakable happiness and joy.
In addition to verifying the payment of their debts of sin, and entitling them to eternal life, this audit judgment will also determine specific rewards. This will be discussed in the next chapter.
Redemption is two-phased. This is indicated by the Greek word apolutrosis, meaning redemption or deliverance. It does refer to the forgiveness of sin when we come to Jesus and acclaim Him as our Saviour. This is clear from texts such as Colossians 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:30; and Romans 3:24. Jesus took our sins and nailed them to His cross. Apolutrosis also applies to our eschatological redemption or freedom from condemnation in the day of the final audit/judgment of the heavenly records. No sin will then stand against the redeemed. This meaning of redemption is evident from texts such as Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:14; 4:30.9 The redeemed will be declared righteous and just—they will be justified. Final atonement—at-one-ment—or harmony between them and God is theirs. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, KJV). They are gloriously free, both now and in the pre-Advent audit/judgment.
On the other hand, those who accepted Christ as their Saviour but lapsed in their commitment to Him will find this audit/judgment to be a judgment unto condemnation to eternal death. They began, but they did not persevere in loyalty to Him; hence, they are lost (see Matt. 24:13). They, with all those who never claimed salvation in Jesus, will awake from the first death at the end of the millennium to receive their "wages" of eternal death at the executive judgment.
Some of them will challenge Gods justice by saying, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works ?" (Matt. 7:22, KJV). They will ask, as it were, "Why did you let us oversleep a thousand years? Why did you not call us at the resurrection of the righteous a thousand years ago?" And He will answer: "I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers" (Matt. 7:23). Then the records of their lives will pass before them. The Revelator speaks of these as books (see Rev. 20:12), while Ellen G. White, in this particular instance, refers to them as a great panoramic view10 portraying their lives. After reviewing their own lives, the lost, with Satan, will admit that God has dealt fairly with them. Even the billions of lost with Satan will exclaim: "To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing, honor and glory and might for ever and ever!" (Rev. 5:13).
There is a necessary and beautiful tension—a delicate balance—in Gods plan of salvation between the free gift of salvation by grace through faith, and judgment. This tension tends to protect us from falling victim to two common fallacies in Christianity. "The first . . . is that of looking to their own works, trusting to anything they can do, to bring themselves into harmony with God.... The opposite and no less dangerous error is that belief in Christ releases men from keeping the law of God; that since by faith alone we become partakers of the grace of Christ, our works have nothing to do with our redemption."11
Those who accept the teaching of the Bible on salvation by Gods free grace,
complemented by its teaching of a judgment for all, will be protected from both of these
dangers. The affirmation of justification by grace through faith does not obviate divine
judgment. But it does teach that the judgment of condemnation to death, deserved by every
person, has fallen upon Jesus who has paid the price for those who have accepted Him as
their Saviour and remained in that commitment. Thus in Gods plan grace and judgment
coexist in a relationship of mutual tension. By Gods free grace the pre-Advent
judgment of the redeemed becomes an audit confirming that they are entitled to eternal
fellowship with God and His angels, while to all others it becomes a judgment of
condemnation to eternal death.
1 Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, John DeWitt, trans., (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdinans Pub. Co., 1975), p. 179. [back]
2 White, Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 473, 474. [back]
3 ________, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 154, 155. [back]
4 Ibid., p. 68. [back]
5 ________, The Great Controversy, pp. 482, 487. [back]
6 ________, Early Writings (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), p. 38. [back]
7 ________, Christs Object Lessons, p. 156. [back]
8 Arthur E. Cundall, Judges and Ruth (Downers Grove, Ill.: lntervarsity Press, 1968), p. 15. [back]
9 See Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 353. [back]
10 See White, The Great Controversy, pp. 666-670. [back]
11 ________, Steps to Christ, pp. 59, 60.
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