The Pre-Advent Judgment
Should we be scared? Or filled with hope?
By Roy Adams
Seventh-day Adventists speak about a pre-Advent judgment (some prefer the term “investigative judgment”) taking place right now in the heavenly sanctuary. This judgment, as we understand it, represents the second and final phase of Christ’s priestly ministry for us. It includes the examination of the individual lives of God’s professed people, dead and alive.
The reaction of non-Adventist theologians to this teaching has been almost totally negative. Some see it as a face-saving move on our part to explain away the failure of 1844. Others see it as hostile to righteousness by faith and Christian assurance. Are they correct? How sound is this teaching?
Idea of Judgment in the New Testament
The notion of judgment permeates the New Testament. From a plethora of passages on this theme, here are a few:
In Romans 2:5, 6, Paul warns those who, because of their “hardness” and “impenitent” hearts, were storing up for themselves “wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds.’”
The book of Hebrews says: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment…. For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ … And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’” (Heb. 10:26, 27, 30).
And Peter says: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
Think of the countless innocent men, women, and children taken away from their families in the dead of night by cold-blooded assassins and never heard from again. Think about the heinous crimes committed daily against innocent children and other helpless people in society. Is there to be no accounting? Are the wicked miscreants of the world to go free, laughing decency and morality in the face?
What the above passages suggest is that we live in a moral universe, and every rational person will have to give account of themself before the divine tribunal. Indeed, elementary human justice, quite apart from Scripture, cries out for judgment. Righteousness by faith and Christian assurance are indeed fundamental New Testament teachings. But so also is judgment.
Case for a Pre-Advent Judgment
In Daniel 12:1 we hear about a final time of crisis from which only those “found written in the book” will be rescued. And in Jesus’ pivotal statement about the end in Matthew 24, we learn that at the time of the Second Coming a loud trumpet call will gather together the “elect from the four winds” (verse 31). The contexts of those two passages clearly imply a prior determination of the spiritual standing of the individuals involved.
In Revelation 16 the seven last plagues, like guided missiles, pursue only those who have “the mark of the beast.” Obviously there had to be a prior assessment in order legally to affix the mark to some and not to others.
In Daniel 7 the prophet observes in vision the evil activities of the “little horn” on earth and simultaneously views a judgment scene in heaven. The writer switches back and forth from earth to heaven, studying these two engaging scenes, until the notorious “little horn” is destroyed and judgment given in favor of the saints (Dan. 7:22). In a 1979 dissertation Australian scholar Arthur Ferch successfully demonstrated that these two activities take place within historical time and that, therefore, the judgment of Daniel 7 occurs prior to the Advent—in other words, is pre-Advent.2
It’s not wise to argue, as some do, that since God knows everything, a pre-Advent judgment is pointless. Such an approach, carried to its logical conclusion, repudiates the whole biblical notion of judgment—and not simply the idea of a pre-Advent judgment. There are intelligences beyond our own planet—created beings who, if the universe is to be secure, must be satisfied with the integrity of the divine process through which some people are saved and others lost.
So the pre-Advent judgment concerns much more than our personal standing before God, a point that becomes evident from a consideration of Daniel 7. In this chapter the “little horn” is clearly a major target, which immediately gives this pre-Advent activity a broad frame of reference.
A Broader Perspective
Revelation 12 and 13 unmask the power behind the beast (the “little horn” of Daniel 7), portraying that power as the dragon, the “ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:7-9, RSV; Rev. 13:1-3). Through his operatives this evil genius utters blasphemies against God, God’s name, God’s sanctuary, and the inhabitants of heaven (Rev. 13:6). In other words, God Himself stands accused!
This pre-Advent judgment separates God’s true saints from the multitudes who falsely claim His name. In this solemn proceeding “books” are opened, suggesting the idea of evaluation, of scrutiny—of investigation, if you please. It was this evaluation/in-vestigative aspect of the pre-Advent judgment that particularly impressed Adventist pioneers, reminding them of the afflicting of the soul during the ancient Day of Atonement (see Lev. 23:26-32).
But the scope of this judgment is broader than they perceived it. Its wider concern is with vindication—vindication of God, of God’s sanctuary, of God’s name, of God’s people.
The full meaning of all this is far beyond us, of course. But certainly the focus is the heavenly sanctuary—the seat of God’s law and government, the nerve center of human salvation. Upon its vindication hangs the security of the universe. Hence the awesome theological significance of that cryptic statement in Daniel 8:14: “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”
The judgment now in session will settle the question of God’s love and justice prior to the Second Advent. It will confirm the validity and legality of the plan of salvation. And it will carry in its verdict the final vindication of God’s people.
As believers in Jesus, we view the pre-Advent judgment from two perspectives. Seeing it, on the one hand, as the antitype of the ancient Day of Atonement in Israel, we “afflict our souls,” realizing the solemn times in which we live. On the other hand, however, with our faith firmly planted in Jesus Christ, our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, we have absolutely nothing to fear. And understanding the whole activity from the perspective of vindication, as revealed in the books of Daniel and Revelation, we not only have nothing to fear but, indeed, have the deepest cause for rejoicing and exceeding joy.
1This article is a condensation and modification of chapter 8 of Roy Adams, The Sanctuary: Understanding the Heart of Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1993).
2Arthur Ferch, The Son of Man in Daniel 7 (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1979). For a summary of Ferch’s findings, see “the Pre-Advent Judgment,” Adventist Review, Oct. 30, 1980, pp. 4-6.
Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary
There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment, which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement.