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Understanding the Investigative Judgment


The book of Daniel records a vivid judgment scene:

I beheld," says the prophet Daniel, "till thrones were placed, and One that was Ancient of Days did sit: His raiment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened." Daniel 7:9, 10, R.V.

In vision, Daniel saw the day when each person's life and character would be reviewed by God. Heaven will not be mocked. In the end, each person reaps what they have sown. "According to his works," each individual will be judged.

The judge is God the Father, the "Ancient of Days." David writes, "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God." Psalm 90:2. He who is the source of all that lives, finally judges all that lives. The vision presents before us the scene from heaven, a vast throng of holy angels, surrounding His throne, an innumerable band of witnesses numbering "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" poised for a momentous meeting.

Nor is Jesus long absent from the scene! "And, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away." Daniel 7:13, 14.

Jesus Comes to the Ancient of Days

When Christ comes as described above, it is not His second coming to the earth. He comes to the Ancient of Days in heaven to receive dominion and glory and a kingdom, which will be given Him at the close of His work. After His resurrection, the process of redeeming man was not yet complete. But Jesus has not been idle. Although He has already offered up His life as sacrifice upon the cross, He had only completed a part of all that needed to be achieved. He went on to serve as our great High Priest, making effectual application of the victory won at the cross by bringing victory into the lives of those taking up the cross. It is this coming to cleanse His temple, and not His second coming to earth, that was foretold as occurring at the close of the 2300 days in 1844.

Attended by heavenly angels, He then entered the holy of holies where He now appears for us in the presence of God. He is engaged in the last phase of His activity in behalf of man. He is performing the work of the investigative judgment, making an atonement for everyone who will permit Him to apply its benefits to their life.

In the typical service, only those who had come before God both confessing and repenting, had their sins transferred to the sanctuary. Only those having their sins, through the blood of the sin offering, transferred to the sanctuary, had a part in the service of the Day of Atonement. And in the end-time day of final atonement and investigative judgment, the only cases considered are those of professed Christians. The judgment of the wicked is a distinct and separate work, and takes place at a later period. "Judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel?" 1 Peter 4:17.

Angels Are Recording All Even Now

No one has been ignored by a separate supernatural world. Our actions, whether good or ungood have not gone unnoticed. We have been the study of the angelic host, anxiously looking on and looking into God's interaction with man and our response to it. Everything is recorded. Everything is on file. Unsleeping eyes have beheld us and silently recorded all. Our world presents to us an illusory face. Because our vision as been dimmed by weakened capacities inherited from Adam and Eve, we do not see the ever-present population of angels unfallen who observe us, and record, and carefully intervene. Nor do we see the fallen angels who provoke and entice and tempt and try to compel us to do evil. But they are all there, beyond the veil of our weakened senses.

And we are their primary study. Is God fair in how He deals with us? How can they know unless they study us?

The books of record in heaven, in which the names and deeds of men are registered, will determine the decisions of the judgment. Daniel records the opening acts of the judgment: "The judgment was set, and the books were opened." John the apostle, describing the same scene, adds: "Another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Revelation 20:12.

The book of life contains the names of all who have ever claimed to accept God. Jesus told His disciples to "Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:20. Paul speaks of his faithful fellow workers, "whose names are in the book of life." Philippians 4:3. Daniel, looking down to "a time of trouble, such as never was," says that God's people shall be delivered, "everyone that shall be found written in the book." And John the revelator says that those only shall enter the city of God whose names "are written in the Lamb's book of life." Daniel 12:1; Revelation 21:27.

"A book of remembrance" is written before God, in which are recorded the good deeds of "them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name." Malachi 3:16. Their words of faith and their acts of love are registered in heaven. Nehemiah refers to this when he says: "Remember me, O my God, . . . and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God." Nehemiah 13:14. In this book, every deed of righteousness is immortalized. In this volume every temptation resisted, every evil that is overcome, and every word of comfort to those under duress, is faithfully recorded. Everything sacrificial that we've done, every suffering and sorrow endured for Christ's sake, is preserved. God does not forget His people. "Thou tellest my wanderings: put Thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in Thy book?" Psalm 56:8.

A record is also kept of the sins of men. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." Jesus said "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 12:36, 37. Our secret purposes and hidden motives appear in the unerring record. God "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." I Corinthians 4:5. "Behold, it is written before Me, . . . your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the Lord." Isaiah 65:6, 7.

The decisions of every person's life are at this time reviewed before God. They are evaluated in regard to whether they express faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Next to every name listed in the books of heaven is clearly entered every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, every secret sin, and every subtle sin-justifying rationalization. Every warning sent by heaven but neglected by man is on record there. Every proper reproof given in inspired writings or through the preached word is noted. Even wasted moments and lost opportunities to discover and apply God's will to our lives are considered. The influence we exert for good or for evil, and the far-reaching results, are accurately set down by the recording angel.

God's Law the Standard in the End

The law of God is the standard by which the characters and the lives of men will be tested in the judgment. Scripture records the plea of Solomon: "Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment." Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14. We should "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." James 2:12.

Those who are declared worthy in the judgment will experience the resurrection of the just. Jesus said: "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, . . . are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection." Luke 20:35, 36. He says that "they that have done good" shall come forth "unto the resurrection of life." John 5:29. Those who end their lives in a right relation to God will not be raised until after the judgment at which they are accounted worthy of "the resurrection of life." They will not be present in person at the judgment scene when their records are examined and their cases decided.

Nevertheless, Jesus will appear as their advocate, pleading in their behalf before God. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." 1 John 2:1. "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." "Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them." Hebrews 9:24; 7:25.

When the record books are opened, the lives of all who have claimed to believe in Jesus come up in review before God. The evaluation must begin somewhere and with someone. Beginning perhaps with Adam and Eve, Jesus will present-one by one-the cases of each successive individual and close finally with the living. Every name is mentioned, every case closely investigated. Names are accepted, names rejected. Those who-in the end-continue to have any sins remaining upon the books of record, unrepented of and unforgiven, then have their names blotted out of the book of life. By their own free choice irrevocably to identify themselves with evil, they indicate their decision to abandon any good deeds that had been recorded in the book of God's remembrance. The Lord told Moses: "Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book." Exodus 32:33. And through Ezekiel was written "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, . . . all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned." Ezekiel 18:24.

Jesus, the Pardoning Advocate

Everyone who has really repented of sin, and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice, have had pardon entered against their names in the books of heaven. As they have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and in evaluating their characters heaven finds them to be in harmony with God's moral law, their sins will be blotted out, and they themselves will be accounted worthy of eternal life.

The Lord declares, by the prophet Isaiah: "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Isaiah 43:25. Said Jesus: "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels." "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven." Revelation 3:5; Matthew 10:32, 33.

We haven't seen anything yet. If we think that the great interest that is often shown in regard to contemporary court cases is a sensation, we haven't begun to imagine the interest with which heaven will scrutinize our cases in the investigative judgment. When the names entered in the book of life come up in review before the Judge of all the earth, Jesus intercedes and presents His plea. He asks that all who have overcome through faith in His blood be forgiven their transgressions. Further, He asks that they be restored to their Eden home, and crowned as joint heirs with Himself to "the first dominion." Micah 4:8. Satan's attempt to deceive and tempt our race had been his major bid to frustrate the divine plan in man's creation--but Satan loses! Christ now asks that this plan be carried into effect as if we had never fallen. He asks for us not only pardon, but healing in the most complete and emphatic sense. He is not satisfied to do anything less than to ask for us a share in His glory and a seat upon His throne.

While Jesus is pleading for the subjects of His grace, Satan accuses them before God. He insists that they are transgressors. He has sought to lead them into disobedience, knowing that if he could cause them to lose confidence in God and separate themselves from His love, they would inevitably break His law. This demon now points to the record of their lives, to the defects of character, the unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer--to all the sins that he has tempted them to commit, and because of these he claims that they are his rightful prey.

No, Jesus will not excuse their sins, but He will present the evidences of their repentance and their choice to trust in Him. He will claim forgiveness for us. He shall lift His wounded hands before the Father and the holy angels and say: "I know them by name. I have graven them on the palms of My hands." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." Psalm 51:17.

To Lucifer He shall say "The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" Zechariah 3:2. Christ will clothe His faithful ones with His own righteousness, that He may present them to His Father "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." Ephesians 5:27. Their names stand enrolled in the book of life, and concerning them it is written: "They shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy." Revelation 3:4.

The New Covenant Promise Fulfilled

This is how the complete fulfillment of the new-covenant promise will happen: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found." Jeremiah 31:34; 50:20. "In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even everyone that is written among the living in Jerusalem." Isaiah 4:2, 3.

All that is involved in this judgment will be completed before the second coming of Jesus. Since those who have died will undergo evaluation based upon what has been written in the books, their sins cannot be blotted out until after the investigation of their individual cases. Peter clearly states that the sins of believers will be blotted out "when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ." Acts 3:19, 20. When the investigative judgment ends, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be.

Jesus Makes Atonement, Satan Held Accountable

Back in the time when Israel journeyed in the wilderness and its services were conducted in the original mobile tabernacle or sanctuary, after the high priest had made the atonement for Israel, He came out and blessed the congregation. Now, in the same way, when the work of Christ as our Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary above is finished, He will appear, "without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28). He will bless His waiting people with eternal life.

As the priest, in removing the sins from the sanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scapegoat, so Christ will place the responsibility for all of these sins upon Satan, the originator and instigator of sin. Jesus makes atonement for our sins, but His sin-bearing ends in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. As He leaves it--the atonement having been made--He brings back to Satan that which the devil would most like to dodge: a final accountability for his actions. In the days of Israel, the scapegoat, bearing the responsible guilt for the sins of Israel, was sent away "unto a land not inhabited" (Leviticus 16:22). And now finally, as God closes up the great controversy between good and evil, Satan, bearing this responsible condemnation for all of the sins which he has caused Christians to commit, will for a thousand years be confined to the earth, then desolate, without inhabitant. He will at last suffer the full penalty of sin in the fires that shall destroy all the wicked. It is in this way that the plan of redemption will accomplish the final eradication of sin from the universe, and the deliverance of every person who has been willing to really give up evil.

Judgment Has Already Begun

When did the final judgment begin? At the time appointed for the judgment--the close of the 2300 days, in 1844--began the work of investigation and blotting out of sins. All who have ever called themselves Christians must pass its searching scrutiny. Both the living and the dead are to be judged "out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."

Sins that have not been repented of and forsaken will not be pardoned and blotted out of the books of record. Instead, they remain to witness against the sinner in the day of God. He may have sinned in broad daylight, or in the hidden night, but God saw them. Angels of God witnessed each sin and registered it in the unerring records. We may rest assured that every sin is catalogued, as if marked by its own UPC code. It may be concealed, denied, covered up from father, mother, wife, children, and associates; this is true. None may even suspect the wrong; but every transgression glows as brightly as with a radioactive luminescence. Before the intelligences of heaven nothing can hide even one thought from the knowledge of our Maker. God has an exact record of every unjust act and every unfairness coldly wrought upon men. No appearance of piety impresses Him. He makes no mistakes in His weighing of character. Men may be deceived by the corrupt in heart, but God pierces all disguises and reads the inner life.

Think of it! Day after day, passing into eternity, bears its burden of records for the books of heaven. Words once spoken, deeds once done, can never be recalled. Angels have registered both the good and the evil. No one on the planet can rewrite the record of even a single day. Our acts, our words, and our most secret motives, all have their weight in deciding our destiny. Though we may forget them, they will bear their testimony to justify or condemn.

As the features of a person's face are reproduced with unerring accuracy by the photographer, so the character is faithfully reproduced in the books above. Yet how little concern there is about that record which is to meet the gaze of heavenly beings. If the veil which separates the visible from the invisible world were swept back, and we saw the angel recording our every word and deed, and we dwelt upon the fact that we must meet them again in the judgment, how many of our words would remain unspoken! How many things we would think twice before doing!

God Keeps Track

But this is not all. In the judgment, what we did with our capacities and opportunities will also be scrutinized. How have we used the riches lent to us from Heaven? When the Lord comes, will He receive back from us a faithful return on His investment? Have we been good stewards of the powers entrusted to us, in hand and heart and brain? Have we used them to the glory of God and the blessing of the world? How have we used our time, our pen, our voice, our money, and our influence? What have we done for Jesus in the person of the needy, the afflicted, the orphan, or the widow? God has placed His Bible into our hands; what have we done with it? Have we faithfully shared the light and truth given us to make men wise unto salvation? There is no value in merely professing faith in Christ. Only the love which is shown by works is counted as genuine. And yet it is love alone which in the sight of Heaven makes any act means anything. Whatever is done from love, however small it may appear in the estimation of men, is accepted and rewarded of God.

The hidden selfishness of each person stands revealed in the books of heaven. There the unfulfilled duties to their fellow humans, forgetfulness of their Saviour's claims is on file. When those records are brought forth they will see how often Satan was given the time, thought, and strength that truly belonged to Christ. Sad is the record which angels transmit to heaven. Professed Christians are absorbed in materialism or the enjoyment of worldly pleasures. Personal resources of time, strength, and money are given over to self-indulgence. Few remain in this world who seriously involve themselves in prayer, in searching the Scriptures, and humiliation of soul or confession of sin.

Satan has made of the world an exitless ratrace in his attempt to preoccupy our minds. He does all that he can to continually prevent us from considering the very work with which we ought to be best acquainted. He passionately hates the great truths that bring to view Jesus' reconciling death and His sin-overcoming power. He is very aware that the only chance he has of winning the great controversy depends upon his success in diverting human minds from Jesus and His truth.

Receiving the Power

If we desire to receive the applied power of Jesus' mediation in the heavenly sanctuary, we need to be firm; we must let nothing interfere with our commitment to let God make us people who are truly holy. How short-sightedly we are apt to spend the invaluable hours of our lives! How can we waste them in front of the television, or the videogame, or the celluloid nothingnesses of Hollywood? How can we squander our time in gathering up the list of middle-class illusions-the new car, VCR, etc., or in the numbing the mind by filling it with what the world currently calls music? With the judgment in view, isn't it obvious that instead, our limited time should be devoted to an earnest, prayerful study of the Bible?

The subject of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment should be clearly understood by Christians. We all need a knowledge for ourselves of the position and work of Jesus, our great High Priest. If we don't get a handle on what heaven is trying to do for us, then in the end it will be impossible for us to exercise the brand of faith so essential at present, or to discover what God would have us do at this time. Each one of us, individually has a soul to save or to lose; each of us has a case pending at the bar of God. You and I must meet the great Judge face to face at last. Under the silence of His all-knowing gaze then, how will we meet the lives we have lived? How important, then, that we consider often the solemn scene when the judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, when, with Daniel, we ourselves must stand in our lot, at the end of the days.

All who have received the light upon these subjects are to share with others, often quite directly, the great truths which God has committed to them. The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ's work in behalf of men. The work Jesus is completing there now concerns every soul presently living upon the planet. It opens up to us the deep meaning of the plan of redemption, and brings us down to the very close of time. It reveals the triumphant outcome of the contest between righteousness and sin. It is of the utmost importance that all should thoroughly investigate these subjects and be able to give an answer to everyone who asks them a reason of their hope.

As Essential to the Plan of Salvation as Jesus' Death on the Cross

The intercession of Christ in man's behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to heaven to complete there. We must by faith enter within the veil, "whither the forerunner is for us entered." Hebrews 6:20. There the light from the cross of Calvary is reflected. There we may gain a clearer insight into the mysteries of redemption. The salvation of humankind is accomplished only at an infinite cost to heaven; the sacrifice made is equal to the broadest demands of the broken law of God. Jesus has opened the way to the Father's throne, and through His mediation we may pursue the intimate connection with heaven that we long for.

"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Proverbs 28:13. Through defects in the character, Satan works to gain control of the whole mind, and he knows that if these defects are cherished, he will succeed. Therefore he is constantly seeking to deceive Christians with the idea that it is impossible for them to overcome sin. But Jesus pleads in their behalf His wounded hands, His bruised body; and He declares to all who would follow Him: "My grace is sufficient for thee." 2 Corinthians 12:9. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Matthew 11:29, 30. Don't buy into his deception, Jesus can change you, and make you whole. God will give faith and grace to overcome completely.

An Appeal for Jesus

We are now living in the great day of atonement. In the typical service, while the high priest was making the atonement for Israel, all were required to afflict their souls by repentance of sin and humiliation before the Lord, lest they be cut off from among the people. In like manner, all who would have their names retained in the book of life should now, in the few remaining days of their probation, afflict their souls before God by sorrow for sin and true repentance. There must be deep, faithful searching of heart. A light and mindless spirit is out of place. We must engage in battle in order to have the experience of seeing our evil tendencies come under the control of the Holy Spirit. Preparation for the second coming of Jesus is an individual work; we are not saved in groups. One person's purity and devotion will not offset the lack of it in someone else. Although multitudes are to pass in judgment before God, He will examine each individual case with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. All must be tested, and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.

Solemn are the scenes connected with the closing work of the atonement. The issues involved are giant. The judgment is now underway in the sanctuary above. This work has been in progress since 1844. Soon--none know how soon--it will pass to the cases of the living. In the very presence of God our lives are going to come up in review. At this time above all others let us follow Jesus' warning: "Watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." Mark 13:33. "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Revelation 3:3.

When the work of the investigative judgment closes, the destiny of all will have been decided for life or death. Probation is ended a short time before the appearing of the Lord in the clouds of heaven. Christ in the Revelation, looking forward to that time, declares: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Revelation 22:11, 12.

The righteous and the wicked will still be living upon the earth in their mortal state--men will be planting and building, eating and drinking, all unconscious that the final, irrevocable decision has been pronounced in the sanctuary above. Before the Flood, after Noah entered the ark, God shut him in and shut the ungodly out; but for seven days the people, knowing not that their doom was fixed, continued their careless, pleasure-loving life and mocked the warnings of impending judgment. "So," says the Saviour, "shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Matthew 24:39. Silently, unnoticed as the midnight thief, will come the decisive hour which marks the fixing of every man's destiny, and the final withdrawal of mercy's offer to guilty men.

"Watch ye therefore: . . . lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping." Mark 13:35, 36. Perilous is the condition of those who, growing weary of their watch, turn to the attractions of the world. While people are absorbed in materialism, or while they willingly receive the thought-deadening, sensation-saturated media, or while they become obsessed with youth or beauty,--it may be in that hour the Judge of all the earth will pronounce the sentence: "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." Daniel 5:27.

* This document is heavily adapted by Larry Kirkpatrick from Ellen White's chapter "Facing Life's Record" in the book Great Controversy, pp. 479-491. Sentences were shortened, illustrations were gently brought up to date, but the content was left as unchanged in essence as possible. Headings were added to enhance readability.