One of the most misunderstood concepts among Christians today is the concept of the judgment. For thousands of years it has been Satan’s intent to misrepresent the character of God, and to a very large extent he has succeeded. Satan will do anything he can to prevent people from grasping the depth and scope of God’s grace, and one of the ways he has accomplished this is to mislead them concerning the truth of the judgment. If he can lead people to an erroneous conclusion about the judgment, he knows that he can cause them to fear God rather than love Him. NO relationship can thrive when it is based on fear, and if Satan can succeed in causing people to be afraid of God, it is his hope that these people will ultimately turn away from God and influence others to do the same. The reason that we are so confused about the judgment is because Satan has led us to believe that the judgment is about us. Being self centered by nature, we tend to look out for our own interests. As long as we are focused on ourselves, our only concern will be escaping the judgment and getting to Heaven. When God empties us of self and fills us with His love, our concern will be for the glorification of God’s holy name and for the salvation of others. We will feel no fear of the judgment, because we will be filled with the love of Christ, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). As long as Satan can convince us that the judgment is about us, his true intentions will be hidden. We will live in a mode of selfishness, caring only about our own salvation, and our relationship with God will not mature. Satan knows that if we could see the big picture, we would discover that the judgment is really about God’s reputation, and Satan’s efforts to malign God’s character would be clearly seen. All of the accusations that Satan has made about God would be proven false, and the fear that we had of the judgment would be replaced with love for God.
The fact that God keeps a written record of the life of every person who has lived on the earth demonstrates that the judgment is not about us. God knows all things. He does not need to rely on written records in order to remember past events. There are Bible verses that reveal the reason for the written records. In 1 Corinthians 6 verses 2 and 3 we are told that we will judge the world as well as angels. In Revelation 20 verses 4 through 6 we are told that judgment will be committed to us during the one thousand year period in Heaven before the second resurrection. Why will judgment be committed to us when there is an all knowing righteous judge who rules the universe? In Ezekiel 20 verses 35 and 36 we find the answer to this question. “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord God.” God was speaking to rebellious Israel in these two verses, but His words are just as applicable today. God’s character has not changed, and these two verses paint a beautiful picture of the wonderful God we serve. God is all powerful and can do no wrong. He is at liberty to do whatever He wishes, and He owes no one an explanation for the things He does. Yet, incredibly, He not only wants to dialogue with us, but He also wants to plead His case with us face to face!
Satan has spent thousands of years slandering God. The evil character that Satan possesses he accuses God of possessing. He is constantly watching God’s every move and listening to His every word, looking for ways that he can twist God’s words and paint His actions in a false light. In everything God says and does, His purpose is to show all created beings the true nature of His character, and the way He deals with fallen humanity will prove once and for all that God is loving and fair and that Satan’s accusations are false. David understood this truth when he wrote, “He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). There is a trial taking place that extends across the universe, and the blameless king of the universe is the defendant. As God writes the written records, He is continually gathering evidence to support His case, and as He determines the eternal destiny of every human being, His decisions are being observed by the inhabitants of the universe. God is on trial in His own court room. The inhabitants of our world are also on trial, but our trial is simply the evidence presented in a much bigger trial that spans far beyond our little planet. Our world is not able to see the big picture that the rest of the universe sees, and when we get to Heaven and reign with Christ for a thousand years, we will be full of questions. Jesus will permit us to read through the written records of the wicked, and we will unite with Him in judging them and determining the sentence for each lost soul. He will plead His case with us face to face, and we will discover what the unfallen beings have already discovered, that God is compassionate and just.
There is a line in a well known song that illustrates the misunderstanding in the Christian world concerning the judgment. It says, “ON that day when we will pay for all the deeds we have done, good and bad they’ll all be had to see by everyone.” Such an idea would strike terror in the heart of anyone who believed that such a thing would take place during the judgment, and, truth be told, this is the kind of treatment we deserve. But Christ has provided a way of escape from judgment for all who will accept it. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). God gives this promise to every sinner who comes to Him in repentance. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God truly intended for all those whom He has forgiven and cleansed from sin to publicly give an account of all of their sins in the judgment, then this promise would be meaningless and Christ’s blood would have been shed in vain.
The investigative judgment is now taking place. Every person who has professed to be a follower of Christ is having his or her case examined in Heaven. Each person’s thoughts, motives, words, and actions have been diligently recorded in writing, and each person’s written record is being carefully reviewed. “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9-10). “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). When the names of all those who have been forgiven and set free from sin come up in the Heavenly investigation, Jesus pleads His blood on their behalf, and it is recorded in the books of Heaven that they are pardoned. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). The doctrine of the investigative judgment is a precious truth that has been imparted to us as Seventh-day Adventists. If we shared this doctrine with the world, it would bring hope to many wounded hearts, because they would realize that the Gospel is clearly portrayed within the judgment.
The eternal destiny of each person will be determined by the books which contain all of the names and the deeds of every person who has lived on the earth. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This fact does not contradict the Gospel; it enhances it. In Matthew 12 verses 33 through 37 Jesus paints a picture of the harmony that exists between God’s grace and His law within the context of the judgment. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” When fruit is bad, the fruit itself is not the source of the problem. It is the tree that causes the fruit to be bad. The fruit is simply the end result of the development of a bad tree. The same is true with our words and actions. The external behavior is the end result, or the fruit, of what lies in the heart. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:3-5). When we accept God’s grace, God not only declares us righteous, but He makes us righteous. He heals our wounded hearts, sets us free from the destructive patterns that enslave us, and empowers us to walk in perfect obedience to His commandments. We keep God’s commandments, not in order to be saved, but because we have already been saved. In fact, when we are under grace, obedience will be more important to us, not less. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14). The reason that our eternal destinies will be determined by the deeds written in the books is because our thoughts, motives, words and actions demonstrate whether or not we are under grace. When Jesus warns us that men will have to give account in the judgment for every idle word they speak, He is making us aware of the fact that every thing we think, say and do is being written down in Heaven. Nothing is taken lightly by God. Nothing escapes His attention. Those who refuse to repent and turn away from their sins will be held accountable for their sins by God in the day of judgment, not because their bad deeds out number their good deeds, but because their wickedness reveals the fact that their hearts have not been transformed by God’s grace. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we come to God with a contrite heart, He accepts Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, and we are declared righteous. Then He imparts to us the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and through the sanctification process we are made righteous. This is the complete Gospel, and all who accept and live this Gospel will inherit eternal life and will not enter into judgment with the wicked.
God admonishes us to take the judgment very seriously, but He does not intend for us to continually live in fear, desperately trying to obey God in order to escape the judgment. Obedience based on fear is not true obedience, for without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). In order for us to live free from fear of the judgment we must first recognize that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We must also come to the realization that without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5). If we see our helpless condition, fall upon God’s grace, and continue to abide in Christ, God will perfect our characters and fit us for Heaven. We will have nothing to fear.
Satan is the accuser of the brethren, and he accuses us before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). When Satan leads us into sin, he then accuses us before God. Satan claims that he has the right to claim us as his subjects because we have broken God’s law, but when Christ pleads His blood on our behalf, Satan’s arguments are silenced. We may be facing the best prosecuting attorney there is, but the defense attorney representing us is even greater in power. “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20). Our defense attorney knows what it feels like to stand trial, and we are safe in His hands. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17). We can have boldness in the day of judgment, because our defense attorney is also our judge, and our judge has already served our sentence.