Belief in the Pre-Advent Judgment: Bane or Blessing?

Introduction

The pre-Advent judgment is a doctrine specific to Seventh-day Adventists that states that the judgment of God’s people takes place before the Second Coming, rather than after it. Indeed, it is already going on, and individual cases are examined as time goes by.

Of all Adventist beliefs, this is the one that is least understood and appreciated by other Christians and even by some Adventists. Two criticisms are often labelled against it: a) it has little or no Biblical basis, and b) it detracts from the assurance of salvation.

The second criticism can be especially damning. If my salvation depends on the decision a heavenly court might come up with at any given moment, then I can have no assurance of salvation until the court proceedings are over. Or so the argument goes.

Anecdotal stories say that this belief has been used to “encourage” Adventists, especially the youth, to conform to the Adventist lifestyle. What if your name comes up in the judgment even as you are involved in some activity that is not totally acceptable? Sipping a cup of coffee? Being at the movies? Driving down the highway above the speed limit? Listening to questionable music?

To be honest, in my 52 years as an Adventist, I have never seen the doctrine used in such a way.

And to be frank, judgment is judgment. Whether it has already began, as Adventists believe, or whether it will commence after the Second Coming, as other Christians believe, the fact remains that we will be held accountable for the life we have lived. So I don’t see how a judgment now is more fearsome or detracts from the assurance of salvation more than a judgment in the future.

Be that as it may, Daniel 7, the chapter of study for this week, counters both criticisms in a most dynamic way. First, it gives the pre-Advent judgment a solid biblical foundation. Second it presents it as good, indeed excellent news!

The Certainty of the Pre-Advent Judgment

Daniel 7 describes four beasts coming out of the sea. They parallel the four metals of Daniel 2 and represent four kingdoms—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—which reigned in sequence from 605 BC to AD 476, i.e., for more than 1,000 years.

Following the four beasts/kingdoms, ten horns rule and then an eleventh little horn appears. The horns parallel the feet of iron and clay in Daniel 2. These divided kingdoms rule from the collapse of the fourth kingdom until the end of human history. At which point, both visions, Daniel 2 and 7, end with the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Even as the little horn is active on earth (7:8), i.e., well within historic time, Daniel’s eyes are directed to heaven where he sees a heavenly judgment scene (7:9), in which the following are involved:

  • God the Father, the Ancient of Days (7:9);
  • Jesus, the Son of Man (7:13);
  • the myriads of angels standing before God’s throne (7:10);
  • possibly unfallen representatives from the far reaches of the universe who may constitute the court that was seated as opposed to the angels who are standing (7:10);
  • God’s people on earth here called “saints of the Most High” who are not physically present but are judged and vindicated (7:18).

That this is a judgment scene is verified by the phrase, “the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened” (7:10). The books in question contain the records of life and are directly connected to judgment (cf. Rev 20:12).

That this judgment takes place before the Second Coming, i.e., in the final days of earth’s history, is confirmed by the fact that at its conclusion the dominion is taken away from the little horn and the kingdom is given to the saints.

Here then we have clear, biblical support for the pre-Advent judgment.

The Good News

The pre-Advent judgment is biblical. But is it good news? Absolutely!

First, the title of the Sabbath School Quarterly (“From the Stormy Sea to the Clouds of Heaven”) gives the cue. The vision portrays one violent kingdom following another before the little horn wreaks havoc on God’s people. God’s answer is the heavenly judgment. Its order, majesty, and fairness mark the complete opposite of the chaos and oppression of human history.

Second, God’s people in Daniel 7 are repeatedly referred to as the “saints of the Most High” (7:18, 22, 27). This is not a name given to people who are about to be condemned by God. It is clearly a name of endearment. We belong to God. With Him on our side we have nothing to fear from the judgment.

Third, judgment is given “for the saints” (ESV) or “in favor of the saints” (NIV/NKJ) (7:22). Indeed, it seems almost as if the judgment takes place in order to rescue God’s people from the depredations of the little horn.

Fourth, the judgment results in the kingdom being given first to the Son of Man (7:14), then to the saints (7:27), with Him. Since He inherits the kingdom, we inherit with him.

Fifth, throughout the Bible, for God’s people, the judgment is good news, because in the judgment Jesus our defender acquits every believer from the accusations of the enemy (e.g., Psalm 7:8; 50:4-6; 67:4; 72:2; 82:8; 96:10,13; 119:84; Prov 31:9; Eccl 3:17; Isa 3:13-15; 11:3-4).

Sixth, every person will come into judgment. If we accept the pre-Advent judgment, then it follows that believers are judged and acquitted in absentia.

By contrast, most Christians believe we will all stand in judgment before God, in person, after the Second Coming.

How would you rather be evaluated and judged before God and the watching universe—in absentia, or in person? I think for most the answer would be obvious—in absentia. We will stand before God, but only to receive the kingdom! So how can anyone say that the pre-Advent judgment is bad news?

Synthesis

The pre-Advent judgment is a biblical reality. It is also exceedingly good news. Heavenly beings have been watching events on earth. They know we are sinners. And sin is the worst thing that has ever happened.

As the day of the Second Coming appears and Jesus is about to return to earth to bring the saved back with Him to heaven, some trepidation among the heavenly beings would be expected. Will these forgiven sinners infect the heavenly realms with the poison of sin?

The pre-Advent heavenly judgment is God’s means to acquit His people not so much before Himself, since He forgave them the moment they believed, but before the watching universe. The books of heaven contain not only the record of our sins, but also of our repentance, new birth, and sanctification.

As Jesus our advocate presents our case favorably, the watching universe can do nothing but declare us forgiven and fit to enter the heavenly realms.

The pre-Advent heavenly judgment is the event that ensures that when we enter heaven, we will be warmly welcomed by all heavenly beings. As such it is very good news!

Kim Papaioannou holds a PhD in Theology with an emphasis in the New Testament from the University of Durham in England. He has served as church minister and professor of theology in Europe and Asia for over twenty years.

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10220
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Praise the Lord Kim!! What a positive affirmation of such an important doctrine!!
So simple, profound and straight-forward.
May your tribe increase!

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I believe that the "prophecies’ in the OT were written for people who lived then. The issue considered in Daniel Seven is clearly a civil case. No lake of fire or punishment of any kind.

The books–actually scrolls–were evidently legal documents that established who should possess a disputed property. The tribunal take their seats to examine the legal records and decide in favor of the Israelite plaintiffs , who are awarded the kingdom/dominion.

Symbolic prophecies NEVER establish anything neatly, or IMHO usefully, but we disfellowship people for disagreeing with “official” speculation.:angry:

Obvious answer: BANE.

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The vision of Daniel 7 never even intimates the idea of the saints being judged individually in a pre advent judgement. That is to read in ideas into the vision and the book of Daniel that just aren’t there. It simply states that the judgement is made in favor of the saints against the horn power against them. They are assured of vindication.

This was written to Israel while they were under siege, whether one believes that it was in sixth century BCE Babylon or second century BCE Judea. Also, the fourth kingdom is not universally accepted as Rome, with many expositors identifying it as Hellenism under Alexander, with the little horn in chapter 8 as Antiochus IV.

Jesus identified himself with the son of man in Daniel 7 coming on clouds to the father. Ironically, he was saying that Israel, just as Babylon had been, would be judged for its unjust and persecuting unbelief not only against him, but against his people.

The application for us today is not to watch for what the papacy is doing, or how we will be judged individually in the IJ, but to take heart that despite all appearances, God is the one who is in charge, not the reigning and beastly powers of this world. The call for us is to remain faithful amidst the seductions and pressures to cave in and give up our allegiance to Christ, in whatever forms this may take.

There is the core and call of the gospel. Jesus is Lord, remain faithful to him. Judgement for us revolves around this. And, this call, and the judgement tied to it, is not about the sabbath or sinless perfection… no matter what Adventism may push in this regard.

Thanks…

Frank

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That is a good question, one thing is for sure, it has completely distracted us from the real question, Is God worthy? I firmly believe that God through Christ proved beyond a doubt that the love he revealed is universal and unconditional. For the proof of that we need go no further than the freedom given to us to choose. The free unconditional grace offered to all should lead us to reflect the care and acceptance of the poor and less fortunate which Christ taught is The Way. In the end it is our judgment of God that people see in us. The pre advent judgement is not, IMHO good news and it is certainly coercive and that is not conducive to free choice. So I guess as taught the answer is, bane.

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To be honest, in my 52 years as an Adventist, I have never seen the doctrine used in such a way ”.

  1. To be honest, I appreciate the Author’s neutral experience with this topic, but it was very suitable to put people under the pressure, and many Adventist, from all around the world, could tell a different story (especially about the past times) and not only about this doctrine alone ( doctrine???!!! )
  2. Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”, John adds: “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son”. So the question is, who has to proof what, to whom and what for? (in front of the heavenly court). Are there any doubts about God left in heaven? (Even after Golgotha?!). Is the heavenly universe similar to the (US made) universe of Star Wars saga? In the Bible I see a totally different picture of “heavens” , full of adoration, absolute harmony and unity with God, all-powerful and incomprehensible in his wisdom, goodness and purity. Should God proof himself again? Would really the “heaven” be scared, that we people (the Saints of God) may infect them with some kind of spiritual “coronavirus”?
  3. Is this whole idea not build up on some XIX century American law practice (investigative judgement in absentia, ect.), completely unknown to the ancient world? Why everything has to mach the US reality (even in “heaven”)? If we had only Daniel’s statement about the (coming or present) judgement, the picture would be quite obvious. But in the Bible there is much more about. Isn’t it?

Blessings.

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Excellent article. A thought though - is the judgement (Pre-Advent or whatever) ever really about us the “saints”? If Judgement is about presentation of evidence/ facts or faithful records on our behalf then how can we look forward to it knowing fully well that we haven’t lived up to the professed standard? You don’t need a court to even sit. If an Omniscient God is the judge does He need “books to be opened” to be convinced? Clearly this court scene is symbolic but using imagery Daniel is familiar with to pass a message. I am not surprised we shiver at the mention of judgement. Only the presumptuous would convince themselves otherwise.

However, if we consider that judgement isn’t really about the saints. The focus of the judgement is about God against whom allegations were made in the first place. That’s why it has taken this long for the judgement court to “sit”. The reality of sin needed to manifest itself fully so that the watching universe can pass judgement and say indeed the allegations were false. The origin of sin wasn’t about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, but rebellion against God in heaven by Lucifer and a third of the angels. That’s where judgement needs to focus. Shifting and limiting it to my insignificant self wouldn’t solve the problem of sin in my view. Furthermore it doesn’t guarantee that sin will never again arise. If sin originated from a perfect environment how do you guarantee that it will never arise again? By making the inhabitants of the universe see for themselves the effects of sin. Nothing is hidden anymore, no one can even imagine a “what if”. When God is vindicated and cleared in the fullness of time, that is what we look forward to. That would be the end of sin and rebellion. That is the good news not just for the saints but the entire universe. The evidence for God would be indisputable. The records there for everyone to see. Including His enemies. My thoughts.

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WOW, those people out there in the Universe must be kind of dumb. Why is it taking them so long to realize that “the allegations were false?” And how many more lives on our planet need to be created - and lost! - in order to convince those people that God is love and sin is bad? :thinking: :thinking:

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How was God not cleared at Calvary? How was he not vindicated then? Fallen beings, under the inspiration of the Spirit, could declare in the first century that God is love. How would heavenly beings believe any less or need any more convincing?

This is an Adventist concoction to save the idea of the IJ. Daniel 7 is clear in its context. The imagery does not point to God being on trial. It says that the oppressive horn power is under judgement, and that God is vindicating and restoring his people to rights. Revelation 14 says much of the same. The call to us is to be faithful, even if visible circumstances seem to not support the reality that the God of Israel, whom we understand as Jesus the Christ, is lord of all.

Frank

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The interesting thing about this pre-advent judgment myth is that so much is based upon the books. Yet the only books that God uses for the saved is the book of life. There is no book of daily sins or good deeds. As Paul said “love keeps no record of wrongs” The idea that there are angels and unfallen worlds who want to double check God and make sure that people are safe to save is just another fiction. That angels question God is not Biblical. Even if you assume that the war in heaven was about angels where a third fell (Which I like Luther think is a silly interpretation) they must have made up their minds then. We need to face it the Investigative Judgement was simply a face saving device when our time prophecies failed. Face saving devices rarely last in the face of logic and reality.

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Well I would personally say that it is not about convincing “unfallen” worlds. My understanding of scripture tells me that Inspite of the evidence of Christ and “The Way” some will not choose it. But many will know The Way because it is written in their hearts and minds. They will recognize Christ and see The Way manifest in him.

My cynical side would see it as a deviously clever theology to make us exclusive. That is the net affect when we could follow The Way and make salvation universslly free. Of course exclusivity feeds so many of our human weaknesses.

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Where and when did the idea of non-angelic beings from elsewhere who had the ability to eavesdrop on humanity begin? Can we assume that all are thought to be sinless and have the quality of omnipresence?

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Yep, and the watching universe may see some humor in the absurdity:

"Not another impeachment! Tell us that there aren’t any Senators on your jury. "

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There was a time I was terrified by the judgment, but that was due more to the picture of God I was given, one that looked like the people who claimed to be Christians.

I was also terrified since what the judgment depended on depended more on the dislikes of any particular person.

I do believe in the judgment before Christ’s second coming. I believe it depends on just what Jesus says it will in Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats. How we care about other people and treat them based on how Jesus walked this earth. This judgment shows why some people will be allowed to live forever and ever with others. They will be safe to be around.

The thousand year judgment allows us to see why the lost were lost. I don’t have an issue with that.

The last judgment shows the lost why they are lost in such a way they can’t escape with any more lies or excuses. I’m good with that also.

Only God knows where I will end up ultimately, but for now I’m good with it all around. It makes sense to me.

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The pre-Advent judgment is a doctrine specific to Seventh-day Adventists that states that the judgment of God’s people takes place before the Second Coming, rather than after it. Indeed, it is already going on, and individual cases are examined as time goes by.

While the specific form may be unique to SDAs, isn’t a pre-Advent judgment implied in the views of a majority of Christians, who believe that immediately after death, “good” people go to heaven and “bad” people go to hell (with Catholics inserting Purgatory into the mix)?

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Peter said it is time for judgment to begin, so he believed in judgment , and a pre second advent at that.
Also the little horn of Daniel 7 arose during the reign of the fourth kingdom so it could not be Antiochus.

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I don’t know what your response directed at me has to do with anything, but

OK

???

I recently heard a religious discussion on YouTube.
The presenter was comparing early Methodists with Lutherans.
He said:
Methodists believed in Perfection, eventual Sinless state.
Lutherans believed a person would probably not attain
Perfection-Sinless state. Keep on doing some sins. But would
be under a Justification by God.

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Appreciate this article. Two experiences helped me personally get out of the Adventist bubble and our internal debates on this doctrine and better think of the issues in a new way:

  1. Reading emminent Anglican scholar N. T. Wright’s 2009 book Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. I have mentioned it in this forum before, but again wanted to note that he argues that to properly understand Paul in Romans, Galatians, etc., on justification by faith and a judgment according to works, we need to understand his Jewish mindset, which contains four themes: Covenant, Lawcourt, Messiah (Christology), and Eschatology. And to do that he argues we need to read the book of Daniel, where these four themes all come together. In chapter 3 of his book he has an extended discussion of the seventy weeks of years of Daniel 9, and later he notes how the four themes come together in the judgment scene of Daniel 7. Elsewhere in lectures he has noted that this is clearly describing a pre-Advent judgment in heaven, not the Second Coming. And while in our modern Western mindset we individualize both salvation and the judgment as “all about me,” for Paul and Jews of his era the fate of the individual was always wrapped up in God’s big cosmic purpose for the world, and the question of who holds group membership in the covenant people of God. (An Adventist might express it as “how can we know who is part of the Remnant?”) And the key point that ties it all together for me is buried later in the book: " ‘Justification by faith’ is about the present, about how you can already tell who the people are who will be vindicated on the last day." Not worrying about when at any moment a book in heaven might be turned to your page while you are unaware, struggling with sin down here on earth, but simple, confident assurance in the ultimate verdict! There might be much in N. T. Wright’s views that many of us can disagree with, but his arguments in this book are still worth very carefully reading and considering on their own terms without prejudice.

  2. The privilege of worshipping as an invited guest for several years in Jewish synagogues (Reformed) in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was interesting to see how it is viewed as both an annual recognition of the sovereignty of God and his foreknowlege or predetermination of the course of our lives (“On Rosh Hashanah it is written; on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who lives, who dies . . .”) but also an annual rehearsal of God’s final judgment on people (as Adventist theology teaches). And it was quite clear Jews depend on God’s grace, not their works, to “somehow” atone for their sin. (Of course you can also find legalistic Jews just as easily as you can find legailstic Christians.) The Reformed prayer book then in use was called The Gates of Repentance: at sunset as Yom Kippur begins the Gates of Repentance open, you must search and afflict your souls, and you have a probationary period in which to repent. And at sunset as Yom Kippur ends the Gates of Repentance close, probation closes, and (I was shocked to hear at one point language so similar to Ellen White) “one sin unrepented of” will seal your fate as lost! Does that mean Jews believe that to be saved, in one day you can and must become ontologically perfect, be fully rid of every addiction and sin struggle? No! It simply meant you can’t play games with God. You can’t expect to go through this as a religious ritual to clear yourself before God with a conscious intention to go out afterwards and continue in some sin (an adulterous affair perhaps) that you have no sorrow for or intention of repenting of. I now think that was also what Ellen White meant with this language. So much for Last Generation Theology perfectionism!

I have no intention of engaging in the well-known arguments on this or anyone’s opinions on the IJ doctrine or views of Ellen White which have been aired and discussed for years on this forum — I just wanted to share these two thoughts related to the subject as food for thought in the hopes it might bless someone.

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