A couple of years ago I presented a study on the doctrine of the Sabbath to a young man who was interested in joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I explained that the reckoning of the 24-hour day in Bible times wasn't the same as our current secular reckoning. Instead of the day being calculated from midnight to midnight, as we do now, the biblical day commenced at sunset and continued until the next sunset.
I pointed out that this biblical approach originated at the very beginning of earth's history, in the creation story itself. There we read that "the evening and the morning were the first day," "the evening and the morning were the second day" and so on (Genesis 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
The biblical system of calculation governs our observance of the Sabbath. Thus the biblical Sabbath isn't directly equivalent to Saturday. Rather, the Sabbath starts on Friday evening at sundown and continues until sundown on Saturday evening.
This can make it harder for a would-be Sabbath keeper--because keeping the Sabbath involves refraining from work on parts of two days each week, not just one day (as days are currently calculated, that is). While we as Adventists conform to the secular reckoning for most purposes, we know that when it comes to spiritual things, the midnight-to-midnight model is at odds with the biblical model.
I don't remember the exact details of how I happened to juxtapose the doctrine of the Sabbath (Fundamental Belief #20) and the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment (Fundamental Belief #24). But while I was still thinking about my just-finished Bible study and my somewhat complicated explanation of how the biblical Sabbath overlaps parts of two of our secularly calculated days, I must have started thinking about the Investigative Judgment and the complicated step-by-step process we go through to arrive at the date of October 22, 1844. And it is indeed rather complex.
First we have to establish the prophetic day-year principle. Then we have to use both the Bible and history to ascertain the starting point for the prophecy of Daniel 8:14. But, ultimately, we're able to calculate the date on which Christ went into the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary to begin a new phase of his high-priestly ministry. It's a somewhat complicated Bible study that involves building bridges between several texts of scripture and a considerable amount of historical data.
Anyway, as I was sitting there thinking about the Investigative Judgment, with my own words about the Sabbath and the biblical method of reckoning days still ringing in my ears, the thought suddenly struck me: Did we take the biblical model into account when we calculated the date for the beginning of the Investigative Judgment?
As I understand it, and as I've already stated, a biblical day can never mesh directly with one of our current secularly reckoned days. When we use the biblical reckoning, any given day must necessarily include parts of two days as they're calculated in our modern world--the Sabbath being the prime example. So wouldn't the day on which the Investigative Judgment commenced have actually begun at sunset on October 21, 1844. Wouldn't it stand to reason that "the evening and the morning" sequence would be how the first day of the Investigative Judgment would have been calculated? Or am I missing something?
Of course, some would argue that the point I raise is moot. After all, Jesus would begin any major new ministry in the morning rather than at night. So even if the inaugural day of the Investigative Judgment actually commenced at sunset on October 21, 1844, the ministry itself wouldn't have actually begun until the morning of October 22, 1844. So the miscalculation of roughly six hours is no big deal. But at least three things seem to me to militate against such an automatic assumption.
First, the Investigative Judgment happens in heaven, not on earth. Heaven, wherever it is, may not organize its activities on the basis of earth's periods of light and dark, activity and inactivity. At least some heavenly activities seem to go on 24/7 (as we reckon time).
Second, and following on from my first point, the Bible tells us that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalms 121: 3, 4). So the idea that Jesus must wait until morning has arrived on earth before beginning some activity in heaven seems questionable. This would be especially true since earth's residents aren't directly involved in any tangible way, though certainly they're a major focus of what's transpiring.
Third, and still closely related to the preceding two points, the Bible tells us that in the New Jerusalem there will be no night (Revelation 22: 5). So maybe the whole of heaven doesn't have any periods of darkness and inactivity whatsoever.
But all these arguments, interesting though they may be, really miss the point, I'd suggest.
It seems to me that we must admit two inescapable truths: First, granted that we're dealing with a Bible prophecy, the biblical reckoning concerning the start of the day should apply to the first day of the time span described in Daniel 8:14, just as it applies to our calculation of the Sabbath's hours--evening first, then morning. Second, if we do indeed use the biblical reckoning (as opposed to modern secular reckoning), Christ's work in the Investigative Judgment may well have commenced as early as sunset on October 21, 1844, earth time.
The official wording of Fundamental Belief #24 doesn't actually say that the Investigative Judgment began on October 22, 1844. It says merely: "In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He [Christ] entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry." The commentary expanding on this belief is more precise, however, stating that it was indeed October 22, 1844.
As a denomination that seeks to be both precise and specific in our biblical exposition, it seems we should go back and tweak our wording just a little. We should amend it to say that that the Investigative Judgment commenced in heaven at some point between sunset on October 21, 1844, and sunset on October 22, 1844, earth time.
I've heard the claim made that our denomination's understanding of the spiritual ministry both in the earthly and in the heavenly sanctuaries--and how the two relate--constitutes our only unique contribution to Christian theology. Thus it seems particularly important that we should choose words that convey a precise picture not only of the exact nature of the event itself but also of the precise window of time during which it was prophesied to begin.
—James Coffin, a retired pastor and editor, lives in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4830