To many, the idea of a final judgement may seem intimidating or even frightening. It certainly was in early Adventism. However, as Adventists continued studying, we grew to understand judgement to be one consistent work of God commencing at the cross and culminating in the return of Christ, the goal of which is the salvation and sanctification of all who embrace Christ. This belief brings comfort, as it reminds us that we serve a loving and just God who is actively working for the salvation of all people.
Salvation in Christ
Christian author C.S. Lewis expertly explains Salvation in his work Mere Christianity: "We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed."
Jesus' death on the cross has reconciled us to God and provided a way for us to be forgiven and receive eternal life. Lewis's words demonstrate that God's justice is rooted in His love and grace and that the cross represents the ultimate expression of this love and grace.
This understanding of judgement as a manifestation of God's love is also reflected in Bible texts such as Romans 5:8, which states: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
The Sanctuary Revealed
The Sanctuary in the Old Testament was physically present and able to be seen by all but was only symbolic in its role and capability. It pointed to the work of Christ. The Sanctuary in Heaven, conversely, is impossible for us to see and yet it is truly effective in processing the forgiveness of all mankind.
Considering the priests in the Old Testament sanctuary, the author of Hebrews writes: "They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the Tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain'" (Hebrews 8:5).
The Old Testament sanctuary was a "copy and shadow" designed to reflect the true sanctuary in Heaven. As such, the Old Testament sanctuary served as a visual representation of the work of Jesus and the salvation that he would bring through his death and resurrection. This verse helps connect the Earthly sanctuary with the sanctuary in Heaven, and reminds us that the work of Jesus was foreshadowed and anticipated in the worship practices of the ancient Israelites.
As Adventists, we believe the investigative judgement is an expression of God's love and justice. As Ellen G. White writes in her book The Great Controversy: "In His great love, [God] provided a way of escape for all. The whole plan of redemption is a manifestation of His love to a world that has sinned. The very fact that a way of salvation has been provided, and that we are permitted to come to God through His dear Son, is an evidence of His great love."
Hell and Back
Judgement is a topic that has matured in both understanding and explanation as the church has grown. In the early days of Christianity, judgement was often seen in terms of eternal damnation or punishment. However, as the church has developed and deepened its understanding of God's character and the nature of salvation, the concept of judgement has come to be seen in a more compassionate light.
One Christian author who has written extensively on this topic is Rob Bell, whose book Love Wins challenges traditional understandings of judgement and argues for a more inclusive and loving view of God's plan for humanity. Bell writes: "It's not about getting people to recite a certain formula about God in order to avoid an eternity of torment. It's about inviting people into a way of life that leads to healing and flourishing."
Adventist pastor Dwight Nelson writes in his book A Strange Thing in the Land: "The investigative judgement is not a judgment of condemnation but a judgment of exoneration. It is the final verification that the work of atonement accomplished by Jesus on the cross was fully sufficient to save all who will accept it."
The Book of Life
What of this book in Heaven that Christ looks at to determine our eternal destination? Is it a list of all our sins or is it something else?
Dwight Nelson continues: "The investigative judgement gives me hope. It tells me that my sin has been dealt with and that I am reconciled to God. I don't have to fear the final judgement because I know that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life. That gives me peace and confidence as I go through life, knowing that I am loved and accepted by my Creator."
It is the Book of Life, the record of Christ’s blood applied by Him and accepted by us, that reveals our eternal home. Our name in His handwriting! This is the investigative judgement. We are judged not by our fitness for the Kingdom but by Christ’s gift of salvation. We are saved because He is Saviour. Jesus’ blood has been applied and is effective in saving all who accept His invitation. Your name. His blood. That’s what’s written in the Book of Life.
Adventist historian George R. Knight writes in his book A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists: "The Seventh-day Adventist Church...has always maintained that God is a God of love and that the central message of the gospel is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. This emphasis on the love of God and the saving grace of Jesus has been a significant factor in the growth and development of the Adventist Church."
Following Salvation – the point at which we accept Christ's gift of eternal life – His work in Heaven inspires the rest of our story. For us here on earth, the investigative judgement brings into focus the Holy Spirit's process of revelation and enlightenment in our lives. As we grow closer to Him, God reveals to each of us the true nature of who we are In Him, allowing us to see how our choices impact our faith journey.
As we await the return of Christ, I am grateful to be part of a faith tradition that encourages us to deeply consider the nature of judgement and to understand it in the context of God's eternal love and grace.