Nearly two years ago my Aunt adopted a little girl who has become an integral part of our family. This summer, as part of the legal process of adoption, the family attended a celebration hearing where the judge declared that she was an official part of the family and gave documents to my cousin and her ‘forever family.’ It was not lost on me that the last time I had been in a similar courtroom it had been a fear-inspiring experience; the judgement had been uncertain.
Yet as my family sat waiting for the judge, there was laughter and happiness. We were full of expectation: there was no doubt about the court’s judgement. My cousin delighted in the deluge of attention, wore the Judge’s traditional wig and sat on the judicial seat. Even the adults in the room were eventually coaxed into taking pictures with the judge. A far cry from the daunting experiences that so many associate with courtrooms.
Similarly, Daniel 7 expresses that after the books were opened, ‘judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. ’vs22 (NKJV) The New King James Version of the Bible emphasizes that the judgement is ‘in favour’ as these two words determine the way in which we should accept the message. Judgement in favour of the saints guarantees our eternal freedom from sin and all its consequences. Why would we fear it? As Christians we should be excited about the judgement. The pre-advent judgement and the judgement are indeed solemn events, but we are assured of the outcome. It heralds our imminent repatriation to our true home.
The Psalmist David adds a celebratory note to the judgement:
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
David personifies nature as it rejoices in and yearns for the return and judgement of God. If nature rejoices at the return of a righteous judiciary, even more so should we as the people of God.
Even the structure of Daniel 7 should fill us with hope. In the midst of persecution of the saints of God and the immergence of one tyrannical kingdom after another, this is juxtaposed in verse 8 with an awesome description of God on the seat of judgment with, ‘hair as white as wool’ and a throne described as a, ‘fiery flame’. Added to the glory, whilst earthly kingdoms are wreaking havoc and dominating the earth, we are shown a scene in heaven where God is administered by ‘ten thousand thousand’ angels with another ‘ten thousand thousand’ angels standing before God as witnesses (Dan 7:10). It’s as if the heavens are peeled back so that we can see the workings of our salvation. The universe is watching the judicial process and God’s character is being examined and vindicated—as are the people of God.
Nevertheless, I believe that the pre-advent judgement is misunderstood by many of us. Instead of causing us to praise God, it induces fear and uncertainty. Joining a Bible study group in my early twenties, I hoped to discover more about the Bible. The singing was infused with close harmonies and the fellowship was great. It was only after a few months, I realised that the studies only seemed to focus on the books of Daniel and Revelation. Judgement was at the forefront of each study, with a ubiquitous tone of perfectionist legalism. One Sabbath lunch, I invited a good friend, one of the core members, to spend lunch with my family. He sat in ominous silence for most of the time, until someone mentioned end time prophecy, at which point he then dominated the conversation. Later, I asked him why he had been so quiet at the dinner table. He replied that the heavenly angels were recording every word and thus he preferred to use his words sparingly. How sad! Such misunderstandings of the Christian’s relationship to Christ’s heavenly ministry, are unhelpful and damaging to mind, body and spirit.
As Seventh-day Adventists, with such a rich heritage of prophetic interpretation, we must be cautious of extremes. Prophetic imagery with: beasts, plagues, judgement and warnings are to help us understand world history, future and God’s place in it, not reduce us to a catatonic state. Neither should a sure judgement lead to complacency. Ellen White states that, ‘presumption is Satan’s counterfeit of faith. Faith claims God’s promises, and brings forth fruit in obedience. ‘ DA 126 Indeed, judgement is given in favour of the saints, let us live our lives in a way that reflect the graciousness of God’s favour.
Ultimately, we should be confident in understanding and appreciating the pre-advent judgement as we get to know God more.
The judgement is part of God’s plan of salvation and heralds the universe accepting Jesus’ shed blood on our behalf. Be confident, the judgement is not about our goodness—we have none. It is about the wise, judicious and bountiful mercy of our Father. The 17th century, English poet George Herbert put it like this:
Open the bones, and you shall nothing find
In the best face but filth; when Lord, in thee
The beauty lies in the discovery.
(A sonnet, by Geroge Herbert)