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?
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.
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