Memory Text:“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV).
If Scripture is clear about one thing, it is the reality of judgment. God will judge the world. The texts, both in the Old Testament and the New, are numerous and without ambiguity. The justice so lacking here and now will one day come.
The Bible says that God has “ ‘perfect knowledge’ ”(Job 37:16, NIV) and “knows everything”(1 John 3:20, NIV), including our most secret intentions(Eccles. 12:14, Jer. 17:10). We can hide from everyone and everything else, but nothing is hidden from God. What this reality implies is that He does not need a judgment for Himself to know the life of each individual. God’s judgments are, indeed, a divine accommodation, carried on for the sake of His creatures, both in heaven and on earth. This process is of a cosmic-historical nature because Lucifer began his rebellion in heaven and then spread it to this world(Rev. 12:7–9).
During this week we will consider the end-time judgment process with its three main phases: the pre-Advent judgment, the millennial judgment, and the executive judgment. The whole process ends with the vindication of the righteous and the second death of the wicked.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 24.
For many, the idea of judgment means condemnation. And though that’s part of the process, we mustn’t forget that the idea of judgment has a positive side, in that judgment also involves the vindication of the righteous. Actually, the book of Daniel refers to an end-time judgment “ ‘in favor of the saints of the Most High’ ” (Dan. 7:22, NKJV).God’s judgment includes both—a principle found in this Old Testament text: “ ‘Then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness’ ” (1 Kings 8:32, NKJV).
Read Matthew 25:31–46 and John 5:21–29. How did Christ point to the concepts of both condemnation and vindication in the final judgment?
Some claim that the expressions “ ‘is not judged’ ” (John 3:18, NASB) and “ ‘will not be judged’ ”(John 5:24, NIV)mean that those who are in Christ are not judged at all. But these expressions imply that believers are not condemnedin the judgment. Hence the texts should be understood as saying “ ‘is not condemned’ ”(John 3:18, NIV)and “ ‘shall not come into condemnation’ ”(John 5:24).
In short, our destiny is determined in our present life. Those in Christ have their vindication at the judgment already assured, and those who are not in Christ remain under condemnation. Describing the judgment (Matt. 25:31–46), Christ mentioned the presence not only of the goats (wicked) but also of the sheep (righteous). And the apostle Paul stated explicitly, “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10, NRSV).
While reflecting on the judgment, we should keep in mind that we are saved by grace(Isa. 55:1, Eph. 2:8–10), justified by faith (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 5:1), and judged by works(Eccles. 12:14, Matt. 25:31–46, Rev. 20:11–13). The basis of the judgment process is God’s moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments (Eccles. 12:13, 14; James 1:25; James 2:8–17). Our works are the external evidences of the genuine ness of our saving experience and, consequently, the elements to be appraised during judgment.
Remember: there is no arbitrary decree from God electing some to be saved and others to be lost. Each one is morally responsible for his or her own destiny.
The concept of judgment before the return of Christ, or what we call a “pre-Advent” judgment, is found in many places in Scripture.
Read Daniel 7:9–14; Matthew 22:1–14; Revelation 11:1, 18, 19; and Revelation 14:6, 7. How do these passages shed light on the notion of a pre-Advent investigative judgment in the heavenly courtroom? What is the significance of such a judgment?
The concept of a pre-Advent investigative judgment of God’s people is grounded in three basic biblical teachings. One is the notion that all the dead—righteous or unrighteous— remain unconscious in their graves until the final resurrections (John 5:25–29).
The second is the existence of a universal judgment of all human beings(2 Cor. 5:10, Rev. 20:11–13). The third is the fact that the first resurrection will be the blessed reward for the righteous, and the second resurrection will be eternal death for the wicked (John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:4–6, 12–15).
What this means is that if all human beings will be judged, they should be judged priorto their respective resurrections, because at those resurrections they will receive their final rewards.
The book of Daniel helps us to understand both the time and the nature of that pre-Advent judgment. At the end of the 2,300 symbolic days—in 1844—the heavenly sanctuary would be cleansed (Dan. 8:14, compare with Heb. 9:23)and the pre-Advent investigative judgment would begin(Dan. 7:9–14), two different ways of expressing the same event. And the judgment is “ ‘in favor of the saints of the Most High’ ” (Dan. 7:22, NKJV). That is, it’s good news for God’s people.
In Matthew 22:1–14, Jesus spoke of an investigation of the wedding guests before the wedding feast actually started.
And in the book of Revelation, the pre-Advent investigative judgment is referred to in the task of measuring “ ‘those who worship’ ” in the temple of God (Rev. 11:1, NKJV)and in the announcement that “ ‘the hour of His judgment has come’ ” (Rev. 14:6, 7, NKJV; compare with Rev. 14:14–16).
“And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch” (Mark 14:34Mark 14:34 And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.).
The Bible tells us that at the Second Coming (1) both the living saints and the resurrected saints will “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17); (2) all the saints will be taken to heaven to abide in the heavenly “ ‘dwelling places’ ” that He Himself has prepared for them(John 14:1–3, NRSV); and (3) only at the end of the millennium will the New Jerusalem come down to this earth and become the everlasting home of the saints (Rev. 21:1–3, 9–11). So, during the millennium, while this earth remains desolate, the saints will reign with Christ in heaven(Jer. 4:23, Rev. 20:4).
Read 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3 and Revelation 20:4–6, 11–13. Why should the saints participate in the millennial judgment?
The whole judgment process is intended (1) to vindicate God’s character against the accusations of Satan that God is unfair in the way He treats His creatures; (2) to confirm the impartiality of the rewards of the righteous; (3) to demonstrate the justice of the punishments of the wicked; and (4) to dissipate all doubts that could lead toward another rebellion in the universe. In the pre-Advent investigative judgment of the righteous, only the heavenly hosts are involved(Dan. 7:9, 10). But during the millennial judgment of the wicked and the fallen angels, the saints themselves also will participate(1 Cor. 6:3, Jude 6, Rev. 20:4–6).
The pre-Advent investigative judgment began in 1844 when “ ‘thrones were put in place. . . . The court was seated, and the books were opened’ ” (Dan. 7:9, 10, NKJV). The millennial judgment, however, will start after the saints are taken to heaven and sit on thrones, and the judgment is committed to them. Then, once more, the heavenly books are opened, and the dead are “judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books”(Rev. 20:4, 12, NKJV).
This process provides an opportunity for the saints to evaluate the heavenly records and to see God’s fair treatment in all cases. He not only rewards all human beings according to what they deserve based on their own decisions but also explains to them why He does so.
During the Middle Ages there was a strong tendency to portray God as a severe, punitive Judge. Today the tendency is to describe Him as a loving, permissive Father who never punishes His children. Yet, love without justice will turn into chaos and lawlessness, and justice without love will become oppression and subjugation. God’s judging process is a perfect blend of justice and mercy, both of which derive from His unconditional love.
The executive judgment is God’s final and irreversible punitive intervention in human history. Limited punitive judgments occurred, for example, in the casting out of Satan and his rebellious angels from heaven(Rev. 12:7–12), the driving out of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), the great Flood(Genesis 6–8), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19, Jude 7), the death of the firstborn in Egypt(Exodus 11, Exodus 12), and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). So, it is no surprise that there also will be an executive judgment of the wicked at the end of human history.
Read 2 Peter 2:4–6 and 2 Peter 3:10–13. How do these texts help us understand the nature of the final executive judgment? How do they imply the idea of the completion of judgment as opposed to its going on forever, which would be a perversion of justice and not an expression of it?
“God’s goodness and long forbearance, His patience and mercy exercised to His subjects, will not hinder Him from punishing the sinner who refused to be obedient to His requirements. It is not for a man—a criminal against God’s holy law, pardoned only through the great sacrifice He made in giving His Son to die for the guilty because His law was changeless—to dictate to God.”—Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, p. 208.
All that God could have done to save humanity from being eternally lost He did, even at a great cost to Himself. Those who are lost ultimately made choices that led them to this unfortunate end. The idea that God’s judgment on the lost, even the annihilation of the lost (as opposed to eternal torment), goes against the character of a loving God is simply wrong. It’s God’s love, and God’s love alone, that demands justice, as well.
God is leading human history toward its end-time climax. At the end of the millennium all the wicked dead are raised from their graves to receive their final punitive sentences (Rev. 20:5, 11–15). Then, when the whole judging process is completed and nothing else can be added to it, the wicked will acknowledge God’s justice. “With all the facts of the great controversy in view, the whole universe, both loyal and rebellious, with one accord declare: ‘Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.’ ” And Satan himself “bows down and confesses the justice of his sentence.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 670, 671.
Read Malachi 4:1; Revelation 20:14, 15; and Revelation 21:8. How effective are the “lake of fire” and the “second death”?
The final destruction of Satan and his angels and all the wicked will cleanse the universe from sin and its consequences. And yet, even the final destruction of the wicked is an act of God’s love, not only for the saints but also for the wicked themselves. They would rather die than live in the presence of God who is a “consuming fire” for sin (Heb. 12:29).
“They [the lost] would long to flee from that holy place. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them. The destiny of the wicked is fixed by their own choice. Their exclusion from heaven is voluntary with themselves, and just and merciful on the part of God.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 543.
Thus, the final annihilation of sin and sinners—in contrast to the unbiblical theory of their everlasting sufferings in hell—provides a just and proportional punishment for whatever evil people had committed. It also confirms that sin had a beginning and will have an end. Then the whole universe will return to its original perfection, before sin, evil, and disobedience arose mysteriously and without any justification. Praise the Lord that He, as our “righteous Judge” (2 Tim. 4:8, NKJV), will make the fair decision of granting immortality to the righteous and eternal destruction to the wicked.
Read Ellen G. White, “Without a Wedding Garment,” pp. 307–319, in Christ’s Object Lessons; “Desolation of the Earth,” pp. 653–661; “The Controversy Ended,” pp. 662–673, in The Great Controversy.
“In the day of final judgment, every lost soul will understand the nature of his own rejection of truth. The cross will be presented, and its real bearing will be seen by every mind that has been blinded by transgression. Before the vision of Calvary with its mysterious Victim, sinners will stand condemned. Every lying excuse will be swept away. Human apostasy will appear in its heinous character. Men will see what their choice has been. Every question of truth and error in the long-standing controversy will then have been made plain. In the judgment of the universe, God will stand clear of blame for the existence or continuance of evil. It will be demonstrated that the divine decrees are not accessory to sin. There was no defect in God’s government, no cause for disaffection. When the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed, both the loyal and the rebellious will unite in declaring, ‘Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? . . . for Thy judgments are made manifest.’ Rev. 15:3, 4.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 58.
1. “If you cling to self, refusing to yield your will to God, you are choosing death. To sin, wherever found, God is a consuming fire. If you choose sin, and refuse to separate from it, the presence of God, which consumes sin, must consume you.”—Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 62. How does this quote help us understand the nature of the executive judgment?
2. Dwell on the idea (presented at the end of Tuesday’s study) that not one of the lost will face final judgment until after the redeemed have been part of the judging process. Again, what does this teach us about the openness and transparency of God? For a universe in which love reigns, why is this transparency so important?
3. How will the participation of the saints in the millennial judgment comfort them in regard to their loved ones who will be lost?
Every time he went to church, little William Frederico João Lumbo seemed to hear the preacher say the same phrase. The big preacher stood behind the pulpit in the church in Angola. He raised a hand into the air, and thundered, “Those who do not live to serve God are not fit to live!”
The preacher’s words made a big impression on his young mind. But the world outside the church also made a big impression, and he decided that he would rather dance than go to church. At age 14, he formed a dance group and performed at parties and school events in Angola’s capital, Luanda. Even though William enjoyed dancing, something didn’t seem right. He felt an emptiness inside, and he remembered the words of the preacher, “Those who do not live to serve God are not fit to live.”
The joy from dancing faded, and William began to smoke and drink. But he felt increasingly empty. One day, he prayed desperately, “I am not living to serve You, and I am not fit to live. Help!”
Shortly after the prayer, a friend gave William a flash drive with a sermon on it. William wanted the flash drive because, on it, the friend also had saved a video of him dancing.
The sermon touched William’s heart. He fell to his knees and asked for forgiveness. He decided to go to church. All churches were closed in Angola because of COVID-19, and William ended up in an Adventist house church. A big surprise awaited William. The leader of the house church, Filipe, had had two dreams about William over the past two nights. In the first dream, Filipe was standing beside a big tree, and, in his hand, he held a small branch. He needed to somehow connect the branch to the tree so it could grow again. In the second dream, Filipe was standing beside a big river. A small river flowed beside the big river, and Felipe somehow needed to connect the small river to the big river. “You are the small branch that needs to be connected to the big tree,”
Filipe told William. “The big tree is Jesus, who is the Tree of Life. You are the small river, and the big river is Jesus. You need to be connected to Jesus, who is the River of Life.” William could scarcely believe his ears. “Jesus wants me to be connected to Him?” he asked.
As William worshiped at the house church, peace and joy began to fill the emptiness in his heart. He decided to be connected only to Jesus. Today, William couldn’t be happier. He lives only to serve God.
This mission story illustrates Spiritual Growth Objective No. 5 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s “I Will Go” strategic plan, “To disciple individuals and families into Spirit-filled lives.” Read more: IWillGo2020.org.