Why the Judgment Matters

Posted on January 12, 2013


Heavenly SanctuaryAuthor: Andrew Kerbs

When I was growing up, my perception of the Investigative Judgment did nothing but spark anxiety and an unsettling fear of condemnation. I am only twenty-three years old, and I have already seen many Seventh-day Adventists dispute, reject, and walk away from the message of the sanctuary and Christ’s work therein.

For many, it is difficult to wrap their mind around Jesus being both a merciful healer, full of grace and longsuffering, while also being a judge. I know this was my take on it for many years. The end result is many these days are calling for a “return to the gospel.” What they are saying is we need to return to a Christ-centered, love-centered, faith-inspired message.

I have no issue with this. My issue lies in the underlying assumption that somehow the sanctuary is devoid of grace, or that faith somehow no longer saves in the Investigative Judgment. All of this, I believe, is based on misperceptions that many Adventists, me included, have acquired throughout our years in the church. The issue does not lie in the Investigative Judgment, but in our misunderstanding of it.

Properly understood, the sanctuary and Christ’s priestly ministry therein is a marvelous and vital part of the plan of salvation.

Ellen White says, “The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross” (Great Controversy 489).

It was in the bitter wake of October 22, 1844, that this great truth of God’s plan of salvation came to light. William Miller had rightly calculated the date, expecting to greet the return of his Lord and Savior. As we all know, he and thousands of other expectant Christians were heart-broken that night when Jesus did not appear. The date was right, but not the event. Afterward, it would be Hiram Edson to whom God revealed that the sanctuary being cleansed did not mean the earth being cleansed by fire; rather, it was the cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven by Christ our heavenly High Priest!

The end of the 2300 day prophecy, as mentioned in Daniel 8:14, marked the beginning of the antitypical Day of Atonement. In the Old Testament sanctuary, that was the one day out of the year where the high priest, and only the high priest, would enter the Most Holy Place. It was on this day that the sins of the people throughout the previous year would be permanently absolved. Without the Day of Atonement, the daily sacrifices of the year before were ultimately meaningless.

Just as the daily sacrifice without the Day of Atonement in Old Testament times would be useless, so the application still stands. By eliminating Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary, what happened at Calvary becomes nothing more than another murdered Jew at the hands of the Romans.

In fact, the understanding of the sanctuary does not minimize the cross at all! It empowers it! It adds relevance, clarity, and force. The cross and everything that was promised by the blood of Christ is being applied in the Most Holy Place, by Christ Himself! As the author of Hebrews so clearly states, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11, 12).

For years my understanding of the Investigative Judgment went something like this. Somewhere in heaven was a book with all Christians’ names in it. Since 1844 Jesus has been going through this book, deciding who goes to heaven and who does not. You have no way of knowing when your name will come up, but when it does, you’d better be on your best behavior. If you’re not—that’s it! You were sealed for the lake of fire and nothing you could do would change that.

This left me with an uncanny fear where I could never quite feel comfortable with the thought of Jesus being both my savior but also my judge. Sure, He saved me at the cross. But now he was up there waiting for me to make a mistake so he could scribble an “x” through my name. This seeming contradiction is where many people part ways with the doctrine of the sanctuary altogether.

Yet, it is Christ’s vindication of His people! To those who have trusted in Christ, who have trusted in His merits for their salvation—to them is imputed righteousness. So with this in mind, perhaps we could call it the “investigative vindication?”

Call it what one will, it is the fulfillment of Christ’s covenant with His church. It is Christ making good on everything that was assured at Calvary. It is not, as some have tried to argue, adding anything onto Christ’s death and resurrection, rather it is the ultimate application of these events. The literal act of saving Christ’s faithful at the close of time is the fulfillment of the promise of Calvary.

The message of the sanctuary is not one of foreboding judgment, but of vindication and hope. It is our lifeline, and it is only by the merits of Christ we are saved! This wonderful work going on in the sanctuary is our church’s message. Yet we are in danger of losing it. My misunderstanding of the sanctuary growing up is indicative of a larger misconception that I fear my entire generation faces.

What is the sanctuary about, and why are some backpedaling on it?

Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matt. 5:13)

During His sermon on the mount, Jesus used this food-related analogy to pose an interesting question. The question is rhetorical, but it packs a punch. There was a day when salt was a highly valued commodity. It’s easy to think of it as cheap and plentiful, and today it is. During Christ’s day, this was not the case. Even throughout the Middle Ages it was highly valued, even being used in some instances as payment to soldiers.

With this in mind, we see what Christ is trying to say. The salt is not just a commonplace additive for food. It is highly valued, highly sought after, and understood as something of substantial worth. Now take away its taste and its ability to preserve certain foods, and what good is it? It’s worthless. Simply put, Jesus is saying if salt loses the very traits that make it salt, what’s it good for? It is good for nothing.

Obviously, Jesus wasn’t talking about food here. The message was directed to his followers so we can imagine the parable has a deeper spiritual application. I will redirect the question toward a church. What good is a church that ceases to share her message?

The Seventh-day Adventist church has received an immense blessing in our understanding of the sanctuary and its role in our salvation! It should not be a source of anxiety. When properly understood, it is one of the most beautiful and reassuring truths in all of Scripture!

So now when I hear someone say we should focus more on the gospel, I can only say Amen! We should indeed focus on the gospel—the whole, undiluted, everlasting gospel! The cross and the sanctuary are both integral parts of the gospel of Christ.

The sanctuary is not a story of how we must achieve holiness to be saved, because by ourselves, this isn’t possible. It is a story of those who despite their weakness, clung to Christ not only as the Lamb that was slain, but as their High Priest who makes intercession on their behalf. It is not a story of lukewarm faith, but of those who overcame, however, not once by their own merit, but “by the blood of the Lamb.”

With that in mind, I am humbled and eternally grateful that Christ not only died on Calvary, but that He now has entered into the Holy of Holies with His own blood so that we might have life.

Truly, this is wonderful news indeed!