It’s Not About Us – An article on the Judgment – Part 2
by Dan Appel
by Dan M. Appel, September 30, 2014
In my last post, we started looking at the subject that has traditionally been viewed by Adventists as their defining contribution to theology. The judgment was there as a central topic from the moment we as a church were birthed. It has been the source of considerable criticism from those outside of our church and the fountainhead of considerable controversy within.
Maybe we got the subject right, but have missed the boat on some of the details – things which would have made us even more persuasive as we shared God’s view of this very important topic.
Pivotal to this Whole Subject Is, Who Really Is on Trial in the Judgment?
The answer to that question lies in the most exciting chapter of the Bible. It is the most complete and thorough discussion of the judgment that exists in Scripture. It was written by the prime minister of two of the greatest nations to ever exist on this earth. You will find his description in Daniel 7. We do not have the space to parse this chapter line by line – instead, let’s look at the larger picture for a few moments.
Daniel begins by taking us on a roller coaster ride through human history from his day to the end of the world.
There would be a series of four great nations who rule the world, he tells us, followed by ten other kingdoms who exist and rule concurrently, before our globe comes under the sway of an all-powerful religious power who will terrorize and persecute all true followers of God. In the midst of this, God will take His place on His official throne and the last judgment will begin. Note the sequence of events from that point onward, as described by Daniel.
2 God renders judgment “in favor of the saints.”2
3. The kingdom of this earth is taken away from Satan, the ruler of the earth up until this time.3
4. It is given to Jesus, the Lamb.4
5. Jesus restores it to His people.5
There is a pivotal difference between a civil trial and a criminal one in most judicial systems. In a criminal trial the judge or jury weighs the evidence against a party then renders a verdict. This verdict can be appealed. Then, when the appeals are exhausted, the sentence is carried out. In a civil case, on the other hand, two parties appear before the bar of justice in adversarial roles. After hearing the evidence presented, the judge or jury decides against one and for the other.
Daniel 7, and the rest of the Bible when it is read through the lens of the insights found in this chapter, portrays God’s judgment as a civil case where Jesus sues for the restoration of what was lost to Him and His people at Adam and Eve’s fall. In this trial, Jesus represents His saints and, in a very real sense, the whole Trinity in their quest to reclaim what has been taken from them by Satan. That is why Daniel speaks of the judgment in terms of “vindication” in Daniel 7. Jesus’ claim rests on two premises: He created the world in the beginning,6 and He won the right to recreate and restore it by His death on Calvary.
After the evidence is presented, God proclaims, as He did on the wall of Belshazzar’s banquet hall, “Your kingdom has been weighed in the balances and found wanting!” With the concurrence of the whole universe, the earth is then taken away from Satan and restored to Jesus and His people.
The judgment message is Good News because it is an announcement that Satan’s awful rule on this earth is finally coming to an end. There will be no more tears or death or mourning or pain ever again.7 The rule of the evil prince, the ruler of the powers of the air, and all of his black minions will end forever. Their reign of terror will be over. No more orphans and broken hearts and promises; no more divorce and pornography and incest; no more teenagers dying on the streets and young parents selling their bodies and souls for a chemical high; no more wars and rumors of war and stock market crashes and crop failures; no more famine and flood and volcanic eruptions. It will all be over!
What Satan has worked so hard to cover up is that we are not on trial in heaven’s judgment; he is. By changing the focus, he has made God look exceedingly bad and turned what God designs to be Good News into bad news.
One question remains. How about those texts in Scripture that talk about us facing our life’s record in the judgment? If we are not on trial in heaven’s court, what do these passages mean?
While we are not the focus of the last judgment, we do have a part to play. You will recall that the earth is to be finally restored to God’s people. At some point, God has to determine who is, and who is not, one of His saints – and He has to be able to defend His decision to the whole universe. That decision has to stand up to the appeals process which will occur during the 1,000 years of the Millennium.
The Bible says that profession is not sufficient to be classified as a follower of God. Our lives must bear evidence that we have made Jesus our Lord as well as our Savior. But, that is a very minor part of what happens in God’s judgment. Our part is the heavenly equivalent of a driver’s license check at a traffic stop or a passport check at airport security. The real focus is on God’s actions vis-a-vis his arch enemy Satan and the final annihilation of his kingdom. The concentration of the Bible’s witness on the judgment is on God’s final triumph over evil.
Suddenly, instead of being bad news, the judgment is fantastically good news for anyone who groans under the weight of sin and its effects.
The Good News of Revelation 14
No passage in scripture makes this clearer than Revelation 14:6-12 – a passage very near and dear to Seventh-day Adventists. To really understand this passage, you have to read it within the larger context of this whole section of the Revelation.
When we come to Revelation 12, God’s people are at the apparent nadir of their existence. Their spiritual and temporal enemies have conspired to eliminate them. The dragon, the devil, defeated by the Lamb and thrown down to this earth with his followers has recruited “the beast” and its confederates to help him wipe out God’s true followers on earth – once and for all. Every human on earth is finally marked either as a follower of God or a follower of Satan the Dragon – as a citizen of the Kingdom of Darkness or the Kingdom of Light. Together, the unholy confederacy controls the whole world and sets out to eliminate all of God’s loyal friends and subjects. And, from every human perspective it looks as if they are going to be successful.
In the face of that satanic final solution, God sends a message of hope to His people. “Have faith and endure,”8 He calls, “Satan will be defeated in the end!” That Good News from the Commander-in-Chief is delivered by three angels who are pictured flying across the sky from one horizon to the other shouting their messages to every nation and cultural and language and ethnic group on earth.
“Give God the respect and admiration He deserves,” the first angel calls. “Worship the Creator of heaven and earth. Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness has been weighed in the balances and found wanting and is about to be taken away from him and returned to Jesus and His people.”9
A second angel now streaks across the sky calling: “Fell! Fell! Babylon the Great who made all nations drink the wine of her impure passion fell!”
The traditional translation of Revelation 14:8 is “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great nation who made all men drink the wine of her impure passion.“ While this translation is technically correct, the ambivalent language chosen by generations of translators leaves a very wrong impression of the sense of the original and of the story upon which it is based. It is not an isolated statement with no context. It refers back to another time, and we will only understand it’s meaning when we know the story of what happened then.
Over 1,000 years before John wrote the Revelation, God’s people were in captivity in the land of another Babylon – literal Babylon in Mesopotamia. From any human point of view there was absolutely no hope or prospect for the future. The most powerful nation on earth had razed their cities, including Jerusalem, had destroyed the temple so completely that there was not a single stone left standing, and all of the people except for a very few farmers and tradesmen in the whole nation had been deported and pressed into servitude. There was no hope!
Then a prophet began to speak. His message was almost too good to be true for those slaves in Babylon. We can read his messages in Jeremiah 50 and 51. “Babylon will fall!” he cried. Don’t lose heart! Hang in there! The God of Israel will come through for you. Babylon will fall! Babylon will fall!”
To put this message in context, it is as if the nation of Tonga or Fiji had been completely overrun by the combined forces of the old Russia, China and the United States, and all of its people sold into slavery. Then a prophet arises and says, “They will fall! They will be destroyed! Don’t give up, there is still hope! You will shortly be freed and vindicated.” Babylon ruled the then known world. They were the superpower. They were invincible, and it appeared that they would rule the world forever. Jeremiah’s messages must have seemed ludicrous and naive at the time.
But history tells us that Babylon did fall. The impossible occurred. The miracle happened. God’s people were freed and vindicated.
That series of events provides the point of reference for Revelation 14:8. You can only understand what God and John are saying in the context of what happened back then. The English word “fallen” can either denote something that exists in a state of moral decay, which is the way we have traditionally viewed those words, or it can mean that something fell over and remains fallen. The Greek word used for “fallen” in Revelation 14:8 is “epesen.” It is a simple aorist – something happened at a point of time in the past and the effects remain. The best translation of this verse is “Fell! Fell! Babylon the great, who made all nations drink of the wine of her impure passion.” In other words, “It’s happened before! It may have looked impossible then, but Babylon fell! So, have hope; it will happen again!”
Which brings us to the message of the third angelic messenger who streaks across the sky. This angel cries with a loud voice, in other words he shouts, yells, “Not only will spiritual Babylon fall from power; it will be totally eradicated forever! Anyone who worships the Beast, Satan, and his reflection and is marked as loyal to them will drink the wine of God’s wrath mixed with His righteous anger. The Beast is about to be destroyed by the nuclear brightness of God’s presence with all protection removed. The smoke of their destruction will drift forever throughout the whole universe! 10 There will be no respite for anyone who serves Satan and reflects his image and is loyal to his Kingdom of Darkness until it is finished once and for all.”
In that darkest of hours, the messages of the Three Angels arrive as dispatches of hope from the ruler of the universe.. In essence God is saying, “Hold out just a little longer. The cavalry is on the way.” So, John concludes, in words reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s in Britain’s darkest hour, “Hold on; Hold on! Never, never, never give up! Help is on its way.”
The judgment message Seventh-day Adventists have been called to carry to the whole world is good news to everyone on earth except Satan and his loyal subjects. The good news of the Judgment we have been called to take the world is about the triumph of God in His Great Controversy with Satan! It is a message of hope and comfort and optimism for anyone who lives under the oppressive rule of the devil. It is a positive message charged with triumph for slaves groaning under the weight of their servitude to the prince of darkness. It is a promise of rescue to anyone drowning in a sea of sin. It is a message of hope for the hopeless and relief for the weary. It is a message of victory when it seems the battle is lost and a message of support when we feel that we are all alone.
Unfortunately that message has not had the impact that God designed for it to have because we turned it into a message of doom and gloom. By making the judgment all about us, we have thought way too small, and in the process we have missed the whole point and misrepresented God and turned off and away most of the people God most wanted to impact with the messages of the Three Angels of Revelation.
Maybe it’s time we restored the message of the last judgment to what God intends it to be and get on with finishing the work He called us into existence to do.
2Daniel 7:22; Revelation 18:20
6John 1:2; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2
8Revelation 13:10; 14:12
9The judgment referred to in this passage is the final judgment on Satan and His dark kingdom. The angels that follow expand on that announcement and the rest of the chapter
10Just as sin infected this whole universe, so the smoke of God’s enemies will drift from one end to the other. The Second Law of Thermodynamics appears to be in effect universe-wide in this universe. Simply stated, all things decay in our universe. Whatever unfallen worlds exist must exist in the parallel universes demanded by Quantum Theory. Sin and its effects appear to be isolated to our own.