Introduction to the Judgment
In vision, John’s attention is drawn towards the Father, seated on the throne. He notices that He has a book in His hand, sealed with seven seals. Then he hears a strong angel say, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof” (Rev. 5:2). Obviously, it is very important that the book is opened, because John says, “And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon” (Rev. 5:4). Answering John’s distress one of the 24 elders says to John, “Weep not: behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Rev. 5:5).
This book with seven seals, must be very important, for three reasons. Firstly, John was weeping much because it appeared no one could open the book. This suggests that the opening of the book has something to do with advancing the plan of salvation, to the conclusion of the everlasting covenant. Secondly, from what we know so far it would appear that it required someone special, someone unique, someone ‘worthy’ to open the book because initially no one could be found to open it. Thirdly, the opening of the book required a ‘prevailing’ – indicating that a victory had to be achieved before the book could be opened.
The Judicial System
The judicial system on earth is a lengthy and complicated process. There are court hearings for arraignment, for trial, for sentencing, and for numerous appeals, not to mention all the legal manoeuvres in between. The reason why the earthly judicial process is so complex and convoluted is because it needs to be. It needs to be precise, so that every effort is put into separating the innocent from the guilty. We have elaborated and expensive judicial systems in place so that, as far as is humanly possible, the guilty get the justice they deserve and the innocent go free.
If sinful mankind can take such pains, and have such ideals for their judicial systems, surely, we must expect Heaven’s judicial system to have even purer ideals and nobler goals than those on earth. If earthly courts have elaborate systems in place to make sure they get it correct, why would we not expect Heaven to be even more particular? When Moses was on Mount Sinai God “proclaimed the name of the Lord:”
And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty… Ex. 34:6, 7.
With these words, God reveals His dual purpose towards mankind. Either we are saved or we are lost. We are rewarded or we are punished. God has put in place a system of justice, in order to accurately determine the fate of every individual, according to what they deserve: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). If this is God’s intention, then we should expect a justice system to operate in heaven, which is just as comprehensive and elaborate as what operates on earth. Indeed, we should expect a justice system that is as far beyond the earthly system, as heaven is beyond the earth.
In the earthly system mistakes can be very costly for the individuals involved – to the point where they could lose their lives. In the heavenly courts the stakes are even higher – one can lose one’s eternal life. Therefore, great pains are taken in heaven to ensure that the judgment process is precise, transparent to the watching universe, and above all, just. Therefore, we should not be surprised to discover that the heavenly judicial process is a more complicated one than we previously thought. It is this judgment process that occupies much of what Revelation wants to reveal.
In His messages to the seven churches, there is only one message, given by Jesus that is common to all the seven churches. There is only one thing that is reiterated to every church – Jesus exhorted all seven churches to OVERCOME. This is because: “it is appointed unto all men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Therefore, after Jesus has made it perfectly plain that the purpose of the Christian walk is to overcome, we should expect to see the next stage in the plan of salvation – the judgment. And since the judgment is such a complex process, with different phases, it features prominently in the rest of the unfolding drama. However, it is important to realize, that because the judgment is a complex process, the events depicted in Revelation chapters four and five, are not the judgment itself – they are the introduction to the judgment. This is because the judgment cannot start until the book with seven seals is opened. And this is because the book with seven seals contains the records to be used in the judgment.
Chapters 4 & 5 of Revelation are setting the scene for the judgment. These chapters reveal the location – the process begins in the holy place not the most holy. It reveals the witnesses – the angels, the four beasts, and the twenty-four elders. It reveals the presiding/Supreme Judge – the One who sits upon the throne. It reveals the Mediator/Judge – the Lamb. And it reveals the records to be used in the judgment – the book written on the inside and the outside sealed with seven seals.
The Jewish Festivals, Revelation and the Judgment
In our progress through Revelation, we have not only been walking through the sanctuary and its services, we are also following the pattern laid out in the Jewish Festivals. The Jewish system of festivals are an obvious illustration of the plan of salvation. The system is divided into two segments. The first four festivals take place in the spring. These festivals are all about the death and resurrection of Christ. The second segment takes place in the autumn and they are all about judgment and the second coming of Christ. How does this observation help us with understanding Revelation? Answer: in chapters four and five we have discovered that Jesus has ascended to heaven and has been greeted by the Father in the holy place. This means that the four-spring festival are behind us. Which means that the three autumn festivals are ahead of us (not historically, but ahead in the unfolding of the Book of Revelation). Therefore, the next events we should expect Revelation to be occupied with are judgement and the second coming – but judgment first. This conclusion is reinforced by Ellen White. Remarkably, chapter five is the only chapter in Revelation, that she says we should pay close attention to:
What will such do [one who will not confess his sins] in the day that the books are opened and every man is judged according to the things written in the books? The fifth chapter of Revelation needs to be closely studied. It is of great importance to those who shall act a part in the work of God for these last days. There are some who are deceived. They do not realize what is coming on the earth. Those who have permitted their minds to become beclouded in regard to what constitutes sin are fearfully deceived. Unless they make a decided change they will be found wanting when God pronounces judgment upon the children of men. They have transgressed the law and broken the everlasting covenant, and they will receive according to their works. 9T 267.
Obviously, this insight into the heavenly courts has something to do with judgment. Ellen White writes about God pronouncing “judgment upon the children of men.” The context of this quotation is also about judgment. The recommendation to study this chapter is introduced with this sentence: “What will such do [one who will not confess his sins] in the day that the books are opened and every man is judged according to the things written in the books?” This is also the subject matter of chapter 5 – the opening of the book. Ellen White’s subject matter is the condition of those who do not confess their sins. And it is with this subject matter in mind that she exhorts her readers to examine the fifth chapter of Revelation. Therefore, Ellen White’s exhortation to study the fifth chapter is clearly placed within the context of judgment.
Christ’s Humanity Qualifies Him to be the Judge
‘The Root of David’ is a title indicating the humanity of Jesus (see also Rom. 1:3). The humanity of Jesus is emphasized here, because this is an essential qualification of the Judge. God the Father cannot judge humanity. And no other created being in God’s universe can judge mankind either. This is because only the inhabitants of earth have fallen into sin. Sin is such a foreign concept to the rest of God’s universe, that holy beings could not possibly act as judges, of those who have fallen under its influence. Only humanity can judge humanity:
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son… and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Jn. 5:22, 27.
Jesus is the judge because He is the Son of man – He is a Son of humanity. Ellen White sheds additional light on the ‘qualifications’ of the Judge:
Christ humbled Himself to stand at the head of humanity, to meet the temptations and endue the trials that humanity must meet and endure the trials that humanity must meet and endure. He must know what humanity must meet from the fallen foe, that He might know how to succor those who are tempted. And Christ has been made our Judge. The Father is not the Judge. The angels are not. He who took humanity upon Himself, and in this world lived a perfect life, is to judge us. He only can be our Judge. 9T 185.
Ellen White adds the additional condition to being the judge of mankind – a perfect life. And Scripture tells us that Jesus was appointed High Priest in heaven for exactly the same reason – His obedient and victorious life as a human being:
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. Heb. 5:8-10.
Jesus consistently said, that He had not come to do His own will, but to do the will of the Father (see Ps. 40:6-8; Jn. 5:30, 6:38, Matt. 26:39). This commitment on His part is a vital part of the plan of salvation. Jesus is our example, His commitment to do the will of the Father (voluntarily) must also be our commitment:
Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God… Ps. 143:10.
…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Phil. 2:12, 13.
The exercising of the will, is the only contribution we ourselves can make, to our own salvation. This is why Paul writes, that we must approach the proper application of our will power with “fear and trembling.” This is because man’s will is very fickle. On occasions we will surrender our wills and allow God to “do His good pleasure” and on other occasions we take our wills back again, in order to do our own good pleasure. Ellen White identifies this problem and provides the solution:
The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness. SC 43.
Many are inquiring, “How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?” You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you; but you need not despair. What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus, your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him. SC 47.
Jesus is our example – He gave His will to the Father and carried out the Father’s will. In like manner, we must voluntarily give our wills to Jesus, and let Him direct our lives. In this way, we share in the same experience that Jesus Himself went through under the direction of the Father.
Surrendering one’s will, cannot be tested when everything is going smoothly and there is no adversity. Full surrender can only be tested when adversity, difficulty and trouble enter the life. This is why Jesus was constantly harassed throughout His time on earth and finally tortured on a cross. The enemy was trying to break His commitment, to constantly and consistently, do the will of His Father. This is why it is stated that He was “made perfect.” By resisting every temptation and enduring every hardship (including the cross), Jesus became the perfect sacrifice. Because He became the prefect sacrifice, He became the perfect High Priest and the perfect Judge. This is why He is called the ‘Worthy One.’ His resurrection from the tomb is the evidence of His ‘worthiness.’ The grave can only claim the guilty – it cannot hold the ‘worthy’ [the righteous]. Therefore, He is the only One qualified to open the sealed book.
Christ’s Divinity Qualifies Him to be the Judge
On the other hand, no member of the human race could act as an impartial judge either – for which of God’s creation, can fully understand God’s requirements for entry into heaven? Only God Himself understands the holiness of heaven. Therefore, he who judges, who is fit to inhabit heaven, must have a knowledge of the holiness of heaven and the standards required to live there – and because only God understand these things, this means that the judge has to be God Himself, as well as human. Only Jesus, being both human and divine, understands the human predicament and the requirements of heaven. Therefore, only the God/man can be the judge. When John was weeping because no one could be found to open the book, he was told:
Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain… Rev. 5:5, 6.
Thus, there is a unique duality found in the person of Jesus Christ that is essential for the successful outcome of the plan of salvation. It is essential that the judge must be both divine and human, and this dual aspect in the nature of Christ is referred to when He is described as the Lion and the root of David. These titles are indicative of the two essential characteristics – divinity and humanity.
The Lion and the Lamb = the Judge
In nature we would be hard pressed to find two more contrasting members of the animal kingdom than the lion and the lamb. The lion is the king of beasts, strong and ferocious. By contrast the lamb is meek and lowly. The Lion represents justice the Lamb represents mercy. These two contrasting symbols represent the two contrasting outcomes for the human race. Ellen White’s comments on the Lion and the Lamb confirm that these titles refer to the ultimate outcome of Christ’s influence in the lives of men. In other words, they find their ultimate expression in the fate of individuals in the judgment. To the wicked Jesus will be the Lion, to the repentant Jesus will be the Lamb:
The Saviour is presented before John under the symbols of “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and of “a Lamb as it had been slain.” Rev. 5:5,6. These symbols represent the union of omnipotent power and self-sacrificing love. The Lion of Judah, so terrible to the rejectors of His grace, will be the Lamb of God to the obedient and faithful. AA 589.
The purpose of the judgment is to separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. The goats receive their reward from the hand of the Lion. The sheep receive their reward from the hand of the Lamb. In both instances Jesus is exercising His role as Judge. The Lion + the Lamb = the Judge.
Christ is Worthy!
One of the purposes of an introduction is to introduce the main characters, and to be informed about the roles they play. In this introduction, we are informed, that the science of salvation cannot progress any further, until a “worthy one” is found.
It is said of the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David that He “hath prevailed.” The Greek word for “prevailed” in this context is ‘nikao,’ and it means ‘to conquer’ or ‘to be victorious.’ It is referring directly to the victory that Christ achieved for humanity on the cross. This is why He is the only ‘Worthy One’ in the whole of God’s universe who is able to take the book and open the seals [this is because only ‘the Worthy One’ can be the Judge in the judgment]. This victory required a sacrifice, to free the whole human race from the penalty of sin. This is why after John hears that a ‘worthy one’ had been found, he looks and he sees “…a lamb as it had been slain…” (Rev. 5:6).
The questions we need to ask ourselves is: When was Christ made worthy? When was it that the Lamb prevailed? When did the Lamb become the Lion? When was David’s legacy made secure? There is only one possible answer to these questions – at the cross! The twenty-four elders praise the Lamb and call Him worthy because: “Thou art worthy… for thou wast slain” (Rev. 5:9). In other words, Christ’s worthiness is a consequence of His supreme sacrifice – the crucifixion.
We already know that the context of Revelation chapter 5 is the judgment. Therefore, we would naturally expect the opening of the book to be part of the judgment process. This conclusion is validated, by noticing that in Scripture, the opening of books is invariably found within the context of judgment (see Dan. 7:10; Rev. 20:12). Consider Ellen White’s comments on the contents of the book:
“And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.”
There in His open hand lay the book, the roll of the history of God’s providences, the prophetic history of nations and the church. Herein was contained divine utterances, His authority, His commandments, His laws, the whole symbolic counsel of the Eternal, and the history of all ruling powers in the nations. In symbolic language was contained in that roll the influence of every nation, tongue, and people from the beginning of earth’s history to its close. Manuscript Release No. 1465-4, Letter 65, 1898.
This book contains the heavenly records “from the beginning of earth’s history to its close.” What would the purpose of such a detailed record be? Surely it would have to be for the purposes of judgment! There is another quotation from Ellen White that reveals a specific incident that was recorded in this book – the recording of which is clearly meant to be used in the judgment. The incident in question, occurred at the time the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah:
Thus, the Jewish leaders made their choice. Their decision was registered in the book which John saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, the book which no man could open. In all its vindictiveness this decision will appear before them in the day when this book is unsealed by the Lion of the tribe of Judah. COL 294.
The Jewish leaders, who rejected Christ, will be judged out of what is written in the book with seven seals. Only those who accept Christ will be judged in the investigative judgment. Those who reject Christ will be judged in the executive judgment after the 1000 years in heaven are completed. Therefore, the book with seven seals must be one of the books that is opened in the executive judgment. Furthermore, according to the insight we have from Ellen White, we know that the book contains the history of the world, from its beginning to its end. But the end has not come yet. However, there it is, already written in the Father’s hand – finished, completed, sealed with seven seals. This means that the book must have been written in advance, before the things written in the book even happened.
Did God Write the History of the World in Advance?
Before we consider the possibility that God has written the history of the world in advance, and before we consider why He would do that, let us explore whether God could have done it:
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Acts 15:18.
Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done… Isa. 46:10.
Behold the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. Isa. 42:9.
These verses tell us that God knows the end from the beginning. In other words, when the great controversy began in heaven, God already knew how it would end. Therefore, he could have easily written it all in advance. Now, let us consider why He would do that.
Paul tells us that the great controversy will end, with every knee bowed and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord:
…for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. Rom. 14:10, 11; cf. Isa. 45:23.
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:8-11.
This means that Satan himself will bow down and acknowledge that God was right and he was wrong. What could possibly convince the arch-rebel, to admit that all his efforts over thousands of years, had all been in vain? The evidence provided by God must be very convincing. Could it be because of the contents of the book? Why does the book have to be sealed with seven seals? Why can only ‘the Worthy One’ open it? Could it be because God wants to emphasise to the whole universe that no one could tamper with the book? That no one could open it until ‘the Worth One’ was found? The seven seals were/are God’s security wall so that no one could ‘hack’ the book. In other words, the book and its contents are a crucial part of God’s plan to bring the everlasting covenant to its conclusion. God’s wants all to see that His judicial system is precise, merciful and just. And all will acknowledge His justice and His mercy when the book is opened and read by all.
The book and its contents are a crucial part of God’s plan to bring the everlasting covenant to its conclusion. God’s judicial system will be proven to be both merciful and just. And all will acknowledge His justice and His mercy when the book is opened and read by all. When will the book by opened? That question is dealt with in the next chapter.