ollowing Saddam Hussein’s capture, the former dictator was flown to a secret location for a meeting with four new leaders of Iraq. It was reported that despite his condition, Saddam was defiant and unrepentant. Ahmad Chalabi, a Governing Council member and the head of the Iraqi National Congress, said: “He was quite lucid. He had command of his faculties. He would not apologize to the Iraqi people. He did not deny any of the crimes he was confronted with having done. He tried to justify them.”
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, another Governing Council member in the room, said: “I was in his torture chamber in 1979, and now he was sitting there, powerless in front of me without anybody stopping me from doing anything to him. Just imagine. We were arguing, and he was using very foul language.”
The four men spent about 30 minutes confronting Saddam with his crimes. As they left, Al-Rubaie barked at the former dictator: “May God curse you. Tell me, when are you going to be accountable to God and the day of judgment? What are you going to tell Him about Halabja and the mass graves, the Iran-Iraq war, thousands and thousands executed? What are you going to tell God?”
Saddam responded by using more foul language.1
The Judgment Has Come
Although Saddam Hussein may never have acknowledged it, the day of judgment is real. Someday every person will be accountable to God. This warning of judgment is an integral part of the message God will proclaim through His church in the last days. The first of the three angels in Revelation 14 declares, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (verse 7).
What judgment are we talking about? If “the hour of his judgment has come,” then doesn’t it stand to reason that it must be happening right now—in the last days of earth’s history?
To answer these questions, it is important to understand that any judgment involves different phases. This first phase of judgment does indeed occur before Jesus comes again. This is obvious in the context because the second and third angels refer to the time before Christ’s coming, so the first angel’s message must refer to the pre-Advent period as well.
Any fair judgment involves an investigative phase. This is when the facts are considered before a verdict is given. Can you imagine a judge that just doled out punishments, willy-nilly, without first going through an investigation to determine guilt or innocence? If God were to judge in this manner, what confidence would we have in His fairness?
At the Second Coming God will proclaim, “My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). In other words, when Jesus comes again the investigation part of the judgment will be over. Clearly the decision of who is lost or saved has already been made. So we must proclaim that the hour of the pre-Advent judgment has come.
OK, we know this investigative phase happens prior to the Second Coming, but when does it begin? Daniel 8:14 prophesies the event: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (KJV). This is imagery taken from the Old Testament tabernacle on the Day of Atonement.
Here is how it worked: Suppose that I am an Israelite in the ancient world and I steal a toga at David’s market. Naturally, I feel guilty, so I confess my sin at the tabernacle. I receive forgiveness and my sin is transferred to a lamb; but that sin remains in the tabernacle.
The tabernacle would then be cleansed of my sin on the Day of Atonement when the priest entered the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary. On this day the sanctuary was “cleansed,” and all sin was eradicated from the camp of Israel.
On the cross Jesus became our sacrificial lamb. So whenever we ask forgiveness for sin, we are clean because of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Our sins reside in the heavenly sanctuary where Jesus intercedes on our behalf as the High Priest. But when is the heavenly sanctuary cleansed? Just as in the Old Testament, it is cleansed on the Day of Atonement.
When did this Day of Atonement take place? Daniel tells us it was to happen 2,300 prophetic days (meaning 2,300 literal years in prophetic literature) after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. This decree happened in 457 B.C. Thus, 2,300 years after that decree, in 1844, Jesus began His final, investigative phase of judgment to eventually eradicate sin forever.
Because of Jesus Christ, who ministers in our behalf in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, the investigative phase of the judgment turns up nothing for every sinner who has accepted Jesus as their Savior. The sanctuary is cleansed! Jesus will come again to redeem His own! And that, my friend, is good news!
The Judgment as Good News
So long as we accept Jesus as our Savior and High Priest, we need not fear the fury of God’s judgment. Just foster a friendship with Jesus.
Steve Winger offers a picture of this during his last college test—a final in a logic class known for its difficult exams. Anticipating that awful day of judgment made students’ toenails sweat. In the class, the professor said they could bring as much information to the exam as they could fit on one piece of 8½ by 11 notebook paper. Most students crammed as many facts as possible on the sheet.
There was one student, however, who sauntered into class, put a piece of notebook paper on the floor, and had an advanced logic student stand on the paper. The advanced logic student told him everything he needed to know. He was the only student to receive an A.
So it is in the final test. We have nothing to fear, so long as we’re with Jesus. Therefore, for every believer who knows Jesus and accepts what He did for us on the cross, the day of judgment is really the day of deliverance!
The Judgment Will Bring Deliverance
The apostle Peter speaks of this day by describing three times when God acted decisively in judgment. Listen to the sobering account: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men . . . if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2 Peter 2:4-9).
“Make no mistake,” Peter tells us, “the consequence of sin is death.” Even though God will act in judgment, He remains true to His character of love and redeems His faithful.
Former U.S. president George Herbert Walker Bush took a trip back to the South Pacific. During World War II, Bush had been a bomber pilot and was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire. An article described Bush’s return to the very place where he was rescued from his downed aircraft.
During his return visit, Bush met with a Japanese man who said he witnessed Bush’s rescue back in 1944. The veteran shared that as he and his comrades were watching ?the rescue take place, one of his friends remarked, “Surely America will win the war if they care so much for the life of one pilot.”2
As Christians we can have the same confidence that we will ultimately win the battle between good and evil because God cares so much about every one of His children.
This is our shared message. It is urgent that we proclaim this good news far and near. The day of deliverance is coming. Our salvation is sure, for our hope is in Jesus.
1Information from Ian Fisher, “THE CAPTURE OF HUSSEIN: CONFRONTATION; Bearing Questions, 4 New Iraqi Leaders Pay Hussein a Visit,” The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2003, at www.nytimes.com.
2Hugh Sidey, “One Bush’s War and Remembrance,” Time, Sept. 23, 2002.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. Which is true—day of judgment or day of deliverance?
2. What is the purpose of the Day of Atonement in the heavenly sanctuary?