Are you sure that’s everything?” The officer looked at me across his desk while pointing to something on a computer monitor visible only to him. It was my naturalization interview for U. S. citizenship; you’re supposed to declare every occasion you’ve been detained by law enforcement over the course of your entire life—including traffic tickets. You are instructed to add additional pages to your application if you need them. Sadly, I had to provide the required addendum.
My mind raced. What, exactly, did the officer see on that monitor? Had I forgotten to declare something? Was he just bluffing? Would I be denied citizenship if I got this wrong?
“I think so,” I answered. “But we’re talking about a lot of years, so there might be something I forgot to declare.”
He smiled and dropped his finger from the screen. “OK,” he said, and finished up his computer work. He had been testing my honesty. But then he hit “Send,” and his sober look returned. “Hmm,” he muttered, “the system doesn’t like this. What exactly does ‘without due care and attention’ mean?”
It’s not comfortable to know that someone is quietly keeping track of your crimes.
“It means that I totaled a car when I was 16 and the cops had to charge me with something, so they charged me with not paying attention.”
He frowned again and tried a few more keystrokes. A surge of anxiety doubled my heart rate. Would it all fall apart at this point, after all these years?
“Good news,” he finally said. “It went through. You’ll be hearing from us by mail.”
And with that, I drove home knowing that I soon would be a United States citizen.
It’s not comfortable to know that someone is quietly keeping track of your crimes. When I was a small boy, there was a statement from Jesus that terrified me: “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2, 3).* It’s a nightmare akin to that one where your clothes disappear in public. I could visualize angels shouting my secret sins across my neighborhood, imagining the hot shame of having people know what I was really like. That nasty picture I drew of my teacher? Posted in the local paper. That not-so-kosher story I whispered to the other boys on the playground? Captured by a hot microphone.
No, it’s not comfortable to know that someone is quietly keeping track of you. From that perspective, it’s understandable that “fear God . . . , for the hour of His judgment has come” (Rev. 14:7) might garrote our hearts with a cold wire. But is terror the response that God hopes to elicit?
To some extent, perhaps. I won’t deny that the thought of facing our life’s record without Christ should make us squirm. Sometimes we become so obsessed with creating an atmosphere of love and acceptance that we want to prevent all discomfort. But Isaiah isn’t wrong when he describes restless nights brought on by sleeping on a too-short bed with a too-small blanket (Isa. 28:20). Conviction isn’t comfortable, and Paul didn’t seem to mind disturbing Felix’s peace with the idea of judgment (Acts 24:25).
But in God’s kingdom, conviction is not designed to create hopelessness; instead, it drives toward reconciliation. You do not feel conviction because God hates you. The goodness of God is what leads you to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Heaven is not seeking some technicality with which to bar you. The high price paid at the cross to secure you for the kingdom should demonstrate that God is trying to get you in.
Perhaps that’s why David can describe judgment in terms of joy and thanksgiving:
“Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For thrones are set there for judgment, the thrones of the house of David” (Ps. 122:3-5).
During the past quarter century of public evangelism I’ve noticed something curious. Public audiences love the investigative judgment. I’ve never had an objection—except from some Adventists who find the subject distasteful. I struggled to understand why.
Why do so many in our midst, in spite of the astonishing love of Christ portrayed in our unique understanding of the great controversy, still carry a largely medieval European impression of judgment? Why do we see judgment the way Michelangelo portrayed it in The Last Judgment? The painting is despondent enough close up, but it becomes more sinister as you try to escape it, taking on the appearance of a grinning skull when viewed from the other end of the Sistine Chapel.
Where would we have to stand if we want to see what David saw?
If you have already come to Christ but the thought of the judgment still terrifies you, perhaps it’s time to reread Daniel’s account and ask an important question: What, exactly, is the case being considered in heaven’s court? Go ahead: grab a Bible and read Daniel 7. I’ll wait.
Did you find any mention of you in that chapter? No. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t face judgment. We all do (see Rom. 2:3-5; 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). But notice that only two individuals are mentioned in Daniel’s account: the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. The rest of the scene is corporate. It’s a group of angels considering the record of a run of large empires established in defiance of God’s throne. No solitary human being is depicted.
Perhaps because of my sinful, selfish bent, I want to think that the heavenly court session is all about me. The immigration computer is fired up, then an angel points to it and asks, “Is that everything? Have you really come clean?” But I’m not mentioned in this chapter, and neither are you. As with the rest of Scripture, the central focus is Christ. It’s dealing with His right to His inheritance:
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13, 14).
In other words, the primary subject of the trial is Jesus. Unbelievably, God has put Himself on trial.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that when Jesus comes for His church, His feet never touch the ground. Instead, we are caught up into the air to meet Him. Feet were a symbol of possession in the ancient world, which is why Satan’s answer to God in Job is so deeply freighted with meaning: “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (Job 1:7). He’s not informing the assembly that he’s been out for a stroll: he’s declaring ownership of the fallen planet.
In God’s kingdom, conviction is not designed to create hopelessness; instead, it drives toward reconciliation. You do not feel conviction because God hates you. The goodness of God leads you to repentance.
When the angels review the books, they come to the unmistakable conclusion that Jesus deservesHis inheritance–that the Last Adam, God in human flesh, has taken back what rightfully belongs to Him. All earthly kingdoms will now be set aside in favor of His: the throne belongs to Christ.
But before the verdict is ultimately executed, He takes us in
to the courts of heaven to review the books as well (Rev. 20:4, 11, 12). We, too, must be convinced, of our own freewill, that Jesus deserves His throne. Only then does His foot touch the mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
Of course, we cannot escape the fact that when Jesus returns, the fates of the righteous and wicked have already been decided (Rev. 22:11,12). But the books of heaven are not there because God can’t remember who belongs in the kingdom. They’re not there in order to change God’s mind about you. They’re there for the benefit of angels—and then us—so that we can understand why God made the decisions He made, and forever settle the question of God’s worthiness.
They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested” (Rev. 15:3, 4).
The big question in judgment is not whether or not you are worthy. That was established a long time ago. You can let go of your mental anguish, always wondering if you’re good enough to make the cut: the angels know full well that you are not. That is not their primary consideration. This is about Jesus and His right to establish a kingdom in which He invites you to share His throne (Rev. 3:21; 20:4).
The good news? Jesus wins. If you’ve got Jesus, you’re in. You can bask in the knowledge that the judge in your case also happens to be the defense attorney (John 5:22; 1 John 2:1). We can have boldness, not fear,in the day of judgment (1 John 4:17, 18).
If you don’t have Jesus, why in the world would you reject such an incredible offer?
Perhaps you remember the story of Boaz and Ruth. It tells of an immensely prosperous landowner who wishes to marry the girl of his dreams. The girl would like to marry him too: she has already lain at his feet, wanting to be claimed (Ruth 3:7, 8). (Just in case you’re missing the typology, Christ is the exceptionally wealthy landowner, and His church is the dream girl.) There’s a barrier to the wedding, however. There is a previous claim to the land and the girl—someone who is more closely related and has a more natural right to her. “Now it is true that I am a close relative,” Boaz states. “However, there is a relative closer than I” (verse 12).
That other, more closely related suitor would be the devil; after all, we handed him the keys of this world in Eden, and we chose his rebellion over the throne of God. We are more naturally inclined to be like him than we are to be like Jesus. So what does Boaz do about it? He will not be deprived of his dream girl. He goes to the gate of the city, where judgment was held, and takes the case to the elders. “Sit still, my daughter,” Naomi reassures Ruth, “until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day” (verse 18).
At the judgment footwear changes hands, and it is determined that Boaz has a right to the land and his bride. It’s the best possible verdict. And in Heaven’s judgment, the bridegroom might be delayed (Matt. 25:5), but the verdict will most certainly be in His favor . . . and yours. It’s not about whether Jesus is obliged to take you; it’s about whether or not He can have you—and it turns out He can.
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God’” (Rev. 21:2, 3).
I’m with David. That is an occasion for thanksgiving.
* All Bible texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Shawn Boonstra is speaker/director for the Voice of Prophecy, headquartered in Loveland, Colorado.