Source: Kenneth A. Strand, “Investigative Judgment in the Book of Revelation,” Pacific Union Recorder 80 (October 13, 1980): 2.

Investigative Judgment in the Book of Revelation

By Kenneth A. Strand

           Judgment, a prominent theme in the book of Revelation and one which gives hope and comfort to God’s people, appears in that book in three aspects: (1) the kind of judgment which occurs for us daily in connection with the decisions we make regarding our relationship to Jesus Christ; (2) the final executive judgment; and (3) a pre-advent “investigative” judgment (in the Thyatiran church [Revelation 2:18-29], for example, who are the true overcomers, and who are the followers of Jezebel?).

           The purpose of the pre-advent judgment is not, of course, to enlighten God as who should be saved and who lost, for this in His omniscience He obviously full well knows. Rather, this judgment functions to “set the records straight”; it reverses the unfair verdicts of human tribunals, a matter to which we shall return shortly.

           The scope of the present article is limited to the pre-advent investigative judgment theme, which appears in the Revelation in two main ways: (1) as a basic theological concept which underlies the entire book, and (2) as brought to attention in specific passages.


Investigative Judgment as a Basic Underlying Concept

           There is an especially close connection between the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. The Gospel depicts Jesus as the faithful and true witness, faithfully setting forth the true words and works of God the Father. (See, for example, John 8:26-29). In turn He was falsely accused, perfidiously tried, and unjustly condemned in grossly unfair court procedures.

           All four Gospels give a vivid picture of the unscrupulous manner in which the investigative hearings or trials were conducted. The end result was the verdict that Jesus should die a criminal’s death on a cross.

           In the Gospel of John, we have the words of Jesus indicating tat the type of treatment which He would receive would also be that of His faithful followers: “The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).

           The book of Revelation reveals fulfillment of this promise, depicting Jesus’ true followers as receiving unjust treatment for their faithful witness. For example, John himself was exiled to Patmos “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9), and martyrs have died the same (see Revelation 6:9 and 20:4).

           It is obviously not the purpose of the book of Revelation to describe the investigative trials leading to the condemnations of John and of various members of his Asian congregations; but such trials were held whether the final verdict was exile, imprisonment, or death.

           Early Christian literature provides illustrations of how such “investigative judgments” proceeded: for instance, there is the account of the interrogation of Justin and his companions prior to their martyrdom in Rome about A.D. 165.1

           Another illustration is found in a letter of Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia about A.D. 111 (only some 15 years after john had written the book of Revelation), in which he described his procedures to the Roman emperor Trajan.2 Pliny would interrogate the accused individuals. Those who confessed themselves to be Christians, he interrogated a second and third time, with threats of punishment if they would not renounce their Christianity. Those who would not give up their Christian faith after these several opportunities to do so, he ordered executed, his feeling being that irrespective of the nature of their beliefs, their persistence in defying his ordrs deserved the death sentence.

           The book of Revelation breathes the air of both persecution of God’s people and vindication for them. We must remember that the cruel and unjust punishments inflicted on them are in consequence of trials which have investigated their cases and wrongfully found them criminally guilty. However, the book of Revelation declares that our Lord too has records, and that He will not blot out of “the book of life” the names of His true followers (Revelation 3:5).

           It is this sort of context that the cry of God’s saints (pictured in their martyrdom as “souls under the altar”) goes forth: “How long, O Lord,… dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). This is not a spiteful cry for vengeance: It is a cry for justice: How long will it be till the appeal court of Heaven will reverse the false verdicts of the earthly courts, so that proper justice finally can be effected?

           Plagues on the impenitent described in Revelation 16 and the judgment of Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18 give assurance of the completion of this sort of investigative judgment. In fact, the verdict on Babylon in Revelation 18:6 – “Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works”—is an example of the hudicial outworking of the law of malicious witness stated in Deuteronomy 19:16-19:

           “If a malicious witness rises against any man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days; the judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother” (RSV).


Investigative Judgment in Specific Passage

           In addition to this sort of pervasive underlying theme of investigative judgment in the Revelation, the book also in various passages brings investigative judgment more precisely to view. No specific portrayal of the investigative judgment scene is given (that had appeared in Daniel 7); but it is clearly envisaged, for example, in the fact that when the dead receive their rewards at the end of the millennium they had been judged out of the books (Revelation 20:12). In fact, the very imagery of books of record suggests the concept of a law-court process of investigation.

           Perhaps the most striking direct reference to investigative judgment in Revelation, however, is to be found in 11:1: “Measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.” This statement occurs in an “interlude” between the sixth and seventh trumpets. This entire interlude, from 10:1 to 11:14, may aptly be described, by both its positioning and its content, as a “Spotlight on Last Events” – a description also similarly pertinent to the ‘interludes” of Revelation 7 (the sealing work) and Revelation 14:6-12 (the three angels’ messages, including the judgment hour cry of the first angel). For further clarification, see the outline at the end of this article.

           It is clear from the entire context of Revelation 10:1 to 11:14 that this measuring occurs prior to Christ’s second advent; while the gospel message is still going forth. The judgment cry, the declaration of Babylon’s fall, and the warning against the mark of the beast in the parallel interlude of Revelation 14:6-12 likewise pertains to the period before the close of probation.


Summary and Conclusion

           Although the foregoing presentation merely surveys the subject, it should be clear that the concept of pre-advent investigative judgment is a pervasive one in the book of Revelation, both as an underlying theme and as evidenced in specific passages. Furthermore, the role of Christ’s professed followers is of direct concern within the scope of this investigative judgment: Have they identified with Babylon, or have they come out of Babylon.

           Have they succumbed to the deceptions and pressures of the evil powers pictured in chapters 12 and 13, or have they remained loyal to God, keeping His commandments and the testimony of Jesus?

           As members of the seven churches, have they yielded to the doctrines of Balaam, the Nicolaitanes, Jezebel, their own Laodicean self-deception, etc., or have they become overcomers?3

           The foregoing are the crucial questions facing each one of God’s professed followers, and we come squarely face-to-face with them as we read the book of Revelation. Nevertheless, the dominant role in Revelation is one of hope, encouragement, and victory. All who are truly in Christ – all who have their names in the Lamb’s book of life – have nothing to fear. The judgment in all its phases, including the investigative one, is their vindication, and they are called upon to rejoice (cf. Revelation 18:20).

           To them will be fulfilled God’s beautiful promise, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things” (Revelation 21:7).




God Works for Man’s Salvation, 4:1-8:1

1.     Victorious Vision: Throne Room of Heaven; Lamb Worthy to Open the Book, 4:1-5:14

2.     First 6 Seals, 6:1-17

3.     Spotlight on Last Events: Sealing Work; Great Multitude, 7:1-17

4.     Glorious Climax: 7th Seal, 8:1

Warnings to the Wayward, 8:2-11:18

1.     Victorious Vision: Incense Mingled with Prayer of Saints, 8:2-5

2.     First 6 Trumpets, 8:7-9:21

3.     Spotlight on Last Events: Angel and Scroll; Temple and Two Witnesses, 10:1-11:14

4.     Glorious Climax: 7th Trumpet, 11:15-18

Struggle, 11:19-14:20

1.     Victorious Vision: Open Temple, and Ark, 11:19

2.     Evil Forces Attack God’s People, 12:1-13:18

3.     Spotlight on Last Events: Redeemed 144, 000; 3 Angels’ Messages, 14:1-12

4.     Glorious Climax: Harvest on Earth, 14:14-20



1.     The account in English translation appears, e.g., in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:305, 306, and in Anne Fremantle, ed., A Treasury of Early Christianity, Mentor pb. ed. (New York, 1960), pp. 169-172. Fremantle provides, as well, sources regarding a number of other early trials and martyrdoms.

2.     See Pliny, Letters, x.96, in the Loeb Classical Library; or N. Lewis and M. Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 2, The Empire (New York, 1955), pp. 582, 583

3.     It becomes a matter of interests to compare the results depicted in Rev. 21:7, 8

With the promises and the warnings given to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3.

4.     Outline given in K. A. Strand, Interpreting the Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. (Naples, Florida, 1979), p. 48.