SDA Doctrine versus Bible Truth: Investigative Judgment

In brief, SDAs...

  1. Teach God started investigating the cases of humans in 1844, to determine who to allow into heaven

SDA Doctrine about the Investigative Judgment

Seventh-day Adventists teach the following regarding the Investigative Judgment:

1. Christ moved from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary on October 22, 1844, and began a new phase of ministry. This ministry was foreshadowed by the Levitical Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:16-33).

2. The first phase of the "Day of Atonement" is called the "cleansing of the Sanctuary." It involves a pre-Advent investigation and judging of God's people to determine whose sins will be removed from the Sanctuary. Christ started this judgment in 1844, beginning with Adam and Eve and progressing chronologically down through the ages, judging all of the dead believers. At some point, near the end of time, Christ will begin judging living believers. During this Investigative Judgment God either blots out the sins of the believer, or he removes the name of the believer from the Book of Life.

As during the typical Day of Atonement the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary removed the sins accumulated there, so the heavenly sanctuary is cleansed by the final removal of the record of sins in the heavenly books. But before the records are finally cleared, they will be examined to determine who through repentance and faith in Christ is entitled to enter His eternal kingdom. The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, therefore involves a work of investigation or judgment that reflects the nature of the Day of Atonement as a day of judgment. This judgment, which ratifies the decision as to who will be saved and who will be lost...1

3. Whenever one of God's followers commits a sin and asks forgiveness from God, that sin is transferred into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. It remains there until the Investigative Judgment is completed. At the end of time, all the sins of the righteous are transferred from the Sanctuary onto the Scapegoat, who is Satan. Satan then suffers the final punishment for his sins and all the sins of the righteous.

Problems with the SDA Doctrine of the Investigative Judgment

Here are some problems with SDA teachings regarding the Investigative Judgment.

1. God already knows who are His own - SDAs teach that God must make an investigation to determine whose names to keep in the Book of Life, and whose to blot out. The Bible teaches that God already knows who the righteous are:

I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep (John 10:14).
The Lord knoweth them that are His (2 Tim. 2:19).

The Bible is very clear that God already knows exactly who is righteous and who is not. He does not need to carry out any investigation to determine who the righteous are.

2. God already knows everything about everyone - One of the attributes of God's nature is "omniscience" which means that God knows everything that is possible to know. There is nothing that God does not already know.

Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18).
Can any hide himself in secret, that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord (Jer. 23:24).
The Word of God is...a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and laid open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb. 4:12,13).
O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising. Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether (Ps. 139:1-4).
Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man; for He knew what was in man (John 2:24).
Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him (John 6:64).

Consider this: In 2022, the Frontier supercomputer performed over a quintillion calculations per second. Surely our Father is smarter than the fastest supercomputer! It has now been over years since the Investigative Judgment supposedly started. Even if God didn't know who was going to be saved prior to October 22, 1844, He could figure it out in less than a nanosecond. He does not need centuries to perform this task!

In 1845, SDA prophetess Ellen Harmon claimed to have had a vision where she was in heaven with the redeemed.2 Ellen claimed she saw Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, and Daniel in heaven. Therefore, God must have already completed investigating people from the Old Testament by 1845. Even more interestingly, she saw brothers Fitch and Stockman who had both recently passed away. God must have already decided the cases of these two recently deceased believers by Dec. 20, 1845, otherwise He would never have shown Ellen Harmon a vision with them in heaven. Therefore, since God was proceeding through the list chronologically, He must have finished the vast majority of the cases of the dead within 14 months of the inception of the Investigative Judgment. So, what has He been doing for the last years? Taking a break?

The truth is that in 1844, God already knew everyone that was saved. In fact, before the world even existed He already knew the exact list of which humans would be saved and which ones would be lost. Why would God need to "investigate" something He has known since before the dawn of time?

3. When are sins blotted out? - The SDA sect teaches the sins of the righteous are not blotted out until after the Investigative Judgment.3 The Bible teaches that our sins are blotted out when we repent:

I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee (Isaiah 44:22).
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).
...and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

4. Atonement completed at the Cross - The SDA sect teaches that the Atonement is not finished until the Investigative Judgment is completed just prior to the second coming of Jesus. The Bible teaches the Atonement was finished when Jesus died on the Cross:

Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
But this man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:12-14).

Paul, writing his letter to the Romans in approximately 50 A.D., declares that Christians living in the first century had already received (past tense) the atonement:

...we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (Rom. 5:11).

The Bible teaches that Christ's atonement on the cross has perfected (past tense) His children. Christians are not made perfect during the Investigative Judgment period. If we are "in Christ," then we were made perfect 2,000 years ago through Christ's perfect sacrifice on Calvary.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1).
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him (Rom. 5:9).

5. Eternal life begins at conversion - SDAs teach that no one should ever say they are "saved" because their salvation will not be certain until they pass through the Investigative Judgment. The Bible teaches that whoever accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior has (present tense) eternal life:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life (John 5:24).
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not [his] brother abideth in death (1 John 3:14).

6. Cases of the righteous have already been decided! The SDA sect teaches that "all" must pass through the Investigative Judgment to determine whether or not they will be saved.4 SDAs claim the Investigative Judgment started in 1844, but the Bible teaches that the cases of the righteous have already been decided long before the Investigative Judgment:

Thief on the cross: Jesus declared to the thief on the cross, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 22:43). How could Jesus make a determination on the case of the thief prior to the Investigative Judgment? The thief's case was determined some 1800 years before the "Investigative Judgment" when he repented and accepted Jesus on the cross. This proves that Christ needs no Investigative Judgment to determine who will be with Him in paradise. Why would He treat us any differently than He treated the thief on the cross?
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: The Bible says Abraham was justified (accounted righteous) by faith (Rom. 4:2-5). Nearly 1800 years before the Investigative Judgment supposedly began, Jesus declared:
And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11).
Jesus did not need an Investigative Judgment to determine the cases of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so why does He need one to determine anyone else's destiny?
Enoch: SDAs claim that Enoch was taken to heaven (Gen. 5:24). How did God know Enoch could be taken to heaven without an investigation?
Moses: SDAs claim that after Moses sinned and died, he was resurrected and taken to heaven (Jude 9). If everyone's sins are not blotted out until after the investigative judgment, then how could Moses enter heaven?
Elijah: The Bible says that "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (1 Kings 2:11). How could God take Elijah before the Investigative Judgement was completed?

7. When did Christ enter the Holiest? SDAs teach that Jesus entered two times into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary—once at His ascension, and once again in 1844 at the beginning of the atypical Day of Atonement. The Bible truth is that Christ entered only once:

But by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:12).
But this man [Christ], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).


Bible Truth about the Investigative Judgment

While the Bible never teaches an Investigative Judgment, it does describe a pre-advent judgment. The first angel of Revelation 14 announces that the time for God's judgment has come (Rev. 14:6). This judgment is not a hearing to investigate a case. Rather, it is a sentencing. In heaven, a court sits, the books are opened (Dan. 7:10), and a judgment takes place. What is the purpose of this judgment?

But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his [little horn power] dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end (Dan. 7:26).

The Bible is very specific: This judgment is a sentencing. The wicked have filled up the cup of God's wrath and God is sentencing them to punishment by taking away their dominion and giving it to the saints (Dan. 7:27). There is absolutely nothing in this passage about a judgment or investigation of the righteous. The one being sentenced is the little horn power, a political power that ruled the earth. This is further proven by Revelation 14, which expands upon the judgment theme presented in Daniel 7. In Revelation 14, the punishment of the wicked is clearly indicated in the third angels' message:

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. (Rev. 14:10)

The Bible truth is that there is nothing in Daniel 7 or Revelation 14 describing an Investigative Judgment of the righteous. We challenge any SDA to show us one verse in these passages that talks about a judgment of the righteous. We first made this challenge years ago, and have never received a single reply. Why? There is none, because the only judgment described in these passages is the judgment of God upon the wicked. SDAs must add to the Bible in order to change these passages into an investigation of the righteous.

The whole purpose of the pre-advent judgment is for God to show the Universe that the wicked power ruling the earth has "filled up its cup" and reached the point where God can no longer permit it to rule the earth. The heavenly court finds that the wicked are unfit to rule the earth, they have passed the limits of God's forbearance, and their kingdom is taken away from them and given to the saints.


Jesus, as our substitute, was judged in our place on the cross. He paid the price for all sin for all time. His righteousness has been credited to our account. The good news of the judgment is that all who believe and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ can say with assurance, "I've been acquitted!" We have already been judged in Christ. Those who reject the gospel, judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. Those who accept the gospel have passed from death into life and will not be condemned in the judgment (John 5:24).

Your Questions Answered

QUESTION: Is Satan the Scapegoat of the Day of Atonement? Does God place all of our sins on Satan at the end of the Millennium?

ANSWER: Two goats are involved in the ceremonial Day of Atonement. One is sacrificed as a "sin offering" (Lev. 16:9), and the other is to bear the sins of the Israelites into the wilderness:

He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites?all their sins?and put them on the goat?s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place (Lev 16:21-22 NIV).

All scholars agree that Christ represented the first goat. Many agree that Jesus, not Satan, represented the Scapegoat. Here is why:

1. The Bible says repeatedly that Jesus "bore" our sins. The purpose of the Scapegoat was to be the sin-bearer: "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities..." (Lev. 16:22). Jesus is also described in the Bible as the sin-bearer:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6 NIV).
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities (Isa 53:11 NIV).
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24 NIV).

2. The purpose of the Scapegoat was to make atonement:

But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, [and] to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness (Lev. 16:10).

Nowhere in the Bible is Satan ever described as making an atonement for sin. Jesus is the atonement for sins:

And he [Christ] is the propitiation [atonement] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

3. The Scapegoat was sent out of the Israelite camp, and likewise, Jesus suffered outside the city:

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (Heb. 13:12,13).

Jesus was called by John the Baptist the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus was the Scapegoat who "took away" our sins and suffered "outside the camp."

For further study on this question: Is Jesus or Satan your Scapegoat?

Links for Deeper Study

Investigative Judgment Made Simple - by Robert K. Sanders

Investigative Judgment by E.S. Ballenger


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1. Seventh-day Adventists Believe (Review and Herald, 1989), 320.

2. Ellen White, The Day-Star, January 24, 1846.

3. The SDA prophet Ellen G. White wrote: "When sin has been repented of, confessed, and forsaken, then pardon is written against the sinner's name; BUT HIS SINS ARE NOT BLOTTED OUT UNTIL AFTER THE INVESTIGATIVE JUDGMENT." The Signs of the Times, May 16, 1895, emphasis supplied.

4. Ellen White, Great Controversy (1888), 483.

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