“Then He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. Now when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

When in the stream of time does all of this happen? In order to answer this question we must first realize that there is a vast difference between time as we know it and eternity. We are tied to temporal time, and the “threescore and ten” years of our lifetime[1] sometimes seem to be endless, but the years can also slip away before we know what has happened. God, however, is “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15) and Peter tells us that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). God does not see things in terms of the past and the future as we do, because for him the end is known from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

“Grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9). The redemption of mankind was ensured before the creation, when the Trinity “made the decision” that God the Eternal Word would provide “the atoning sacrifice…for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). However, in terms of human history, Jesus, the Lamb of God was slain in 31 AD, a date that would appear to be arbitrary, but which was predicted with astonishing accuracy in Daniel chapter nine with the prophecy of 70 weeks (see Appendix 4). The point is that eternal, heavenly reality breaks into human history at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. The ultimate example will be the Second Coming of Christ, which will take place “at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).

The challenge to the opening of the book was answered with the crucifixion, when Jesus established His right to forgive sinners and give eternal life to “whosoever believes in Him.” But the crucifixion was the sacrifice of the Lamb, and from God’s perspective Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Thus the opening of the scroll was assured with God’s decision “from the foundation of the world,” a decision that became a human reality when Jesus died on the Cross in AD 31. The heavenly drama portrayed in Revelation 5 could have taken place at any time after the Cross, and was probably the “first order of business” after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven. No doubt this drama was closely related to Satan’s being irrevocably cast out of heaven, in light of Jesus’ statement in John 12:31,"Now (with the crucifixion and resurrection about to take place) is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (see 12: War in Heaven).[2] The right to open the Book of Life was established when Jesus returned to heaven, in the ceremony of taking the sealed scroll depicted in Revelation 5. But the actual opening of the scroll (the beginning of the investigative judgment) would break into human history at the seemingly arbitrary time that God had chosen and predicted in prophecy.

As we saw in 3: The Day of Atonement, 2,300 Days and (4:1 A Door Open in Heaven), the vision of the Day of Atonement begins with a view of a "door open in heaven" which is linked with the Philadelphia period. According to the Revelation timeline, this was the period of the great revivals from the mid-eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries.

We also saw that the book of Daniel refers to the Day of Atonement with the longest of all time prophecies, “And he said to me, for two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14). Appendix 5 goes into quite a bit of detail on certain aspects of this prophecy, showing first of all that in many prophecies, including this one, a day in prophecy is often a literal year in human history. Appendix 5 also examines the relationship between the 2300 days (years) and the 70 weeks (490 years) of Daniel 9:24, showing that the “seventy weeks are determined (literally, cut off)” from the 2,300 days, and that the 70 weeks (490 years) as well as the 2,300 years they were cut off from began with “the command to restore and build Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25), which took place in 457 BC. Some simple arithmetic shows that the 70 weeks prophecy ended with the crucifixion of Christ, and the 2,300 years ended in AD 1844. According to the prophecy “then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”

Thus, in terms of human history and experience, the “investigative judgment” began in 1844 as Jesus, along with the angels of heaven, began a final phase of their ministry to save humanity and bring sin to an end. Although at first glance 1844 seems like an arbitrary, unlikely date, it is no more arbitrary than AD 27 when Jesus was baptized or AD 31 when He was crucified. This date marks the beginning of a prophetic period called “the time of the end”[3] or “the last days”.[4]

To summarize, the right to judge was verified in AD 31 when Jesus returned to heaven after his resurrection and answered the challenge posed by Satan to the opening of the Book of Life (Revelation 5:1-7). The actual investigative judgment began in 1844 and is depicted in the opening of the seven seals in Revelation 6 and 7. The investigative judgment will continue through the seen trumpets until the "end of probation," followed by the seven last plagues and the Second Coming of Christ.

Continue to next section: 5:9-14 WORTHY IS THE LAMB

[1] Psalm 90:12 indicates that the years of life are 70 (threescore and 10) or 80 (fourscore) “if we have strength”. Even now, 3000 years later, this is still the average lifespan.

[2] It is interesting to compare Revelation 5 with Revelation 12. The sequence there is that the pure woman gives birth to a male child (Christ) which Satan the dragon tries to destroy, but the Child was caught up to God and His throne (vs. 4,5). This is a thumbnail sketch of the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ). Then there is war in heaven between Michael (Christ) and Satan (v.7). The issue seems to involve the accusing of the brethren (v. 10), but Satan is defeated, cast out of heaven, and there is no longer any place for him (vs. 8,9). This results in rejoicing in heaven (v. 12). If Satan is the “strong angel” who challenges the opening of the scroll, chapter 5 probably represents the same scene. After the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, His first order of business would have been to deal with the “accuser of the brethren” who was challenging His right to save sinful human beings (symbolized by the sealed scroll). He answered the challenge by pointing to His sacrifice (the lamb that was slain), and Satan had nothing more to say or any place in the heavenly courts. This resulted in the great outpouring of praise and rejoicing recorded in Revelation 5:9-14. Thus the right to open the Book of Life was established upon Christ’s return to heaven. But the actual opening of the book (the beginning of the Day of Atonement) began in 1844.

[3] Daniel 8:17, 11:35, 40, 12:4,9.

[4] Genesis 49:1, Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1, James 5:3, 2 Peter 3:3.