Harry Whittaker
The Last Days

Chapter 10 - Judgement At Sinai?

It is probably correct to say that the big majority of readers of these words think of mount Sinai as the place where the Judgement will take place when the Lord comes again “to judge the quick and the dead”. Over the years this has become almost an integral part of Christadelphian thinking on eschatology.

The idea is usually based upon three Old Testament passages. These—it is now submitted—do not actually contain the idea which has often been confidently derived from them. It is proposed to re-examine them in the light of other Scriptures.

“The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of his saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them” (Deuteronomy 33: 2).

“The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan . . . this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea the Lord will dwell in it for ever. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as m Sinai, in the holy place (or as RVm, Sinai is in the sanctuary)” (Psalm

“God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise”. (Habakkuk 3: 3).

This, so far as can be ascertained, is all the evidence for Sinai being the place of judgement.

Deuteronomy 33, it is claimed, has never been fulfilled (e.g. vv. 8, 12); therefore its reference is to an event yet future.

Psalm 68 is certainly Messianic and the verses quoted require the inclusion of Sinai in the “programme”.

Habakkuk 3 is certainly a prophecy; the Hebrew text includes a future tense: “God will come from Teman”. Therefore the words have reference to some theophany not yet known in the days of the prophet.

Over against these arguments the following points are worthy of note:

  1. To say that Deuteronomy 33 has never yet had fulfilment is a sweeping assertion calling for much more pointed evidence than is usually cited. Indeed the context of the verse quoted above is quite clearly that of Israel in the wilderness: “ Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” (v. 4). Do these words also refer to the gathering of the saints in Christ at Sinai? It is hard to believe that they do. From the beginning to the end of this long chapter the reference is plainly to natural Israel. Until the rest of it has received full and detailed interpretation on other lines, the application of verse 2 to a future judgement must be regarded as precarious.
  2. The mention of “ten thousand of saints” has been misleading to many. Yet these “saints” or “holy ones” (RV) are clearly angels, as the parallel passage in Psalms 68 plainly asserts; compare also Eureka II 551.
  3. The “hill of God” spoken of in Psalm 68 is not Sinai but Zion. Several considerations put this conclusion beyond dispute. The next verse speaks of it as “the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever”; and a later passage celebrates “thy temple at Jerusalem” (v. 29). The historical background to the Psalm points the same way. This (like 24 and 30) is one of the Psalms, which celebrate David’s triumphal inauguration of the tabernacle on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (see especially vv. 24-29). Here historical perspective is specially emphasized. The bringing of the ark to Zion is seen as the culmination of an important phase of the divine purpose, which began with Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and continued with their wilderness experiences and their struggle up to a consolidated nationhood in the Land of Promise. Thus, if Psalm 68 refers to the day and place of Judgement at all, it points to Jerusalem and not to Sinai.
  4. In Habakkuk 3, once again, the historical element, embedded in the prophecy has not been adequately appreciated. The first 15 verses of this Psalm are shot through with historical allusions to God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people in former days. The whole point of this prayer of the prophet is to insist with an importunity not to be gainsaid: “Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known”, i.e. what You did, Lord, so majestically for Your people in times past, deign to repeat now in the time of their affliction. Hence the immediate allusion to Sinai and the wilderness journey: “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran”.
  5. It is easy to overlook that the future tense of verse 3: “ God will come . . . “ — a phrase which is made to bear the entire weight of the argument at this point—can also be read as a Hebrew Jussive: “Let God come . . .” And since this is the prayer of Habakkuk: “cause thy work to live”, this reading is almost certainly the correct one.
  6. The idea of a Last-Day repeat of the wilderness journey and conquest of the Land under Jesus-Joshua has surely been pressed further than Scripture warrants. The familiar words of Micah 7:15 should read: “As in the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things” (RV). This certainly suggests that the wonders of the days of Moses will be matched by equal marvels in the time of Christ’s glory. But neither this language nor any other prophecy seems to require a direct and detailed fulfilment of those experiences as a type of the promised blessing of the saints. (The note by Bro. C. C. Walker on page 449 of Elpis Israel 1924 edition should by all means be consulted.) Indeed such Scriptures as Revelation 7:15-17 seem quite definite in taking the wilderness history as foreshadowing of the saints during their mortal probation.
  7. The last and most important observation of all to be made on this question is this: Even if it were conceded altogether that the three Scriptures under review are definitely prophecies of the Last Days, one is still constrained to enquire: Where do they say one single word about the judgement of the saints? So far as can be seen that is an element of the prophecy which is there only by implication, if that; perhaps intuition might be a more appropriate word, or maybe even, conjecture. Is such considerable uncertainty a fit and proper ground for a precise belief (amounting to conviction in the minds of many) concerning so solemn and awful an occasion as the Day of Judgement?
By contrast, it may be asked whether Paul would have written as he did in his allegory of the two mountains and the two women, if he had held any such belief that Sinai would be the place of judgement and immortalisation of the saints: “The one (covenant) from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is (i.e. corresponds to) Hagar. For this Hagar is (i.e. symbolizes the same as) mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is (i.e. in Paul’s day wedded to a slavish adherence to the Law of Moses), and is in bondage with her children”.

Paul’s exposition on the one hand and the glory of the saints at Sinai on the other appear as two incompatibles.

There is one very plain and familiar Scripture which, perhaps by its very familiarity, has been continually by-passed in the study of this subject, and this in itself appears to be decisive that the judgement will take place in Jerusalem: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31, 32).

Attempts have been made (on the strength of the phrase “all nations”) to give this parabolic picture of judgement a national, as distinct from an individual, application. Indeed, going further than that, the very results of Messiah’s judgement have sometimes been announced beforehand, with Protestant countries on the right hand, and Papal and Communist countries on the left!

Whether this is a right dividing of the nations may be left to the Messiah himself. Whether this is a right dividing of the Word of God may be safely left to the reader. Even if the words: “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” were not decisive enough in themselves, it would only be necessary to consider whether at any time, even with the Chosen Race itself, God’s eternal salvation has ever been offered on any basis save that of individual faith and repentance.

It is to be noted, then, that this judgement—the Judgement—is to take place when the King sits “on the throne of his glory”. That throne, as all readers are already aware, is to be in Jerusalem, not in Sinai.

Further, when the force of certain other prophetic Scriptures is appreciated, it would seem that Sinai is excluded altogether from this programme of the future.

When the Shekinah Glory departed from the first temple, the prophet Ezekiel chronicled its removal in a series of deliberate stages. In vision he saw the Glory remove from the Sanctuary to “the threshold of the House” thence to “the east gate”, thence to “the mountain (the mount of Olives), which is on the east side of the city”, and thence to heaven—”the vision went up from me” (Ezekiel 10:4, 19 and 11:23, 24). With the new Temple completed, the Glory is to return by the same route—first descending to the Mount of Olives, and then entering the Temple by the east gate (43: 2, 4).

All this, it has often been observed, is accurately typical of Jesus, the Glory of Jehovah. In the temple he declared: “Your House is left unto you desolate, until . . .” Thence he went to the Mount of Olives, and looking across the glen he foretold destruction and desolation. Later, from the Mount of Olives he ascended to heaven and in the time of his manifestation “his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives”, from which spot he will enter the City of the Great King.

Is there here any possible room for a judgement at Sinai and for the ensuing complicated manoeuvres, which a rigid and almost literal adherence to the wilderness type would require?

Whatever element of doubt may still exist in the minds of readers concerning Sinai and judgement, there is one related consideration of even higher importance about which Scripture speaks with such clarity as hardly to allow of any possible doubt or alternative: the saints will receive their immortality at Jerusalem.[8]

The evidence for this[9] is remarkably copious and explicit. It needs no explanation; it can be left to speak for itself:

  1. “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that is cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25: 7, 8). The New Testament quotes these words with reference to the resurrection and the ultimate blessing of the saints (1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:17; and 21:4). “In this mountain” can only be “mount Zion and Jerusalem” (24:23).
  2. In Psalm 133 “brethren dwelling together in unity” (saints of God united with their great High Priest) are compared to “the dew (symbol of the Holy Spirit) that cometh down on the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore”.
  3. Psalm 87: 5, 6: “And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her, and the Most High himself shall establish her. The Lord shall count when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there”. When, it may be asked, has God reckoned natural birth in Jerusalem an outstanding blessing? The words must surely speak of the day when “His foundation is in the holy mountains”.
  4. Isaiah 4: 2, 3: “In that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious . . . And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even everyone that is written unto life (RVm) in Jerusalem”.
  5. Joel 2: 28, 32: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh . . . in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance . . .” The fact that the primary fulfilment of these words was appointed for Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) is in itself more than a hint as to its greater fulfilment yet to come.
  6. Psalm 102:18-21: “This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem”.
  7. Matthew 27: 52, 53: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many”. The significance of the details of this typical resurrection will not be lost on the observant reader.
It may, then, be fairly safely concluded that probably the Judgement of the Saints will take place at Jerusalem, not at Sinai, and that almost certainly they will receive their great blessing, “even life for evermore”, in the Holy City.

The actual duration of the Judgement has often been a matter for speculation, as also has the actual nature of that “Great Assize”. On the basis of Daniel’s 1260 and 1335 “days” (Daniel 12:7, 12) the idea is hinted at in Elpis Israel (1st edition pp. 322-5, but excluded by later editors) of a Judgement period of 75 years.[10]

The language of Matthew 25 seems to exclude all possibility of such a long drawn-out procedure. The Judgement will be “as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats”. Even though sheep and goats are zoologically remarkably alike[11] the fact still remains that an eastern shepherd (and even a western townee!) can distinguish the two at a glance. There is no need to examine the animal this way and that in an attempt to ascertain its species accurately!

So also, one may be fairly confident, there will be no prolonged investigation necessary in the Day to decide whether this or that is “sheep” or “goat”. In fact the phrase “Great Assize” is a hopeless misnomer, because of its implications of slow patient cross-examination and weighing of pros and cons concerning the prisoner in the dock.

Jesus will know at a glance which are his and which are not. And even without a glance, for both sheep and goats betray their true character as soon as they open their mouths. It is even thus in the Lord’s parable: “When saw we thee . . .?”

[8] Eureka II 553 is surely in error in placing the immortalisation of the saints at Sinai.
[9] For which the present writer remains deeply indebted to the late beloved and esteemed brother Will Watkins.
[10] But Dr. Thomas's ambiguous wording here might possibly mean a 75-year period of judgement on the nations.
[11] Perhaps the Lord, not unaware of this fact, intended it to carry added significance in his parable!

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