Many of us would have at least heard of the sensational O J Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles, California, back in the early 1990s. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The trial began on November 2, 1994, and it ended 11 months later on October 3, 1995, with a verdict of not guilty. USA Today described it as “the most publicised murder case in history” thanks to Simpson’s celebrity and the lengthy televised trial, and America was divided along racial lines in their assessment of Simpson’s guilt.
Perhaps less well-known was the trial of Chinese politician Bo Xilai, who in 2013 was found guilty of corruption, stripped of all his assets and sentenced to life imprisonment. It was a trial closely tied with that of his wife’s, accused of murdering a British businessman. Bo’s sentencing not only brought to a close one of the most lurid political scandals in the history of Communist China, its aftermath reverberated across the Chinese political landscape.
What the trials of these two men, one an American footballer and another a Chinese politician almost 10 years later, have in common are that legal scholars have labelled both as a “trial of the century.”
Needless to say there will be other trials that will join the ranks of Simpson and Bo. But there will come a time for a trial of the century that will make all other trials pale in comparison. This will take place prior to Christ’s second coming. The prophet Daniel described this trial in chapter 7:9–14 of the biblical book by his name. Verses 9 and 10 state: “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”
The Ancient of Days seated on the throne is God the Father; and Revelation 5:11 identifies the “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” as angels—a huge number of “jurors”!
One of the key points is the words, “The court was seated, and the books were opened”: evidence is brought forth that had been recorded prior to this court scene. These “books” contain the record of every human being’s life who has ever lived.
Condemnation and vindication
Two issues stand out in this judgement scene. The first is that there is a group who is condemned and another who is vindicated.
The condemned. These are represented by a “little horn,” which is first mentioned in Daniel 7:8. Daniel’s angel interpreter told him that this horn was “waging war against the saints and defeating them” (verse 21). This is a reference to the persecution of God’s people that’s inspired by demonic forces and carried out by Satan’s human accomplices. It has been going on ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, and it will continue until Christ’s second coming.
The vindicated are referred to as “the saints,” whom the little horn is persecuting. The angel told Daniel that the little horn would wage war against God’s people and defeat them “until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgement in favour of the saints” (verse 22).
So we have the condemned on one side in this judgement scene and the vindicated on the other. After a careful review of heaven’s “books” by the angels, God will pronounce His final judgement, including the eternal destiny of these two groups.
The second issue in this dramatic court scene is dominion. To understand this we have to go back to a series of events in heaven that occurred thousands of years earlier. The Bible tells us that God had an angel who held a very high position in heaven as a guardian cherub (Ezekiel 28:14). This angel was highly adorned with all kinds of jewels and gold, and he became proud of his beauty (verse 17). Isaiah informs us that this angel was called Lucifer and he aspired to be “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12–14, NKJV).* So Lucifer wanted to take over God’s authority and rule the universe himself—Lucifer wanted God’s dominion.
Through deception, Lucifer managed to persuade one-third of heaven’s angels to side with him (Revelation 12:3, 4) and go to war against God and His angels. However, they lost the battle and were cast down to our earth (verses 7–9). And here they were more successful. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28, NKJV). But Lucifer, now called Satan, disguised as a serpent, successfully tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God, and as a result their dominion over the world passed to him. Dominion was restored to God thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but you need only watch the nightly news to know that Satan still holds tremendous influence over our world!
Returning to the judgement scene in Daniel 7, verse 13 says that “one like a son of man . . . approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” This Son of Man is none other than Jesus Christ and Daniel said that “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power. . . . His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (verse 14).
So this judgement in heaven will finally and permanently remove Satan’s influence over the world and restore full dominion to Jesus. While Jesus may have regained dominion of our world after the Cross, He has yet to completely take over. That will happen at His second coming, when the full authority to take dominion over the world will be given to Him at the conclusion of heaven’s judgement, and God’s angels participated in that decision!
Daniel’s judgement scene in heaven is scheduled to take place shortly before Christ’s second coming. There are two ways we can know this.
The first eight verses of Daniel 7 describe four great beasts that represent “four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (verse 17). Most conservative Bible interpreters identify these kingdoms as Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome. The fourth—Rome—a dragon-like beast, has 10 horns on its heads, which represent the nations that arose from a group of barbarian tribes in northern Europe that invaded southern Europe between about AD 250 and 500. The little horn that we’ve been talking about represents medieval Christianity, which severely persecuted dissenters in trials such as those by the Inquisition. Babylon, the first kingdom, was established about 600 BC, and the persecution of dissenters during the Middle Ages ended in the late 1700s AD. And heaven’s judgement scene comes after that in Daniel’s prophecy.
We get the second clue from a careful reading of the account of dominion that’s given to Christ in Daniel 7:13, 14. Some Christians have probably interpreted the giving of this dominion to happen at Christ’s second coming because of the statement in verse 13 that “a son of man” came “with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus Himself said that He will return to earth “on the clouds of the sky” (Matthew 24:30). But Daniel’s statement in verse 13 says that the Son of Man “approached the Ancient of Days” on clouds, so this can’t be His second coming. Furthermore, everything in Daniel 7—both the description of the judgement and its interpretation—occurs in heaven, whereas Christ’s second coming will happen on our earth. So the second coming has not yet occurred in Daniel’s judgement scene.
During Christ’s life on earth He encountered Satan in a wilderness following 40 days that He had fasted and prayed. At the end of the 40 days Satan came to Him and tempted Him three times (Matthew 4:1–11). In the third temptation Satan “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’ ” (verse 8). Satan had gained dominion over the world when Adam and Eve sinned and now he was offering to give it to Jesus, on the condition He submitted to Satan’s authority by worshipping him.
One of Jesus’ reasons for coming to this earth 2000 years ago was to regain dominion over the world by His death and resurrection. But Satan was offering Him an easy way out. He was saying, in effect, that “I can spare You the pain of Your trial and crucifixion by giving You the dominion You came to this world to obtain. There’s just one condition: You will have to fall down and worship me.” But to do so would mean Jesus would have to submit to Satan’s authority—and Satan would still hold his dominion over the world!
But Jesus didn’t fall into the trap. He responded by saying, “Away from me Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’ ” (verse 10).
How grateful we can be that Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation, for it means that one of these days you and I will have the opportunity to escape Satan’s horrible influence over the world and live in a glorious world of peace and safety throughout the eternal ages with Jesus, who regained dominion over the world the hard way—through His trial, crucifixion and resurrection