[A]. THE PERSON AND THE BOOKS –
Rev 20:11-12 “I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away; and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”
THE VISION – The vision came of a great white throne occupied by a figure, so awesome and so terrifying that it can only spell an awful judgment from the King of the Universe, and the ruling is against the unsaved of all ages, from Cain to the end of the Millennium. The reason for the throne is because the King sits in judgment like the eastern potentates did on rulings that they would deliver for their subjects who came before the throne. Here we have the Judge, which the Apostles’ Creed would identify as the Lord Jesus Christ who “comes to judge the living and the dead.” Let us just say that God the Son as the eternal Judge will occupy this throne.
John 5:22-23 “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
It is God the Father who directs all judgment in that day into the hand of the Son of God.
John 5:27-29 “And He gave Him authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth – those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”
(This is not contemporaneous – not at the same time. “God created the universe and created in me a new life.” Not contemporaneous.)
THE DESCRIPTION OF THE THRONE – The resurrection of the ones to life has already happened at the Rapture that will end this Church age. That would have been over 1,007 years earlier. The throne is considered great, and that is because of the greatness of the event it presides over, and also because of the greatness of the One who sits upon it. The throne is white, and the types speak to us here. White is purity and cleanness, which is applicable to the One there. It can also speak of the absence of blood for redemption, for there is none, sadly, at that judgment.
The altar was the place of judgment in the Old Testament, and it was associated with the red of sacrifice. Here the judgment will be in association with white because there is no red of sacrifice to atone for the ones who are going to be judged here. This is serious business when the whole of the unsaved earth from the beginning of creation till the entry of this throne will stand in condemnation.
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE IS NOT FOR CHRISTIANS – Then John sees the dead standing before God, a whole multitude of all ages and cultures, all in dread fear, for there is no solid standing for them because their sins are condemning them. We cannot ever imagine what this will be like, for God has ordained that His children will never be brought into judgment, or undergo the wrath of God, which is why the Church could never be in the Tribulation. Condemnation judgment will never touch us.
Jesus was the one who stood in the place where sin was condemning Him, stood as it were before Jehovah’s awful throne with the sentence of death because He was the guilty One, and condemnation was His to encounter and to be forsaken by God. He would encounter the wrath of God, and His face would be so contorted that He was unrecognizable as a son of man. All this was done for you and for me. We should have been before the great white throne, each of us, but our Lord took our place, and therefore suffered what we will never suffer. For that reason, our Substitute made sure we would never be before the great white throne.
CHRIST’S BRIDE IS WITH HIM – We may be behind the throne as His Bride, for we will be with our Lord and sharing the judgment He makes. The following verses could indicate that – 1 Cor 6:2-3 “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?” Christ comes for the judgment of the nations at the Second Coming of the Lord as explained here, and His Church comes with Him, for His Bride will be with Him forever.
Matt. 25:31-33 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”
THE THRONES – There are three thrones that will operate after the Rapture of the Church. The first of these is the judgment seat of Christ. Technically, a seat is not a throne, but I think we can say Christ’s seat is a throne, for the King occupies it. It is the Bema I will do later. The second throne is the one on which the Lord sits to judge the nations (above) after the Second Coming at the end of the Great Tribulation, which is the end of the age. And the third is the great white throne of Rev 20. I think it is probable the Church will have association with all three thrones.
THOSE WHO STAND BEFORE THE THRONE – An interesting expression used in verse 12 is “the dead, the great and the small.” In the use of language, we normally say “the small and the great,” working upwards. God chooses the other way, “the great and the small.” Why, I wonder? Well, in this world, the “great” are often those with power and influence who have risen over others and dictate what they want for themselves. We have judges, presidents, prime ministers, rulers, dictators, professors, CEOs, world sports heroes, celebrities, politicians, etc. They live privileged lives and glory often in their high and proud position. Now they all stand at the great white throne along with the peasants, the poor, the criminals, the bikers, the underprivileged, Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Person, and those they lorded it over. Here they will have no position of privilege, but rather, will have the greater judgment.
This throne is so fearful and awesome and so dreadful that human discriminations, class, position, and power will be leveled under the immense weight of sin and the fear that hangs over the heads of the billions who are there. We cannot describe the misery, the horror and the hopelessness of that situation, and all there will have no affinity with each other, for all will be isolated because of their open sins and detached from “friends” of common destiny. The notion of the evil ones in hell having companions there and living it up in sin with the devil in control is totally erroneous and has been developed through the distortion and excesses of the Middle Ages. And so they stood before the throne, lost and despairing.
THE BOOKS – The books were opened, we are told. What are these books? Frankly, we do not know, but they have to do with the judgment, so I believe them to be a record of every individual life of every individual who is unsaved. It would seem that the deeds of every one is on account, and all the sins will be on record, all sins great and small. This will be awful, for the whole life of open and hidden sins will be openly declared to each one, one by one. They will stand condemned, for there is no remedy, no possibility of forgiveness; they will be as guilty as Adam, who hid himself from the presence of God, only that these people will not be able to hide from the presence of God. Just one sin will condemn them, for the sin stands in stark contrast to the righteousness of God, who is the Judge on this throne. These books will contain it all.
There is a television show called “This Is Your Life,” which is positive highlighting of good things in someone’s life. The great white throne will highlight everything, and all will stand fearful and undone and ashamed. However, here there is no hope for any of the multitude assembled. That is the part so sad.
THE JUDGEMENT DEEDS – When I was in Prep 3 or something like that at school (in those days we had the Preparatory years before the Grades), I can clearly remember one teacher telling us at school a story that for every good thing we did, a nail would be hit into a board (God’s doing), and for every bad thing, a nail was removed. At the end, God would put us in heaven if there were nails in the board. In other words, if the account was on the good side. I went home that day as a 5 or 6- year-old and tried to do good things! What this teacher was ascribing to were good works and the good outweighing the bad. This is not God’s way. There is no other way of salvation except through the shed blood of Christ, through repentance and acceptance of His personal redeeming sacrifice.
The dead, those not in Christ, will stand before the throne, and they will be judged according to the things written in the books. It is interesting that the expression “books” (plural) is used, and there must be lots of them. I do not know what is on record, except the account of sins will be the Prosecutor’s brief and will form the evidence of condemnation. They will be judged from what is written in the books.
THE BOOK OF LIFE – We are told another book was opened, the Book of Life, and this will be used also in the judgment of these lost souls. But what is the Book of Life? And why might this book be used for this group, which is already condemned? To answer these questions, we must first try to determine what is the Book of Life, and I think it is fair to say that we cannot be sure of this one. As far as I can ascertain, there are two main views on this book, which are these:
(1). It is a book kept in the heavens where the names of all the redeemed are entered when they come into faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or when declared righteous through faith and obedience as with the Old Testament saints. This would then make the book, a book of redemption or eternal life, and I think this has been the more common view.
(2). The Book of Life contains the names (or identities) of all ever born on the face of the earth, which makes it a book of the living, or even a book of the conceived, even though the problem arises with the stillborn and even the aborted ones after conception; but this is a whole new and ethically complex subject, raising the question of when conception might lead to the soul and spirit making up a triune person. In this second view, it is thought that, for the unsaved, upon death or rejection of eternal life through unrepentance or disbelief, a person’s name is removed from that book, leaving only the redeemed on the pages. This book is used as a final proof for these unsaved and condemned, in that they have no claim to God’s presence and that The Lord upon the throne is just and righteous.
DEGREES OF PUNISHMENT – I now want to touch on a subject that has been occupying my mind for some time, and I hasten to say this is totally my idea. I have no evidence for it, but I shall present my thoughts on it. Before I do so, I will list a number of passages; and as we read them, I want you to see in them degrees of punishment.
Luke 12:46-48 “The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
Matt 10:14-15 “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”
Matt 11:20-24 “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
Matt 12:36-37 “I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.”
Matt 12:41 “The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Rom 2:4-8 “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath, and indignation.”
[B]. GOD IS JUST AND RIGHTEOUS – Throughout the Old Testament, God is seen as merciful, and His judgments dispensed according to the crimes and faithlessness of His people. Once they gained the promised land, when they sinned, He brought against them the Philistines. But when their sin became gross and so severe, He brought them into captivity by Assyria and Babylon with judgments so severe. In my current understanding, God’s penalty is commensurate with the crime. Do you see that in the passages above?
I think it is important to recognize in God, a just penalty in judgment where sins are dealt with accordingly. The question is sometimes asked, “What about the heathen who have never heard of salvation in Jesus Christ and who died in the millennia past – are they in hell or what, and is this fair?” Then again, “What about the good person, the really lovely good person who has spent a life in going good for people?” These questions are very valid, but we must also mention that the following considerations apply:
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one'” (Rom 3:10-12).
Now we must try to balance all this against the great white throne judgment. It is not easy, and I don’t have a perfect, satisfying solution. God is just and does it correctly.
NONE WILL HAVE AN EXCUSE – The Bible tells us in Romans 1 that the heathen world is without excuse, having the ability to see and claim God in creation. Romans also tells us that no one is really good, and goodness is measured by the standard of God Himself. No one reaches that standard; therefore, no one is good.
That being said, we know God is a just God and that He punishes according to the crime and the responsibility and accountability. For that reason, I believe the books that are opened at the great white throne will expose all the sins of those present, and they are judged according to their sins. And God, being fair, will take into account the sinfulness of each sin to pronounce a penalty worthy of that sin. Therefore, I believe that the horrendous crimes will suffer a greater punishment than the less horrendous sins. We know all unsaved end in the lake of fire, but in that place, I expect there to be degrees of punishment.
Hitler and Stalin and various popes, and especially the greatest murderer of all in history, Mao Zedong, will have the severest of penalties. Those of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom will be less penalized than the people who saw and heard Jesus’ ministry, yet rejected it. It will all lie in God’s hands; He is the Judge, and Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah sets it out correctly – Gen. 18:25 “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” We must leave this matter there for now, leave it in the hands of the Lord.
We then have a verse which explains this scene in a little more detail, and it is this one:
DEATH AND HELL EMPTIED – Rev 20:13 “The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”
The people standing before the great white throne have come from the sea and death and hades. This is not difficult, for it includes all who have died through the ages, and all these had their abode in death, having died on the land or in the sea, even in space in our generation. They all were in hell, which is “sheol” in Hebrew or “hades” in Greek. Same place. The grave, death, hell, sheol, and hades are all the same. Hell used to be in two sections, hell and paradise, but no longer.
The unsaved dead of all generations will be resurrected for the great white throne; therefore, we assume they will have some type of body (though maybe not necessary) as they stand there en masse waiting their turn. For it says, “every one of them.” The resurrection of verse 13 is the resurrection of the unsaved because all those in Christ Jesus are resurrected at the Rapture, and the murdered saints of the Tribulation are raised before the 1,000 years begins. Rev 20:4-6, the First Resurrection.
This same verse in Rev 20:13 says all these will be judged according to their deeds. God has a record of them, and only one sin is enough to condemn a man, as seen with Adam who was banished from the garden through one act of disobedience, and who died that day according to the promise of God; but it also began the path of physical death. These evil deeds that belong to the condemned at the judgment throne will be under consideration, and they will suffer the penalty, but the very fact that deeds are mentioned again makes me think there are degrees of punishment resulting from this judgment.
[C]. THE FINAL JUDGEMENT – Rev. 20:13-15 “The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The judgment is concluded; the sentences have been passed; the condemned stand forlornly because nothing remains for them except for an eternal separation from all that is good, yea, from God Himself. Then we progress to the ultimate act of eternal death, the verdict of punishment when all those standing there, and death itself, along with Hades (the grave/hell), are cast into the lake of fire. This is eternal, but can we comprehend eternity? Can we grasp eternal death? Or, for that matter, can mortal human beings even grasp the concept of eternal life? We are mortals in time, and heirs of eternity, but our destiny is concluded in time.
WHAT IS THE LAKE OF FIRE? – But what is the lake of fire, and what is its purpose? We shall answer the second part first. This place and term are only contained in Revelation, though the idea is known to Isaiah. The first usage is Rev 19:20, where the world leader/Antichrist (beast) and the false prophet were seized and thrown alive into the lake of fire. The next, in Rev 20:10, is where Satan is thrown in there to join the duo of evil already there. Maybe these three are the only ones at that stage in this lake. The other references to the lake of fire are in the remainder of chapter 20, applying to the great white throne judgment. When you think into it, the Antichrist and False Prophet will be the only sentient human beings ever not to appear before either the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Great White Throne.
We have many shortened references to the lake of fire in the gospels and even in the Old Testament, such as “eternal punishment” (Matt 25:46), “forever and forever” (Rev 14:11), “the eternal fire” Matt 18:8), “the furnace of fire” (Matt 13:42), “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
Mark speaks of it in a statement – “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Isaiah used this term – Isa 66:24 “Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me, for their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
The purpose of the lake of fire is clear from this verse – Matt. 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.'” It was God’s eternal intention that the lake of fire was to be the abode of Satan and the fallen angels, and that is why it was created. The outcome of that is that those who follow Satan will share that place also. God is not willing that any should perish but that all should repent, but failure to do so means eternity will be spent in the same abode as Satan.
To answer the next thought, “What is the lake of fire?” is more difficult. The lake is not hell; it’s not Hades. We know it is literal and horrible, has a purpose, and is eternal. The biblical descriptions of it are all similar and use words such as these – “burning, fire and brimstone, eternal, smoke, furnace.” I would leave it at that and would not get entangled about that most somber matter. “Depart from Me.” It is not pleasing to write on this subject because of the seriousness of it. It is so sad.
We will continue next time with “The Christian – The Judgment Seat of Christ.”