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The Great White Throne Judgment

The final judgment: Not achievements or possessions, but knowing the Lord.

When I first became a Christian, thoughts of God's impending judgment weighed heavily on my mind. I jumped into the book of Revelation soon after my conversion, seeking to understand its detailed passages. However, Revelation 20:11-15 struck fear into my heart. I knew that if this judgment were true, I needed a remedy for my sins.

In my quest for understanding, I stumbled upon Dante's Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno section, which offers a vivid depiction of Hell. While I don't endorse its speculative nature or its Roman Catholic perspective, one line from the poem has always stayed with me:

"Abandon hope all you who enter this place."

Though we can't say for certain if such a warning will adorn the gates of Hell, the message is clear: for those who reject Christ, there will come a day when hope is lost.

On this blog, as we look at Rev. 20:11-15 in detail on Sunday, I’d like to give some highlights.  This is commonly known as "The Great White Throne Judgment."

May God grant us strength and wisdom as take note of seven word observations from the text and what they mean for us.

Revelation 20:11-15 (ESV):

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

#1 – Throne

Picture a breathtaking sight: a great white throne and its occupant, described in verse 11. This isn't just any throne; it's the epitome of authority, set in what seems like a heavenly courtroom. Like in earthly courts, the judge's seat is front and center, radiating importance throughout John's vision.

This throne pops up repeatedly in Revelation, emphasizing its significance. Described as "great" or "mega" in Greek, it exudes grandeur and centrality. Its white color symbolizes purity, ensuring the righteousness of the judgments issued from it—no corruption or bias here.

But what really matters is who's sitting on it—Jesus the Son.

How do we know? Look to Daniel's vision in the Old Testament, where God the Father, depicted as the Ancient of Days, sits on a similar throne (Daniel 7:9-10).

Yet, in Revelation, it's Jesus who takes the seat of judgment. This aligns with Jesus' own words in Matthew 25:31, where he speaks of coming in glory to sit on his throne. Furthermore, John 5:22 confirms that judgment is entrusted to the Son. So, Jesus, who endured injustice on the cross, now administers divine justice from his exalted position.

Verse 12 paints a dramatic scene: "From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them."

This signals the climax of history, where the familiar order of earth and heaven vanishes. It foreshadows the arrival of a new heaven and earth, purified by celestial fire—a scene glimpsed earlier in Revelation 6. Here, the great white throne and its occupant stand as the focal point of this cosmic transformation.

In this celestial courtroom of divine justice, Jesus reigns as the ultimate judge. His throne, shining in its purity, signifies the righteousness of his judgments. And as earth and sky dissolve, the scene underscores the impending renewal of all things under the sovereignty of the one seated on the throne.

#2 – The Dead

Verse 12 brings into focus another sobering aspect of this scene: the dead, both great and small, standing before the throne.

Here we see a multitude representing humanity in its entirety, from every corner of society and every era of history. These are the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the young and the old—everyone, from Adam and Eve's time to the last person before Christ's return. Among them are faces known and unknown to us, including our own.

This summons is universal; no one escapes it. They stand before the throne, summoned for judgment and accountability.

Romans 14:10 reminds us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God, while 2 Corinthians 5:10 reinforces the idea that each of us will be judged according to our deeds. This gathering includes believers and unbelievers alike, and the distinction between life and death becomes clear as they await their fate. This appointment is unavoidable for all who have lived.

These are the dead, gathered for their final judgment.

#3 – The Books

Verse 12 introduces another critical aspect: the opening of books.

These books contain a detailed account of every person's life, figuratively representing God's perfect knowledge of our actions. They hold records of every deed, whether good or evil, leaving nothing hidden. Scripture assures us that God will judge every aspect of our lives, from our public words to our private thoughts (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 12:36).

In short: In this divine courtroom, there is no hiding.

I recall a pastor who denied accusations of wrongdoing until undeniable evidence was presented. Similarly, in God's courtroom, there is no escaping the truth. No bribe or influence can sway the judgment of the righteous Judge.

You might wonder if both believers and unbelievers will have their deeds recorded. Yes, everyone's actions will be laid bare. For unbelievers, these deeds reveal a rejection of God's love and faith in Christ. For believers, they serve as evidence of their relationship with Christ, not as a means of earning salvation, but as proof of their belonging to God.

As we ponder the thought of our deeds being revealed on the final day, it's sobering to consider facing the judgment of our peers. But regardless, everything done in this life will be laid out in those books.

#4 – The Book

Consider the book mentioned in verse 12: "Then another book was opened, which is the book of life."

This book stands in contrast to the book of deeds, which records everyone's actions. The book of life, on the other hand, contains the names of those forgiven by God, who stand in the righteousness of Jesus. It's not about earthly rewards but the reward of eternal life through union with Jesus (Hebrews 12:22).

The mystery lies in the fact that the names in this book were inscribed in eternity past. Revelation 13:8 speaks of those who worship the beast, indicating that all unbelievers' names are not written in the book of life. Belief in Jesus is the fruit of having one's name written there—a ledger of grace written in love by God's mercy in eternity past. Salvation is associated with those who identify with the Lamb who was slain. Believers don't suffer judgment for their deeds because the Lamb has already suffered for them.

Revelation 3:5 assures believers that their names won't be erased from the book of life. This is a call to persevere in faith, clinging to Christ. If you conquer, God won't erase your name, and if your name is written, you will conquer. This book underscores both our responsibility and God's sovereignty.

It's remarkable how believers are often overlooked in worldly VIP lists. Yet, having our names in this book of life is the ultimate treasure for us.

#5 – The Judgment

Focus on the judgment described in verse 12: "The dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done."

The purpose of this gathering is to convict the rebellious and vindicate the redeemed (Revelation 20:11-15). The sea, Death, and Hades mentioned symbolize chaos, the realm of the dead, and the grave, respectively. They give up their dead for judgment, emphasizing that all people are present.

Firstly, it's crucial to note that Jesus conducts this judgment (Acts 17:31). His resurrection serves as a warning that dying does not lead to escape from accountability. This judgment is founded on impartial facts (Ezekiel 18). Jesus illustrates this in Matthew 25, where he separates believers and unbelievers based on their actions toward others.

Secondly, the judgment is based on what's recorded in the books, reflecting impartiality and fairness (Ezekiel 18). Believers' righteous deeds, evidence of their salvation, are credited to them (Revelation 3:5). Unbelievers stand in their own unrighteousness. Jesus' words in Matthew 25 show the inseparable link between our actions toward people and toward him.

Lastly, this judgment applies to both believers and unbelievers (Revelation 11:18). Believers won't be judged for their sins because Jesus already paid for them on the cross. Instead, they'll be rewarded for their faith and good works. Believers will offer up their deeds for evaluation, with those done for Christ's glory enduring as rewards (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Though there might be regrets, the joy of forgiving grace will overshadow them. Those in Christ won't be condemned; their transgressions are forgiven. However, those apart from Christ will inherit eternal death.

#6 – The Fire

Notice, also, the significance of the fire mentioned in verses 14-15: "Then 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."

This lake of fire, also referred to as the second death, represents the eternal separation from God in Hell. It's essential to understand a few key points about Hell and its implications.

Firstly, Hell is a place prepared for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41). While Satan does not rule Hell, it is a place of eternal punishment for those who reject God and follow Satan's lead.

Secondly, Hell entails both the absence and presence of God. Unbelievers will experience eternal separation from the Lord's presence (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9), yet they will also endure torment in the presence of God's wrath (Revelation 14:9). This paradox highlights the multifaceted nature of Hell's reality.

Thirdly, Hell is eternal, just as Heaven is (Daniel 12). The imagery of everlasting punishment underscores the severity and permanence of Hell's consequences.

Moreover, the imagery used to describe Hell is metaphorical, intended to convey a reality beyond human comprehension (Mark 9:47). While the specifics may elude our understanding, the message is clear: Hell is a place of unimaginable suffering and anguish.

It's crucial to recognize that discussions about Hell are not scare tactics but rather sober warnings from God. The intent is to alert individuals to the seriousness of their choices and the eternal ramifications thereof.

In conclusion, Hell is not to be trivialized or joked about. It's a real place of eternal consequence, underscoring the gravity of every decision made in this life. As believers, we must approach the topic of Hell with reverence and urgency, recognizing its profound significance in the broader context of God's plan for humanity.

(We also wrote about this in more detail at the link below...)

#7 – The Savior

Finally, let’s turn our attention to the Savior amidst this sobering scene depicted in the book of Revelation.

The imagery of judgment and the solemnity of this book serve a purpose: to point us to the Savior.

The one who will be seated upon the throne on the day of judgment may appear fierce to those whose names are not written in the book of life, but we must understand that he is the same Savior who stepped off the throne to save us from judgment. Jesus, unjustly judged on the cross, did so to deliver us from the impending judgment. His heart is filled with mercy, and He desires that none should perish but all should come to repentance.

Ezekiel 18 reminds us of God's heart for mercy, declaring that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but desires that they turn from their ways and live.

Jesus himself proclaimed, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Therefore, as we anticipate the coming of Jesus, we must recognize him as both Savior and Judge. For those who do not know Him, there is an urgent call to repentance and turning to Him for forgiveness and salvation.

If you find yourself in need of salvation, flee to Jesus, repent, and live. Cry out to him for a new heart and a new spirit. And if you already know him, let the scenes of judgment in Revelation inspire faith, perseverance, and courage in following Jesus. This book serves as a reminder of the coming day of judgment and the urgency of sharing the message of salvation with others.

As believers, let us help one another grow in faith and faithfully follow Jesus. Let us also be bold in sharing the Gospel with those who do not yet know Him. May our lives and our witness lead many to turn to Jesus and experience the mercy and grace found in him.