THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
The put down of the final rebellion is followed by the Great White Throne Judgment of the unsaved. This is the second resurrection and second death. The first resurrection was that of the saved, while the second is that of the unsaved. The first death is the separation of the spirit from the body, while the second is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.
1. ITS COMPOSITION
It is a throne, which describes God’s majesty and great authority. This is the throne of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the throne where every yea is yea and every nay is nay, beyond which there is no further appeal.
2. ITS COLOR (Rev. 20:11)
White signifies holiness and righteousness. This is God’s throne of holy judgment against all sin. There is no rainbow as there was in Revelation 4. There is no grace, no mercy, no covenant of hope. In contrast to the believer, who comes freely and boldly to a “throne of grace” because of Christ’s blood (Heb. 4:16; 10:19), the unbeliever is dragged before a fearful, blazing white throne to obtain unmitigated judgment. “Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him” (Nahum 1:6). “For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). “Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about” (Psalm 97:2-3). “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
3. ITS SIZE (Rev. 20:11)
It is great, which signifies God’s omnipotence. The sinner, who invariably thinks of himself as important and worthy of favor, will be fully aware of his lowly insignificance and vanity when he stands before this great throne.
4. ITS OCCUPANT (Rev. 20:11)
The occupant of this throne is Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has given all judgment (John 5:22). Mankind has said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14), but now they will stand before Him, the very object of their rebellion, and give account.
5. ITS SITUATION (“from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away,” Rev. 20:11)
a. The sinner will stand before God alone. All other things that occupy the heart will be gone. The sinner who ignored God and did not seek God’s will and who worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:25) will now be alone with the God he despised.
b. The fleeing away of the earth and the heaven might refer to the destruction by fire described in 2 Peter 3:10-12. “The most natural interpretation of the fact that earth and heaven flee away is that the present earth and heaven are destroyed and will be replaced by the new heaven and new earth. This is also confirmed by the additional statement in 21:1 where John sees a new heaven and a new earth replacing the first heaven and the first earth which have passed away” (Walvoord).
6. ITS SUBJECTS (Rev. 20:12-13)
a. These are the unsaved.
We know that these are the unsaved, because they are not part of the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6) and they are judged by their works.
We know that these are the unsaved because their names are not written in the book of life through faith in Jesus Christ. Compare Revelation 20:15. There are no exceptions mentioned.
We know that these are the unsaved because those who believe in Christ will not be condemned (John 3:18; 5:24). The judgment of the saved, those who have built their lives upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, is described in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. It is a judgment of work (singular) rather than works (plural). The believer’s judgment is for the purpose of examining his work or service for Christ to determine rewards or loss thereof. The unbeliever’s judgment is for the purpose of examining his works (plural) to demonstrate his sin against God’s law and his rejection of God’s light and to justify his eternal condemnation. The judgment of the believer’s work can result in loss of reward, “but he himself shall be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). The judgment of the unbelievers works, on the other hand, results in the person himself being cast into the lake of fire. No exceptions are mentioned.
b. These are the small and great of the unsaved. Regardless of what one’s position was on earth, whether king or pauper, whether despised or acclaimed, whether a public sinner or a private one, all who die without Christ will stand before God at this judgment. Men care so much for position and prestige in this world, but such things mean nothing before God. There will be some there who “gained the whole world” but they have lost their souls. The great are treated no differently by God. Sinners are sinners, and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).
c. They come from the sea, from death, and from hell (Rev. 20:13).
The sea is probably mentioned to show that all of the unsaved dead will be raised up to stand here, even those who died in the sea and who have no grave site. It could also refer to the flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of that generation.
Death and hell work together; death taking man’s soul from his body and hell being the place where unbelieving men’s souls are incarcerated.
7. ITS BASIS (Rev. 20:12-13)
a. It will be a judgment of works; and this means that those appear here will be condemned, for all are sinners (Romans 3:9-18), and “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Salvation, on the other hand, is not of works but is by the grace of Christ in that he died in our stead (Ephesians 2:8-9). The believer’s “work” (singular) will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:13-14), referring to an examination of his service for Christ for reward or loss of reward. But the unbeliever will give account for his “works” (plural), referring to his thoughts and deeds being judged by God’s holy law.
b. Man’s “good works” cannot save him, because good works cannot purchase forgiveness for even one sin. Further, as we have seen, even man’s righteousness or good works are as filthy rags before a thrice holy God (Isa. 64:6).
8. ITS BOOKS (Rev. 20:12)
a. The book of life will be opened. This is the book containing the names of those of all ages who are elect in Christ according to the foreknowledge of God (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). The very presence of this book will remind every sinner that a Saviour came into the world to die for man’s sins and that salvation was offered to “whosoever will.” “The Book of Life will be unfolded there, because many people in that vast throng have taken for granted that their names are there because, perchance, they have been listed on the roll of some church or religious society” (Ironside). “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mat. 7:23).
b. The book of works will be opened. A record is kept of every man’s works, including every idle word and every secret thing (Mat. 12:36; Lk. 8:17; Rom. 2:16). Psalm 50:16-21 describes the type of things that will come up at the Great White Throne Judgment.
c. The book of God will also be there. In John 12:48 Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” Thus the Bible will be opened on that occasion as a testimony to every sinner.
9. ITS CONCLUSION (Rev. 20:14-15)
a. No sinner can stand before a holy God and be judged for his works without being condemned, so the conclusion of this judgment is foregone. Though there will possibly be degrees of punishment in the lake of fire (compare Matthew 11:20-24) all will be condemned and sent there.
b. This is God’s other “whosoever.” Contrast Revelation 22:17 and John 3:16.
c. The punishment is eternal conscious suffering. Compare Revelation 20:10.
10. ITS MESSAGE FOR TODAY
The message of the Great White Throne judgment is that there is no opportunity for salvation following death and that man must trust Christ in this present life or be forever doomed. “Now is the time acceptable. Now a gracious Saviour waits to catch the first breath of repentance, and He answers the feeblest cry of faith. Trifle not with His mercy and hope not for some vague second chance, but close with Christ now, and know for a certainty that you will have no part in the doom pronounced at the Great White Throne. The Lord Himself has said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life’ (John 5:24)” (Ironside).
The previous is from the Advanced Bible Studies Series course on the book of Revelation (457 pages), which is available from Way of Life Literature. (It is best to order them by phone at 866-295-4143, but they can also be ordered from the newly redesigned online order form.)
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