Revelation 20 The Great White Throne Judgment

Revelation 20:11-15

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Suspense about outcome causes worry

A boy in the Midwest used to read western thrillers after he went to bed in his room above the kitchen. Time for lights-out was given by his mother by tapping on the kitchen ceiling with her broom handle.

boy reading in bedHe was usually at a crucial point where the hero was involved in a life threatening gun fight. He was so upset over the possibility the hero might be shot he couldn’t go to sleep for a time.

The next night the chapter ended in another cliffhanger. He worked hard on the farm and had to get his rest.

He decided to read the last chapter the next night. This way he already knew how the plot turned out so when the tap came on the ceiling, he put the book down and went to sleep worry free.


In the Revelation, believers are given the last chapter! We already know how the plot ends. We do not have to worry about who wins!

Revelation 20:11-15 teaches believers—

God Himself will execute the verdict at the great white throne judgment upon those guilty of rejecting His Son Jesus Christ and persecuting His people.

I. All that is sinful will be deposed from the cosmos. vs. 11

vs. 11  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. 

“Not the destruction or annihilation but the renovation of the universe is indicated here.” (See Hendriksen, p. 196, below). This throne is white stressing the majesty and purity of God.

“The language of poetic imagery captures the fading character of everything that is of this world.” 1 John 2:17—

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Now the only reality is God seated on the throne of judgment, before whom all must appear.

Note that the cosmos is already in the process of passing away. We are not experiencing progress that will usher in a new utopia.

Heb. 9:27—And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment… .

“This cosmic disturbance…alludes to the fact that the earth itself will be renovated before the new heavens and new earth will come into existence.”

II Peter 3:10-13—

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for  and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 

The old order passes away before the new order is established. Everything in the cosmos is renovated in accordance with the holiness of God. But what about those who have rejected God? This question is at the heart of the Great White Throne Judgment.

II. God pronounces the guilty verdict according to the life persons have lived. vs. 12

vs. 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. 

Books used in JudgmentThis scene records the judgment of the wicked dead. The Greek word for book is biblos meaning scroll. Why does God need books? They record all of the actions and words men and women committed when they lived on earth.

Romans 2 records the principles of judgment—vs. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things… . vs. 6 He will render to each one according to his works… . vs. 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Works are evaluated in order to get a true picture of a person’s life. This does not mean that works save a person. Works merely show whether or not a person is regenerate.

See Matthew 25:41-46

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Moses Interceding for Israel (public domain)

The book of life is the book that contains the names of those who are Christians.  Such a book is alluded to in Exodus 32:30-34  

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

Daniel 12:1

1 At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.

Luke 10:20

19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

III. All persons will be resurrected at the last day and will be sent to the respective places they chose in life. vs. 13

vs. 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. 


The Intermediate State

“The intermediate state refers to a person’s existence between his physical death and his future resurrection.” (see Intermediate State, below.)

Hades is the place where the wicked dead are housed after death. The righteous dead have always been housed in heaven. Again, works are said to be the proof of a person’s actual spiritual condition, not the ground of salvation.


IV. The wicked dead are sent into the lake of fire. vs. 14-15

vs. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Inferno I. 1-3

“Midway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood, wandered from the straight path.”
– DANTE AWAKES IN THE FOREST Divine Comedy, “Inferno” by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

The righteous experience the first resurrection after death. The second resurrection is implied in the mention of the first. The wicked dead are raised, but to experience the second death. Various Greek words are used in the New Testament for hell, but they all indicate the place of the wicked dead. After the final judgment, death itself will be destroyed.

vs. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This is a simple conditional statement (assumed true). There were people’s names not written there who will be cast into qehinna. This verse proves that there is no universal salvation as some teach. Gehinna or “land of fire” was the valley that served as the garbage dump of ancient Jerusalem.

Gehinna in Jerusalem

This is a modern picture of Gehinna—Valley of Fire

What will be the worst suffering in hell? Most of our concept of hell in the West comes from Dante’s Inferno instead of being informed by Holy Scripture. II Thessalonians 1:7-10 says this about hell, which I believe is the worst suffering in hell—

7 …The Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Note the two categories of people named:
(1) those who do not know God;
(2) those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Note the nature of the suffering:
(1) away from the presence of the Lord
(2) away from the glory of his might

The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question is pertinent to understanding the punishment of the wicked.

Q. 1. What is the chief purpose for which man is made?
A. 1. The chief purpose for which man is made is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever. (see WSC, below.)

C. S. Lewis says this of hell—christ-on-a-cross-vector-art_800

In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” (1) To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so, on Calvary. (2) To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what he does. (see Lewis, below.)

What makes hell hell is that persons created for fellowship with and enjoyment of God can never do this. God is present in hell, but his presence manifests itself in wrath. Never will man enjoy the presence of a loving God. Never will he be able to glorify the God who made him. 

Destruction,” as applied to man and his destiny in the N.T., signifies perdition, ruin, the utter loss of blessedness. (see Findlay, below)

Note: Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. People who follow Satan and his agenda in life will share his fate in eternity. However, it was never built for humans. In life, people have the opportunity to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior.

Next time we move to Chapter 21.

Notes
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation) 

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com

Findlay, G. G. (1898). II Thessalonians in the series Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Accessed 14 June 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/2_thessalonians/1.htm

Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).

Intermediate State. (2021). What is the Intermediate State? accessed 14 June 2021 from https://www.compellingtruth.org/intermediate-state.html

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

Lewis, C. S. (2001). The Problem of Pain. Accessed 14 June 2021 from https://www.epm.org/resources/2015/May/20/banished-humanity-cs-lewis-and-doctrine-hell/

Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

WikiMedia Commons for Images

WSC. (1647). The Westminster Shorter Catechism in modern English. Accessed 14 June 2021 from https://matt2819.com/wsc/

© 2021 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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