10 Things You Should Know about the Great White Throne Judgment
It is all too easy to become discouraged and disheartened by the rampant presence of evil and injustice in our world today. It leaves us wondering: Will anything ever be done to bring to justice those who have perpetrated such wickedness? Will anything ever be done to reward those who are righteous? The answer is Yes! We have this assurance because of what we read in Revelation 20:11-15 concerning the final judgment. Here are ten things to keep in mind.
(1) What we have in Revelation 20:11-15 is a more detailed and graphic portrayal of the judgment that was first mentioned back in Revelation 11:18 – “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Simply put, the time of God’s patience and longsuffering and mercy are over. The time for judgment has come. Paul warned the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17, declaring unequivocally that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).
(2) You’ve probably heard people speak of the final judgment as the Great White Throne judgment. That language comes from v. 11. We earlier saw in Revelation 4-5 John’s description of the throne of God and the majesty and beauty that surrounds it. But the throne is also the place from which God will bring judgment upon an unbelieving world. The whiteness of the throne symbolizes God’s own purity and the righteousness with which he judges.
(3) This final judgment will occur at the time of Christ’s Second Coming, immediately following the release of Satan from the abyss and his last and futile attempt to destroy the church (Rev. 20:7-10). Whereas premillennialists believe that the Great White Throne Judgment will occur after a 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth, amillennialists believe it will happen at the close of this present church age, immediately preceding the inauguration of the eternal state and the coming of the new heavens and new earth.
(4) God’s presence on the throne of judgment is so overwhelmingly powerful that “earth and sky fled away.” This is simply another way of describing the cosmic upheaval of God’s judgments and the trauma brought to bear on the material or created realm. On several occasions in Revelation John spoke of great earthquakes and mountains and islands being ripped out of place and cast aside, the darkening of sun and moon and stars falling to the earth. The point of all this is that the first creation, the creation that was subjected to a curse because of man’s sin, is now fleeing away never to be seen again, and soon to be replaced by the second and final creation, the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).
(5) John speaks of seeing “the dead, great and small” (v. 12). This undoubtedly is a reference to all of mankind from every age, both unbelievers and believers. The fact that they are “standing before the throne” indicates that a universal resurrection has taken place: all are now standing before God in their resurrected bodies. This is confirmed in v. 13 (see also John 5:28).
(6) That both believers and unbelievers are standing before the throne of judgment is evident also from the fact that two sets of books are opened: “the books” and “the book of life.” The “books” that are opened contain the record of everything that every unbeliever has ever done or said. God will bring justice to bear upon them in perfect harmony with the deeds they have committed.
But those who are by faith in Christ will not be judged based on their works but solely on whether or not their names are written in the book of life. This “book” appeared earlier in Revelation in Revelation 3:5; 13:8; and 17:8. There we were told that the names in it were written down “from the foundation of the world”. This is the Lamb’s book of life. “It is the registry of those from every nation whom he ‘purchased for God’ with his blood (5:9), and it is the one book in all the universe that spells the difference between eternal life and unending death” (Johnson, 299). Only those whose names were written down in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world will escape the judgment of the lake of fire (v. 15).
(7) We know that all who are believers in Jesus Christ will be judged, but it is a judgment not to determine who enters God’s kingdom and who is excluded, but a judgment to determine the rewards that God will bestow on all of us for the works we have performed for the glory of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:8-10).
Here, though, the focus is on the judgment of all the unbelieving from every age of human history. And you can rest assured that no one will be exonerated or found innocent. The evil, selfish, sensual, godless, lifestyle of unbelieving mankind will stand as witnesses against them. The only hope for acquittal is the blood of Jesus Christ which they have spurned and rejected throughout their lives on earth.
(8) How do we know that believers in Jesus Christ will not be judged based on their evil and sinful deeds? We know it because God has declared that he will not “remember” our sins ever again (Heb. 8:12). He has “cast” all our sins “behind his back” (Isa. 38:17). And as David declared in Psalm 103, “he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (v. 10), but rather “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (v. 12).
(9) John speaks of Death and Hades being cast into the lake of fire. This is again a symbolic way of describing the defeat of death. Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 15:26 where he said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Don’t press the language of Revelation as if John is to be interpreted in some literal or wooden way. Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire just as the Beast and False Prophet are. This is John’s way of describing the final defeat of God’s enemies and his eternal victory over every force or person that has opposed him. God wins!
(10) John describes this final judgment as the “second death.” The first death is physical death. The “second death” is spiritual death, eternal and everlasting separation from the presence of God. We need never fear facing the “second death” for Jesus himself said in Revelation 2:11, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” This echoes what John said in Revelation 20:6, namely, that “the second death has no power” over believers who experience the first resurrection.