The Great White Throne Judgment

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GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENTThen I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

The Throne – This Great White Throne apparently differs from the throne that is mentioned more than 30 times in Revelation beginning with Revelation 4:2. Earth and sky fled from His (the one sitting on the throne) presence, and there was no place for them.(1) It is a great throne, because
all the sinners of history will stand before it. It is a white throne because it represents the unchanging holiness of God.(2) White also connotes victory throughout Revelation.(3)

The Judge – The Judge sitting on the throne is none other than Jesus Christ. God the Father has committed all judgment to Him (Matthew 19:28; John 5:22–30; Acts 17:31). Standing before the throne are the lost sinners throughout the history of mankind who rejected Christ in their lifetime. Now, at the end of history, they must be judged by Him to face eternal death.(4)

The Great White Throne Judgment will be nothing like our modern court proceedings. There will be a Judge but no jury. There will be a prosecution but no defense. A sentence will be delivered for which there is no appeal. No one will be able to defend himself or accuse God of unrighteousness. There will be no plea bargains and no getting off because of technicalities. Before God ushers in His new heavens and earth, He will deal with sin once and for all, banishing it for all of eternity. This He does at the Great White Throne.(5) 

Today He is the merciful Savior of the world. On that day, when time is no more, He will be the righteous Judge.(6) Christ as Prophet (and Messiah) was prominent in His first advent and earthly ministry. During the time between His ascension and second advent He mediates as our High Priest. His Kingship will be prominent after His second advent during the Millennium. At the Great White Throne, He will be (as He always has been) the righteous Judge.(7)

The Judged – As previously noted, it appears that all the righteous dead have previously been raised. This would include the Old Testament saints (age of the Law and Prophets), New Testament saints (age of God’s grace – Church age), and the dead from the Great Tribulation (age of God’s wrath – Tribulation). Thus, it follows that Revelation 20:11–15 must refer to the second resurrection, or the resurrection of the wicked dead. Revelation 20:5 specifically states that they will not be resurrected until after the thousand years are ended, having had no part in the first resurrection.(8)

The Great White Throne Judgment should not be confused with the Judgment Seat of Christ, where believers (three groups mentioned above) will have their works judged and rewarded. At the Great White Throne Judgment, there will be only unbelievers. There will be no rewards, only degrees of punishment.

John describes a sobering scene. Heaven and earth will flee away leaving no place for sinners to hide. Death will give up the bodies, and hades or torments (the realm of the spirits of the dead) will give up the spirits. There will even be a resurrection of bodies from the sea. No sinner will escape, all must face the Judge.(9) This moment when the body and soul of the lost sinner are reunited before Christ’s judgment throne is the only relief from punishment these sinners will know before being cast into Hell. No lost sinner will escape, the time for redemption having passed. All lost sinners will be sent there, small and great, rich and poor (Hebrews 9:27).(10) God’s omniscience will not allow the most insignificant to escape unobserved, His omnipotence will force even the mightiest to obey the summons, and His perfect righteousness will cause the sentence to be served without hope of a parole.(11)

The Evidence & Testimony – Jesus Christ will judge these unsaved people based on what is recorded “in the books.” There are at least three books.

God’s Word (The Standard) – “The Word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). Every sinner will be held accountable for the truth he or she has heard (and rejected) in their life. One must remember, the Word declares that the truth has “been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).”

A Book of Works (How They Measured Up to the Standard) – A book containing the works of the sinners being judged will likely also be there. This is not to suggest that a person can do good works that are sufficient to outweigh the bad works and so enter Heaven (Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5). Why, then, will Jesus Christ consider the good and bad works of the people who come before the Great White Throne? It is likely to determine the degree of punishment they will endure in Hell. All lost people will be cast into Hell. Their personal rejection of Jesus Christ has already sealed their destiny. But Jesus Christ is a righteous Judge. He will assign each sinner the place that he deserves. It appears that there will be degrees of punishment in Hell (Matthew 11:20–24), some that “will be more bearable” than others. Each lost sinner will receive just what is due him. No one will be able to argue with the Lord or question His decision. God knows what sinners have done (or left undone), and His books will reveal the undeniable truth.

The Lamb’s Book of Life (Did They Accept Christ’s Substitution?) – This book, containing the names of God’s redeemed people, entitled to enter Heaven will be there (Philippians. 4:3; Revelation 13:8, 17:8 and 21:27). No unsaved person will have his or her name in the Book of Life. Only true believers are recorded there (Luke 10:20).(12) If your name is not on the list, you will not get into Heaven. Rather you will be cast “into outer darkness.

The Verdict – The lost will not be given an opportunity to appeal their case. With the books opened and the facts revealed, they will stand speechless before Christ (Romans 3:19). God will not weigh the good against the bad for purposes of determining the final destiny of the lost. He will pronounce every lost sinner condemned. All those who share in the second resurrection must face the second death—eternity in Hell.(13)

The Sentence – Following the Great White Throne Judgment, all the lost will have been cast into Hell (the lake of fire) to join the anti-Christ, false prophet, Satan and his demons who are already there. This is the second death. Many people reject the Biblical doctrine of Hell as being unchristian and inconsistent with God’s character of love. Yet Jesus clearly taught its reality (Matthew 18:8; 23:15, 33; 25:46; Mark 9:46). A sentimental humanistic religion rejects the reality of this kind of judgment, but rather teaches that God is a god of love who welcomes everyone into Heaven and sends no one to Hell.

The Lake of Fire – This is another name for Hell, and it is referred to by this name only in Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8). Its terrible nature is abundantly clear from this and other descriptions throughout scripture. It is the final and eternal abode of the anti-Christ and his false prophet after their defeat by the Lamb, Satan and his demons after his last rebellion, Death and Hades, and all whose names are not found in the Book of Life. It is called the second death, for it is the ultimate separation from God beyond the resurrection and final judgment.(14)

Eternal life in Heaven is certainly consistent with a loving God. But this eternal reward is reserved for those who accepted Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross for their sin. Hell, on the other hand, while prepared for Satan and his demons, is also reserved for those who rejected Christ’s sacrifice of love on the cross. By this they rejected allegiance to God and aligned themselves with the devil. If this were not sufficient justification for the reality and certainty of Hell, consider the following:

God’s Righteousness – Hell is a witness to the righteous character of God. A righteous God must justly deal with sin that has not met the terms of His pardon. If people refused to have their sin judged at the cross by the atoning sacrifice that God Himself freely provided on their behalf, God must judge it at the Great White Throne.

Man’s Accountability – Hell is a witness to man’s responsibility and accountability for their own choices. Man is not a robot nor is he a helpless victim. God created man with a freewill and the capacity to make their own choices. Thus, God does not send anyone to Hell against their will. It is by their own will that they choose Hell by rejecting the Savior (Matthew 25:41; John 3:16–21). In the light of Calvary, no lost sinner can condemn God for casting him into Hell. God paid a very high price, His own Son, to provide a way of escape. He patiently waits for sinners to repent (during the age of grace – the Church age), even compelling them to repent (during the age of wrath – the Great Tribulation). By His very nature as a Holy and righteous God He cannot lower His standards, nor can He alter His requirements. He did not have to provide a way of escape, but He did. Thus, He is justified in insisting that faith in His Son, who paid the penalty for our sin, is the only way of salvation.(15)

Sin’s Awfulness – Hell is a witness to the awfulness of sin. If we saw sin as God sees it, we might better understand why a place such as Hell exists. It cannot be permitted in Heaven.

For those that still struggle with reconciling God’s love with His righteousness, the following essay by Charles Stanley might offer some added insight:

The existence of hell seems to fly in the face of what the Bible says about God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. How could a God of love send people to hell forever? Furthermore, it doesn’t seem reasonable. How is it that seventy or eighty years of sin merit an eternity of punishment?

These questions reveal an error in our overall understanding of sin and the nature of God. If a man’s eternal destiny was a matter of counterbalancing his bad deeds with good, these questions may have some credence. If hell was a system wherein a person paid God back for her sin, seventy years versus eternity would be an issue. If God arbitrarily came up with the rules that governed who goes to heaven and hell, we would have good cause to call his fairness into question. But none of these things has any bearing on the question of why there is a hell and why people who go there go there forever.

Hell is a reality because of an incompatibility problem. Holy God and unholy humankind are incompatible. And no amount of time apart can change that.

The rules that govern who goes to heaven and hell are established by God’s nature. Things are the way they are because God is the way He is. That makes them unchangeable because God cannot change.

Take fire, for example. Fire is hot by nature. Fire doesn’t make itself hot; it is hot. That is the nature of fire. If you stuck your hand in a campfire to retrieve a hotdog that fell off your stick, you would be burned. You wouldn’t get mad at the fire. You wouldn’t say, “I can’t believe that fire burned me, I never did anything to the fire! Why would it treat me like that?”

Fire and your hand are incompatible. They don’t go well together. You can protect your hand with a fireproof glove, but that doesn’t make your hand and fire more compatible; that doesn’t change the nature of fire.

God is holy by nature. And He can’t change. Unholy things don’t do well around holy God. It is hard for us to grasp the power and awesomeness of God’s glory and holiness. John – who knew Jesus well – saw Jesus in all His glory and fell down as a dead man (Revelation 1:16-17). Why? He was overwhelmed by the glory of God.

The only solution to this dilemma was for God to change us. That is why Christ came and died – to pave [bridge] the way for a change in our very nature. Those who accept Christ’s death as the payment for their sin are made holy (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is why we are referred to as saints. That is why the Holy Spirit is able to dwell in us. At salvation there was a fundamental change in our nature. We were taken out of darkness and placed into the kingdom of God [born again]. We became heavenly citizens.

Unbelievers go to hell because they are incompatible with heaven. They don’t go to hell to pay God back. The severity of the sin doesn’t send them there. The quantity of their sin doesn’t send them there. The problem is that they aren’t suited for heaven. They have not been cleansed of the sin that makes them unholy.

As much as I dislike the idea, I do believe that the lake of fire (hell) is a real, literal place. And as hard as it is to grasp, I do believe that people will eventually be sent there to live for eternity. People in hell will be separated from God and all that is good forever.

I believe it because Jesus believed it. I know Jesus believed it because of the price He paid to provide a way to escape. If He hadn’t believed in Hell, He would not have gone to such extreme measures to save us from it. His belief was so deep, and His picture was so clear that it drove Him to leave His throne and His glory to die an excruciating death.

So how do you respond? Christ’s desire [love] to rescue you from hell motivated Him to die for you. It certainly ought to motivate you to [respond to Him].(16)

In Daniel 12:2, John 5:29 and Acts 24:15 we are told that there is a resurrection to life (the first resurrection) as well as to death (the second resurrection).(17) When the believer is resurrected to life he is transformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). The corruptible has been made incorruptible. In the resurrection of the unsaved the individual is unchanged, still conformed to the sinful pattern of this world. He remains conscious and aware, but his character and his attitude toward God remain corrupted by sin. In the lake of fire, the old sinful desires continue to burn, but are forever unsatisfied. This is one reason why the lake of fire is called the second death (Revelation 20:14). It is an endless captivity with no hope for change, no hope for growth, and no hope for transformation. Forever fixed and unchangeable, the personality of the lost burns as much from inner torment as from the inferno that John compares to burning sulfur.(18)

Up Next – A new heaven and earth.

____________________________

References

  1. Walvoord, J. F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 982). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  2. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 854). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  3. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 20:11). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  4. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 620). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  5. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 621). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  6. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 854). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  7. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 600). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  8. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 982). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  9. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 620). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  10. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 854). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  11. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 600). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  12. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 620–621). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  13. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 855). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  14. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1299). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  15. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 621). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  16. Charles Stanley, The Glorious Journey, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), pp. 245-248.
  17. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 20:15). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  18. Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (p. 1087). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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