Great White Throne
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79. Great White Throne
Revelation 20.11-15

"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the 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. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20.11-15)✞

Apostle Paul's Speech

Great White ThroneHere we read of the final judgment and see God, the Judge, on his great white throne symbolizing his unapproachable purity. Note that in verse eleven the word "heavens" may be translated as "sky." Thus it may be read as "The earth and sky fled from his presence." The New Testament understands the judge as Jesus Christ himself as in John 5.22 where Jesus says, "The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son." The concept of the "Bema Seat" or the "Judgement Seat of Christ" comes from the ancient Athens' Olympics, where a judge sits on the Bema Seat at the finish line. The judge's purpose is to determine what position the runners come in whether first, second, and so on and then to give out the appropriate rewards. The "Judgment Seat of Christ," is described in 1 Corinthians 3.12-15, "If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." Your gold, silver, and costly stones are works done for the glory of God, with the right motive, and in dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

Judge Jesus

GoatIn the parable of the sheep and goats again we find that it is the glorified Christ who is the judge. Jesus says in Matthew 25.31-32, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." In the Apostle Paul's speech at Athens in Acts 17.31, Paul announces that God has appointed a day in which Jesus will judge the world. Saint Paul writes, "For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him (Jesus) from the dead." Jesus in 2 Timothy 4.1a is also described as the one who is about to judge the living and the dead. We read, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead."

Judgment Seat

Throne of GodThe unity of God the Father and God the Son is such that there is no difficulty in ascribing the action of the one to the other. That is in fact what Paul is saying when he writes in Romans 14.10b, "We will all stand before God's judgment seat." and in 2 Corinthians 5.10, where he writes, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." Here the titles for "Christ" and "God" seem to be interchangeable.

Heavens Will Vanish

Saint Francis of Assisi's RobeThe heavens vanish and the earth passes away when the Lord arrives in his glory and majesty. "The earth and the heavens fled from his presence" may be translated as "the earth and the sky fled from his presence." John of Patmos says that the earth passes away as the judgment begins. The earth passes away and the sky or heavens vanish from God's presence. The dead are standing before the throne in heaven and the great books of names are opened before them. The earth and the sky are cast away as Psalm 102.25-26 says, "In the beginning, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing, you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end." Later, Isaiah 51.6 repeats the same prediction, "Lift your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail." Jesus himself prophesies in Mark 13.31, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." And Saint Peter in 2 Peter 3.10 confirms, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare." Some manuscripts read "be burned up" instead of "be laid bare." The old earth must pass away and the heavens must vanish because the new people in Christ must have a new world in Christ!✞

Revelation Judgment Book

The Revelation judgment book is opened by Jesus Christ and the dead are judged according to what they have done. Now follows the judgment of all human beings. It is the judgment of every person, both rich and poor, great and small. No one is so great that they will escape the judgment of God nor too insignificant to be involved. Two kinds of books are mentioned here. The first contains the record of the deeds of every person. This is a common idea in Scripture. Daniel 7.10b tells of a dream in heaven, "The court was seated, and the books were opened." A record of all our deeds is kept by God. The point is that all through life we are writing our destiny, it is not so much that God judges a person as that a person writes his judgment by what he or she does or does not do. The open judgment Book which is here called the "Book of Life" represents God's judgment, and in it are recorded the deeds of everyone, good or evil. We are not saved by deeds, but deeds are seen as clear evidence of a person's actual relationship with God. The Book of Life, on the other hand, contains the names of those who had put their trust in Christ to save them. Revelation 13.8 reads, "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the Lamb's Book of Life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world." This verse may be translated as "written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was slain." The second book, the Lamb's Book of Life, cancels out the first, the judgment Book!✞

Book of Life

Book of LifeThe Book of Life is opened and those whose names appear in the book are judged according to what each has or has not done. The "Book of Life" is opened. This concept often occurs in Scripture. Moses in Exodus 32.32 says to God, "But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." He is willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life if that will save his people. There is also the curse of the Psalmist in Psalm 69.28 "May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous." Isaiah 4.3 speaks of those who are among the living. The Prophet writes, "Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem." Saint Paul speaks of his fellow laborers in Philippians 4.3 whose names are in the Book of Life. He writes, "Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life." It is the promise of the risen Christ to the Church at Sardis that the name of him who overcomes will not be blotted out when the Book of Life is opened. Those whose names are not written in The Book of Life are given over to destruction. The background to this is that every ruler had a book of living citizens under his control, and when a man died, his name was removed from the roll. Colin J Hemer (1930-1987) refers to one particular custom in ancient Athens according to which the names of condemned criminals are erased from civic registers before their execution. The Greek word translated "to erase," "was the technical term for such degradation." Those whose names are in the book of life are those who are living, active citizens of the kingdom of God.✞

Christian Grave Site

Christian Grave SiteAnyone whose name is not written in the 'Book of Life' is thrown into the Revelation lake of fire, which is the second death.On Judgment Day, the sea will give up its dead. In the ancient world, burial is vitally important to individuals much more than it is to our society today. The Early Church feels that Christian burial is so important that they purchase plots for those of their fellowship who were not able to afford them. These are the only possessions the early Church had! Today's Protestant and Catholic churches now allow cremation although the Eastern Orthodox Church still insists on burial which is technically called "inhumation."✞

Book of Life

Died at SeaWe would be wise to compare the possessions of the churches today to the burial sites of the Early Church. Do we own burial plots for those of our number who cannot afford them? No way! We possess huge buildings, large bank accounts with stocks and bonds and silver and gold items of value in most of our Christian denominations! What a disgrace and a waste! If a person is not buried, his or her spirit is said to wander homelessly and hopelessly. Those who are lost at sea could of course never be buried but even they will be raised on the last day. Revelation 20.13 reads, "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that was in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done."

Judgment Seat

Book of LifeJohn of Patmos is making the point here that even those who die at sea or have no grave at all will appear before the judgment seat of God. The Biblical scholar H. B. Swete (1835-1917) comments pointedly on this passage, "The accidents of death will not prevent any from appearing before the judge." No matter how a person dies, he or she will not escape their punishment nor lose their reward. Only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have their names recorded in the "Book of Life" and will be spared the Revelation lake of fire.

No Gray Areas

Lake of FireJohn of Patmos's vision does not permit any gray areas in God's judgment. If we have not identified with Christ on earth, confessing him as our Lord, there is no hope, no second chance, no other appeal. Finally, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. As H. B. Swete (1835-1917) puts it, "These voracious monsters who have themselves devoured so many are in the end themselves destroyed." In the judgment, those whose names are not in the Book of Life are condemned to the Lake of Fire with the Devil, their master. Interestingly, both Christians and other religions consider the lake of fire as a place of destruction for the wicked in the afterlife. "The Lake of Fire" is related to the Jewish "Gehenna" which is a valley outside Jerusalem where, in Jesus' day, garbage is constantly burning and the fires are never put out. But for those whose names are in the Book of Life, death is forever vanquished.

"Great White Throne"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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