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)✞

The Final Judgement

Great White ThroneHere we read of the final judgment and see God, the Judge, symbolizing his unapproachable purity, on his great white throne. Note that in verse eleven, the word "heavens" may mean "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 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." Works done for God's glory, with the right motive, are your gold, silver, and costly stones.

Judge Jesus

GoatIn the parable of the sheep and goats, 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, he 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 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 ascribing one's action to another. 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, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." Here the titles for "Christ" and "God" seem to be interchangeable. The dead are standing before the throne in heaven, with the great books of names open before them.

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 heavens fled from his presence" may mean "the sky fled from his presence." John of Patmos says that the earth passes away as the judgment begins. God casts away the earth and the sky 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."

Earth Will Wear Out

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!✞

Revelation Judgment Book

Jesus Christ opens the Revelation judgment book, and he judges the dead 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 too great nor too insignificant to escape God's judgment. Two kinds of books appear here. The first contains the record of every person's deeds, which is a common idea in Scripture. Daniel 7.10b tells of a dream in heaven, "The court was seated, and the books opened." God keeps a record of all our deeds. The point is we are writing our destiny all through life. It is not so much that God judges a person as a person writes his own judgment by what they do 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. Doing does not save us, but acts count as clear evidence of a person's relationship with God. The Book of Life contains the names of those who had put their trust in Christ. 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." 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 opens, and those whose names appear judged by what each has done. In Exodus 32.32, Moses 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. Psalm 69.28 adds the curse, "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 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." The risen Christ's promise to the Sardis Church is that he will reward those who overcome when he opens the Book of Life. He will destroy those whose names The Book of Life does not contain. Every ruler controlled a book of living citizens, and when a person died, he erased their name. Colin J Hemer (1930-1987) refers to one particular custom in ancient Athens, whereby civic registers remove condemned criminals' names at their execution. The Greek word translated "to erase" "is the technical term for such degradation." Those whose names are in the book of life are living, active citizens of God's kingdom.✞

Christian Grave Site

Christian Grave SiteAnyone not written in the 'Book of Life' ends up in the Revelation lake of fire, the second death. On Judgment Day, the sea will give up its dead. In the ancient world, burial was considered more important to individuals than in today's society. The Early Church felt that Christian burial was so essential that they purchased plots for their fellowship members who could not afford them. These were the only possessions the early Church had! Today's Protestant and Catholic churches generally allow cremation, although the Eastern Orthodox Church still insists on burial, which is technically called "inhumation."✞

Burial Sites

Died at SeaWe would be wise to compare the churches' possessions today with the Early Church's burial sites. 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 valuable gold items in most of our Christian denominations! What a disgrace and a waste! People believed that without burial, a person's spirit wandered homelessly and hopelessly for three days. Loved ones could never bury those drowned at sea, but God will raise them 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 will appear before God's judgment seat. 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, they will not escape their punishment or lose their reward. Only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have their names recorded in the "Book of Life" and 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, God throws death and hades into the lake of fire. As H. B. Swete puts it, "These voracious monsters who have themselves devoured so many are in the end themselves destroyed." In the judgment, God condemns those whose names are not in the Book of Life 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," a valley outside Jerusalem where, in Jesus' day, garbage continuously burned, and the fires never went out. But for those whose names are in the Book of Life, death is forever vanquished.

"Great White Throne"
by Ron Meacock © 2020

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