The Great White Throne
The book of Revelation is a fascinating book, especially considering that near the end we literally find the Bible’s last words on the last things, and a glimpse into the next world where there are no “lasts”. In Chapter 20:11-15 we discover the last words on hell and in 21:1-22:6, the last words on heaven. What a blessing that no one need be surprised or unprepared for that final day, for God has clearly revealed what will happen.
The Seat of Judgment
“And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” (20:11)
The throne is described as being “great”, undoubtedly due to the greatness of the person who occupies it, “and hence His unqualified majesty as the Lord of all” (The Message of Heaven and Hell, Bruce Milne, p. 297). Other passages make it clear that Jesus is the person who occupies this throne, for He will be the judge on the last day (Matthew 25:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The throne is equally described as “white”, indicating God’s unimpeachable and all-consuming holiness. “In the august, overwhelming presence of the Living God in His majesty, all else collapses into nothingness. The old order, the universe as we know it, the world and all its life forms from the teeming galaxies to the infinitesimal particles, all ‘flee away’ before ‘Him who sits upon the throne’” (Milne ,p. 297). Other passages had told us that the entire universe, everything physical and material will melt away (2 Peter 3:10), this verse reveals that the actual cause of the melting will simply be what happens when the universe meets God’s immediate presence. In the next verse the attention will shift from the Judge to the judged.
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.” (20:12)
“The judgment, because it is the final act of history and the gathering up of the human story, is necessarily universal. The Lord of all life now passes all life under His all-determining review… in this review all human distinctions are irrelevant. ‘Great and small’ stand together. What was claimed, or asserted, or believed concerning any individual during or following his or her earthly life, specifically those comparative assessments whereby one is ‘great’ or ‘greater’ and another ‘small’ or ‘smaller’, these and all other distinguishing considerations have no meaning ‘before the throne’” (Milne, p. 298). Thus, not only does the physical universe flee from before God’s presence, but all earthly judgments about how “great” or “insignificant” a person was, equally disappear. All earthly opinions are worthless before the throne, they are seen to have no validity. “In the presence of the Lord who is the Judge of all, other judgments are simply irrelevant” (Milne, p. 298). It is healthy to remember that there really only is and ever has been “one throne” and “one judgment”. What God thinks or says about you, and what He says is true or false, right or wrong is the only assessment that has ever mattered.
No one Left Behind
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them.” (20:13)
“From the very nature of this judgment, no-one can be absented from it. ‘The sea’, ‘death’, and ‘Hades’ are specifically noted as sources from which the dead are assembled. Cumulatively, these three represent locations where no human trace is left behind, where it might be thought that people have simply ‘gone’ into oblivion and hence face no ultimate accounting for their lives and deeds. They represent those whose identity was seemingly partial and almost unrealized, those who left life before ever seeming to have arrived in it, those who lived and died leaving behind no slightest trace on the surface of history, the long-forgotten, the ancient and remote, the inaccessible, the unnoticed and the ignored: all these, without exception, will be there” (Milne p. 298). “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). It’s amazing to remember that every single person who has ever lived, will be before their Creator’s throne – inevitably. I once heard about an unbeliever who decided to have his body cremated upon his death, “just in case” there was a God. He was erroneously hopeful that cremation would frustrate God’s plans of resurrecting and judging him. To the contrary, he will be there, along with…
Civilizations of whom modern men have no record.
All the “wall-flowers”.
All the nameless multitudes.
The poorest of the poor.
The people who never made history nor had even 15 minutes of fame.
The people who never had a funeral.
“And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (20:10)
“The scope of the judgment is not confined to humans… This infernal anti-trinity. The lake accordingly represents the final and unalterable victory of the triune God. His original and most formidable foes are overcome and subjected to His just wrath” (Milne, p. 298). Let us pause and remember that the lake of fire was not designed for man, but rather for the “devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). That anyone who ends up in hell is a supreme tragedy and is a horrible denial of their purpose here (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
The Standard of Judgment
“And books were opened… and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” (20:13)
“The meaning is clear: at the final judgment all history stands revealed. This includes, of necessity, all personal histories. Nothing will be omitted since, by the nature of the case, everything will be there, from the slightest stirring of thought and feeling, the deep recesses of motivation, the barely ventured word and reaction, all the way through to the most wholehearted and determinative action. This point is worth underlining when accusations of unfairness are raised concerning God’s judgment. The final judgment will be the only judgment in all of time and history which is truly fair” (Milne, p. 299).“And able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). “All things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (4:13). This means that there will be no purpose in arguing with God’s assessment, for He has all the facts and every piece of information on us. It is going to be an amazing day – especially for believers, for all the real reasons why people did not obey God will be exposed (John 3:19; Romans 2:16), and God, His people and His truth will be continually vindicated by every life-story.
“According to their deeds”
“This might seem a limited basis for judgment, but every deed has a history. What we do is the visible emergence of processes that reach back into our inner beings. Like the iceberg floating on the surface of the ocean, the visible is only a part, commonly only a small part of the whole. In the last analysis, who we are is what we do and what we do is who we are. So it will be deeds in their fullest context that will come up for judgment, including inevitably the deeds left undone… Everything attaching to every person covering the entirety of his or her life will be there” (Milne, p. 300). As Jesus noted, every deed equally contains within it the motivation and “thought” of the heart (Matthew 15:19), thus “deeds” are nothing more than thoughts with clothes on (Matthew 12:35). The devil tries to get us focused on the deeds of others, what they have done against us, or how their deeds keep us from succeeding, yet the deeds that we must answer for – are our own (2 Corinthians 5:10). There is equally hope in this passage, for everyone can do something for God. “Living as we do in a world where need abounds on every hand, God the Judge is surely right to anticipate finding in the lives of those who claim to belong to Him the instincts and expressions of a concern to help others. Nor need the shut-in, or the physically or mentally handicapped, despair. Cups of cold water (Matthew 10:42) given in His name are noted and treasured by this Judge” (Milne, p. 300).
The Lake of Fire
Rather than extinction (20:10), this condition is continuous, and “a condition of agonizing personal self-consciousness is at the core of this picture” (Milne, p. 302). “Hell is real and is portrayed in language which removes all doubt concerning its fearfulness. Quite simply, it is all that we do not want to experience” (p. 303). In the end, God is the Judge (James 4:12), and the destiny of each individual rests with the God who made them, the judgment is His, not ours. Finally, let us rejoice in His judgment (Psalm 96:11-13), and rejoice in the fact that our name is on the only list that really matters, “the book of life”.