Great White Throne of Judgment

SYNOPSISFollowing the defeat of the Dragon, the final judgment occurs before a Great White Throne – Revelation 20:11-15.

Fire Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
At this point, the “Dragon,” the “False Prophet,” the “Beast from the Sea,” and “Babylon” have all been defeated and judged. The conspiracy against the Lamb and his followers only served to seal the doom of its perpetrators. What they intended for evil, the Lamb employed to achieve his purposes.

Throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, remains in firm control of events; he uses the malevolent plans of his enemies to implement God’s redemptive plan for the entire cosmos, often in paradoxical and unexpected ways. This plan culminates in the New Creation.

The time has arrived for the final judgment, an event anticipated at the close of each of the three sevenfold series - The Seven Seal openings, the Seven Trumpets, and the Seven Bowls of Wrath.

  • (Revelation 20:11-15) – “And I saw a great white throne and him that was sitting thereon, from whose face fled the earth and heaven, and place was not found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is, the book of life; and the dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged, each one, according to their works. And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death — the lake of fire. And if anyone was not found in the book of life written, he was cast into the lake of fire.

The Great White Throne.” This is the first mention of a “great white” throne; however, most likely, the description is an expansion of John’s vision of the heavenly throne in Chapter 4 (“Behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne”). The occupant of the Throne is the one “who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.”

From whose face fled the earth and heaven.” This clause recalls two earlier visions - The opening of the sixth seal, and the sounding of the seventh trumpet, both of which ended in a final judgment scene:

  • (Revelation 6:14) – “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places…they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath is come.”
  • (Revelation 16:20) – “And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, ‘It is complete!’…and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.”

I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened.” The scene borrows language from the vision of the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts from the sea:

  • (Daniel 7:10) - “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (cp. Daniel 12:1-2).

The idea of a “book” or “scroll” containing a record of each person’s deeds occurs elsewhere in scripture. The Psalmist declared about his oppressors - “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” And Jesus exhorted his disciples to “rejoice, not that the spirits are subject unto you but, rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (Psalm 69:28, Luke 10:20).

What is different now is that “another book was opened; the book of life.” What sets this “written” record apart is that it is the “book of life of the Lamb that has been slain from the foundation of the world.” What determines one’s final fate is how he or she responds to Jesus. The names of all who follow the Lamb “wherever he goes” are included in his book. In contrast, everyone who gives allegiance to the Beast is excluded from it (Revelation 13:8, 17:8).

The dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works.” The one who “sits on the throne” does nothing apart from the Lamb. When the sixth seal was opened it revealed the day of the “wrath of the Lamb and of the one sitting on the throne.” Jesus promised all “overcoming” saints that HE would not “blot out his name out of the book of life.” It is the Lamb who gives to “every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23, 3:5, 6:15-17, 22:12).

And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire.” This description argues against interpreting the vision in a strictly literal fashion. It is not just unrighteous human individuals who are thrown into the “Lake of Fire,” but “death and Hades.” Whether Revelation views them as personal spiritual beings or abstract concepts is not clear. In the first vision of the book, Jesus declared his authority over “death and Hades,” they now serve him. Yet neither has any place or function in the “New Jerusalem” so, in the end, both are cast into the “Lake of Fire.”

Hades” corresponds to the Old Testament concept of Sheol, the abode of the dead. It is not identical to the “Lake of Fire” or popular concepts about “Hell.” The casting of “death and Hades” into it represents the final end of their respective domains. For example, the cessation of death after the final judgment (“The last enemy, death” - 1 Corinthians 15:20-57).

When the fourth seal was opened, a pale horse was released ridden by one named “Death, and Hades followed with him.” This appears to view “death” as having a personal aspect. However, the same verse explains how authority was given to all four riders to kill “a fourth part of the earth with sword, and with hunger, and with pestilence, and with the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:8).

The four methods of death from the “fourth seal” correspond to the characters of the four horsemen – Deceivers (a white horse - “beasts of the earth”), war (red horse - “sword”), famine (black horse), and plague (pale horse). This is visionary symbolism, not literal pictures of four individual human beings.

New Creation - Photo by David Banning on Unsplash
Photo by David Banning on Unsplash

This is the second death — the lake of fire.” Note well - The book of Revelation never mentions the expected counterpart to this, that is, the “first death.” As in the imprisonment of Satan in the “Abyss,” the “second death” is juxtaposed with the “first resurrection.” Physical death is not the final answer or the thing to be feared. Rather, what truly matters is whether one is destined for the “New Jerusalem” or the “Lake of Fire” (Revelation 21:8).

Persons and things do not survive long in a literal fire; instead, fire consumes them. Comparing fire to a “lake” is analogy - This is comparative language used to represent another reality and communicate things about it.  However literal the description is, clearly, this is an undesirable fate, something to be avoided at all costs. This dread fate is set in contrast to the glorious one that faithful followers of the Lamb experience in the “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:1-8).

Anyone who was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This reiterates a previous theme - Humanity is divided into two groups: Those who follow the Lamb, and those who render homage to the Beast. There is no in-between, no middle or neutral ground. The former live forever in the “New Jerusalem” with Lamb, the latter join the “Beast” in the “Lake of Fire.”

Note well – The “Beast” and the “False Prophet” were “cast alive” into the “Lake of Fire.” Now, the “dead” from the “sea,” “death,” and “Hades” are simply “cast into the Lake of Fire.” This perfunctory statement reinforces that the unrighteous dead do not participate in the “first resurrection,” regardless of whatever their state of existence or consciousness is when they are brought before the “Great White Throne of Judgment.”

The next paragraph presents the fate of those whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” in stark contrast to those whose names are excluded. “New Jerusalem” is about to descend to the earth! It will also close out the third major literary division of the book (Revelation 21:1-8).

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