"The Great White Throne Judgment"
Acts 17:31 (NIV)
31 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 all men by raising him from the dead.
The one sitting on this Great White Throne is Jesus Christ.
For a moment, let me skip the phrase making up the last half of verse 11. It speaks of the fact that the earth and heaven flee from the face of Him who sits on this throne. In a few minutes, I will come back and briefly address that statement. But, first, I want to address verses 12 & 13.
Revelation 20:12-13 NIV
12 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.
Let me introduce these two verses with a questions.
WHO IS IT THAT ARE BROUGHT TO THIS THRONE FOR JUDGMENT?
The first description of those at this judgment is "and I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, ." In referring to the "dead", the language used here is not indicating some of the dead stand before the Great White Throne. No! Everyone who is dead at this moment, are ushered to this judgment.
The phrase "the dead" can have two thoughts derived from it, both of which will lead us to the same group of people. Death can be either spiritual death or physical death. If "the dead" mentioned here are all those who are spiritually dead, then, it is quite obvious that those before this throne are all the ungodly who have ever lived. Up to this time, there has been no eternal resurrection of any ungodly person. So, one way you could interpret this verse is to have it speaking about those who are spiritually dead.
But, what if this verse has in mind those who are physically dead? Does it make a difference? I already hinted at my answer a moment ago when I said that both answers will lead to the same group of people. I believe that we will again arrive at the same answer, that those brought to this judgment are all the ungodly people who have ever lived and died in their sins.
Let me give you 5 reasons why I believe this is so. After I give you the reasons, I will go back and give you more details for each.
1. All the godly people who have ever lived and died physically will already have been resurrected by the time of this judgment.
Now, let's go back and look at each of these.
1. All the godly people who have ever lived and died physically have already will have been resurrected by the time of this judgment.
That leaves only the ungodly left to be resurrected bodily and then judged. They are the only people who are remain dead at the moment of this judgment.
2. There is only one place mentioned here that speaks of where these people come from as they are ushered to this judgment.
Their bodies come from the place where they had been buried, whether that is the sea, the normal grave, or any other place, and the spirits of all of them come from Hades.
3. There is only one place mentioned where people go after this judgment.
That is the Lake of Fire. If there are saved people at this judgment, their destiny is not mentioned here.
4. The Bible indicates that the Just and the unjust will not be judged together.
9 ...The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.
The godly and the ungodly are distinct groups of people, and God separates them, and is holding the ungodly for the day of judgment.
5. The earth and heaven fleeing from the face of Christ indicates this is the judgment of the ungodly.
Earlier, we skipped over the last half of Revelation 20:11. I said at that time, I would come back to it. Now is that time. I want to compare what is mentioned there with a Passage in 2 Peter. Let's read them.
Revelation 20:11 NKJV
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
2 Peter 3:7 NIV
7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
Before getting into comparing these two verses, let me make a couple of statements on a related side issue. Scholars differ on whether the physical elements of heaven and earth will be totally destroyed (into nothingness) and then newly created or merely a renovation of the existing heaven and earth. We will study that more closely when we get to the subject of a New Heaven and New Earth. Now, back to our discussion at hand.
The last of these two verse tells us that the renovation of heaven and earth will occur at or near the same time as the judgment and sentencing of all ungodly people. The time of the renovation of heaven and earth is being reserved - is kept - is waiting for the judgment of all the ungodly people to occur so the renovation can happen.
You might ask, what is the connection between the passing away of the present heaven and earth with the fleeing away of the earth and heaven? Are those two phrases really speaking of the same event? All Bible scholars, which I have read, that address this subject, believe the earth and heaven fleeing away from the White Throne is the passing away of the old heaven and earth.
Here's one reason I and they believe this. The passage we are studying today Revelation 20:11-15. These are the final 5 verses of chapter 20. What does the very next verse say? That would be the first verse of Chapter 21.
Revelation 21:1 NIV
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
If that is true, and I believe it is, then, according to 2 Peter 3:7, the renovation or recreation of the earth and sky occurs when the judgment of all ungodly people also occurs.
I believe we have put enough arguments showing who is being judged at this judgment. The unregenerate of all ages since Adam will appear before Jesus on this throne. If a person has not accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, they will stand before God here.
What have we learned so far?
1. The judge is Jesus Christ Himself.
Let's continue now in our Text in Revelation 20. In verse 12, we are told that "all the dead, small and great, stand before God." Those who are judged here come from all walks of life. But their position and status in this world will not be a factor at this judgment. People's age, position, prestige, power, popularity, wealth, or poverty makes no difference. They will all be here.
Revelation 20:12 (NIV) continues on to say:
12 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 Great White Throne will be unlike any courtroom we have ever seen. Yes, we see a defendant, a judge, the charges, the evidence and the sentencing. But there is no jury. There is a prosecuting attorney, but no defense attorney. And there will be issued a sentence, but no appeal. One thing that makes this different than what we imagine about earthly courtrooms is this. Those standing before Christ at the Great White Throne are not standing before Him for their trial. They have come here for sentencing.
The trial was completed prior to coming to this place and the verdict has already been issued. This is the sentencing phase. Let me further explain what I mean and how this is true.
In our last lesson, I presented the 7 judgments of the Bible. Let me list them for you again.
1. The Judgment of a believer's sins.
Take a close look at these 7 judgments. Not one of them are to determine whether a person is saved or not.
IF NONE OF THE 7 JUDGMENTS ARE TO DETERMINE WHETHER A PERSON IS SAVED OR NOT, WHEN DID THAT EVENT OCCUR?
John 3:18 (NASU) will help us out here.
18 He who believes in Him (Christ) is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
As long as a person continues to NOT believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, they have already been judged. And if a person dies in that condition, their destiny is fixed for eternity. If a person dies without accepting Jesus Christ as their much needed and personal Savior, the Bible says they will go immediately to Hades. While there, they will be awaiting their resurrection and appearance at the Great White Throne.
IF NONE OF THE JUDGMENTS ARE TO DETERMINE WHETHER A PERSON IS SAVED OR NOT, WHAT IS BEING JUDGED?
Revelation 20:12 NKJV
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
It is a person's works that are being judged here. Or, as the NIV puts it, a person is being judged "according to what they had done." Works are important to God, not as a means to gain salvation, but as evidence that we have obtained salvation in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10).
All judgments that occur after death deal with works. This includes the Great White Throne Judgment, where unbelievers will stand, as well as the Judgment Seat of Christ, where believers will be judged. We will be studying the details of the believer's judgment in a later lesson, but allow me to show you a couple of Scriptures here.
2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV
10 For we (believers) must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
The phrase "while in the body" means "while they were still physically alive." So this judgment will look at the works - the things a person has done - while they were still alive in their body.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 (NASU) is speaking of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Again, let me say that all judgments that occur after a person dies, are judgments of the person's works - what they have done while still alive. For the righteous, it will constitute a time of reward (1 Cor. 4:5). For the wicked, their works are the basis of their judgment.
Let's return to Revelation 20:12 NKJV
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
We've talked about what is actually being judge at this judgment. This verse also introduces us to the evidence at this judgment.
WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE BROUGHT TO THIS COURTROOM?
The premise for God's judgment is based on what is recorded in various sets of books. These books become the evidence for this judgment.
1. Exhibit A is a group of books.Revelation 20:12 says that those who are present will be "judged out of those things which were written in the books (plural), according to their works".
God is a great bookkeeper. He writes about everything, and keeps good records of every person who has ever lived. He writes all the time, or has angels that record every event. If you were to take an old bone to an anthropologist. He measures it - weighs it - and tells you its history. He can tell you its age, weight, sex, and the health of the person to whom it once belonged. It's all written down - maybe a little different than we write things, but it is written. Psychologists tell us that everything we have ever said or thought, felt or imagined, done or desired is written into the mysterious codes of our subconscious mind. All that is needed is for the right stimulus to bring it all back.
God keeps accurate books, and He keeps them for the day of judgment. The record God is keeping is far more thorough than the Nixon Tapes. It is the thoughts and aspirations, secret lusts, vile imaginations, as well as things actually said and done.
Psalm 56:8 NKJV
8 You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?
Malachi 3:16 NKJV
16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the LORD And who meditate on His name.
This Passage is really talking about his children, and not the sinner that will be at the White Throne. I use it only to show additional evidence that God keeps meticulous records. In this verse we are told that when his people speak to one another, He listens and keeps a record of it all.
The records of God will come into clear and full view at the Great White Throne. Most of what is decided at this judgment comes from the evidence found in these books. These are the books that contain the history of every individual that ever appeared on this earth. Their works, both good and evil are recorded in them. From the sins of your youth to the folly and stubborn pride of your old age, they are all there. And not only the works themselves, but the motives that prompted them, are recorded.
"I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jer 17:10).
The evidence in these books by which each person there will be judged, is God's infallible records containing a detailed, meticulous account of all the works each person has done. God keeps a record of every person's life in these books.
In Daniel 7:10 (NIV) we see another court scene.
10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
WHAT BOOKS MAKE UP THE THIS MULTIPLE SET OF RECORDS?
Before answering that question, let me say this. Because God is omniscient (all-knowing), He Himself does not need these record books. Rather, these books are kept for the benefit of each unbeliever that is judged. Specifically, the purpose of the books is to show everyone that God's judgments are fair, just, and based upon facts.
Revelation 20 is silent as to the names of this multiple set of books, or what is found in each, so what I am going to give you is only a possible set of books.
The Word of God
The first Book is the Word of God - the Bible. In the books, there will be every action, every decision acted upon, every motive of the heart. This includes their response to the Word of God and the gospel.
John 12:48 NIV
48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
Even if a person never read the Word of God, they will still be without excuse. Romans 1:20 tells us that God's law was written in their hearts.
The Book of Words
The second book is the Book of Words. Every word you & I have ever uttered has been recorded in heaven.
Matthew 12:36-37 NIV
36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
There are people today who have never physically beaten anyone, or murdered anyone. Yet they have committed horrible abuses with their words. If you call someone stupid, or tell someone that he or she is useless or no good, you are committing an act of vicious brutality upon that person's humanity.
Matthew 5:22 says "Whoever says, 'You fool', will be in danger of hell fire."
This verse tells us that God looks upon the brutality of hateful words as a heinous sin.
If you gossip, you are committing character assassination, whether what you said is technically true or not. To God, character assassination is an act of murder. At the judgment, an unbeliever will be held accountable for every careless, hurtful word that he or she has ever uttered.
James 3:9-10 (NIV) tells us:
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
God is keeping a record, not just of the words uttered verbally, but also the words you thought privately in your mind. How many times did John Doe reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did he scornfully push aside the "Jesus freak" who tried to stop him downtown to speak a few moments about his soul? Did he quickly switch the channel of his television set from the Billy Graham crusade to some action-packed program featuring brutality, murder and mayhem? The books record every significant deed... there he is again, lusting after his secretary, cheating on his income tax form, screaming in rage at a fellow worker. Wait! There's our John Doe in church, but look what he's thinking "these pompous, self-righteous preachers just want my money..." Our words will either acquit us or condemn us.
The Book of Conscience
Romans 2:14-15 NIV
14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,
Our conscience can be abused and seared (1 Tim. 4:2), and, because of that, it cannot always be a perfect judge. The records in this book must be taken in conjunction with the other books. In verse 15, above, one's conscience bears witness to every act they commit, and that conscience can be used to either accuse or defend us.
James 4:17 tells us:
Therefore, to him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
The accountability for obeying one's own conscience will hold true for acts of omission (failing to do good) as well as acts of commission (doing evil).
The Book of Secrets
Romans 2:16 tells us that "God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel."
Ecclesiastes 12:14 adds:
For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.
Secret sins is doing evil in your thoughts, even though one's outward actions appear good and kind. It also includes acts committed in one's own privacy, where no one else knows. On the ungodly side of this issue, if you relish pornography, you have (in the eyes of God) committed fornication. And if you harbor secret thoughts of hatred and prejudice toward another person or race or culture, then you are guilty (in the eyes of God) of violence, and possibly murder. However, on the positive side, if you long to feed and clothe the poor but lack the ability to help, I believe God accounts that you DID feed and clothe them. The book of secrets records both the good and the evil within each person's heart.
For those who might be guilty of evil secret thoughts or actions, you need to keep in mind what is said in Jeremiah 23:24.
Jeremiah 23:24 NIV
24 Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.
At the judgment of unbelievers, these good and evil secrets will be weighed in the scale of God's justice.
Whether or not the books that I have named for you are actually what constitutes the books of Revelation 20:12, it is still true that all these things will constitute parts of the Judgment.
Aside from all these books where we find a record of all that a person has done, here is one more book that we have yet to discuss. It is mentioned in Revelation 20:12.
The Book of Life.
This book is referred to specifically 8 times in the Bible. It is also alluded to in other places. In Revelation 21:27, this book is called The Lamb's book of life. In that verse, we are told that only those whose name is in this book are allowed to enter the beautiful New Jerusalem.
On the other side, all those at the Great White Throne Judgment will not have their names written in the Book of Life.
In Exodus 32:32, Moses makes a huge request of God.
He says, concerning the sins of Israel, "Please forgive their sin - but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." In the following verse, God speaks about the book in response to Moses.
In the New Testament, the Book of Life consistently refers to the register of those who have received eternal life in Christ.
Philippians 4:3 NIV
3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Revelation 13:8 NIV
8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast-all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
The Book of Life has been variously construed as originally containing the names of all human being. But if a person failed to receive salvation, his or her name was then blotted out. Another concept is that the book only contains the names of those who have been saved. I believe the latter position is probably more defensible.
Those whose names are listed in the book of life, have received God's Grace. They will go to heaven based on the works of Jesus Christ. Those whose names are not listed in the Lamb's book will instead receive God's Justice. They will go to the Lake of Fire based on their own works.
If you are an unbeliever, the choice of destination - heaven or hell - is yours alone. To go to hell, all you need to do is absolutely nothing. To go to heaven, you must decide to choose Jesus Christ as Savior, but that decision has to be made before you die.
We have noticed that the Bible says that both the Judgment Seat of Christ and the White Throne Judgment are not to determine whether a person is saved or not.
IF NOT, THEN WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT?
At the beginning of this lesson, I stated that the people who stand before this judgment are not going to be told the verdict of their being saved or not. We have already determined, according to John 3:18, that a person is already condemned if they have rejected Jesus Christ. I said at that time this judgment doesn't determine guilt or innocence but they are all standing before the throne for sentencing. This is the punishment phase, not the trial of guilt or innocence.
With regard to the Book of Life, those that are at this judgment are all alike. None of them have their names written in the book. With regard to the Books (plural), every person is different. And it is these books that are the critical evidence at this judgment.
Many people assume that all unrepentant sinners will experience an identical punishment for eternity. I believe, however, that the Bible reveals that a holy and just God will judge every individual sinner according to the deeds of his life. The result will be that God will punish him in the Lake of Fire according to those deeds.
Although the unsaved will be punished throughout all eternity, I believe the Scriptures give ample evidence that there will be degrees of severity in their sentencing. Let's look at some of those Scriptures.
Luke 12:47-48 NIV
47 That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.
These verses tell us that both will be punished, but the degree of punishment will be according to the knowledge they had.
Look at what Christ says in Matthew 11.
Matthew 11:20-24 NIV
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.
Luke 20:46-47 NKJV
46 Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 47 Who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.
John 19:11 NIV
11 Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.
I think it should be obvious that there is a strong possibility that some sins will be weighed differently than others. I don't know exactly how God is going to make people have a variety of degrees of punishment in the Lake of Fire. On one side we have a good man who hears the Gospel once. He lived where there was no gospel preaching. Only one time did he ever hear the Gospel. He is a good husband, a good father, but he rejected gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, he will go to the Lake of Fire because he did not receive Jesus as his Savior. But his punishment will be less than the person who heard the gospel every Sunday, but would not take Jesus as his Savior.
Let me end this lesson by refreshing several things we have discussed today. I want you to review how many "seconds" we have talked about. No, I am not talking about the kind of seconds that make up a minute. I am talking about the "seconds" that follow a first.
In the first place, look or think about the "Second Resurrection."
God says, in Revelation 20:6, that those who are part of the first resurrected are blessed. Once the righteous have been taken, all that is left are the unsaved.
There is going to be a Second resurrection. And the participants in this resurrection are NOT blessed of God. It is a sad day for those who are part of the second resurrection. That day is the day of their sentencing.
This brings me to the next "second." I am speaking of the "Second judgment."
There are two primary judgments that deal with eternity. Every person who has ever lived will be at one of these two judgments. The Judgment Seat of Christ and The Great White Throne Judgment. Those who participate in the Second Resurrection, are ushered to the second of these two judgments.
We are told that the face of him who sits on the Great White Throne causes the earth and sky to flee away. Standing before the Lord, there will probably be billions of people who wish they could flee from that space - but will not be able.
You could say that one of the large differences between these two judgments is the subject of "recognition." The Bible tells us that Christ knows and recognizes those who are his. Not so at the second judgment. To these He will say: Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matt 25:41 NIV) Recognition wasn't there. He says He never knew them.
We've considered the Second Resurrection and the Second Judgment." Now I would like you to think about the "Second Adam."
1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us that we all began in sin, as a result of the first Adam. We all die because of the first Adam. We all have a sinful nature because of the first Adam. But God made a way for us to exit off the family tree of the first Adam and be grafted into the family tree of Christ, the Second Adam, through adoption.
WHO IS THE JUDGE AT THE GREAT WHITE THRONE?
It is the SECOND ADAM.
Every person at this judgment will be a person who decided to stay in the family of the first Adam and rejected the offer to be adopted into the family of the Second Adam. This Judge will view the evidence provided in the books, and will come forth with His sentence. All will be sentenced to the Lake of Fire which is called the "Second Death" (Revelation 20:14).
Those who are not part of the blessed at the First Resurrection will most assuredly participate in the Second Resurrection and be ushered to the Second Judgment, and stand before the Second Adam, which will result in the Second Death, where fires never end.
Maybe there is someone here today that would say, "Teacher, how can I escape the second resurrection? How can I escape the second judgment? How can I escape the awful time of facing the Second Adam? How can I escape the fires of the second death?"
I am certainly glad you asked. There is one more "second" that I have not mentioned. You can escape the second resurrection, the second judgment, standing unsaved before the Second Adam and escape the second death by being a participant in the Second Birth.
Jesus said "you must be born again." Anybody who has the second birth will not have to suffer the second death. The choice is yours.
Right now, Jesus stand before you with only one book in his hand - The Book of Life. My question for you is this - Is your name in the book? That's the one thing that matter right now. Have you been born again with the Second Birth?
The Lost Were Told of Their Fate
I dreamed that the great judgment morning
|Questions, comments & suggestions to John Hoole||
Last Updated: Thursday September 08 2011