Everything we know about this life will one day come to an end. History will be absorbed by eternity, and there will be a day of reckoning for every person who has refused to bow the knee to the Almighty Creator. When all is said and done, not even a vestige of sin will be found in the eternal kingdom of God.
The Lord is very clear in Scripture that He only tolerates rebellion to allow time for redemption. He has patiently endured the treason of both angels and humans while providentially bringing the elect among humanity to repentance and faith in Christ. However, this gracious work of salvation has a divine time limit, and mercy will no longer be extended when the work is concluded.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ is God’s record of how He will bring this present age to a close. It brings us from the redeeming and sanctifying work of the glorified Christ in His church in these last days to the Day of Judgment and then into eternity. After a time of tribulation, in which treachery is exposed and God’s wrath is expressed, Christ will return to earth in power and glory to reign for a thousand years.
The reign of Jesus Christ will be absolute and based solely in the authority of God’s Law, and the world will experience a golden age of righteousness and blessing as the glorified saints reign with their Lord (20:4-6). No satanic influence will be allowed (20:1-3) until the end of the Millennium when a final revolt will be permitted (20:7-10). This will undeniably prove that God is just in judging His rebellious creatures, since their heart’s desire is to love sin rather than righteousness. All human enemies of the Lord will be slain, and Satan and his demons will be cast into the place of torment forever and ever.
With only redeemed humanity remaining on the earth, God will then begin to transition His kingdom into its eternal state — free of sin (Rev. 21-22). Revelation 20:11-15 describes this time between history and eternity, in which the universe will be destroyed, and the unrighteous of humanity will be finally judged and banished from the presence of God. It all takes place before the “great white throne” of the Almighty.
The Great White Throne (20:11-15)
The Universe is Destroyed (v. 11)
The apostle John now sees in his vision “a great white throne and Him who sat on it.” In other words, this is the judgment throne of God on which the Lord Jesus Christ ultimately sits (cf. Jn. 5:22-30; Acts 17:31; Rev. 21:5-6). It is white because Christ is holy and so is His judgment (cf. Rev. 1:13-20; 4:2-3; 5:1; 6:16; 7:10, etc.).
As the sinless Son of God and Son of Man, our Lord Jesus is the incarnate second Person of the Triune Godhead. His presence on the throne is that of God — glorified in His humanity but equal with the Father and the Spirit as Deity. That is why the rest of the verse says: “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was no place found for them.” With all the saints now glorified (19:6-9) and His enemies subdued under Him (cf. Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44; Acts 2:35; Heb. 1:13; 10:12-13), there is nothing left of sin but the earth and the universe, which were cursed because of it (Gen. 3). It has been waiting, as it were, to be delivered from the bondage of its corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-22). It is no longer of any use in Gods plan, since it is corrupted by sin.
This verse describes the initiation of that event, in which the created universe is essentially “uncreated” only to then be recreated. It will effectively undergo a resurrection of its own, as it will be destroyed with a fervent heat to make way for a new heavens and a new earth in which only righteousness exists (2 Pet. 3:12-13). This sin-cursed universe, of which the Earth is the central focus of God as the place for mankind to serve Him (Gen. 1), will quickly disappear at the command of its Creator. God, who created it out of nothing, will again make it nothing.
And in this void of nothingness, where time, space, and matter no longer exist, God will bring about a new creation. The joy of this future reality is described in the final chapters of the book. But first, in stark contrast to the glory of the redeemed, the unrighteous dead must be judged. They will never see eternity with God.
The Unrighteous are Judged (vv. 12-13)
The only thing eternal that rebels will experience is the wrath of God, and rightly so. For they have willfully disobeyed the Law of God in pursuit of their own way, having suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). They embraced the lie of Satan (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 1:25) and have refused the clear witness of God’s creation and His revealed Word in Scripture (Ps. 19; cf. Rom. 1:18-3:31). Now God will hold them accountable for every rebellious thought, word and deed, because they have rejected His offer of a pardon through Christ (Jn. 3:16-21).
Before the throne of judgment John “saw the dead, small and great, standing before God.” That is, every unredeemed human being, regardless of what now distinguishes us all in this world (ethnicity, money, power, associations, etc.), will appear before Him to give an account of his life on this earth. They will all “stand before God” in judgment. They are not merely “dead” physically, but more importantly, they are spiritually and eternally dead to God. That is, they have no relationship to Him and will enjoy nothing of eternal life.
And the Sovereign of Creation will not use the corrupt moral standards of his rebellious creatures to judge them. On the contrary, He will use His righteous standard that is based upon His own righteous, eternal Person. For He has made us in His moral image and likeness as persons, and He has written His Law in our hearts so that we know right from wrong (Rom. 2:12-16). Therefore, sinners are without excuse before Him (Rom. 2:1), although they will certainly make excuses in that day (Matt. 7:21-23).
Being omniscient, the Lord remembers every thought, word and deed of each human being, and He weighs them against His Law. Nothing has gone unnoticed, and He will lay it all before each one who appears before the throne. This is what is meant by the phrase, “and books were opened” (cf. Dan. 7:10). The divine record will be recalled.
However, “another book was opened” in John’s vision. It is described as “the Book of Life.” This is the record of the names of God’s elect, chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). They are those who have overcome the curse of sin through faith in the Lamb of God who has made them righteous (Rev. 3:5). The “dead [will be] judged according to their works, by the things written in the books” containing every transgression of God’s Law. But the saints of God are not judged according to their sins (Ps. 103:10-14; cf. Ps. 32:2; Rom. 4:8), for their sin has been pardoned through the death and resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ!
It is at this point that the resurrection of the unrighteous dead will occur (Rev. 20:5). They will rise from the dust of the earth “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). We read in verse 13: “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.” This describes the places where the departed dead have gone from the face of the earth — the grave (whether on land or sea) and the temporary hell where their spirits are now incarcerated. “Death and Hades” are essentially synonymous terms, although the former most emphasizes the grave and the latter the abode of their spirits.
And when their spirits are joined with resurrected bodies fit to receive the degree of eternal torment which God determines, they will be “judged, each one according to his works.” (v. 13b). As Almighty God, Christ has all authority to raise them to judgment (cf. Rev. 1:18). And He has power to banish them from God’s kingdom forever.
The Unrighteous are Banished (vv. 14-15)
When judgment is complete, they all will be “cast into the lake of fire” for eternity — the place where all rebels will experience eternal death (“the second death”; cf. Rev. 20:6). It is where Satan, his demons, the Antichrist and his false prophet will already be cast forever (Rev. 19:20; 20:10; cf. Matt. 25:41). It is the place of outer darkness where there is conscious torment, as they experience the eternal wrath of the eternal God (Matt. 8:12; Mk. 9:44).
Only unredeemed sinners will be in the Lake of Fire. Why? Because they have willfully refused God’s offer of a pardon. They have rejected Christ as Lord and Savior. They have believed Satan’s lie and fully engaged in treason with no repentance, and they will suffer the consequences (Rev. 14:9-11). The knew full well the circumstances and the consequence for not bowing the knee the Lord of Glory, and now they must pay for eternity. They are “cast into the lake of fire” as they deserve.
Their names were “not written in the Book of Life,” not because God is unfair but because He chose not to intervene and produce a new birth in their heart. Therefore, they would not turn to Christ because they cannot turn to Christ, and they cannot because they will not. God has chosen to leave them to the deserved, natural consequences of their sins, from which they legitimately have no desire to turn (Rom. 9:14-33).
In the end, God is the Great Equalizer. His purpose and plan will be accomplished, and it will be done with justice in regard to rebels. But in regard to the saints, God will forever be praised for His never-ending mercy and grace! They will know the fullness of eternal life with God in the new creation prepared for them as we will see in the following chapters.
But the day of judgment has not arrived, and we must warn all that it is fast approaching. The Great White Throne of God draws near with each passing day, when the present universe will be no more and rebels will be judged and forever banished from heaven’s righteous kingdom.
Is your name written in the Book of Life? Or will you appear before the Great White Throne of God Almighty?
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