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THE GREAT WHITE THRONE – Revelation 20:11-15

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on October 19, 2016 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; October 19, 2016 from Revelation 20:11-15

Theme: This passage describes the glorious millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

This morning’s passage describes something both awesome and dreadful. It’s an event that will follow after the conclusion of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth: the final judgment. Many people of an irreverent mind find it an extremely distasteful thing to discuss. And truthfully, who could help shrinking back from it? It’s one of the most somber passage in the Bible; and no true child of God would ever delight in the judgment it describes.

But consider God’s motivation in recording it for us. He is a good and loving God—a God of great mercy who isn’t willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God’s word tells us that He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him “should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And so, as unpleasant to us as the final judgment of the wicked is to think about, the Holy Spirit has lovingly revealed and recorded the truth about it so that we might ultimately be saved from it. He shows us the destiny of those who are outside of a relationship with Christ so that we might make very sure we are in Christ by faith—and thus saved from that sorrowful destiny.

For those of us who are in Christ, this passage stretches our emotions from dread and sorrow to glorious hope. As believers, we should bow in humble praise and worship before the God that is described in this passage; and we should faithfully and unhesitatingly proclaim what it says to the world so that others might be saved by His grace.

Notice what this passage tells us about …

I. THE JUDGE (v. 11).

A. We’re not told who this is that is described as sitting on the throne; but other passages in Scriptures seem to indicate that it will be none other than the Lord Jesus Himself (John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 17:31). Everyone who mocks Him today must, one day, come to terms with Him. Today, He is the Savior from our sins; graciously willing to welcome anyone who turns to Him, and to save anyone who trusts in Him. On the day yet to come, however, He takes His place upon the throne as the Judge of the living and the dead—and the present day of grace will have come to an end.

B. Consider His authority. He is shown sitting on a great white throne. “Great” suggests the supreme majesty of this throne (see Philippians 2:9); and white suggests its righteousness and justice (Psalm 97:2). Heaven and earth are said to flee from it; which may be a suggest the dreadful majesty of Him who sits upon the throne; but it may also be a description of the final dissolution of heaven and earth at the end of the age at His command (2 Peter 3:10-13). The heavens and the earth “flee” and are found no more; and what will follow is the creation of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1ff).

II. THE JUDGED (vv. 12-13).

A. Back in verse 4, we’re told about the resurrection of the saints who were killed during the reign of the Antichrist. But we were told then that the rest of the dead would not be raised until after the 1,000 year reign had been completed. The “dead” that we read of in this passage, then, are the rest of those who were not raised at the second coming of Christ. These are the dead raised unto judgment (John 5:28-29). Note that they are said to be “standing”. Their spirits will have been reunited to a resurrected body suitable for judgment. And all are said to stand together—the small and the great. All unredeemed people will be on equal footing before the throne of judgment.

B. We’re told that the sea gave up its dead (v. 13); so that even those who may have died in the ocean and whose physical particles had been scattered beneath the waves over several centuries will be reconstituted and raised to stand in judgment. “Death and “Hades” must give up the dead that are in them. “Death” speaks of a state of being. “Hades” is translated “Hell” in some translations; but this isn’t the best way to translate that word. The word “Hell” (better used as a translation of the Greek word Gehenna; see Mark 9:42-48) typically speaks of the place of ultimate judgment—that is, the lake of fire described later in this passage (see vv. 14-15). But the word “Hades” that is used here refers to a place where the dead abide during the intermediate state between death and ultimate judgment. When Jesus told His parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, He described the rich man as “being in torments in Hades” (Luke 16:23). All those in the state of being called ‘Death’ and in the place called ‘Hades’ are summoned forth; and they are all made to keep their appointment before the Great White Throne. Because heaven and earth are gone, there remains no place to hide.

III. THE JUDGMENT (vv. 12-13).

A. We’re told of books that were opened (see Daniel 7:10). Note that these are “books” (plural). What are these books? They may be the testimony of John the Baptists, or the recorded works of Jesus, or the written word of the Father, or the law of Moses; because all these writings are used to testify against those who reject Christ (John 5:31-40). But whatever books they may be, they clearly and directly implicate the works of all who stand before the throne; because “the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books”. But notice also that there is the Book of Life (singular). This is the great registry of those who are ‘in’ Christ by faith (see Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5).

B. God is sovereign; and it is by His grace that anyone’s name is recorded in the Book of Life at all. But note very carefully that no one will be judged on the basis of whether or not they were ‘the elect’. Rather, they will be judged according to their works. Note also that this does not involve a great, massive “group judgment”; but rather a judgment of “each one according to his works”. The judgment will be just, because it will be done individually. As Paul says, each individual will be proven to have treasured up for themselves “wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Romans 2:5-6; cf. Psalm 62:12).

C. Apparently—and perhaps in a way that it is not for us to know—there will be differing degrees of condemnation for different degrees of sin (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:21-24; Mark 12:38-40). But all who are judged will be in torment. And what’s more, there will apparently be some who will attempt to protest the judgment of God (Matthew 7:22-23); but their protestations will not prevail.


A. Both Death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire. These two places represent the inhabitants that were in them. The lake of fire itself is apparently a place that exists outside the present created realm; because it will continue to exist after the present heavens and earth have been destroyed. What’s more, it even seems to be a place that exists at the same time as this present created order; because the beast and the false prophet will be cast alive into it at the beginning of the 1,000 year reign (19:20)—and Satan also at that reign’s end (v. (20:10)—during a time when this present created order still remains. It’s probably not useful to attempt to speculate ‘where’ the lake of fire is; because existing as it does apart from and yet in coexistence with this present created realm, it is clearly spiritual in nature (that is, not at all a part of this created realm). But though ‘spiritual’, it is nevertheless as real as this present this created realm and as real as the heavenly realms.

B. One of the descriptions the Bible gives to the lake of fire is as a place of deep and terrible darkness. Both Peter and Jude said that those who were destined for ultimate judgment were “reserved for the blackness of darkness forever” (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13). Jesus Himself said that some would be “cast out into outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12). Another description Jesus often gave to it is as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. He said that some would be cast into “outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). This is a picture of dreadful and mournful agony. The apostle Paul referred to it as a place characterized by punishment “with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9); which suggests that its greatest agony is that those who are cast into it are forever separated from the One for whom they were made—but whom they refused to honor or love. Jesus referred to it as “an everlasting fire”. On that day of judgment, He will say to those destined for punishment, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). He called it an “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). He also referred to it as “the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42). How it is that it can be both a place of “everlasting fire” and “outer darkness”—and at the same time—simply shows how far above and beyond our present abilities of conception this dreadful place of eternal punishment exceeds!

C. Notice also that the experience of being cast into the lake of fire is called by another name—and it’s a most sobering name indeed: the second death. Surely, anyone who knew the truth and was given the choice, would gladly suffer a million “first deaths” if it would mean that he or she could avoid the “second death”. The guilt for sin alone isn’t the reason why, in the end, those who will be condemned before the Great White Throne will suffer eternal punishment. It’s not because of what’s written in the books that condemn their deeds that they’re finally cast into the lake of fire. It’s true that it is on the judicial basis of their works that they are declared guilty; but it’s also true that many of us who are in Christ will have committed the same works. Rather, these will be cast into the lake of fire because their names were not found written in the Book of Life. As a matter of choice—on the basis of whatever measure of the light of the truth God had given them—they will have rejected the only alternative to that terrible destiny that God has ever offered; and that alternative is faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As John says, “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (v. 15).

* * * * * * * * * *

That judgment is the final one. There will be no other judgment afterward. What a dreadful prospect! And yet, it is a great mercy from God that He has lovingly warned mankind about it in advance. Everyone who reads this passage does so before they will have died; and so they are—at the time of their encounter with this passage—being given an opportunity to avoid what it describes. And our Lord Himself has told us plainly how to do so. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

May we be sure that we are safe in Christ! And in addition, may we—who are safe in Christ—be faithful to declare the gospel so that others may believe and be safe in Him too!

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