After having covered the millennium the two past Sunday evenings, we now only have a few evenings left in our trek through the book of Revelation. Here is the plan for these remaining weeks. Tonight we’ll finish chapter 20, and Lord willing the next two Sunday evenings we’ll cover the wonders of the New Heavens and the New Earth in chapters 21 and 22.

So as we look to finishing chapter 20 this evening we’re now at the famous moment of final judgment that will occur before the Great White Throne. But I’d caution you to not think this final judgment is new in Revelation, we’ve seen this moment before. It’s already been described to us many times, notably in 6:14 and 16:20. So remember, if we believe Revelation is a chronological account of the end times we’ve already seen many final judgments come, many world ending events, and many returns of Christ. I ask very simply, how many times does Jesus do a final judgment, how many times does He return? Answer: once, not many. For this reason, and more, we take Revelation to be, not chronological, but a sevenfold repetition of the same events that increases in its intensity each time. What does this mean for the Great White Throne? This is not the last of the all many judgment scenes in Revelation, we’re seeing the one great judgment at the end of time.

And with the final judgment in view, we’re coming to another text in the Bible that our culture dislikes, to say the least. Despite all its dismissal in our culture, all it’s neglect in popular Christian circles, and the virtual silence on the subject in modern pulpits, this final judgment will happen, and it will change everything.[1] Many might seek to cleverly escape the thought of it here and now but can we escape it? No we cannot. Even the words of our ancient creeds and confessions remind us of its reality. The Nicene Creed includes the statement Christ, “…will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (33:1) similarly says, “All persons who have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.”

The text before us this evening is Revelation 20:11-15, and I’ve divided it up into three parts for us.

The Judge (v11)

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.”

As we’ve seen many times through Revelation as a whole and as we just saw back at the start of chapter 20, a shift in the text is brought about with the phrase, “Then I saw…” This time John not only sees a throne, he sees a white throne, and he sees the One seated on it. That he sees a throne implies a great King is in view, who is poised for a great judgment, through which He’ll exercise a great authority. We just saw a vision of the saints reigning with Christ on thrones of authority during the millennium in v4-6, now we no doubt see the throne above all thrones, the throne of God. And when the throne of God comes into view there is not only a great authority and a great judgment, but a great royalty and a great glory in view as well. I don’t think I’m saying too much here. While John doesn’t explicitly state who this One on the throne is in v11 I think it clear to be none other than Christ. Why? Jesus said He’d do this work. Matthew 25:31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Not only is it clear that Jesus is returning here to sit on His throne, but that He’ll also gather all peoples and Judge. We could also go to John 5:22-23 says “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” Clearly then, this is the Son of God on His great throne in v11.

But notice also what happens before Him. The earth and the sky flee from His presence and can find nowhere to rest, nowhere to escape, and nowhere to hid[2]e from this King. The world and its ways and beauty and grandeur that once seemed so significant and so important now flees as the King in His beauty is set to bring forth judgment on humanity. It’s as if nothing else matters than this scene before the throne.[3] Also, that the earth and sky flee away does pave the way for what we see coming in the next two chapters, as the new heavens and new earth is formed and fixed forever.[4]

The Judged (v12)

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

Who are those to be judged? The dead, the great, and the small meaning all humanity, from Adam down to every single human being that’s ever been will now stand before this throne and be judged by this King. One commentator put it like this, “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.”[5] Therefore this means this judgment will be the single largest gathering of human beings in all history. No one will be left out, no one will be grandfathered in, all deception and all lies and all façade’s will be blown off as all will be present as they truly are. Augustine often spoke of this day in his writings speaking of God’s ‘divine memory’, of God’s infallible observation, who knows all deeds, thoughts, motives, and words. Is this unsettling for any of you? We normally avoid those people who know our great sins and misdeeds of the past for fear of embarrassment or for fear of re-living wrongs or re-smelling the stench of past sin. v12 makes it clear, no one will be able to avoid this King.

Now this also implies, since all humanity will be present before this throne, believers will be present too. No Christian then, can sit back comfortably and think ‘I’m a Christian, the day of judgment has nothing to do with me. That’s for unbelievers.’ Wrong. Since all humanity will be present for this Christians will not escape this. We all will be called to give an account.[6] But the great difference to be noted is that while unbelievers and all who’ve rejected the gospel will be in dread and terror on this day, believers will love the day of Christ’s appearing as He brings us before His throne. Because there and then, for the first time in our lives, we’ll see our Savior face to face, and we’ll hear Christ the King not condemn us but welcome us home by His grace.

But did you see how v12 mentioned books being opened? John reaches back to Daniel 7 and Daniel 12 where it speaks of God opening books of judgment and redemption. So no surprise, John now sees this fulfilled as Christ opens the books. But there seems to be two books in view here. One generally referred to first and then the specific ‘book of life’ second. What do we make of this? Well notice the description of this first book seems to tell us that it’s a book full of deeds, of works, sinful works I think, and the wicked are judged according to what’s in this book. But about the book life, notice here in v12 and later in v15, that it isn’t described as being full of deeds or works done, no. The book of life is said to be full of names. Names of those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world when this book was written (13:8, 17:8). And as is stated here, all whose names are written here will be welcomed into the Kingdom God has prepared for them, while all whose names aren’t written in it will be thrown into the lake of fire.

So we’ve seen the Judge, and those who’ll be judged. Now see…

The Judgment (v13-15)

“And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

v13 begins with the sea. The image of the sea throughout the Old Testament was one of chaos, of rage, and of rebellion. No surprise then we find here it said the sea was, in a sense, housing the dead along with Death and Hades. All these came forth before the throne and were judged. Then we find Death and Hades and all the wicked, thrown into the lake of fire. What is moment called? The second death. Remember Church, if you’re born twice you die once, and if you’re born once you die twice. This is getting at this. All who’ve been born again don’t fear the second death because they won’t be included in it. But all who reject the gospel offer of new birth, will not only die once, they’ll die twice, and the second death lasts forever.

Conclusion:

On one particular evening in 1808 a young man named Adoniram Judson was staying the night in an inn.[7] All was going as expected but everything changed when, in the room next to him, another man staying there was clearly very sick and seemed to be crying out in the throes of death. Now, Adoniram had been a brilliant student at Providence college, where he encountered the worldview of the Enlightenment, which had been sweeping through Western Europe for sometime before coming over to the States. One upperclassman named Jacob Eames had also been swept into the Enlightenment and came to embrace Deism, which teaches that God is distant, not involved, and absent from the world. Eames had a great influence on the young Adoniram, and did eventually persuade him to join him in this new philosophy. And Adoniram did just that. On Adoniram’s 20th birthday he told his parents that he too had abandoned the Christian faith and was moving to New York City to live a life devoted to pleasure.

Now we can go back to the inn that evening. After listening to the terrible moans and cries in the room next to him, largely filled with angry outbursts toward God, Adoniram wondered what his wise friend Jacob Eames would say about such weakness and foolishness. Adoniram wondered if this man screaming out had also rejected the gospel also and embraced a worldly creed as he did. He wondered if his apparent fear of dying revealed a fear of judgment beyond death. Adoniram then wondered about his own fears of death and grew worried as well. But he consoled himself with the clever ideas of his friend Jacob Eames.

By the morning the struggle in the room next to him had clearly ended. Adoniram gathered up his belongings to check out and headed down stairs. On his way out he passed the innkeeper and asked about the man next door. The innkeeper responded, “He is gone, poor fellow…the doctor said he wouldn’t make it through the night.” Adoniram then asked, “Do you know who he was?” The innkeeper said, “Oh yes. Young man from the college in Providence, name was Eames, Jacob Eames.” Adoniram was stunned, and for hours one thought kept reverberating through his mind “Dead! Lost! Lost!”

Adoniram did not right away run back to the gospel, but he eventually would and when he did he found relief from his great fear of the judgment to come. He would always look back at that evening in the inn with great thankfulness to God for saving him from such a fate in Christ. And as we now know, Adoniram Judson would go on to become one of the most well-known missionaries in all of history for his willingness to suffer almost anything to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Church, the great white throne judgment of Christ is coming. May it not find you unprepared, but ready and eager to see our Savior face to face.


[1] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2017), 598.

[2] Phillips, 601.

[3] Joel Beeke, Revelation: The Lectio Continua: Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 527.

[4] G. K. Beale and David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Eerdmans, 2015), 459.

[5] Milne, quoted in Phillips, Revelation, 600.

[6] Beeke, Revelation, 533.

[7] Bruce Milne, quoted in Phillips, Revelation, 597–98.

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