God of Jesus Christ, give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ, so that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened. Help us to know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of your power at work in us. (Worship Sourcebook)
We come now to last part of Chapter 20. Next week, we going to deal with the new heavens and the new earths. For now, we are going to study an event that happens after the millennium which is Judgment Day. This is what the preacher of the book of Hebrew wrote about when he said: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…(Hebrews 9:27)” While all of us will not die at exactly the same time (except for those who will experience the actual event of Christ’s second coming), we will all experience first death and right after we die, the next event in the future is the Judgment of God.
What happens in judgment day? What does it mean when the Bible says God will judge us according to our works? How does that relate to justification by faith alone and good works?
Today we will examine the last 5 verses of Chapter 20. We are going to deal with the text first then the implication of its theology in relation to the doctrine of good works. So our preaching this morning is divided into two points: 1) Books of Judgment and Book of Life; and 2) Judged by Works and Saved by Grace.
Books of Judgment and Book of Life
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. 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. 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. – Revelation 20:11-15
What is the great white throne? Who seats the on it as judge? Who are the dead? Where did they come from? What are the books and what do they symbolize?
The great white throne is the judgment seat of God. This throne has been mentioned several times in each cycle in the book of Revelation and it is place called heaven where everyone congregates. We heard from our past preaching that this throne is white because it symbolizes purity, holiness, and justice. It means God himself is holy, just and pure. So the one seated on it is God himself as described in verse 1a.
Now the clue to the occasion of this vision from John is found in verse 1b where it says, “From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.” This means that the event that will take place has not happened yet in our time so it is prophetic (predictive). It will happen sometime in the future because the world has not been destroyed. At the end of every cycle of the book of Revelation we always come to the end but never beyond it but in Revelation 20, John saw what occurs after the second coming of God and it is Judgment Day. God in the great white throne will judge everyone. He is the perfect Ruler and Judge of all creatures.
In Judgment Day, all creatures will appear before God. John saw in verse 2 “…the dead, great and small, standing before the throne”. No one is exempted. Since all of us will die, we are all going to face the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27). Nothing strikes fear in the heart of sinner than this thought of facing God who is the all consuming fire. Nothing is hidden from him. He is infinite, all knowing, and all present. And as creatures made by our Creator, we owe existence from him and according to Paul, “…each of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12).”
This reality of God judging our every action is clearly revealed to us in Scripture, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14).” This is what John saw symbolized when he wrote “…the books were opened”. I called these books (plural) the Books of Judgement. They contain every deed, public and private, good or bad, committed by every creature on earth. This is precisely what judgment is all about. It is always by works. Obviously, the books being examined is not literal. It is not as some explained a movie playback of our life and it is laid before God. Rather, God know everything and he will judge us according to what we do. Again, it simply tells that God will judge every creature., “…And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done (Revelation 20:12c).” This is dreadful day for unbelievers. God has poured over his wrath over them in the last days and brought everything to its end. Then thinking that will be the end of it, the wicked will face God’s judgment and delivered over to hell to suffer second death. This is the eternal punishment for the unregenerate and hypocrites.
Now, the particular focus of the verse 12 is towards “the dead” and they are “great and small”. It is a idiomatic expression which means all without exception. All of us will face God’s judgment. I will deal with the judgment of believers next week so I can focus on it and carefully explain the doctrine of good works in relation to the Judgment Day. For now, let us focus on the judgment against unbelievers.
John wrote in verse 13, they are “the dead” from the sea, and also from Death and Hades. The parallelism between each place (sea, Death and Hades) points to the place evil. The sea always symbolize chaos and often thought of as a place of sin and evil then Death here is obviously personified similar to the Paul’s expression “Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).” Hades is the place of the dead who are not with Christ in heaven. Therefore, this particular group of the dead are the wicked both who died prior to Christ’s second coming and those died between the millennium (the first and second coming of Christ) and they are judge also particularly according to works. And since they do not belong to Christ and did not resurrect with him, they will suffer eternal punishment in hell.
We know that the wicked did not belong to Christ because their names are not written in the book of life. The Book of Life is the second book (singular) that contains the names of those who belongs to Christ. They are elect who are saved by grace even though they are judged by works. The term “Book of Life” has been referred to several times in the book of Revelation and they are always referring to God’s people. The believers are those who were die once but lives twice while the unbelievers and hypocrites are those who are live once but die twice. So believers who are found in the book of life is a symbolism for those whom God calls, justifies, and glories (Romans 8:29-30).
Next week, we will continue our study on this matter.
ZCRC(Imus), God is both holy and just, and gracious and wise. In the end, he will judge all his creatures according to their works and grant eternal life to those who belongs to Christ. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.