Great White Throne Judgment
Great White Throne Judgment
Brad Mills / General
Revelation / Eschatology: Last Judgment / Revelation 20:7–15
Think of a time in your life where you greatly offended your parents and received some form of discipline. I realize the spectrum of responses may span from one of neglect and indifference to (unfortunately) even physical abuse. For some of you, the punishment might have been so harsh it overshadowed the offense so that you can’t even remember what you did wrong.
Discipline is one of the most difficult tasks for parents to do well. If you have children, surely you can think of a time when you disciplined out of anger. Maybe you overreacted to a relatively minor offense. Or maybe you failed to take the time to explain yourself. Or maybe you refused to follow up with your child for reconciliation.
As we begin to think about the final judgment, it is important to begin with this: God’s judgment is fully just. He always disciplines his children in love (Heb 12:5-11). At Christ’s return everyone will stand before him to face a judgment according what they have done.
We have been looking at the sixth of seven cycles in the Book of Revelation:
1. Seven Churches (1:1-3:22)
2. Seven Seals (4:1-8:1)
3. Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
4. Spiritual Conflict (12:1-14:20)
5. Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)
6. Final Judgment (17:1-20:15)
7. Final Reward (21:1-22:21)
How ought we live in light of Christ’s return to judge the world?
Read Revelation 20:7-15.
At the end of this cycle we now have the fullest display of the final judgment.
› But before the final judgment of humans, we see…
I. The Final Defeat of Satan (7-10)
At the end of the thousand years (this present age), Satan will be released from his bondage (7). He will immediately begin to do the very thing that he was prevented from doing (3), namely, deceiving the nations and gathering them together for the final battle (8). These nations, called “Gog and Magog,” make up a vast army that is like the sand of the sea. There is no small number of opposition to God at this time.
If this battle is taking place after Christ’s second coming and earthly millennial reign, as Premillennialism suggests, then it’s hard to understand where all these unbelievers have come from. If Satan was bound throughout the millennial reign, and only believers entered the millennial reign, then there was an awful lot of apostasy taking place during Christ’s triumphant reign.
The names “Gog and Magog” refer to a land and people mentioned in Ezekiel 38-39. Over the years people have speculated that this is a reference to the Goths, Muslims, Turks, and more recently Russia. Hal Lindsey popularized the idea that “Meshech and Tubal” mentioned in Ezekiel 38:2-3 are a hidden reference to the cities, Moscow and Tobolsk. The mention of “Rosh” in these same verses added weight to his argument that it must be Russia. For someone writing to anxious Americans during the height of the Cold War, these arguments sounded convincing.
However, “rosh” is simply the Hebrew word for “prince” and Meshech and Tubal were actual cities north of Assyria at the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The suggestion that the names of these ancient towns point to cities that would not come into existence for one thousand years (Moscow) and fifteen hundred years (Tobolsk) based solely upon similar sounding names is—to say the least—hard to swallow. What hope did any saint, who lived prior to the Cold War, have of interpreting this passage rightly?
In reality, we know from ancient Jewish literature that “Gog and Magog” were proverbial names for evil nations. John’s original audience would have understood that Satan will gather every rebellious nation from all directions (“the four corners of the earth”). Gog and Magog are the nations represented by “the kings of the whole world” who assemble at Armageddon, the location of the final battle (Re 16:16).
In John’s vision, this great army surrounded the camp of the saints and their city (9). The odds were stacked against the outnumbered saints, but the Lord rescued them by consuming their foes with fire from heaven.
Satan is cast into the lake of fire where he joins the beast and the false prophet to experience conscious eternal torment (10). This suffering is not only reserved for Satan and demons, but for all who rejected Christ and worshiped the beast (14:11; 19:20; 20:15).
Now, while Satan is still bound, is your opportunity to turn to Christ. When Satan’s restraint is released there will be swift deception and gathering against God’s people. The gospel of grace is offered to you now. Repent and believe in Jesus as your Savior. His victory was achieved for all who place their trust in him.
Although Christ defeated Satan on the cross it is his return that achieves the culminating effect of that defeat.
Do you live in light of Christ’s victory? Are you confident that the spiritual forces of evil have been waging a suicidal mission? These are questions about the assurance of your salvation. John wrote his first epistle to believers in order that they might know that they have eternal life (1 Jn 5:13). 1 John is all about having assurance. Here in Revelation, God bolsters that assurance by conveying this vision of the victory that Christ will conclude at his second coming.
› Following the final defeat of Satan, John sees…
II. The Final Judgment of Everyone (11-15)
Christ seated on the throne takes up all space (11). There will be no escaping his judgment (2 Tim 4:1). All “the dead” appear before the throne (12). It is a legal scene where books of evidence are opened as well as the book of life. “The dead” are judged according to the evidence contained in the books (specifically, “what they had done”). This is representative of one universal judgment, not one that is separated by a thousand year gap.
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
All in the sea and the realm of the dead were judged according to their works (13). The word translated “done” is literally ἔργον (works), which is translated as “deeds” in Matt 16:27. Christ is seated on his throne “to judge the living and the dead” according to their works. For believers, that includes the sins that they have committed as well as the good works they have done.
Because believers are united to Christ we can do good works. These works never merit pardon for sin. Nor do they contribute anything to the grounds of our salvation. However, they necessarily flow from genuine justification. Works are the evidence of a true and lively faith. They are the fruit that “leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22). According to Calvin, “It is faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” Good works always accompany genuine faith (Jam 2:18).
The believer’s ability to do good works comes from the Spirit of Christ. The work of Christ’s grace in us, produces the fruit of good works, which he then rewards even though they remain tainted by the impurities and imperfections of our fallen nature. Christ is the foundation upon which we build our good works. Works that survive the test of fire will be rewarded (1 Cor. 3:10-15) in proportion to the increase they produced (Lk 19:12-19).
2 Timothy 4:7–8 ESV
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
In a Ligonier panel discussion, R.C. Sproul pointed out a quote from Augustine, who commented on 2 Tim 4:7-8 saying,
The Lord, he says, will award me a crown, being a just judge…But with the reward you do nothing; with the work, you don’t act alone. The crown simply comes to you from him; the work on the other hand comes from you, but only with him helping…To Paul fighting the good fight, completing the course, keeping the faith, he paid back good things. But for what good things? For ones he himself had given. Or wasn’t it by his gift that you were able to fight the good fight?…The only things of yours that we know were prepared for you by yourself are evil. So when God crowns your merits, he is not crowning anything but his own gifts.
Or, as David Strain puts it succinctly in “Our Call to Faithfulness” (July 2019 Tabletalk):
Christ rewards us for the fruit of His own great work for us at the cross and in us by His Spirit.
No name will be found written in the book of life that is not also sanctified. The ongoing “work” of sanctification is an operation of God’s Spirit applying Christ’s death and resurrection… “as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life” (WLC 75).
Christ’s suffering on behalf of the saints includes not only his suffering the penalty for their wicked deeds, but also the imperfections and defilement associated with their righteous deeds!
It is because of what Christ has accomplished in his perfect life and substitutionary death on the cross that those who believe in him can stand before the great white throne confident of their acquittal.
Romans 8:1 ESV
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
1 John 4:17 ESV
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
1 Corinthians 11:32 ESV
But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (14) followed by all who were not found in the book of life (15). “Death and Hades” is a metonymy for what they contain, namely, all the deceased who did not enjoy the first resurrection. From their temporary bonds in “death and Hades” unbelievers now enter their permanent bonds in the lake of fire.
That is a terrorizing prospect for God’s enemies, but an assuring comfort to believers.
HC 52: What comfort is it to thee that “Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead”? That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head I look for the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory.
Hoekema: Believers have nothing to fear from the judgment—though the realization that they will have to give an account of everything they have done, said, and thought should be for them a constant incentive to diligent fighting against sin, conscientious Christian service, and consecrated living.
Believers can look forward to Christ’s return because the final judgment will not bring condemnation, but vindication. Our guilt and shame has been fully covered by the perfect sacrifice of our Lord upon the cross.
This is the message of the gospel that everyone needs to hear. It is the gospel that saves enemies and transforms them into saints. It is this gospel that we must boldly proclaim to our lost neighbors.
When you stand before the great white throne, you will either stand with confidence that your sins have been fully pardoned, or you will tremble before the Lord you rejected. Do not remain indifferent about the free offer of the gospel. Turn to the only one who can forgive you and reward you. The same Lord who removes your sin, also crowns his own gift to you that you might produce fruitful ministry for his glory.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 9:17 AM February 24, 2020.