THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
20:11 A great white throne and Him who sat on it: The Father has given all judgment into the hands of the Son (Jn 5:22; At 17:31). Since Jesus will “judge the living and the dead at His appearing” (2 Tm 4:1), all men must submit to His word, for Jesus said of those who reject Him, “The word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn 12:48). The earth and the heaven fled away: The physical world and present heavens will perish (See Ps 102:25-27; Hb 1:11,12; 2 Pt 3:10). Even those living on the earth seek to flee from the judgment to come, but there will be no escape. All must stand before the judgment seat of Christ (See 2 Co 5:10; see Rv 6:14; 16:20; 18:21; 19:20).
20:12 This verse possibly refers to the resurrection and final consignment of the saints to the eternal dwelling of the new heavens and earth (See 2 Pt 3:13). The following verse 13 probably refers to the final judgment of the wicked. Regardless of the interpretation, both verses state that everyone will be raised from the dead (Jn 5:28,29; At 24:15; 2 Co 5:10). Books were opened: These books are possibly a reference to Daniel’s vision of the judgment in Daniel 7:10. “The court was seated, and the books were opened.” The metaphor here could be from the “book of remembrance” in the Old Testament that was a record of the righteous (Ml 3:16). It could also be a metaphorical reference to the record of the deeds and character of the unrighteous as was spoken by Isaiah (Is 30:8,9). The metaphor could also include the Old Testament (Jn 5:36; 10:35; Lk 24:25) or the New Testament (Jn 12:48). Book of life: The names of citizens of Roman cities were inscribed in a “book of life.” John uses this book in a metaphorical manner to indicate the listing of the saved in heaven (See Ps 69:28; Is 4:3; Ml 3:16; Lk 10:20; Ph 4:3; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27). God certainly does not need a literal book in which to write a list of the saved. The One who knows every hair of our head can certainly call each of us by name. The metaphor, therefore, signifies that God knows exactly who the saved are. The thought is to comfort us. Judged … according to their works: The elect will be saved by grace, not on the merit of how they performed law and accumulated good works (See Rm 3:20; Gl 2:16; Ep 2:8,9). Christians are not saved as the result of legally keeping law simply because no one can keep law perfectly. However, they are created in Christ for good works (Ep 2:10). The result of their faith is that they obey the law of God (Rm 3:31). We would say, therefore, that it is by these works and obedience that we will be judged. The deeds of the Christian are the result of his salvation by grace. The works, therefore, are the manifestation of the Christian’s thanksgiving for his salvation in Christ (See comments 1 Co 15:10; 2 Co 4:15). Christians must respond to the grace of God in their lives with a working faith (Rm 3:31). James warned, “Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Js 2:17; see Hb 4:13).
20:13 The sea gave up the dead: John emphasizes that no one of the wicked masses of the world will escape the final judgment. The beast (the wicked of Rome) and the false prophet (Roman religion) will all be judged. The sea refers to the masses of humanity from which the wicked persecutors of the church have come (See 13:1; 16:3; 21:1). They will all face the judgment. Death and Hades delivered up: Death and hades will deliver up those who are in them. Death and hades go together because hades is the abode of the souls and spirits of the dead. Even if the wicked have died, they will be resurrected in order to continue their torment. In this “end of time” picture, John also wants us to know that the termination of physical death is coming.
20:14 Death and Hades: When Jesus comes again, physical death will be no more. Therefore, there will be no more need of an abode of the souls and spirits of the dead. Physical death and the abode of the dead will be cast into the lake of fire, or place of fiery termination (Mt 10:28; 2 Th 1:7-9). The second death: This is the second death, or second time in the life of the wicked that they have been separated from God. In life, sin spiritually separates one from God (Is 59:2). He thus dies and is spiritually dead because his sins have separated him from God. In the second death, one’s existence is separated from God in the destruction of Gehenna (2 Th 1:7-9). Thus in the second death, the wicked will be sentenced to their just punishment that was incurred by their disobedience in life. They will be separated from the One who only is eternal. They will be separated from the eternal God.
20:15 Cast into the lake of fire: This statement certainly emphasizes the point that one should have his name recorded among the saved. Jesus will eventually say to the disobedient, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness!” (Mt 7:23; see Mt 25:41). It will certainly be a sad day when the unrighteous hear these words of departure from the One they resisted throughout their lives. Such words will mark the end of all things in reference to the earth and its purpose for existence (See 2 Pt 3:10-12). God will have concluded the plan of redemption to bring souls into eternal dwelling. In this last vision of God’s judgments and rewards, John’s picture of the gospel dispensation is complete. Through visions he has given the saints a picture of the gospel dispensation that was first announced on Pentecost in A.D. 30 and would extend to the termination of all things that have not been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. In this particular picture, he wants the righteous to know that the wicked persecutors of Christians will not escape their judgment that will be final (See Hb 9:27). Therefore, the saints must be patient, for vengeance belongs to God who will repay (Rm 12:19; see Rv 13:10). Regardless of what happens in life, God will settle the matter at the end of all things.
[End of lecture series 112.]