Revelation 20:11-15 is the most solemn passage of scripture in all of the Bible. It tells us about the Great White Throne Judgment. It is here, at the Great White Throne that all unbelievers will “stand” to be sentenced to their eternal doom. Just as the condemned are forced to stand in our courts for the pronouncement of their sentence, someday all unbelievers will be forced to stand condemned before the heavenly bar for the pronouncement of their sentence (John 3:18).
Christians will not be judged at the Great White Throne, since our eternal destiny is sealed on the day of our salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). It is only sinners, those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation in Christ, who will be judged at the Great White Throne. In addition to the scriptural teaching that all Christians are spiritually birthed into God’s eternal family the instant we receive Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13), there are other scriptural truths that also make the Christian’s appearance at the Great White Throne Judgment biblically untenable.
The Great White Throne Judgment obviously takes place after the Millennium; see Revelation 20:7, 11. According to Revelation 20:5-6, all of the saints will be resurrected in “the first resurrection,” which takes place before the Millennium. On the other hand, all sinners—“the rest of the dead”—will not be resurrected “until the thousand years [are] finished.” How, then, can Christians who are resurrected before the Millennium to “reign with [Christ] a thousand years” be resurrected after the Millennium to appear before Christ at the Great White Throne? Furthermore, how can the saints—“blessed and holy…priests of God”—over whom “the second death has no power” be sentenced at the Great White Throne Judgment to “the lake of fire,” which is “the second death”? Obviously, such teachings are totally incompatible with the clear teaching of Scripture.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, the Apostle Paul plainly teaches that Christians will appear before “the judgment seat of Christ.” The judgment seat of Christ should not to be confused with the Great White Throne. The term “judgment seat” comes from the Greek word “bema,” which was the platform upon which awards were given to the winning athletes of the Olympic Games. Paul’s use of this particular term leads us to safely conclude that Christians will not stand like sinners before the Great White Throne for the determination of our eternal destinies, a matter that was settled the moment we were born again (John 3:3-8). Instead, we will stand as stewards of Christ before His “bema seat” to give an account of ourselves and to be rewarded according to our works (Matthew 16:27; 25:23; 1 Corinthians 3:8; Revelation 22:12).
In spite of the fact that the saints will be judged for their works at the “bema seat” of Christ and sinners will be judged “according to their works” at the Great White Throne, there is still a world of difference between these two judgments.
The salvation of the saints is already secured, thanks to the fact that we have entrusted the fate of our immortal souls to the sufficiency of Christ’s work rather than our own works. Thus, our judgment at the “bema seat” of Christ has nothing to do with our fitness for heaven, since we’ve already been fitted for heaven by the finished work of Christ. Instead, our judgment at the “bema seat” of Christ has everything to do with our rewards in heaven. While our heavenly reservation is eternally secured by Christ’s work for us, our heavenly rewards will be eternally determined by our work for Christ.
Having spurned the salvation that God has wrought for man in Christ, sinners have nothing with which to commend themselves to God but the “filthy rags” of their own “righteousness” (Isaiah 64:6). Before the Great White Throne, all who have rejected the Savior and insisted upon working for their own salvation will be judged unfit for heaven and “cast into the lake of fire.” Not only will the works of sinners be determined insufficient for their salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), but they will also prove determinative when it comes to individual degrees of eternal punishment (Matthew 11:20-24). Notice, though all lost souls stand before the Great White Throne to be sentenced as a group, “every man” will be judged individually “according to [his own] works.”
That each individual sinner will be judged justly is proven by the fact that they are carefully judged according to “the books” that John saw “opened.” Apart from “the book of life,” the other books that “the dead were judged out of” are not named. We may safely surmise, however, that one is the Word of God, which Jesus promised would be used to “judge” men in “the last day” (John 12:48). Another is evidently a book that contains a record of men’s works, as Ecclesiastes 12:14 intimates, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
When it comes to the Word of God, it will be used to measure how miserably short of God’s standard of sinless perfection all sinners have come (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). When it comes to the book containing a record of every sinner’s works, it will be used to determine the severity of each one’s eternal punishment. But when it comes to sentencing sinners to eternal punishment and banishment from God—“the lake of fire” —the lone determining factor will be whether or not the sinner’s name is “found written in the book of life.”
There appears to be two separate books of life spoken of in the Scripture. The first is “the Lamb’s book of life,” which contains the names of all who have trusted Christ for their salvation (Revelation 13:8; 21:27). The second book is simply called “the book of life.” This “book of life” differs from the “Lamb’s book of life” in two important regards. First, it appears to contain the names of all of the living; whether they are saints or sinners, saved or lost, believers or unbelievers. Second, and most important, it appears that one’s name can be blotted out of “the book of life,” but not out of the “Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 3:5).
Why would God blot one’s name out of “the book of life”? According to the Scripture, there are at least three reasons why the names of men are blotted out of “the book of life.” First, one can be blotted out for unrepentant sin against God (Exodus 32:33). Second, one can be blotted out for refusing to be “dressed [in the] white” robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness (Revelation 3:5). And finally, one can be blotted out for adding to or taking “away from” the Word of God (Revelation 22:18-19). In the case of those standing before the Great White Throne, they are guilty of all of the above. They have refused to repent of their sin, they have rejected the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ alone, and they have insisted upon adding to the Word of God another path to heaven paved with their own good works. Therefore, none of them are “found in the book of life” and all of them are “cast into the lake of fire.”
Although the Scripture does not specifically identify the one seated upon the Great White Throne, we may confidently conclude that it is Jesus Christ, He to whom the Father “hath committed all judgment” (John 5:22). John’s poignant observation of “the earth and the heaven” fleeing “away” from the glory and majesty of Christ’s “face” leads us to believe that the Great White Throne will be situated in space while the “first heaven and the first earth [are passing] away” (Revelation 21:1). Consequently, “no place” will be “found” for sinners to hide their sins in the expiring heavens and earth or for sinners themselves in “the new heavens and earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Make no mistake about it; no unbeliever will escape the Great White Throne Judgment. Regardless of their station in life—“small” or “great”—their physical bodies will be resurrected from either the grave (“death”) or “the sea,” and their immortal souls will be “delivered up” from “hell” to be united with their bodies before the Great White Throne. As surely as it teaches that no Christ-receiving saint will appear before the Great White Throne Judgment, the Scripture teaches with equal certainty that no Christ-rejecting sinner will escape it.
There are some who erroneously argue that “the dead” John saw “standing before God” at the Great White Throne represent all of the dead—the righteous, as well as the unrighteous. However, a rudimentary understanding of Scripture forces one to conclude that “the dead” at the Great White Throne Judgment are the spiritually dead alone. After all, the only ones remaining to be physically resurrected after “the thousand years [are] finished” are the unregenerate who died “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Remember, the saints have already been resurrected in “the first resurrection” prior to the Millennium.
There is simply no scriptural ground for including the saints of God among “the dead” before the Great White Throne? Not only have the saints already been physically resurrected in “the first resurrection,” but even before their physical resurrection our Lord insisted that no one who believes in Him ever dies nor should any believer in Him ever be thought of as dead (John 11:25-26; Matthew 22:31-32). Whether “at home in the body” or “absent from the body” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8), no Christian can be scripturally classified among “the dead.”
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