By the time the events recorded in Revelation chapter 20 verses 7-15 take place over 7000 years of history will have expired since Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden. Throughout those millennia God has tested mankind under a series of dispensations with one constant outcome. The human heart has proved itself to be ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’, Jer. 17. 9.
Politicians and idealists of every persuasion are convinced that if the social, educational, and financial conditions of people can be raised to satisfactory levels it will nullify all the underlying causes of greed, unrest, and injustice prevalent in society today. Vast resources of time and money are being launched into projects to achieve these naive goals, but all will be fruitless, for the problem is rooted within man and not in his environment or personal situation.
The privileges of the millennial kingdom
The clearest proof of what has just been stated is to reflect on the prevailing circumstances throughout the 1000 years leading up to verses 7-8 of our reading. This planet and its inhabitants had enjoyed the most benign conditions. Disease had been minimised, death was exceptional, and the reign of the King had been characterized by righteousness, equity and justice. Food had been plentiful, with harvests so vast that, as Amos prophesied, ‘the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt’, Amos 9. 13. War, the scourge of all nations, had been eradicated; swords had been beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruninghooks, as the rule of the Prince of Peace reached out ‘from the river unto the ends of the earth,’ Ps. 72. 8.
Even the animal kingdom had reverted to the halcyon days of Eden. Isaiah, peering down the centuries wrote, ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox’, Isa. 11. 6-7.
In addition to the foregoing, Satan, the principle cause of evil, had been incarcerated in the abyss. Unable to deceive the people, they had lived without his wicked influence stimulating them to rebel against the gracious edicts of Christ. Thus, it had been for the past millennium, and things could not have been more congenial for man to be content and live in perpetual tranquillity.
The final rebellion
Sadly, Jeremiah’s summation of the human heart is once more demon-strated to be true. As soon as Satan is released from his exile in the bottomless pit, he moves to the four corners of the earth and is able to dupe an innumerable army to rise in direct opposition to Christ. Throughout the kingdom age everyone had to comply with the rules of the King but, in many instances, this was feigned allegiance for, during those 1000 years, children had been born who had never been born again. As time progressed the amount of unbelievers living on earth would have increased until, numerically, they were like the sand of the sea.
Interestingly, Satan goes to the four points of the planet, farthest from the divine centre at Jerusalem, to enlist his deluded cohorts. Maybe these discontents had moved to the remote regions of the kingdom to be as far away as possible from the administrative centre of Christ’s rule, and it was there Satan finds no shortage of those willing to enlist in his malevolent cause.
This rebellion is summarily crushed, not by means of a militarily, or numerically, superior army but by fire coming down from God out of heaven and devouring all opposition. Sinners are burned to death and Satan is cast alive into the lake of fire and brimstone never again to be released; his eternal doom is settled. Thus, man’s final act of rebellion against God is brought to an end; now he must face the consequences of every personal act of disobedience as all unbelievers are summoned to appear before the great white throne.
The great white throne judgement
These five verses must be the most solemn in the whole of scripture; it is man’s final assize, from which there is only one verdict and one sentence. The only people that appear here are the guilty unrepentant of all ages and, having spurned the mercy of God, they will be eternally condemned to His judgement.
Although many translations change ‘God’ to ‘the throne’ there must be someone sat upon that throne and, as all judgement has been committed unto the Son, the identification of the judge is clear – it is the Son of God. At His first advent He came to seek and to save. He had not come to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved, and to all who would take His yoke upon them He offered rest to their souls.
In their hatred and mockery, men had plucked the hair from His cheeks and spat in His face, they beat Him so severely about the head that His appearance was marred more than any man. Now the tables are totally reversed. Such is the terror of the Judge that earth, the solar system, and the myriads of galaxies flee into oblivion as inanimate creation acknowledges His ineffable majesty. What John is referring to here is the same event referred to by Peter in his Second Epistle chapter 3 verses 10 and 12.
Two terms are used to describe those who are being judged. They are described in relation to their physical state – they are dead. When the final rebellion is crushed every sinner on the planet is destroyed, there is not one left alive. However, others who appear at this throne have been dead for thousands of years, for it relates to the dead of all ages. When these people died, their bodies were separated from their souls. Now the sea and the graves yield up the bodies, and Hades gives up the souls so that once more soul and body are united.
Then they are described relative to their social standing, for they are called ‘great and small’. Whilst men place great emphasis on wealth and class distinction, God does not, for heaven’s estimation of mankind is based on a totally different set of values to those of earth. During their lifetime, many of those who were ‘great’ would have disdained those who were ‘small’, but now they are on the same footing. All are guilty. The poverty of the poor and the status of the great are no longer of any relevance.
It is interesting to note that John says that these people ‘stand before God’ – on what were they standing? In the previous verse we are informed that the earth and the heaven had fled away so those being judged are actually standing on nothing, how terrifying! Many of these sinners once strutted around, often mocking God and swaggering in their self importance – now they are suspended solely by the power of the Judge on the throne.
All too frequently we hear about miscarriages of justice. Guilty people are cleared on a technicality whilst others receive sentences that are either unduly lenient or excessively severe. However, man’s greatest act of legal malpractice and of judicial corruption was meted out to our blessed Lord for, at His religious trials before the High Priests and His civil trials before Pilate and Herod, He was falsely accused, pronounced guiltless, and then condemned to death.
Now time has rolled its course and mankind is summoned to appear at this assize. No longer are humans in control; helpless they appear before the Son of God and, although they deprived Him of justice, He will ensure that their sentence is equitable. Sentence is passed on all who appear before the great white throne for two reasons: firstly, the presence of records in ‘the books’, and, secondly, the absence of a record in ‘the book’.
The books refer to the details of every sinner’s life lived here on earth; as seen by the all pervading eye of God, nothing is glossed over and nothing is exaggerated. Evil motives, blatant iniquities, secret transgressions, and every form of personal disobedience will be uncontested. No one will be able to challenge the validity of these details for the Judge who opens the books is ‘the Lord, the righteous judge’, 2 Tim. 4. 8. The purpose of these books is not to establish their guilt but the degree of judgement they will face eternally.
Having affirmed their guilt through the record within the books, further proof of their meriting judgement is endorsed by the absence of their names from the book of life. ‘This book of life is the register of all those from creation who have received life through Christ. The works of these sinners have made it plain that there was no evidence of divine life; this register confirms that they never had divine life. The search over ("not found" suggests a search) and the name missing, nothing remains but the execution of the sentence and the sinner is cast into the lake of fire’.1
That no one is predestined by God to suffer this eternal judgement is clear from a number of scriptures, not least of which is the fact that it is described as ‘the second death’. The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that man is appointed to die once2 and hence no one is predestined by God to endure the second death. All who are cast into the lake of fire will be there because their sins had not been forgiven, and because of their rejection of divine mercy obtainable through the very One who passes sentence upon them.
With humble thanksgiving we bow in adoring wonder knowing that we who belong to Christ will never face this terrifying judgement. Well might we sing the words of Augustus Toplady,
‘The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view’.
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