When our Savior returns from heaven, he will destroy Satan and throw him into the lake of fire (20:10). After this, the sheep and goats will be gathered before him for the general judgment. This is a terse record of the last judgment recorded in Matthew 25, with the emphasis in Revelation 20 being upon the judgment of the wicked, i.e., the rest of the dead (20:5). The righteous will be vindicated, for their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. They are saved and righteous in Jesus Christ, known by him, and redeemed by his precious blood. We must feel the force of these lines, for we shall be there on that day (2 Cor. 5:10). Only those who are washed in Christ’s blood will be vindicated on that day. Their lives will show that they know the Lamb and that he has given them fruits of righteousness in union with him. The wicked “practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23), are enslaved to the love of sinning, and have not rested upon Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They will be cast into the lake of fire.
The Glory of God’s Judgment (vv. 11-12)
Holy, Inescapable, Terrible
The whiteness of the throne likely symbolizes purity, victory, and majesty. God’s throne is established in righteousness, and he rules the world in righteousness. Who is sitting upon the throne? Our Lord said that the “Father judges no man but has committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). To this agrees what Paul later wrote: “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Throughout Revelation, however, it has been God the Father seated upon the throne (4:2,9; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4). Our Lord also said, “I and my Father are one” (John 5:30). Hence, it is likely the Father who is seated upon the throne, together with his Son, through whom he rules and judges all things. His judgment is inescapable and terrible. The heavens and earth flee before him; no place will be found to escape from his gaze. He knows the hearts and minds of all. Life on the old earth will be finished. We shall stand before our Maker and his exalted Son, the only Redeemer of God’s elect. Before his majesty, the inanimate, unfeeling creation will desire to run and hide.
Universal – the Dead, Small and Great
There is no place to hide. All will be summoned. “Small and great” – riches will not profit in the day of wrath – neither will poverty. None are exempt – the famous, wealthy, and beautiful – the infamous, poor, and ugly – all will be gathered before the Lord. To stand before him means to give an account to him. This includes “the rest of the dead” (20:5), the wicked who are not raised and reigning with Jesus Christ during his millennial kingdom. They are now raised up from the dead to receive in their bodies the recompense of their evil deeds. It is important for believers to remember this accounting. Man’s standard for approval is very different from the Lord’s. The righteous are hated in this life, often poor, with nothing outward to commend them, their quiet lives of faith and godliness unobserved by the world. The Lord knows. Likewise, unrepentant sinners are applauded by the world. We would have a truer view of man if we opened an old grave and looked inside the casket – rotting, grotesque. We do not like to think of these things. Too many will not think of them, until it is too late. The thought of judgment is distasteful and disruptive – to our plans and self-flattering. If we would love Jesus Christ more and serve him less fettered with the love of self and the world, we must think often of our standing before God. It will define us forever, and we must soberly prepare for it.
Two Books: Sheep and Goats
For “books” will be opened. We shall not be judged by our feelings about God, or what other people felt or thought about us. God does not change his moral standard to accommodate the times. These books confront us with the truth that our lives and deeds are fully known, indelibly written. Some today delete their social media accounts and think they can begin their life again. It is dangerous to impute such shenanigans to the living God. There is no deleting – the sins, lies, lusts, bad attitudes, selfishness, love of ritual without walking by faith in his word, uncleanness, hatred, wrath, strife, idolatry, adulteries, fornications, disobedience to parents – the list of our crimes that might be recorded in God’s book is too long. He tells us this now so that we shall know there is only one way to get this list of crimes struck off our account – to receive and rest upon Jesus Christ alone, his blood to atone for our crimes and his obedience imputed to be our righteousness. The Book of the Lamb is the book of Life. Your name must be written there, or there is a rap sheet of crimes written in God’s book. He will open that book and judge you by your own deeds. There have been no erasures. The passage of time does not cause his ink to fade. His memory is as perfect as his holiness. Conscience may not still be quivering over a particularly evil deed, but the deed is done and recorded. You will quiver again, unless you are in the Book of the Lamb, washed and justified by faith in him.
The Finality of God’s Judgment (vv. 13-15)
The Wicked Raised and Judged according to their Deeds
Sinners mock this judgment – what about those who have drowned at sea? Consumed in fires or eaten by wild animals? The sea will give up its dead. Death and hell will give up their dead. The spirits of just men made perfect are in heaven with Jesus Christ, waiting for the day of resurrection. The spirits of wicked men dead in sin are in hell; they will be raised to final judgment. They will be judged “every man according to his works.” They will try to make excuses – “Lord, did we not do thus and so” (Matt. 7:22). But if heaven and earth flee before his majesty, sinners will be silenced. They will receive the due recompense for their lives. Make excuses now, be exposed and ruined later. Pretend now, and all pretense ripped off later. Works do not lie. The works of the heart will not lie buried forever – the motives and attitudes that governed, the true loves that dominated. It is good even for the sincerest believer who is certain his name is written in the Book of Life, to take this seriously. “Do not be deceived” is one of Scripture’s constant warnings. Why must we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? All shall be raised to give an account not by a self-flattering portfolio shown to others but by the works we have done in God’s sight, down to the thoughts and intents of our hearts.
Death and Hell Thrown into the Lake of Fire
“Death and hell” emphasize the total consequences of sin, body and soul. At the final judgment, both will be thrown into the lake of fire. This is a great relief to the child of God – no more physical or spiritual suffering on account of sin. We have shallow ideas of how much sin has damaged us, is killing us every moment, and has brought such personal and widespread misery. One day, this will completely end. Our Savior has broken the power of death and the grave over us. He pulled its sting by satisfying the curse that lay upon us on account of our sin. We continue to feel the effects, however, in all the temporal miseries, body and soul, that weaken, afflict, and chasten us, in diseases and distresses of so many forms that we are being slowly suffocated and have only Jesus Christ for our peace and hope. When sin and death are thrown into the lake of fire, this is the second death. All whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire. It is unending torment for those who “know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:8).
The Righteous Written in the Book of Life
Why are believers’ names in the Lamb’s book? Why are their evil deeds not counted against them? God’s grace and mercy. It is not that they are any better in themselves than those who are cast into the lake of fire. When Christ’s sheep, those whom the Father has given to him from all eternity (John 6:39; 17:2; 2 Tim. 2:19), see the wicked thrown into the lake of fire, I do not think their first thought will be personal satisfaction but praise. Their eyes will be upon their Head and Savior, Jesus Christ. Well they know they deserve to burn forever, but they will magnify the mercy of God who bruised his Son in their place. Their lives will also show that they know the Lamb, for in life they brought forth fruits of righteousness (Phil. 1:11). Even these, however, as Matthew 25 teaches, do not draw their attention. They were not banking upon them as worthy of heaven. What they did, they will be shocked it was remembered at all. You accepted these trifles? These were worth something to you, O worthy Lamb of God? Those who are written in the Lamb’s Book have the same testimony of John, the beloved disciple. Jesus Christ loved me. This is the reason I am here, not there, crowned with the glory and honor that he deserves, not scorched forever under God’s wrath as I most surely deserve were it not for his undeserved kindness to me.
The Way to Prepare for God’s Judgment
Perspective: Soon We Shall Stand before Christ (2 Cor. 5:10)
Few truths, seriously believed and applied, are more clarifying than the great white throne judgment. Soon, we shall stand before Jesus Christ, the One into whose hand the Father has committed the judgment of the world. Perhaps we tend to think less of it than we should. We assume that our eternal destiny is already decided and made clear. If we hear the voice of Jesus Christ and believe upon his name (John 5:24) we have passed from death to life and will not come into condemnation. If we love the brothers, we have passed from death to life (1 John 3:14). Our merciful Father does not want to leave us in suspense! He offers us full assurance of hope and wants his children to contemplate that day with joy and boldness.
At the same time, for believers, this judgment will be a determination of degrees of reward (Luke 12:47-48; 1 Cor. 11:-15). Would we see our works burned up and have nothing to cast at our Savior’s feet? Is our heart so divided between him and worldly cares, or between him and worldly ambitions, that we have no room left to think that we shall soon stand before him and give an account? For believers, standing before Christ to give an account is more than a moving motivation, that we can take or leave based upon our moods and priorities. Our response reveals the true state of our hearts and of our destiny. If our hearts are divided, like the foolish virgins, or we have no desire to serve him faithfully, like the man with the talent who buried it in the ground, are we so sure of our eternal interest in him? If we do not believe and serve Jesus Christ, do we in fact love him? These questions are bound up together, so that all need warning of the judgment to come. I urge you to inquire regularly into the state of your heart, your loves and your motives, and your highest aspirations. Do your life priorities indicate union with Christ? Are you bringing forth fruits and using your life for him? Do your thoughts tend toward what you want and do not have? Do you complain or love? We are so sluggish that we need the most earnest entreaties and quickening work of the Spirit to make us give serious thought to the most significant moment in our personal history.
Purposeful: An Accounting We Shall Make
Let us never forget our Savior’s parables about talents. We shall make an accounting of his gifts and graces to us (Matt. 25:14-30). Some men who are saved will have their works burned up (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Other men receive talents, but their unfaithfulness proves their evil heart. This is too serious for us to trifle with it as we often do. He told these parables so that we would seriously examine ourselves as to the state of our souls before the Lord. Are we in Christ? Are we serving him with sincere hearts? This is a very healthy soul – when we live each day and hour conscious that our stewardship in all matters, great and small, will be brought up again on that great day. We are to live watchful – not scared, but earnest, ready, asking our Savior for strength every hour to be faithful to him. We are not cultists and ritualists, thinking we have arrived if we have performed the outward and followed the prescribed formulas. We are disciples of the living Christ, who dwells with us. We must be diligent in our business, fervent in spirit, serving him (Rom. 12:11). Do you not think Christians would be much better students, technicians, professionals, laborers, parents, and people simply if they took more seriously that their earthly lives will be followed by an accounting? We shall stand before the One who loved and gave himself for us. This as nothing else arrests the attention of the true disciple of Jesus Christ. Our meeting with him must alter what is important to us and the way we live. Our meeting with him gives purpose to the smallest details of our lives. The more our meeting with him influences us, the less distracted we are and the more hopeful. This is also the reason that Christians were not told to leave Rome, Corinth, or Ephesus, though they were very wicked cities. If we live in the light of meeting with our Lord, faith overcomes the world. We can make godly choices even if surrounded with evil – but only as our meeting with Jesus Christ occupies our highest thoughts and affections.
Faith: Be Sure Your Name Is Written in the Book of Life
I cannot imagine a child of God hearing of the great white throne judgment without asking, “In which book is my name written? “Where shall I spend eternity?” “Will my meeting with Jesus Christ be the stroke of doom for me or the crystal bell announcing my entrance into his eternal kingdom?” “Will he own me as his own and say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ or reject me as a fraud?” Give careful consideration to these questions. Weigh yourself honestly by the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. If you want boldness in the day of judgment, as John said (1 John 4:17), boldness in old age as you draw near to the most incredible, defining moment of your entire existence, you must be sure our name is written in Jesus Christ’s Book. Are you a young person just setting off in life, and feel your need of some great guide or purpose to guide your steps? You look at your peers and see too many blowing around like kites seized by whatever direction the prevailing winds blow, and you do not want to be blown away. Set your compass on your meeting with Jesus Christ. You will give an account of how you used these years of strength, the mind and opportunities he gave you, and even the crosses he placed upon you. Did you live for him or yourself?
It is not that your works gain heaven but good works confirm his grace in your life, that you really know him and will finally be welcomed into his kingdom. His grace works the fruits of righteousness in us, not works that we make up or in which we boast, but legitimate good works of love, joy, and peace, the fruit of the Spirit. Do not trust your feelings or look to your experiences, works, earthly connections. Keep looking at Jesus Christ. He is the well-spring of grace and everlasting life. Do you believe in him? Are you resting upon him for salvation? Whose works bring you comfort? Your own, or his perfect obedience. Do you look upon his cross and boast in it alone – only your blood, blessed Savior, can atone for your sins. I am filthy. My best works are spotted beyond cleansing. Your sacrifice washes me clean. And then, in union with him, you will bring forth good works, works judged by the merits of Jesus Christ and produced by his grace.
If you do not know the Savior, if his name is only that to you, a name, you have reason to be concerned. If the name of Jesus Christ is a name in your parents’ mouths or your wife’s mouth but not precious in your heart, come to him now. Come to him before the silver trumpet blows announcing his return and the opening of the books. He will not cast you away. Yes, you are sinful, but he will wash you clean. You may feel yourself to be the worst leper who ever lived, with the blackest heart there ever was, but Jesus Christ is the Tamer and Physician of the reprobate’s heart. Do not allow your crimes to keep you away from him but to drive you to him. He will cleanse you by his precious blood and set up his new kingdom in you. He will form the good works in us by his Spirit that will give us so much joy on judgment day and give his grace so much credit. To have this joy and his kingdom, your name must be in his Book. Do not sleep again without knowing him and believing in him. Do not live carelessly and die separated from him. If your name is written in the books of the damned, there will be no hope for you, only the worst dread, weeping and wailing. Come to the Savior and face that day with joy. Hear the single most blessed words you will ever hear – the Savior reading your name out of his book, him saying to you and all his sheep, “Come, you blessed of my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”