revelation 20 the final judgement

Revelation 20. The Final Judgement

11:8… time for the dead to be judged.

We come now to description of the day of judgement. A separate section is indicated by ‘then I saw’ (v11). We should remember once again we are reading symbolism. God (in Christ) does not really sit on a throne with books to open. This is a picture that teaches ultimate truths beyond our understanding. In the world of symbolism, John conveys all that belongs to the day of judgement.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

God will judge the living (19:11-21) and the dead (20: 11:15). There the simplicity ends. So many passages in Revelation raise questions, it would be surprising if these verses were an exception. And they are not. There are questions that require considering.

When is the final judgement? Does the final judgement follow the millennium? Does the final judgement include believers or are they judged elsewhere?

Does the final judgement follow the millennium? Clearly it follows narratively in Revelation but in Revelation narratival sequence is not necessarily chronological sequence. However there are signs of chronological progression running through Ch 19, 20: the judgement of the beast and false prophet is followed by the judgement of Satan which is followed by the judgement of the dead. The fleeing away of earth and sky suggests the fearful nature of the judgement and prepares the way for the new heavens and new earth (Ch 21). All of this suggests a sequential historical order, However, it is wise not to be too dogmatic. Events earlier in the book reveal a cyclical pattern. We are not dealing with sober history but apocalyptic cameos. The introduction of the second death (v6) followed by its description at a later point is a regular pattern in Revelation.

Does this judgement include the judgement of believers? In favour of the affirmative is that it is the only judgement seat vision in the book. Also the book of life is mentioned in which the names of believers are written which may point to their presence. In addition there is a universalising of the judged (small and great). However, ‘the dead’ possibly points to the resurrection of the unjust (‘the rest of the dead’ 20:5) with believers previously. raised in the ‘first resurrection ’(v6). Certainly the focus is on the fate of the ungodly; it is only their final destiny, the second death, that is described. The end of all opposition to the rule of God is established. In v6 it seems participation in the first resurrection exempts from the judgement leading to the second death. The dead cannot include believers who have been already raised (v6). Also in Chs 19,20 the judgements are of those who oppose God – the beast and the false prophet, Satan and now the dead who face the second death.

Awesome, a much abused word, is appropriate in this context. This courtroom is designed to intimidate. This is conveyed by the picture of ‘a great white throne’, white stressing its righteousness, and the imposing presence of the judge terrifying the whole created order into fleeing (Cf. 6:14; Isa 34:4). They seem to have gone never to return (there was found no place for them). God in Christ is absolutely sovereign (Jn 5:22; 2 Tim 4:1). Here is overwhelming power and authority. This is the ultimate court of justice (Dan 7:10).

The (resurrected) dead stand before the throne. They have come from wherever they lay – sea, death, hades all yield to the throne. The dead have no hiding place they must appear at the final assize. All the dead are present as the merism ‘great and small’ conveys. As in Ch 4, the throne represents him who was seated on it. It represents absolute power and authority and dominates the courtroom. I take it, since all judgement has been given to the Son, that Christ is the judge.

The books signal that accurate records have been kept. Deeds have been recorded. No mistake will be made in this court; people are judged according to what is written in the books. It is individuals who are judged and they are judged according to their works (Roms 2:6-11; Jas 2:24; 2 Cor 5:10;1 Per. 1:17; Jer 17:10;Ps 28:4). But the picture is more complicated. Another book exists. It is the book of life and it is decisive (Rev 3:5;13:8, 17:8, 21:27 Cf. Ex 30:32.33;Isa 4:3; Dan 12:1). Names have been written in it from before the foundation of the world; indicating they are chosen by God. It is the names in this book that will survive judgement. Facing judgement based solely on one’s own deeds is folly. Foundational and critical is to have one’s name in the Lamb’s book of life. Elsewhere this book is viewed as a citizen role of the heavenly Jerusalem (Ps 87). Those on the citizen’s role belong there and nobody else does.

This balance between faith and works runs throughout Scripture but it is asymmetrical; the emphasis lies firmly on God’s accomplished salvation in Christ and our appropriation of this by faith. The book of life is decisive. Nevertheless works reveal the presence of faith and the righteousness of God’s judgements. Faith and works are not finally antithetical.

Finally evils opposed to God – death and hades personified – and all whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire (Isa 25:8). There they join the beast, the false prophet and Satan. Some argue the book of life is present not to affirm those who are in it but to confirm those who are not. At this judgement it is said are only unbelievers. We commented on this earlier. It is, I think, impossible to be dogmatic. Perhaps we build too detailed schemas. Presently, on balance, I’m inclined to view this judgement as that of unbelievers. If there is a sequence then the marriage supper of the Lamb has already taken place and believers have been already raised and judged. Certainly the picture is bleak and the focus is on the ungodly. It is eternal loss and not eternal life that is the focus. The lake of fire expresses eternal destruction (Isa 66:24) It is, however, not annihilation, but torment (Matt 13:50; Mk 9:48; Rev 14:9-11; 21:8). The last enemy, death, is now destroyed and the kingdom will be delivered up to the father (1 Cor 15:26).

The scene is finally set for new creation. Unblemished and forever free from all that will destroy.


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