Revelation 20:11-15

Revelation 20:11-15


In this lesson we encounter the sobering end for those without Christ.


   Somewhere in the process of explaining the Gospel to a nonbeliever, the following objection will be raised: "I could never believe in a God who would send someone to hell." But as clearly as the Bible teaches that God receives believers into heaven, so it teaches He sends nonbelievers to hell.

I.                   The Place of the Great White Throne Judgment

II.                The Person at the Great White Throne Judgment

III.             The People at the Great White Throne Judgment

IV.             The Purpose of the Great White Throne Judgment

              A. The Passing of the Sentence

              B. The Stipulations of the Sentence

V. The Punishment at the Great White Throne Judgment



   Have you ever been to court to plead your case before a judge? I hope not. It is not a very enjoyable experience. The first time I went to court was years back after getting a traffic

ticket. After a little investigation, I decided to go to court and plead my case to the judge. To make a long story short, I finally ended up paying for the ticket, which is what I should have done in the first place. I discovered that the traffic court was not particularly interested in my well-reasoned arguments.

   In this lesson we are going to learn about a courtroom experience far different than any on earth. As cumbersome and frustrating as it can be to go through some of our earthly court systems, many people would take a traffic court any day over the court described in Revelation 20:11-15, with one exception. The court John saw in his vision is characterized by absolute and total justice.

   The Great White Throne Judgment is the final bar of justice in God's plan for the unsaved inhabitants of planet earth. Unlike earthly courtrooms, there will be a Judge but no jury, a Prosecutor but no defender, and a sentence but no appeal. It is the place where sinners stand before a holy God to give an account of their sins. There is no more awesome scene presented to us in the Word of God in terms of the magnitude of its significance.

   The Great White Throne Judgment is not the same as the Judgment Seat of Christ. These two judgments bring into focus two different resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20. Beginning with Christ's resurrection from the grave, the first resurrection includes the saved dead of this age who are raised at the Rapture, plus those martyred during the Tribulation, and Old Testament saints who are raised at the end of the Tribulation. All of that is the first resurrection, or resurrection unto life. The second resurrection takes place at the end of the Millennium and includes "the rest of the dead [who] did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (20:5). This resurrection takes place a thousand years after the first resurrection and includes those dead spiritually as well as physically. This is the resurrection that leads to the Great White Throne Judgment at which there will be no believers.


   While we do not know where the Great White Throne Judgment takes place, we do know where it does not. It is not in heaven or on earth. It cannot take place on earth because at the appearance of the Lord, "the earth and the heaven fled away" (20:11). And it cannot take place in heaven because no sinner can enter into the presence of God in heaven. The only answer is that this judgment takes place somewhere between heaven and earth. Perhaps the name of the throne itself is more important than its location. "Great" speaks of the Infinite One who is the Judge; "White" speaks of divine holiness, purity, and justice; and "Throne" speaks of the majesty of the One who has the right to determine the destiny of His creation.


   The judge upon the Great White Throne is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He said in John 5:22 and 27 that "the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son . . . and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man." In Acts Peter declared that "[Christ] . . was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). The spiritually "living" He will judge at the Judgment Seat of Christ, the spiritually "dead" at the Great White Throne.

The One upon the throne is the very One who gave His life for the redemption of those He is about to judge. He must reject those who rejected Him and His plan for their salvation.


   In verse 12, the phrase "small and great" describing those who stand before God and His throne, is very interesting. It is found often in the Old Testament and five times in Revelation. The phrase tells us that every class of person will be represented on that day. No position or standing in this world, or lack of it will excuse one from judgment before God. God is not a respecter of persons. There is only one thing for which men will be judged on that day, and it is what they have done about Jesus Christ. If a person, be he great or small, has rejected Jesus Christ and has not believed on Him, he will appear before the Great White Throne. It is often alleged that the great and powerful fare better before the judges of our land than the small, but in that day all will be judged with equity.


The Passing of the Sentence

   Verse 12 tells us that when all were gathered before the throne of God, "books were opened." There has been some confusion about the purpose of this judgment some believing that its purpose is to decide whether a person is lost or saved. That is incorrect. Everyone appearing before the Great White Throne is lost on the basis of not placing his or her faith in Christ. This judgment is to judge the evil works of the unsaved. Men are judged from the Book of Life and other books. Though we are not told specifically what the other books are, we have some indications from Scripture of what they might contain, that is, on what basis mankind will be judged at the Great White Throne.

    1. The Book of Conscience

   Romans 2:15 speaks of those "who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." This suggests that one day the human conscience may play a role in judging the nonbeliever: Did we violate our own conscience in the things we did? No person, saved or unsaved, can say that he has followed the dictates of conscience 100 percent of the time. And the conscience is not an infallible guide to what is right or wrong. But when the conscience is brazenly violated, it shows an attitude toward sin that may be brought to hear against the unbeliever.

     2.    The Book of Words

   Matthew 12:36-37 says, "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Scientists tell us that no word we ever speak out loud is ultimately lost and that the sound waves continue on indefinitely, available to be recaptured someday. Whether that is true or not it illustrates that once our words are spoken they can never be retrieved. They may act as the accusers of the unsaved one day at the Great White Throne Judgment. When excuses begin to be offered by man, the Book of Words may be opened. By a man's own words, he may stand condemned before the Lord.

      3.   The Book of Secret Works

   The apostle Paul taught that "God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Romans 2:16), and Solomon said, "For God will bring every work into judgment including every secret thing, whether good

or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). D. L. Moody, the famous evangelist used to say that if a camera were ever invented that could take a picture of the heart of man, the inventor would starve to death. No one would buy a camera that would expose the secret things of one's heart. But at the Great White Throne Judgment there will be no more secret things. Everything that men thought were secrets will be exposed before God. Those things which men thought would never be used against them because they were secrets will stand as testimonies against them.

     4.    The Book of Public Works

   Paul speaks also of men "whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:15). Jesus said "the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works" (Matthew 16:27). God will have a complete record of every moment of every person's life, not only their secret works but also their public works. Who a man is will be born out by what he has done, how he has lived.

     5.    The Book of Life

   The Book of Life is no doubt the most important of the books that will be opened. The Book of Life is mentioned a number of times in the Bible (e.g., Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27; 22:19).

Many of those passages are in contexts dealing with believers, not unbelievers. This obviously raises the question of whether a Christian can have his name blotted out of the Book of Life. Some first-century cultural background will aid our understanding of this question.

   Cities in John's day had a city register which listed the names of every citizen. If a person committed crimes, or otherwise defiled his standing in the city, he could be called before a tribunal and his name removed from the city registry, literally blotted out. He would no longer be considered a citizen of that metropolis and would live from then on in anonymity or be forced to move elsewhere. I believe that concept forms the background for the Book of Life as John describes it. It is a book originally containing the name of every person ever born into this world. If that person dies having rejected God's offer of salvation, his name is blotted out of the Book of Life. It is a sobering thing to think about a person paging through God's Book of Life in vain looking for his name and not finding it.

   William R. Newell, a great scholar and commentator on Revelation, said there are four things to be noted about the Book of Life:

     1.    It is the absence of one's name, not one's good works, that dooms a person.

     2.    Evil works are not the issue. Many of earth's greatest sinners' names are recorded in the Book of Life because they accepted God's offer of salvation.

     3.    Those whose names do not appear in the book are cast into the lake of fire (20:15).

     4.    All names found in the book were written before the Judgment Day. There is no record of names being recorded (decisions being made) on that day.'

The Stipulations of the Sentence

   A final purpose we can mention for the Great White Throne Judgment is to determine degrees of punishment. It is a little-known fact among Bible students that there are degrees of punishment in hell. Jesus taught by a parable in Luke 12:47-48 that those who are given more will be held more accountable than those given less. We can only conclude that some will be held more accountable by God, and therefore punished more severely, than others. For example, a person who has continually rejected, time after time, a clear presentation of the Gospel will be held more accountable by God than someone who has never heard the Gospel clearly.


   In Revelation 20:14, and in Matthew 25:41 and 46, the concept of eternal punishment in hell is taught. It is not a popular doctrine, but it is a plain one in Scripture. Jesus spoke three words about hell for every one word He spoke about heaven. It was His compassion that prompted Him to warn men of that punishment to come if they did not accept God's salvation. Sometimes I wonder if the reason God does not allow believers to be present at the Great White Throne Judgment is that we would not be able to bear the looks of unsaved friends or relatives when they asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"

   If there is someone you know whose name, as far as you know, will not be found in the Book of Life, won't you tell him soon about salvation in Jesus? Whether they choose Jesus is their responsibility, but whether they have the choice may be yours.



Revelations 20:11-15