As the apostle John presents the final vision of Revelation 20, he wants his readers to face the reality of the final judgment. John wrote: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it” (v. 11). The apostle Paul warned that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31). Jesus defined this day as the day of His return: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne (Matt. 25:31). Whatever clever arguments may be made to urge us not to expect God’s judgment, Revelation 20:11-15 starkly upholds the words of the Nicene Creed: Christ “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”
John begins by describing the judgment seat: “Then I saw a great white throne” (v. 11). Back in chapter 4:2, John was invited into heaven and the first thing he saw was a throne, and now at the end it fills his vision. As a “great” throne, it exudes majesty and authority. As a “white” throne, it radiates perfect purity, holiness, and incorruptible righteousness. When Isaiah saw his vision of the heavenly courtroom, the seraphim were crying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3). The great white throne conveys the same message of infinite perfect justice.
John doesn’t specify who is seated on the throne, which suggests the presence of God the Father, as when this throne was first seen in chapter 4. In Daniel 7:9, from which John’s vision likely draws, it was “the Ancient of Days” who sat on the throne, clothed as “white as snow.” The Bible also states, however, that Jesus will judge the world together with the Father. Therefore, while verse 11 seems to focus on God the Father, it is clear that Jesus, God’s Son, is the agent to whom judgment is committed, which is why He was seated at the right hand of the holy God (Eph. 1:20; Heb. 12:2).
John adds the striking statement: “From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them” (v. 11). This imagery connects with earlier language in Revelation that was tied to Christ’s return. After the sixth seal was opened, John saw a cataclysmic end to the physical order, with a great earthquake and the falling of stars. “The sky vanished like a scroll,” he said (Rev. 6:12-14). This shows the upheaval that results from the absolute holiness and majesty of God when His throne is brought into the fallen world order. The reason for the fleeing of creation was “transgression and sins” (Mic. 1:5).
In addition to the reality of judgment, John’s vision presents the scope of the final judgment: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne” (v. 12). The meaning is that every human being who has ever lived will stand in this judgment. John emphasizes the general resurrection of all the dead to stand before God’s throne. Jesus said that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28). The universality of this resurrection is conveyed in verse 13. The point is that all will stand before the judgment throne. John emphasizes that there will be no distinctions, since the “great and small” stand together before God.
Since each of us will be present before God’s throne, we should realize now what is the basis for the final judgment. John answers: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened… And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (v. 12). Here we arrive at the vital matter. Since each of us must face God’s judgment, what will be the basis of condemnation?
The Bible is clear in stating that we are judged by our deeds. A book is opened, John reports, pointing out the divine record of our every thought, word, and deed, together with our sinful omissions. The infinite and omnipresent God has watched over every detail of history, with a perfect and infallible observation. This thought is unsettling, to say the least. Yet while we might forget our transgressions, the Righteous Judge of the universe remembers every single one. Not only are all our sins recorded in God’s book, but that book will be opened before all creation and the great white throne of the holy God.
When we understand the basis for God’s judgment, we realize the great problem that all of us are guilty and stand worthy of condemnation. For this reason, the most important of all truths is how sinners can escape from final judgment. John answers: “Then another book was opened, which is the book of life” (v. 12). The Bible states that God has a record of every person chosen to be saved by His grace. This book contains not deeds but names.
The full name of this book is given in Revelation 13:8: “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” This makes clear that election and salvation are always in Christ. To say that it is the book “of the Lamb” is to affirm that the names recorded are those who belong to Jesus Christ. Moreover, in calling Jesus “the Lamb who was slain,” this book records those who are saved by means of His atoning death for sin. Paul exclaims: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). This redemption is received through faith in Jesus.
The question is raised about believers’ standing before God to be judged according to their deeds. It is clear in John’s vision that while all mankind outside Christ must be judged by the book of their works, believers in Christ are vindicated by the record of their names in the Book of Life. With our sins forgiven through His blood, our good deeds will then be rewarded with the praise of our dear Savior and Lord (Matt. 25:35-40). This is the reason of Paul’s statement that believers must appear before Christ and the reason we should be zealous in our living (2 Cor. 5:10). It is for this reason that Christians are taught to look forward to the return of Christ and the final judgment. Not only the guilt but also the shame of our sin was fully borne by Jesus on the cross. We will face not judgment but our coronation as joint heirs together with Christ in blessing.
Yet how dreadful is the punishment of the final judgment for those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and who are judged for their sins. John writes: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). This statement makes it clear that no one will ever be saved by his or her own works. The reason was stated by the apostle Paul: “None is righteous, no, not one; … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23). Since all are sinners, none can be justified by their works before God. Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus, by grace, according to the Lamb’s Book of Life.
John’s vision of the final judgment concludes with God’s ultimate victory – a triumph over even hell and death themselves: “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (v. 14). Death was the curse brought by sin into God’s perfect creation. In order for Christ to bring the “new heaven and a new earth” of eternal glory (21:1), then He must put an end to the curse of death, along with Hades, the abode of the condemned. Because of this victory, the final judgment is a day of rejoicing for the holy angels together with God’s redeemed people. For then it will be truly declared by the exultant voices of heaven: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).
Revelation 20:11-15 Study Questions:
What is the significance of the books that are opened as the dead gather around the throne (vv. 12-15)?
How does knowing we are in the Lamb’s Book of Life change who we are and what we do today?
How have you seen the Spirit of God working within you to redeem and enhance your thoughts, desires and actions?
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. John 1:35-39
Dear Faithful & Fearless Seed Sowers,
We have entered the season of Lent. Lent is the forty days before Easter (not including Sundays) in which we take time to prepare our hearts for Holy Week and Easter. The reality of the cross and empty tomb have, and continue, to shape our world.
I encourage you to carve out some intentional time this season and dedicate yourself to the journey of Lent. Today open your bible and read the first chapter of John as you prepare for Lent.
I love this opening chapter of John because it contains many powerful statements. I love the fact that Jesus asks questions. Questions like, “What do you want?” I believe that Jesus’ question “What do you want?” is a profound and deeply moving question. Did the disciples really know what they wanted? If we met Jesus and he asked us to follow Him, can you put yourself into this story? Would you know what you wanted, would you know Him? Have you been waiting for the Messiah?
A pastor friend in Texas sent me an old quote from Mark Twain, “I can teach anybody what they want to get out of life. The problem is that I cannot find anybody who can tell me what they want.”
“WHAT DO YOU WANT? The Greek word for “do you want” is “ζητέω zēteō;” and of course it is a present active verb. In Greek it can mean what are you “deliberating about, demanding, looking for, searching for, seeking after, striving for, looking for and wanting.” And—it isn’t a one timer…Jesus is asking you this question over and over, again and again…and again. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and so is His question.
What do you want? Do you want success? Do you want security? Do you want financial wealth? Do you want health? Do you want peace?
What did Andrew, one of the first disciples to follow Jesus, want? What do we know about Andrew? We know that Andrew was an early follower of John the Baptist. To be a follower of John the Baptist took a lot of courage. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and honey, and wore camel’s hair tunics. (He was a different kind of person.) John wanted the people to turn their hearts back to God. To say the least, John the Baptist’s message was not very popular with the religious establishment of the day. Yet here is where we find Andrew–following and hanging out with a wild man who was cut from a different cloth—camel’s hair!
Andrew was on the seashore the very day Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist. Enter this story. You are there by the river. John is calling out, “Repent. Be baptized.” Andrew was right there when he heard a line out of the norm, “Look, the Lamb of God!” And there was Jesus.
This week when I was working in my Greek, I found the verbs in John 1:36 fascinating. “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’” The verb used for “passing by” is περιπατέω pĕripatĕō, per-ee-pat-eh´-o; or peratounti”; it is a present-active participle which means that the action Jesus is doing is a continuous action. The “passing by” of Jesus is ongoing and never ending—yesterday, today and tomorrow! Now, friends that is a comforting note for us!!! Jesus is going to ALWAYS and FOREVER be passing by you and me! Stay with me because the verb used for John the Baptist’s proclamation, “he said,” is also a present active verb meaning that the news that Jesus is the Lamb of God is proclaimed over and over and over—never ending. Jesus is passing by as the Lamb of God—over and over, again and again. Not just 2,000 years ago—but to this very day—Jesus, the Lamb of God, is passing by. This is really exciting stuff—I might have to go take a Tylenol and lay down!
Once, while testing the acoustics in Agricultural Hall in London, the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon, rang out while practicing in the empty building, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” A workman up in the ceiling heard the message, was convicted, went home, knelt before the Lord and found salvation.[i]
We never know how or when or where Jesus, the Lamb of God, will go passing by—do we?
How many of you have heard of Edward Kimball? Edward was a timid, soft-spoken Sunday School teacher. Kimball’s impact on the world is greatly known, but he is not known by name. Kimball went to a shoe store in Boston one day to share the Gospel with an uneducated, crude, and illiterate young clerk by the name of D. L. Moody. Moody had begun to attend Kimball’s Sunday School class.
Kimball found Moody in the shoe store stock room and shared with Moody about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. “I never could remember just what I did say: something about Christ and His love; that as all.” Kimball admitted it was “a weak appeal.”[i]
D.L. Moody was used mightily by the Lord in the last half of the nineteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic. Moody was an Evangelist who started Moody Bible School. Moody is credited with speaking to over 100,000,000 people. Moody influenced many for Christ including the C. T. Studd who was a great pioneer missionary and Wilbur Chapman who became a famous Evangelist. From an uneducated shoe salesman came D.L. Moody and a Bible Institute that today produces at least one out of ten Protestant ministers.
Where would we be without the Andrews of the world? The Andrews are the first to hear and first to go and tell! The first thing Andrew did after meeting Jesus, the Lamb of God who was passing by– was go and find his brother Peter, “Pete, we have found the Messiah.” Peter—the one who Jesus said He would build His church upon. Peter—the one who denied Jesus three times. Peter the guy who gave the first sermon after Pentecost–where three thousand people were added to the church in one day! Yes, the church needs bold, brave people like Peter, but where would the church be without Andrews?
So What? I think every pastor, including me, would be overjoyed to serve in a church filled with Andrews. Andrew was a man on mission. His mission was to go and tell others one-on-one that he had found the Messiah. Andrew helped to transform the world.
Listen, you may not think my getting a haircut is a big deal but it is. I have a young woman who normally cuts my hair. She’s great. She does a great cut for me but every once in a while her schedule and mine are worlds apart and I need to go out into the world of Rancho Cucamonga and get a trim. I had to cancel my appointment with my normal girl because my wife and I needed to fly to St. Louis for our nephew’s funeral. You may think I’m nuts but I prayed about where to go get a trim. “The Tavern” kept repeating in my heart. Yes, there’s a barber shop that sells beer here. Matter of fact, it’s right across the street from church. A young man named Daniel trimmed my hair and in the time we had together, he decided to renew his relationship with Jesus. He grew up believing but had turned and walked away. Daniel wanted to know if the church would even let him in the doors–he’s tatted up. I said, “Jesus would, I would and our church family would.” It’s only been a few weeks, but I’m praying Daniel will return to church–any church.
Is there anyone out there who is willing to be an Andrew for Jesus? I encourage you to go and tell the GOOD NEWS. Our world is so lost and hurting.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to go out from here this week and share with one person that you have found the Messiah. Just think of what would happen. Just think of what would happen in their lives and in their homes? Just think of what would happen in their work places? Just think of what would happen in the church and this community? If you aren’t brave enough to go, then tell! Write a letter, a card, an email or text, send a book, or a cool bible or a cross. This week–GO AND TELL. You can lead a horse to water–let them choose to drink everlasting water or not.
GOD BE WITH YOU!
See You Sunday!
God loves you and so do I,