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A study of Revelation 20-22. This is book 8 of an 8 part book series.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Revelation 20:11, 12 says,
11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
This is the second resurrection, and it includes all who have ever lived since the beginning of time. It is obviously different from the first resurrection, which was limited to those called as rulers in The Messianic Age, i.e., the Great Sabbath Millennium. The prophets usually treat this judgment as the climax of the age, although there is yet a greater climax later at the Restoration of All Things.
Nonetheless, the Great White Throne is where every knee bows and every tongue confesses allegiance to Christ (Isaiah 45:23, 24, 25; Phil. 2:9-11). In other words, it is the moment of truth, when all men acknowledge Christ as King and become believers, confessing “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Paul also tells us in 1 Cor. 12:3,
3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, when all men at the Great White Throne confess allegiance to Christ, calling Him “Lord,” they can only do so “by the Holy Spirit.” Hence, when every knee bows at the Great White Throne, they do not bow against their will, but bow as a reaction to the leading of the Holy Spirit within them. In other words, they will not only be justified by faith in Him, but they will also be filled with the Holy Spirit at that time.
Even so, this will not cancel their judgment, for they, like all believers, must experience the baptism of fire so that the Holy Spirit can bring them to spiritual maturity. They will experience Passover when they confess Jesus Christ and bow to Him, but Pentecost and its baptism of fire is a longer process, where men learn obedience until they come into agreement. So also will this characterize the age of judgment that follows the Great White Throne.
The last battle of the Kingdom Age gives God the legal right to reclaim all other parts of the earth by right of conquest and according to the laws of war. As the Creator, He always owned the earth, but in a legal sense, it was sold to another in payment of debt—the debt that Adam incurred when he sinned at the beginning.
Such a sale would have been unnecessary, except for the fact that Adam had been given authority, or “dominion” in Genesis 1:26. In delegating authority, God did not give up His sovereignty, but yet it subjected the entire ordeal to a legal process. This process took time and was subject to the laws of time, a long Jubilee cycle of 49,000 years, divided into seven “week” periods.
Adam’s entire estate (the whole earth) was sold to a nameless buyer in order for payment to be made, according to the legal principle that Jesus set forth in His parable in Matt. 18:25,
25 But since he did not have the means to repay [the debt], his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
By the law of authority, not only Adam, but his entire estate was sold to pay the debt, and even this was insufficient. So Adam and his family too were sold into slavery to Sin, and Paul acknowledges this in Rom. 7:14, saying, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” He treats sin as a slave owner, and his flesh (Adamic identity) as the slave who is commanded to do his will by “the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25).
Because the law expresses the mind, will, and nature of God Himself, He was unwilling to override the law or to put it away. Instead, He began the long legal process of reclaiming His creation. But because the law commanded that slaves labor for six years (Exodus 21:2), mankind had to remain in bondage for 6,000 years. The same law, however, commanded a release from labor in the Sabbath year, and this gave God the legal right to institute the first resurrection, setting free the first group of believers known as overcomers.
But the law acknowledges that some debts require more than six years of labor and that some men are to be enslaved until the year of Jubilee. Hence, after the Sabbath year, those who are yet debtors must return to work at the beginning of the eighth year. This is the legal background to the Great White Throne judgment at the start of the eighth millennium, in which the majority of mankind is judged and must continue their labor until the Creation Jubilee.
Understanding the law also helps us to define the “lake of fire” in practical terms, as we will see shortly.
The Great White Throne judgment is based upon God’s right of ownership. God owns all things by right of creation, but the use of these things is limited by law. We have already shown how creation was sold by the law of sin as payment for Adam’s debt. This put limits on God’s sovereignty in a legal sense, but not so much that God would be defeated. It only meant that God was limited by His own righteous nature to reconcile all things over a period of time in a lawful process.
Hence, in the end God is a resounding Winner. He will not lose most of the creation that He owns and loves, as so many theologians have thought. All that Adam lost was lost temporarily on account of his authority; but God never gave up His sovereignty, which is greater than all authority. His sovereignty will prevail in the end, and God will once again be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
One of the laws of ownership is found in Jesus’ short parable in Matt. 13:44,
44 The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
Jesus is the “man” who has found hidden treasure. Israel was called God’s “peculiar treasure” (Exodus 19:5 KJV), and specifically “those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” will be God’s “jewels” (Mal. 3:16, 17). But the man in the parable did not steal the treasure. In order to have the right to claim the treasure, he had to buy the field where the treasure was hidden. So Jesus gave up “all that he has” (that is, He gave His very life) in order to buy the field and obtain the treasure.
In one simple parable, Jesus set forth the divine plan. Earlier, He said in Matt. 13:38, “the field is the world.” Hence, in order to obtain the treasure (“those who fear the Lord”), He purchased the whole field (“the world”). It was the only lawful way to get what He wanted, for if He had taken the treasure without first owning the field, He would have violated His own law. Jesus will not sin that grace may abound. No matter how much He desires to possess the treasure, He will obtain it in a lawful manner.
In fact, it is His integrity and righteousness that ensures the stability of the universe, for if One who is sovereign should violate the law (character of God), the universe would be sold into sin, and there would be no one qualified to redeem it.
This principle of ownership is seen further at the last battle against Gog and Magog in Rev. 20:9. It is God’s intent to take ownership of the whole earth, but He must do so in a lawful manner. By releasing the devil to tempt Gog and Magog (working on their inner anger and resentment) to attack the Kingdom, Jesus fights back by the law of self-defense against their unlawful aggression.
This victory and conquest puts the rest of the world under the lawful control of Jesus Christ, allowing Him to take the hidden treasure from “the field” that He then owns. In this case, the hidden treasure is “the rest of the dead” (Rev. 20:5), and summoning them all in the second resurrection is the moment when He claims the rest of the treasure hidden (or buried) in the field.
The judgment, then, is based legally upon God’s ownership of the entire world and all that is in it. God finally has the lawful right to fulfill His passion to save all mankind and restore all things in creation. At that point in time, the law’s impediments are largely removed—not entirely, however, for He must still judge those who are raised in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus said in Matt. 5:17, 18,
17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
As long as God’s judgments are relevant, the law stands. It is only when all things have been reconciled, and all are in agreement with God and His nature, that the law will no longer need to judge anyone. When there is no judgment to be done, then the law will remain only as the definition of every man’s nature, for the law will be written on every heart (Heb. 8:10). In other words, the law will be passive, rather than active. No longer will it need to be taught, because all will fulfill it in all that they do, and because no one will violate it, there will be no more judgment for sin.
But between the Great White Throne and the Creation Jubilee, there is still much judgment to be done. The “fiery law,” as Moses called it in Deut. 33:2 (KJV), will be active during this time, enforcing obedience whenever necessary, until all have come into agreement by nature.
John tells us in Rev. 20:11, “I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it.” He does not tell us WHO was sitting upon that throne. Yet because he saw the same scene that Daniel saw, we may identity Him as “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9). The Concordant Version calls Him “the Transferrer of Days.”
Both translations are correct, showing a double meaning. He is “old,” or “ancient,” or, as it may be rendered, “advanced in years,” but He also transfers authority from one to another. As the “days” advance in time, there is a shift in authority, first from Babylon to the saints of the Most High, and secondly from the nations in general to the One sitting on the Great White Throne.
Daniel and John each have their unique perspective. One sees details that the other does not, but both have enough revelation in common to let us know that they are seeing the same scene.
Who, then, is sitting upon this Great White Throne? Dan. 7:13, 14 tells us,
13 I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom…
Hence, we see two Beings here. The first is the Ancient of Days, but the second is Christ, who comes “with the clouds of heaven.” When Jesus was adjured by the high priest to speak the whole truth in the court of law where He was being tried, He testified in Matt. 26:64, “hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
According to Luke 22:70, the Council then asked Jesus point blank, “Are you the Son of God then?” And He said to them, ‘Yes, I am’.” Thus, Jesus identified Himself as the One to whom the Ancient of Days was to give “dominion, glory, and a kingdom.” He was then crucified on a charge of blasphemy for supposedly giving false testimony under oath.
Daniel’s information ends at that point, and John says even less about the identity of the One on the throne. The important revelation to John is that the dead were being judged. Yet there is no question that John knew that the Ancient of Days had delegated all judgment to the Son, for we read Jesus’ own words in John 5:21-23,
21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
We may conclude, then, that the Father is the Ancient of Days who sits on the Great White Throne, but He has delegated (or transferred) all authority to the Son, Who is called to judge all men. Further, because Jesus became the sacrificial victim for the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2), He earned the right to forgive or to condemn. Hence, “the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.”
This transfer of authority to judge was based on the Law of Victims Rights. So we see that even though men have all sinned against the Ancient of Days, as soon as Jesus took the responsibility of all sin upon Himself, He also received the right to forgive or to condemn. The Law of Victims Rights is the legal reason WHY the judgment was delegated to the Son.
We know Christ’s ultimate intention, of course, for He stated it while on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His intention is to forgive, but this does not eliminate a certain level of judgment. Judgment holds men accountable in order to train them in the ways of righteousness and justice. It is only when we understand that judgment is temporary that we can see how Christ intends to balance judgment with mercy and to bring about His ultimate goal to forgive and to save all whose sins victimized Him.
Revelation 20:11 says,
11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it from whose presence [prosopon, “face”] earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
This statement seems strange. Why would earth and heaven want to flee from the face or presence of God? Is the Ancient of Days to be dreaded, or loved? Once again, we must interpret this with Hebrew eyes, rather than Greek or any other viewpoint. The Greek word prosopon means “face,” and it carries the meaning of the Hebrew word panah and its plural, paniym. It literally means “face, faces,” but it is often untranslatable. For example, Exodus 34:23 says,
23 Three times a year all your males are to appear before [paniym, the face of] the Lord God, the God of Israel.
They were instructed to appear before the face of the Lord God. To be in front of one’s face was to be in one’s presence. So the NASB translates Rev. 20:11, “from whose presence earth and heaven fled away.” The translation is accurate, though not literal.
It was commonly believed in ancient times that if anyone saw God face to face, he would die. Such a belief was accurate in that no mortal, sinful flesh can live in God’s presence (Exodus 33:20). But what about immortal people who are righteous, or those who have been imputed righteous? We have been promised the ability to see God and live.
When Moses’ face glowed as He returned from the Mount (Exodus 34:29), the presence (face) of God was in his face, and this defined the promise of God to all of us. The Israelites fled from Moses’ face until He used a veil to hide the glory of God (Exodus 34:30). The old man of flesh cannot help but flee from the presence of God. The flesh lacks the strength of will to stand before God’s face. And since sin has permeated both heaven (the second heaven) and earth, both are said to flee before God’s face.
Yet at the resurrection, all flesh is summoned to appear before God’s face at the Great White Throne. This is a command from the Judge, not a suggestion that might coax sinners to come. John’s view of the summons is thus contrasted to the flesh’s desire to flee, showing that there is no place to run and hide. Hence, “no place [to flee] was found for them.” This is a statement that shows that the will of God overrules the will of man. Man is arrested and brought before the Judge, and man’s will is powerless at this point in history.
The Ancient of Days—the Old Man—has come, and all will rise, as the law prophesies in Lev. 19:32. By the Old Covenant, the law commands men to rise, but in the end, the will of man may or may not comply with the law. But by the New Covenant, the law is a promise and prophecy, based on the will of God, which the will of man cannot withstand.
John continues in Revelation 20:12,
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
We know from John’s earlier statement that the overcomers are raised a thousand years before the rest of the dead. So it is evident that at the Great White Throne, the rest of the dead who are raised include everyone other than the overcomers. Jesus tells us in John 5:28, 29 that this general resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers. The believers will receive “life” at that time, while the unbelievers will receive “judgment.” Paul confirms this in Acts 24:14, 15.
Paul also tells us in 1 Cor. 3:11-15 that the believers—those who have laid Christ as their Foundation—will be “saved yet so as through fire.” If they built upon their Foundation with works made of “wood, hay, straw,” their works will be burned up. If they built with works of faith made of “gold, silver, precious stones,” the fire will not consume such works, and they will be rewarded accordingly.
Therefore, “the great and the small” are judged “according to their works,” whether they are believers or unbelievers. But the believers, having faith in Christ, receive immortal “life,” even if many of their works were not done in obedience to His will. We are told very little about the actual judgment upon such believers. The biblical writers presume that we have already studied the law, so we know how sinners are judged.
It is fortunate for believers that the fire of God is not literal. All who have experienced Pentecost have entered the fire of God even in their life on earth. It is the baptism of fire, prophesied by John the Baptist in Matt. 3:11, 12, which was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3). The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s fire is to function “as a smelter” (Mal. 3:3) to purify and “refine them like gold and silver.”
In other words, the “gold, silver, precious stones” going through the fire on the day of judgment is not to be viewed as a pile of works being set on fire outside of us. Instead, our works are part of us, whether spiritual or fleshly, and therefore we need to be purified and refined.
John the Baptist changes the metaphor to wheat whose chaff is being burned, while saving the edible portion of the wheat which is stored in God’s “barn” (Matt. 3:12).
We have been given the feast of Pentecost as a divine gift of the Holy Spirit, not to destroy us by its baptism of fire, but to purify and refine us and to prepare us for the feast of Tabernacles. If we allow Pentecost to do its work within us, then we will be overcomers who qualify for the first resurrection, no longer needing the fire to refine us at the Great White Throne.
Just because we seek the feast of Tabernacles does not mean we despise Passover or Pentecost. Instead, we are called to be justified through Passover and then to receive the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire, embracing the often-painful burning of our flesh, in order to obtain, with all overcomers, “a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35).