That brings us to the great reality of the final judgment of man. The world has proved itself worthy once again to be judged and judged eternally. There is no excuse for mankind that they can hide behind. They are sinful and the wages of sin is death and now they must pay that wage. Let us first look at the place of their judgment. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” John described the place of judgment with three reference points; the throne, the person, and the power. The throne is described as great and white. The fact of the throne is inherent to the person sitting on the throne. Isaiah said that he “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” (Isa. 6:1). There has always been a throne but it has not always been apparent to all: “he hath prepared his throne for judgment” (Ps. 9:7). We have seen the throne in the blessed scene in heaven encircled by all the colors of the rainbow. The only color seen here is the color white which speaks solely of the justice and holiness of God. “God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness” (Ps. 47:8). Again, “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne…” (Ps. 89:14). Jesus Himself spoke of both of the mountain peaks of His coming and the final judgment of man when he described this throne as “the throne of his glory.” (Matt. 25:31). That is the color of this throne; glory, justice, holiness. I love how Herman Melville in his Moby Dick spoke of the fearfulness of the color white. It will be a fearful thing indeed to stand before the white throne. It is great because of the one that sits on it and it is white because it is holiness undiluted by grace and mercy. As to the person that sits upon that throne we have no doubt who that is and John zeros in on Him by saying that he saw the throne and “him that sat on it….” The following verse tells us that it is God that the judged stand before. So the person on this throne is God. But, we know intuitively that it is Christ. It is the Son of Man that sits on the throne of his glory judging the nations of men (Matt. 25:31). All judgment has been committed to the Son: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son…” (John 5:22). Therefore we have another clear claim on the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God. Mankind once hid themselves in fear from the face of the one that sits upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16).
Now the Lamb occupies the throne. He no longer sits with the Father in His throne but occupies a throne of judgment given solely to Him (Rev. 3:21). While John saw Christ only we know that we are with Him there for the promise is that we shall ever be with Him. And the promise is that we will sit with Him in His throne (Rev. 3:21). If we are to find ourselves in this text it is there with Him. We judged with Him on earth during the millennial reign and we will judge with Him there. As to the power of that throne, or rather of the face of the one that occupies it, John said “…from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” There is a removal of all that mankind could trust in. The earth and the sky that they have been fond of trusting are gone. There is no refuge for them. When they feared the wrath of the Lamb it was with the heaven departed and then they sought refuge from the earth (Rev. 6:14). But now there is no refuge. There is no place to hide. Their sins have found them out. That is the meaning of the phrase “no place was found for them…;” it means that they will have no place to hide from God. They must now stand before Him, naked and ashamed. This is the prophetic moment when the old world is destroyed and what follows in the proceeding chapter is the new heaven and the new earth. Peter spoke of this final conflagration which occurs after the millennial reign and at the final judgment and prior to the new heaven and earth. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up…. Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (II Pet. 3:7-10, 12, 13). The heavens and the earth fled away as wax before a flame. Brethren, this all is coming to an end. There will come a time when this world will have no place. This universe will come to its close with eternity laid before it. The lost will not see the new heaven and earth but they will see the destruction of the old, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail” (Heb. 1:10-12).
As to the persons judged our text says “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God…. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them….” The thing that immediately leaps out at the reader is that this company of people are known as “the dead.” Four times in two verses they are spoken of by the definitive title. The term “the dead” is fitting especially at this point in the Scriptures. We spoke earlier of the whore and in the book of Proverbs we learned that those who follow the harlot are the dead: “For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead…. But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell” (Prov. 2:18, 9:18). The term dead must be understood in its relationship to the matter of sin. Paul stated this “…through the offence of one many be dead…” (Rom. 5:15). We will speak shortly of the second death but it is only in the first death that we understand it. God breathed into the nostrils of man and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Life is a spiritual matter (a matter if the soul) and so is death. God told our first father that the day he disobeyed and transgressed he would die (Gen. 2:16). That has nothing to do with the death physical. That is only a bi-product of being separated from life. When man ate of the fruit he hid from God in guilt. That was the death that man died. And as he was driven away from the presence of God and the source of life physical death began to occur. Once man becomes a knowing sinner he proves that he is spiritually dead (Rom. 7:9). The dead here are all that have part in the first death and have not received new life from Christ. Paul again said to believers, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins…” (Eph. 2:1). The dead are those who died in Adam and have not been made alive by Christ. They are the ones that are separated from God because of their sins (Isa. 59:2). And it is these that shall stand before God to be judged. These are sinners who live in sin but are dead towards God. No matter how small of sinners they may be they must stand there. No matter how great they are in status and prestige, they must stand there dead in their sins.
In the thirteenth verse we have a description of the second resurrection. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them….” The first resurrection spoken of above was one that raised up unto life. These are raised only to be judged and to die eternally. The sea will give up her dead. This could mean the actual sea (Rev. 16:3) but it seems to be the balanced equation of the first resurrection. For those that were raised bodily to live with Christ it was the dead in the graves were risen and then those that were alive and remained (I Thess. 4:16). The sea is the nations of the earth that will then exist as we have discussed (Rev. 13:1, 14:2, 17:15). Those that are living on the earth will be drawn up to judgment to answer for their sins. And then death and hell will also be delivered up. Those that died in their sins have opened their eyes in hell (Luke 16). There they have remained in their spiritual death. That death and that hell will come to a close to make room for an eternal reality. The dead will be raised and given eternal bodies to suffer eternally. They chose to remain in the state of their sins and they will be allowed to forever live with that choice. They will be raised unto eternal damnation (John 5:29).
Then there is the matter of their judgment: “and the books were opened… and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” God has kept excellent records and every man will give an account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12). Whether or not there is an actual ceremony here or this is spoken of simply in allegory in an attempt to speak in a way of our understanding is not known. Daniel wrote of the great white throne judgment in these terms: “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (Dan. 7:9, 10). What are these books spoken of in the plural? Whatever they are they represent real and true knowledge for they represent the full substance and matter by which mankind is judged. They must then represent the omniscience of God and the complete holiness and justice of God. Emmanuel Kant rightly argued when speaking of ethics that this final judgment must exist or else there can be no real morality. This is the moment of that justice and it must consider all things and correctly weigh the merits of all before its bar. I can say with almost full assurance that when these books are mentioned they start with the Bible itself. It is the fullness of God’s words and they teach us His holiness and His omniscience. And then when compared with the books and accounts of mankind’s deeds they show their great guilt. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).These 66 books that make up our Bible know men more than anything. They judge mankind. One day they will be opened and the dead shall be judged by the things that are written therein. Mankind cannot plead ignorance. How many times did Christ Himself tell sinful man that they erred not knowing the scriptures. He opened to us the scriptures now when we received life from Him (Luke 24:45). For the dead, He will yet open the scriptures to them but it will be to their condemnation and not for the salvation. To the religious man the Scriptures will show them their lack of Christ. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). To be without Christ is to be dead and without hope and without God (Eph. 2:12). Mankind will finally be shown the tenants of the gospel; they are sinners, they deserve hell, they need Christ. Only now they will not be able to receive the gospel. They will be judged according to their works and the chief work of God is that they believe in the one that God sent (John 6:29). It is here that they will be shown to be “workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). Your works speak of who you are and what you truly believe. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9, 10). Your actions are an extension of your thoughts and one day you will have to give an answer for the deeds you have done. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc. 12:14). They must all go forward to damnation, but after their judgement some will go to a greater damnation (Matt. 23:14). We could speak of other books as well. The book of God’s remembrance which speaks of His remembrance of the tears and afflictions of His people (Ps. 69:28, Mal. 3:16). Many will find their judgment in their ill treatment of those that represent God upon the earth (Matt. 25:41-45). The books will be opened. The sins both secret and open will be laid open and iniquity will shut its mouth once and for all. All the dead shall be judged according to, or in harmony with, their works.
And then we have the nature of their sentence; “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” The last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Cor. 15:26). Here we see that final victory over death where it is cast down and all who were embraced therein. Death and hell are personified for the last time to show the victory of Christ over them. Death, separation from God by sin, seemed to ride triumphantly on this earth at one time (Rev. 6:8) and the gates of hell seemed to prevail upon mankind. But, now death and hell are finally cast down. We have spoken of the lake of fire already. It is not meant to be metaphor. The fire of God burns but does not consume as with the burning bush. There will be there no rest day or night. There will be eternal punishment. There will be a complete immersion into that suffering and thus it is called a lake. Death and hell will be there cast. All who have identified with death (the wages of sin) and hell (the place which was made for the devil and his angels) must find their end there. They will be cast down there with violence as a great stone is cast into the sea. We need not again speak of the lake of fire. This is that Gehenna that Christ Himself warned us of when He said three separate times to avoid at any cost for it is “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). Here the hell of Hades which was temporary gives way to the hell of Gehenna which is everlasting.
God tells us what the true nature of this fate is, this is the second death. The first death came with sin the second death comes with judgment. Death is separation. With sin man separated from God who was their life. As a by-product of that death man earns his bread from the sweat of his brow until the day he returns to the soil. That physical death is the separation of the body from the soul (Ecc. 12:7). With the second death it will be separation of the love of God to abide forever in His wrath. Jesus said, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). Paul said, “[they] shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power…” (II Thess. 1:9). The Psalmist said that they shall be “both living, and in his wrath” (Ps. 58:9). This is the death that they must endure eternally. They would not come to Christ that they might have life and now they will be under the power of the second death (John 5:40).
And, lastly, there is the final reason for their judgment: “and another book was opened, which is the book of life…. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” In the 12th verse the books of judgment are opened but another book is also opened and that book is called the book of life. This is the most important book of all. The ultimate reason for the final judgment of all mankind is the absence of their names written therein. What is this book? It is a book of life and if a name is not found there then that name must belong to death. Therefore there is nothing left but to cast that one into the fire. Being the book of life it speaks of those that belong to life. God alone is the fountain of life (Ps. 36:9). In particular, it is the book of Christ for in Him was life (John 1:4). And whosever believed in Him had eternal and everlasting life (John 3:15, 16). Those that would not believe on Him would not see life (John 3:36). This is the book of election. There are a company of people that we call the elect and their names are written there. They were given to Christ to save by the Father and we know them simply by the fact that they come to Christ (John 6:37). They will never be cast out and they will never be hurt of the second death. They have the promise that their names are there never to be blotted out (Rev. 3:5). I can say with great sincerity to all, that if you come to Christ you can have life and you can find that your name is written there. The only thing that keeps you from life is your failure to come to Christ (John 5:40). Setting aside all we think we know about election (speaking of God’s sovereignty and his election of all who are saved before the creation of the world) there is still no scriptural warrant for any man to believe that their names cannot be found written there and so to come to Christ. Much can be said on this subject of life coming from Christ. He is the life (John 14:6). To be in Christ is what it means to “be written with the righteous” (Ps. 69:28). Everyone “that shall be found written in the book” shall be delivered from this death (Dan. 12:1). They enjoy the fellowship of the saints now and shall for all eternity (Phil. 4:3). So we do indeed rejoice above all things that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). Our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, has entered heaven for us with our names written upon His breastplate and upon His shoulders (Ex. 28). That is the sum of our election. And I pray to everyone that they will make their calling and election sure by coming to Christ. Do not rest until you know that your names are there written. For there will come a day when that book will be opened before all. It will not matter if you made everyone think you are a good person. It will not matter if you joined a church or had your name written on a baptismal certificate. If your name is not found written there in that book, indicating that you came to Christ for life, than you must be cast into the lake of fire. Whosoever they might be, if they have not Christ they must be cast away to the second death. Barnes summed it up like this: “And whosoever – All persons, of all ranks, ages, and conditions. No word could be more comprehensive than this. The single condition here stated, as being what would save any from being cast into the lake of fire, is, that they are “found written in the book of life.” All besides these, princes, kings, nobles, philosophers, statesmen, conquerors; rich men and poor men; the bond and the free; the young and the aged; the frivolous, the vain, the proud, and the sober; the modest and the humble, will be doomed to the lake of fire. Unlike in all other things, they will be alike in the only thing on which their eternal destiny will depend….” Your works may damn you but your works cannot save you. It isonly by being written in the Lamb’s book of life (for it does belong to the Lamb of God for it is a record of His righteousness our righteousness in Him, John 1:29, Rev. 21:27, II Cor. 5:21) that you are saved; salvation by grave through faith in Jesus Christ alone. I implore all, come to Christ while there is still time.