Following Satan’s defeat, the final judgment unfolds before the Great White Throne – Revelation 20:11-15.
Now, the “Dragon,” the “False Prophet,” the “Beast from the Sea,” and “Babylon” have all been judged. Their conspiracy against the “Lamb” and his followers only ended in their own demise. What they intended for evil the “One Who Sits on the Throne” employed to achieve His purposes.
Throughout the book, the “slain Lamb” remains in firm control of events. He uses the malevolent plans of his enemies to implement the redemptive plan of God, and very often, in paradoxical and unexpected ways.
The time has arrived for the final judgment, an event anticipated at the close of each of the sevenfold series – The “seven seals,” “seven trumpets,” and the “seven bowls of Wrath.”
- (Revelation 20:11-15) – “And I saw a great white throne and him that was sitting thereon, from whose face fled the earth and heaven, and place was not found for them. 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 out of the things written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged, each one, according to their works. And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone was not found in the book of life written, he was cast into the lake of fire.”
This is the first mention of the “great white throne,” but the description is probably an expansion of John’s vision of the heavenly throne in chapter 4 – (“Behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne”). The occupant on the Throne is the one “Who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty” – (Exodus 3:14, Revelation 1:4-6).
“From whose face fled the earth and heaven.” This recalls the opening of the “sixth seal” and the sounding of the “seventh trumpet,” both of which ended in the final judgment – (Revelation 6:14, 16:20).
“I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened.” The sentence alludes to the vision of the “Ancient of Days” from Daniel’s vision of the four beasts from the sea:
- (Daniel 7:10) – “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened” – (Compare – Daniel 12:1-2).
The idea of a “scroll” with the record of each person’s deeds occurs elsewhere in Scripture. The Psalmist declared concerning his oppressors – “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” And Jesus exhorted his disciples to “rejoice, not that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” – (Psalm 69:28, Luke 10:20).
But what is different now is that “another book was opened, the book of life.” What sets this record apart is that it is the “book of life of the Lamb that has been slain from the foundation of the world.” What determines one’s final fate is how he or she responds to Jesus. The names of all who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” are included in his book. In contrast, everyone who gives allegiance to the “Beast” is excluded from it – (Revelation 13:8, 17:8).
“The dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works.” The one who “sits on the throne” does nothing apart from the “Lamb.” When the “sixth seal” was opened, it revealed the day of the “wrath of the Lamb and of the one sitting on the throne.” Jesus promised each “overcoming” saint that HE would not “blot out his or her name out of the book of life.” It is the “Lamb” who gives to “every one of you according to your works” – (Revelation 2:23, 3:5, 6:15-17, 22:12).
“And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire.” It is not just unrighteous human individuals that are thrown into the “Lake of Fire,” but “death and Hades.” Whether Revelation views the two as personal beings or abstract concepts is not clear.
In the book’s first vision, Jesus declared his authority over “death and Hades” because of his Death and Resurrection. Yet neither has any place or function in the “New Jerusalem,” and so, in the end, both are cast into the “Lake of Fire.”
“Hades” corresponds to the Old Testament concept of Sheol, the abode of the dead. It is not identical to the “Lake of Fire.” The casting of “death and Hades” into it represents the end of their respective domains. That is, the cessation of death after the final judgment – (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:20-57).
“This is the second death, the lake of fire.”Revelation never mentions the expected counterpart to this, the “first death.” In the passage, the “second death” is juxtaposed with the “first resurrection.” Physical death is not the final answer or the thing to be feared. Rather, what counts is whether one is destined for the “New Jerusalem” or the “Lake of Fire” – (Revelation 21:8).
Persons and things do not survive long in a literal fire; instead, fire consumes them. Comparing fire to a “lake” is an analogy. But however literal the description is, this is an undesirable fate, something to be avoided at all costs. This dread fate is set in contrast to the glorious one that faithful followers of the “Lamb” will experience in the “New Jerusalem” – (Revelation 21:1-8).
“Anyone who was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This reiterates the previous theme. Humanity is divided into two groups: Those who follow the Lamb, and those who render homage to the Beast. There is no middle ground or neutral corner. The former live forever in the “New Jerusalem” with “Lamb,” the latter join the “Beast” in the “Lake of Fire.”
Previously, the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” were “cast alive” into the “Lake of Fire.” Now, the “dead” from the “sea,” “death,” and “Hades” are simply “cast into the Lake of Fire.” This perfunctory statement reinforces the idea that the unrighteous dead do not participate in the “first resurrection,” regardless of whatever their state of existence is when they are brought before the “Great White Throne of Judgment.”
The next paragraph will begin to present the fate of those whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life,” and in stark contrast to those whose names were excluded. “New Jerusalem” is about to descend to the earth! It will also close out the third major literary division of the book.