Wednesday, December 8, 2021

71. The Revelation: Great White Throne Room Judgement - Summons, Standard, and Sentence (Rev. 20:13-15)



"And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them..." (Rev. 20:13a)

As the next scene in this ultimate courtroom drama unfolds, the prisoners are summoned from their cells to appear before the Judge. Since their deaths, their souls have been tormented in a place of punishment. Now the time has come for them to be sentenced to the final, eternal hell. Before the sea was uncreated and went out of existence (21:1), it “gave up the dead which were in it.” God will summon from its depths new bodies for all who perished in the sea throughout human history. “Death” symbolizes all the places on land from which God will resurrect new bodies for the unrighteous dead. The sea and death are pictured as voracious monsters that have swallowed those bodies and will be forced to return them before their uncreation.

“Hades” is the Greek word used to describe the realm of the dead. Hades is used ten times in the New Testament, always in reference to the place of punishment (Luke 16:23) where the unrighteous dead are kept pending their sentencing to hell. In this incredible scene, Hades is emptied of its captive spirits, who are reunited with resurrection bodies before the bar of God’s justice. Unbelievers, fitted with resurrection bodies suited for hell, will then be ready for their sentencing to the lake of fire where their punishment will last forever.


"...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.… and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds." (Rev. 20:12b, 13b)

As the judgment commences, the Judge opens the books (cf. Daniel 7:10): The books contain the record of every thought, word, and deed of every unsaved person who ever lived. God has kept perfect records of every person’s life, and the dead will be judged “according to their deeds.” Sinners’ deeds will be measured against God’s perfect, holy standard, which Jesus defined in Matthew 5:48: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” No prisoner before the bar of divine justice will be able to claim the perfect obedience to God’s holy standards that He requires. They “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and are “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

God’s justice demands payment for every person’s sins. Christ paid that penalty for believers: “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5–6; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Yet unbelievers will personally pay the penalty for violating God’s law—eternal destruction in hell (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

The absolute accuracy of God’s judgment will ensure that unbelievers’ punishment in hell fits their iniquity. Each person’s life will be individually evaluated, and each person’s punishment will be consistent with that evaluation. Scripture teaches that there will be varying degrees of punishment in hell. When Jesus sent the Twelve out on a preaching tour, He told them, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Matthew 10:14–15 cf. 11:21–24). Similarly, Jesus warned that the hypocritical scribes “who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38–40).

Yet while there are varying degrees of punishment in hell, everyone there will suffer intolerable misery and torment. All sinners in hell will be completely separated from God and all that comes from His goodness. They will be miserable, but not equally miserable.

After the books containing the prisoners’ evil deeds were opened, “another book was opened, which is the book of life.” This book’s imagery corresponds to the registry of citizens kept by ancient cities. It contains the names of all those whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). It is referred to several times in Revelation (verse 15; 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27). The Book of Life is the record of God’s elect. All whose names are not recorded in it will be eternally damned.

Since their names were not in the Book of Life, the prisoners before the great white throne were judged, “every one of them according to their deeds.” Some, in shock and horror, will protest, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But they will hear in reply the most chilling, terrifying words that any human will ever hear: “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22–23).


"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire..." (Rev. 20:14–15)

As the sentence is passed, “death and Hades [the grave and the temporary place of punishment for everyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life] were thrown into the lake of fire,” meaning that they will go out of existence, swallowed up by the final hell. Their inmates, currently suffering in their spirits only, will be united with specially designed resurrection bodies and cast into eternal hell (Matthew 10:28). That final hell, described as the lake of fire, may already exist (Matthew 25:41), but if so, it is currently unoccupied. Its first two occupants, the beast and the false prophet, will not arrive until the end of the tribulation (19:20).

The clearest and most vivid of the New Testament terms used to describe the final hell is Gehenna. Gehenna is the valley of Ben-Hinnom (also called Topheth; 2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33; Jeremiah 7:31–32; 19:6), located southwest of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, idolatrous Israelites burned their children in the fire there as sacrifices to false gods (Jeremiah 19:2–6). In Jesus’ day, it was the site of Jerusalem’s garbage dump. The fires that kept constantly burning there gave off foul-smelling smoke, and the dump was infested with maggots. Sometimes the bodies of criminals were dumped there. The valley of Ben-Hinnom was a fitting picture of eternal hell, one used repeatedly by Jesus (Matthew 5:22, 29–30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5).

The blessed and holy participants in the first resurrection will not experience the second death (20:6; see “Resurrection” and “Judgments” in the the chart, “Views Concerning the End Times”). But the rest of the dead, who did not participate in the first resurrection (20:5), will face the second death, which is defined here as the lake of fire. Those who die in their sins in this present world of time and space will die a second death in eternity—they will be sentenced to the lake of fire forever.

Scripture vividly portrays the various aspects of the final, fiery hell. Fire is used more than twenty times in the New Testament to depict the torment of hell. Whether the fire of hell is literal, physical fire is unknown, since the lake of fire exists outside the created universe as we know it. If the fire here is symbolic, the reality it represents will be even more horrifying and painful. The Bible also depicts hell as a place of total darkness, which will isolate its inmates from each other (e.g., Matthew 22:13; 2 Peter 2:17); as a place where the worm (possibly emblematic of an accusing conscience) devouring the wicked will never die (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:44); as a place of banishment from God’s kingdom (Matthew 8:12; 22:13), and as a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).

There is only one way to avoid the terrifying future of hell. Those who confess their sins and ask God to forgive them on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death on their behalf will be delivered from God’s eternal wrath (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).