The Great White Throne

Everything we know about this life will one day come to an end. History will be absorbed by eternity, and there will be a day of reckoning for every person who has refused to bow the knee to the Almighty Creator. When all is said and done, not even a vestige of sin will be found in the eternal kingdom of God.

The Lord is very clear in Scripture that He only tolerates rebellion to allow time for redemption. He has patiently endured the treason of both angels and humans while providentially bringing the elect among humanity to repentance and faith in Christ. However, this gracious work of salvation has a divine time limit, and mercy will no longer be extended when the work is concluded.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is God’s record of how He will bring this present age to a close. It brings us from the redeeming and sanctifying work of the glorified Christ in His church in these last days to the Day of Judgment and then into eternity. After a time of tribulation, in which treachery is exposed and God’s wrath is expressed, Christ will return to earth in power and glory to reign for a thousand years.

The reign of Jesus Christ will be absolute and based solely in the authority of God’s Law, and the world will experience a golden age of righteousness and blessing as the glorified saints reign with their Lord (20:4-6). No satanic influence will be allowed (20:1-3) until the end of the Millennium when a final revolt will be permitted (20:7-10). This will undeniably prove that God is just in judging His rebellious creatures, since their heart’s desire is to love sin rather than righteousness. All human enemies of the Lord will be slain, and Satan and his demons will be cast into the place of torment forever and ever.

With only redeemed humanity remaining on the earth, God will then begin to transition His kingdom into its eternal state — free of sin (Rev. 21-22). Revelation 20:11-15 describes this time between history and eternity, in which the universe will be destroyed, and the unrighteous of humanity will be finally judged and banished from the presence of God. It all takes place before the “great white throne” of the Almighty.

The Great White Throne (20:11-15)
The Universe is Destroyed (v. 11)
The apostle John now sees in his vision “a great white throne and Him who sat on it.” In other words, this is the judgment throne of God on which the Lord Jesus Christ ultimately sits (cf. Jn. 5:22-30; Acts 17:31; Rev. 21:5-6). It is white because Christ is holy and so is His judgment (cf. Rev. 1:13-20; 4:2-3; 5:1; 6:16; 7:10, etc.).

As the sinless Son of God and Son of Man, our Lord Jesus is the incarnate second Person of the Triune Godhead. His presence on the throne is that of God — glorified in His humanity but equal with the Father and the Spirit as Deity. That is why the rest of the verse says: “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was no place found for them.” With all the saints now glorified (19:6-9) and His enemies subdued under Him (cf. Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44; Acts 2:35; Heb. 1:13; 10:12-13), there is nothing left of sin but the earth and the universe, which were cursed because of it (Gen. 3). It has been waiting, as it were, to be delivered from the bondage of its corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-22). It is no longer of any use in Gods plan, since it is corrupted by sin.

This verse describes the initiation of that event, in which the created universe is essentially “uncreated” only to then be recreated. It will effectively undergo a resurrection of its own, as it will be destroyed with a fervent heat to make way for a new heavens and a new earth in which only righteousness exists (2 Pet. 3:12-13). This sin-cursed universe, of which the Earth is the central focus of God as the place for mankind to serve Him (Gen. 1), will quickly disappear at the command of its Creator. God, who created it out of nothing, will again make it nothing.

And in this void of nothingness, where time, space, and matter no longer exist, God will bring about a new creation. The joy of this future reality is described in the final chapters of the book. But first, in stark contrast to the glory of the redeemed, the unrighteous dead must be judged. They will never see eternity with God.

The Unrighteous are Judged (vv. 12-13)
The only thing eternal that rebels will experience is the wrath of God, and rightly so. For they have willfully disobeyed the Law of God in pursuit of their own way, having suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). They embraced the lie of Satan (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 1:25) and have refused the clear witness of God’s creation and His revealed Word in Scripture (Ps. 19; cf. Rom. 1:18-3:31). Now God will hold them accountable for every rebellious thought, word and deed, because they have rejected His offer of a pardon through Christ (Jn. 3:16-21).

Before the throne of judgment John “saw the dead, small and great, standing before God.” That is, every unredeemed human being, regardless of what now distinguishes us all in this world (ethnicity, money, power, associations, etc.), will appear before Him to give an account of his life on this earth. They will all “stand before God” in judgment. They are not merely “dead” physically, but more importantly, they are spiritually and eternally dead to God. That is, they have no relationship to Him and will enjoy nothing of eternal life.

And the Sovereign of Creation will not use the corrupt moral standards of his rebellious creatures to judge them. On the contrary, He will use His righteous standard that is based upon His own righteous, eternal Person. For He has made us in His moral image and likeness as persons, and He has written His Law in our hearts so that we know right from wrong (Rom. 2:12-16). Therefore, sinners are without excuse before Him (Rom. 2:1), although they will certainly make excuses in that day (Matt. 7:21-23).

Being omniscient, the Lord remembers every thought, word and deed of each human being, and He weighs them against His Law. Nothing has gone unnoticed, and He will lay it all before each one who appears before the throne. This is what is meant by the phrase, “and books were opened” (cf. Dan. 7:10). The divine record will be recalled.

However, “another book was opened” in John’s vision. It is described as “the Book of Life.” This is the record of the names of God’s elect, chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). They are those who have overcome the curse of sin through faith in the Lamb of God who has made them righteous (Rev. 3:5). The “dead [will be] judged according to their works, by the things written in the books” containing every transgression of God’s Law. But the saints of God are not judged according to their sins (Ps. 103:10-14; cf. Ps. 32:2; Rom. 4:8), for their sin has been pardoned through the death and resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ!

It is at this point that the resurrection of the unrighteous dead will occur (Rev. 20:5). They will rise from the dust of the earth “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). We read in verse 13: “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.” This describes the places where the departed dead have gone from the face of the earth — the grave (whether on land or sea) and the temporary hell where their spirits are now incarcerated. “Death and Hades” are essentially synonymous terms, although the former most emphasizes the grave and the latter the abode of their spirits.

And when their spirits are joined with resurrected bodies fit to receive the degree of eternal torment which God determines, they will be “judged, each one according to his works.” (v. 13b). As Almighty God, Christ has all authority to raise them to judgment (cf. Rev. 1:18). And He has power to banish them from God’s kingdom forever.

The Unrighteous are Banished (vv. 14-15)
When judgment is complete, they all will be “cast into the lake of fire” for eternity — the place where all rebels will experience eternal death (“the second death”; cf. Rev. 20:6). It is where Satan, his demons, the Antichrist and his false prophet will already be cast forever (Rev. 19:20; 20:10; cf. Matt. 25:41). It is the place of outer darkness where there is conscious torment, as they experience the eternal wrath of the eternal God (Matt. 8:12; Mk. 9:44).

Only unredeemed sinners will be in the Lake of Fire. Why? Because they have willfully refused God’s offer of a pardon. They have rejected Christ as Lord and Savior. They have believed Satan’s lie and fully engaged in treason with no repentance, and they will suffer the consequences (Rev. 14:9-11). The knew full well the circumstances and the consequence for not bowing the knee the Lord of Glory, and now they must pay for eternity. They are “cast into the lake of fire” as they deserve.

Their names were “not written in the Book of Life,” not because God is unfair but because He chose not to intervene and produce a new birth in their heart. Therefore, they would not turn to Christ because they cannot turn to Christ, and they cannot because they will not. God has chosen to leave them to the deserved, natural consequences of their sins, from which they legitimately have no desire to turn (Rom. 9:14-33).

In the end, God is the Great Equalizer. His purpose and plan will be accomplished, and it will be done with justice in regard to rebels. But in regard to the saints, God will forever be praised for His never-ending mercy and grace! They will know the fullness of eternal life with God in the new creation prepared for them as we will see in the following chapters.

But the day of judgment has not arrived, and we must warn all that it is fast approaching. The Great White Throne of God draws near with each passing day, when the present universe will be no more and rebels will be judged and forever banished from heaven’s righteous kingdom.

Is your name written in the Book of Life? Or will you appear before the Great White Throne of God Almighty?

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© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

The Rebellious Nature

You may sometimes hear people claim that human beings are essentially good at heart. Given the right conditions and opportunity, they argue, the better part of human nature will prevail. This line of reason presupposes evil as an external force pressuring us to do immoral things. This would conclude that we are not ultimately accountable for our actions. But this is far from reality.

God has revealed in Scripture that unredeemed people sin because it is in their nature to rebel against Him, and this rebellious desire is all that exists. They do not possess two natures, and there is no “better part” of the one that exists. Sin originates in the human heart (Matt. 15:16-20) because people desire to do their own will and not God’s, and they are accountable for this treachery (Rom. 1-3).

The Lord is also clear that not even the best of circumstances or intentions will alter human nature. External forces do not cause people to sin and neither do they motivate them to be holy. What is necessary to change the sin nature is a gracious, divine act of regeneration. Nicodemus was clearly told by Christ that he could not enter God’s kingdom unless he was born from above (Jn. 3:3ff). For all his religious effort, this devout Pharisee, like everyone else, could himself do nothing nor experience anything earthly that would earn him eternal life. The Holy Spirit had to impart that life to him, and that life produced a new heart desire. That desire produces repentance and then faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Salvation is a sovereign work of God.

The reality of man’s rebellious nature has been on display in The Revelation as God has unveiled the future period of tribulation. Throughout the course of seven years, the majority of those living at that time will repeatedly reject the Gospel and willingly follow Satan’s Antichrist in rebellion. Knowing that the horrific events of that time are God’s judgments for sin, most people would rather blaspheme the Lord and die as opposed to bowing their knee to Christ (e.g. Rev. 6:15-17; 9:20-21; 11:7-10; 13:4, 16-17; 19:19).

However, that does not completely prove the sinner’s inability and unwillingness to do God’s will. The argument could still be made that, in a perfect world, people would choose and do the right thing. So, when Christ returns and reigns for a thousand years (20:4-6), God restores the earth to its former Eden-like condition and fulfills all of His kingdom promises through believing Israel to the Gentile world (cf. Is. 11). Righteousness will rule the day with Christ as King, and there will be absolutely no demonic influence in the human realm (20:1-3). With the exception of the sinful nature in those who enter the kingdom in their natural bodies, there will be nothing but righteousness and blessing. There could be no better circumstance and no greater outside influence for good.

However, as we know from Revelation 21-22, God still plans to destroy the present universe and create a new heavens and a new earth. Why? Why does God give this world a millennium of righteousness and then destroy it? That is an important question, and the answer is simple: It is to prove that man has nothing inherently good which deserves eternal life. Every excuse will be taken away when God provides the perfect circumstances under Christ’s reign. And when the thousand years comes to an end, the unredeemed will prove that they deserve nothing but eternal death. They will prove that God’s judgment of sinners is just.

Even after a thousand years under Christ’s righteous rule, rebellion will still remain in the fallen nature of man. Even after a thousand years of imprisonment in the pit of the abyss, rebellion will still remain in the fallen nature of demonic angels. Even after a thousand years, with every reason to bow the knee to the Lord Jesus, the rebellious heart will still refuse.

How do we know this? Revelation 20:7-10 proves that, given the opportunity, the rebellious nature always revolts. And it also proves that God will rightfully judge all rebels as He has promised. In this passage, we find rebellion’s final expression and its fatal error.

The Rebellious Nature (20:7-10)
Its Final Expression (vv. 7-9a)
This chapter’s brief summary regarding the timeline of the Millennium now yields that, “when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison” (v. 7). Remember that he and his demons were imprisoned in the bottomless pit of the abyss (vv. 1-3) — that place where certain excessively wicked demons are now incarcerated and possibly others (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Matt. 8:29, 31; Lk. 8:31). Most, if not all, demons will be released during the Tribulation to join Satan’s unbound forces (Rev. 9), but they will all be bound in the pit at Christ’s return until the thousand years are over.

Did their incarceration change their nature? Obviously not, since “Satan” will immediately lead his forces in an all-out effort to “deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (v. 8a). As he has always done, Satan appeals to the rebellious nature of human beings to convince them there is a chance to live outside of God’s sovereign rule. It is the lie, which he has so relentlessly spent his time promoting for his own agenda (Gen. 3:1-5; Rom. 1:25; Jn. 8:44; 2 Thess. 2:11). It is the means by which the entire godless world now lies under the sway of the wicked one (1 Jn. 5:19).

Although people from around the world (“the nations”) will have experienced nothing but rich blessing under the reign of Christ, the unredeemed among them will desire to be free from His rule just as people always have (Ps. 2). Like all rebels, they love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (Jn. 3:19-20). That is, if unrestrained, their deeds will reflect the evil of their heart. Christ will rule them with uncompromising righteousness during the thousand years (19:15), and they will have no opportunity for a unified revolt. However, when the Devil is released, he will seek out the rebels from all over the world (“the four corners” i.e. N, S, E & W) “to gather them to battle.”

It is difficult to imagine living in a perfect world and still wanting to rebel against God, but that is exactly what will happen. Surprisingly, this will be a massive “number” of people. The end of verse eight describes this human army being so large they are “as the sand of the sea.” This is hyperbole for being so numerous that no one other than God can count them. In other words, the majority of those living at this time will join Satan’s final assault on God’s kingdom.

And they are given the name “Magog,” which harkens back to Ezekiel 38-39. Ancient Israel was invaded by a barbaric people from the N with this name derived from a grandson of Noah a grandson who settled that region (Gen. 10:2). The name “Gog” most likely refers to a human leader as was the case with the ancient army. In other words, this is a godless mass of human rebels — enemies of the Lord. And like all previous leaders and their armies, who have expressed their rebellion against God by attacking those who represent heaven’s kingdom, this final army will certainly be possessed and motivated by Satan. The leader will, no doubt, have already been attempting to stir revolt, but he will not permitted to organize it until the end of the Millennium.

Quickly assessing what he has to work with, the Devil moves the human leader to amass his armies to the battle front. Where will that be? Verse nine tells us: “They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” This is Jerusalem where Christ will be reigning on the throne of his forefather, David. It is Zion, the city of David and the great King Jesus whom God promised would reign on David’s throne forever (2 Sam. 5:6-10; 7:12-16; Lk. 1:31-33). The Lord has chosen Jerusalem for Himself and established it as the capital city of His kingdom (Ps. 48). It is only natural that the “saints” of God will be as close to their Lord as possible, since they desire to see His glory and experience fellowship with Him and one another.

It would stand to reason that the army of rebels (whom John sees as covering the face of the earth) will massively outnumber the saints (seen encamped around one city). This is reminiscent of when Israel often found themselves surrounded by overwhelming opposition (e.g. 2 Kings 18-19). It also reflects the reality that the saints — individually and collectively — have always been dependent on the Lord to defend them from the ungodly (Ps. 146; Heb. 13:6). This final expression of rebellion against Christ and His people will be no different. As always, those who rebel against God make the fatal error of believing they have a chance to withstand the Almighty.

Its Fatal Error (vv. 9b-10)
The massive army of human rebels possessed by demons thinks that by shear force it will destroy the saints and force Christ from the earth. Only those whose minds have been blinded by Satan would dare think this was possible (2 Cor. 4:4). Without such influence, they would not even begin to act upon their rebellious desires to this degree. The Devil emboldens unregenerate minds to foolishly believe they can actually exist outside of God’s kingdom without judgment — to blaspheme His name and reject Him as God (Rom. 1:22). What this final generation, like every generation prior, fails to realize is that Satan is using them to accomplish his own wicked plans to dominate the creation. He does not care if they perish, he is simply using whatever he can to resist God, and they are merely collateral damage.

These will perish even though they may very well have the largest rebel army in history. With perfect conditions on earth for a thousand years, there will most definitely be a population explosion. However, for all their numbers and rebellious desire, neither Satan nor his demonic and human legions can avail. No sooner than they organize, they are completely decimated by God.

Verse nine concludes by simply stating: “And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” Fire frequently represents judgment in Scripture, and God has used it to literally consume his enemies on other occasions (cf. Gen. 19:24; Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Kings 1:10-14; Rev. 16:8-9). Like Christ’s swift destruction of Antichrist’s armies at His glorious appearing, these are likely destroyed at the King’s command. As the glorified King of kings, He will have all authority to call fire down from heaven (cf. Rev. 19:21).

Satan has incited rebellion throughout history. Yet, with each assault on God’s kingdom, the arch enemy of the Lord has been permitted to continue roaming the universe and plotting his next move. And with each successive revolt, he has become all the more convinced that he will ultimately succeed. This has been allowed for God’s redemptive purpose (2 Pet. 3:3-13) and to set the stage for the climactic end of history that will bring Him the most glory.

But the Lord has always promised to ultimately restrain the rebellious nature of his fallen creatures for eternity in hell (cf. Gen. 3:15; Matt. 25:41; 1 Jn. 3:8). That fact has never been hidden. And verse 10 describes the bitter end of the rebellion’s chief architect. With the final rebel army destroyed, “The devil who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.” It is not the temporary restraint of the abyss but the final place of torment prepared by God for this most wicked creature and all who have shared his rebellious desires.

Already there are “the beast and the false prophet,” who wholeheartedly embraced the lie of the prince of demons and led others to do the same (Eph. 2:2-3). Such was their treachery that, before the Millennium, they were cast alive into this final hell without any formal appearance before God’s throne, even before their leader (19:20). Now Satan joins them, and obviously so will the rest of the demons. Likewise, following the Great White Throne judgment (20:11-15), the resurrected masses of unredeemed humanity will meet the same end. And “there they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” In 14:10-11 we are told that the unrelenting wrath of God will be inflicted on rebels in the presence of Christ and His holy angels for eternity.

Satan — that adversary of God and His saints — will be defeated. The Devil — that blasphemer of God and accuser of the saints — will be silenced. Lucifer — the one in whose heart iniquity was first found — will be judged for his wickedness. The serpent of old who spread the ultimate lie and effectively murdered all who believed him will be called to account. And the eyes of the saints will see it in the last days! As our Lord has promised, our enemy will shortly be crushed under our feet (Rom. 16:20), but we shall enjoy the bliss of heaven’s kingdom for endless ages.

The fatal error of the rebellious heart is the lie of Satan, which expresses itself until the end of days. Despite knowing that God is sovereign, the Devil effectively convinces himself and others that creatures can exist apart from the Creator. That original lie blinds rebels from the truth that God is Almighty — a reality they will be reminded of day and night forever as they experience His wrath.

The rebellious nature has no cure. It must be punished, but a full pardon is offered to any human who, being born from above, can then repent and turn to Christ as Lord and Savior. Only His holy sacrifice on the cross can absorb God’s wrath toward sin so that He can make saints out of sinners (2 Cor. 5:17-21). The Creator’s gracious work is to deliver us from hell into the kingdom of Christ.

Is your nature rebellious or repentant?

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© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.