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Revelation 20:11–15

“I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (v. 12).

In Revelation 20, we get an overview of history from Christ’s victory over Satan on the cross up to and including the final judgment. When Jesus comes into His kingdom, Satan is bound, and throughout the church age he is not free to deceive the nations and hinder the spread of the Word of God as he did during the old covenant period. During the new covenant era, the church and especially the departed saints rule and reign with Christ as He works out His plan (vv. 1–6). At the end of this age, Satan will be released from his restraint and gather unbelievers against Christ and His church one final time. But the devil will fail, and he will be cast into the lake of fire, where he will suffer eternal judgment (vv. 7–10).

Today’s passage describes the final judgment that will occur at the end when Jesus returns to rescue His people and destroy the devil. John sees a great white throne, with God seated on it (v. 11).The color white frequently represents purity and righteousness in the book of Revelation (7:9–12), so the whiteness of the throne likely signifies the righteousness of the judgment to come. Some commentators think the white throne may also call back to the white clothing and hair of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9. If so, the white throne also points to the wisdom of God’s judgment. Of course, even if the color of the throne does not highlight the Lord’s wisdom, we know that His final judgment will be according to His perfect wisdom (Rom. 16:27).

All people stand before the throne, including those whom the sea, Death, and Hades give up (Rev. 20:11–13). This points to the resurrection even of unbelievers. According to this text, the resurrected are judged according to what they have done and according to the Book of Life (vv. 12, 15). Scripture does teach that there will be a judgment of our works, and that our service to Christ will be rewarded (1 Cor. 3:10–15). But notice that the determining factor regarding one’s presence in heaven or hell is not works but whether one’s name is in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). This must be so, for we know that we do not merit, possess, or inherit eternal life by our works but only through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8–10).

Everyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life is cast into the lake of fire, along with Death and Hades, the dragon (Satan), and the beasts from the land and the sea (Rev. 20:10, 14–15). No evil thing will escape eternal punishment.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Scripture teaches us in many places that eternal life comes only through faith in Christ but that the specific rewards we receive in the life to come differ according to our works. Our works by no means get us into heaven, but in heaven God rewards our works, and the greater our works, the greater our reward in glory.

For Further Study
  • Daniel 7:10–12; 12:2
  • Zephaniah 1:7–18
  • Luke 16:19–31
  • Romans 2:6–10

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