Note: You can read Colin’s previous articles on “What the Bible Says About the Future” below:
1. Does the Bible Say Anything About the Future?
2. Before Time Began
3. Israel: Key to the Future
4. Daniel Looks Ahead
5. Signs of the Last Days
6. The Rapture
7. The Tribulation
8. The Second Coming of Christ
9. The Millennial Kingdom
We now come to the fifth event of the last things, the Great White Throne Judgment. With the cataclysmic end of the universe, we find ourselves at Revelation 20:11-14. It reads:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And 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. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 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.
So we see the complete disappearance of the world—the entire created universe goes out of existence. Nothing can be seen except a “great white throne,” with God seated upon it. And standing before it are all the unredeemed sinners from every time and place since the dawn of creation, now resurrected to their eternal bodies. As to the identity of the Judge upon the throne, the Bible teaches that God the Father, with the Son, judges humanity. Jesus said, “It is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father” (John 8:16). Jesus sits with His Father on the Father’s throne (Rev 3:21).
Even the unsaved are eventually resurrected. Scripture actually presents two distinct resurrections. All the saints throughout the ages (i.e. Old Testament, Church, Tribulation, Millennial) take part in what is known as the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) or the “resurrection of life” (John 5:29). John refers to it as the “first resurrection,” saying, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Rev 20:6).
Then there is the “second resurrection,” known as the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29; Dan 12:2). This is the resurrection of unbelievers which John includes in Revelation 20:5, the dead who “come to life [when] the thousand years [are] ended.” Jesus reveals to John that all the unsaved dead from throughout the course of human history are now resurrected. This includes both the “great and small” (Rev 20:12), meaning those whom the world considered significant and those whose lives seemed inconsequential. They now all stand before God, seated upon His Great White Throne. And books are opened, including the “book of life” (Rev 20:12), which records the names of all who belong to God by faith (Dan 12:1; Luke 10:20; Rev 3:5).
But sadly, none of those now standing before God at His Great White Throne are listed in the “book of life.” Then God looks at the other books before Him, which are a complete record of every thought, word and deed of all the unrighteous throughout all time, with judgment to be administered based upon the merit of the deeds recorded (Rev 20:13; Luke 12:47-48). And here is the horrifying situation: since no thought, word or deed can ever merit God’s favor apart from salvation through repentance and faith in His Son, no one standing before God will be exonerated. Each person before the Great White Throne finds that his or her “good” deeds, no matter how beneficent and plentiful, bring only condemnation. Why? Because none of those standing before the throne have imputed to them the righteousness of Christ (Isa 61:10; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), spoken of by Jesus as the “wedding attire” mandated for eternal life with God (Matt 22:1-14). Without this, God’s judgment of Romans 3:20 pertains: “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight” (Gal 3:11).
Then comes the final verdict in Revelation 20:14-15: “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.” The “first death” for unbelievers consigns them to hell, to wait for their resurrection at the conclusion of the Millennium Kingdom. The “second death” is now upon them, an eternity spent in the “lake of fire.” This is the most alarming and dreadful passage in the entire Bible. This is the destiny of all who reject Christ and the salvation from sin that He brings through repentance and faith in His substitutionary atonement.
But even in the face of such a frightful warning of what is to come, there is still time to avert such a sentence. No one alive today need be consigned to such doom. There is still time to awaken to the truth of God’s gospel, to the redemption God has provided through His Son. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:6-7). And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul earnestly pleads to those still living under the threat of coming judgment that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2; Prov 1:20-23; Heb 3:7-8; 4:7).
Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). That is God’s promise to all: if you embrace Christ through repentance, receiving His forgiveness and surrendering to His lordship, you will never be condemned, but inherit eternal life (cf. John 3:16-18). There remains one more event in our series of last things: the New Heaven and New Earth, which is the glorious, eternal dwelling place of God with His angels and His redeemed saints.
You can read more on this topic in Colin’s book, What the Bible Says About the Future.