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The Day of Judgment


Revelation 20:11-15
May 16, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 20:10 in the audio file.



Series: Just Conquer #58

Introduction

We have come to the end of human history on earth as we currently experience it. We are almost at the end of the book of Revelation, and we have just considered the last battle (20:7-10), which turned out to be lopsided to the hilt against the rebels and the devil. We have also come back, after a long journey between chapters 4-20, to a place in the Apocalypse wherein there is a lot of agreement among the various reading approaches to the book. This is John’s vision of the final judgement, after which comes the new heaven and the new earth.

The final paragraph of chapter 20 does tie up some loose ends from earlier in the chapter. In particular John mentioned that “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (verse 5), in contrast to those who experienced the first resurrection and who would not face the second death. Now we see those dead resurrected, what by implication would be called the second resurrection, and they are those over whom the second death does have power (verse 6).

Satan has been judged and cast into the lake of fire, where he joins the antichrist and the false prophet. While the antichrist and the false prophet primarily plied their deceptions and destructions during the Great Tribulation, Satan has been a murderer and liar since the beginning (see John 8:44). The antichrist was just favorite embodiment, but the “seed of the serpent” are all those who have rejected the Ancient of Days and His anointed Son. All of them will be brought before God’s throne and sentenced to eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

There are two related parts that John sees.

The Consummation (verse 11)

This is it. The final reckoning is about to take place as the final moments of the time-space universe as we know it occur.

And I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. This is after the thousand years, after the judgment of devil. There is no need for a trial for him or for further evidence to be presented against him; his end had already been decided.

Others will come before the throne of judgment, and calling it great emphasizes it’s majesty and white emphasizes it’s purity and splendor. It is God’s throne, and according to Daniel 7:9 it is the Ancient of Days, God the Father, seated on the throne. But there are other indications in Scripture that judgment has been given to the Son (John 5:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10), and earlier in Revelation the Lamb is “in the midst of the throne” (Revelation 7:17). That the Father and Son (and Spirit) act in unity is not questioned.

From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. This is quite a statement. It prepares for “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first hearth had passed away, and the sea was no more” in 21:1. It makes me think of the un-creation scene in The Last Battle when the stars are called home, but of course Lewis’ vision was fictional, and the whole scene is difficult to comprehend. The scriptural language is astounding: “The heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment” (Isaiah 51:6).

Some non-Pre-Millers question why Christ would rule for a thousand years on earth only undo that earth. But without getting too meta about the physical, it is God’s creation to do with what He wants, and location and chronology are tough for our minds to relate with glorified bodies and eternal existence. Jesus Himself said that “heaven and earth will pass away” (Matthew 24:35), and Peter wrote about when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved” (2 Peter 3:12). We take those descriptions seriously even though our apprehension is currently imperfect.

The Condemnation (verses 12-15)

Before getting to the new hotness, the old and unholy must be dealt with. Such a judgment belongs with the nature of God Himself. He is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3) and must “repay each one for what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne. This is the “dead” who came to life after the thousand years. They are resurrected from Hades, from the temporary place of judgment, to face the the Judge, and eternal judgment. All are accountable. None are too big to get out, none are too small to be overlooked.

The dead are brought from wherever they are, the sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. It is interesting that these three appear to be related: the sea, Death, and Hades. Death and Hades have been mentioned before in Revelation, first when Christ holds their keys (Revelation 1:18), then with Death as the rider on the pale horse and Hades following (Revelation 6:8). They not only contain the dead like the sea, but they will be thrown into the lake of fire. Everything about their descriptions shows them to be personified powers, and the imagery in Scripture points to the pushing of beings rather than ideas.

The sea isn’t punished, and seems to be mentioned as a place where other dead bodies would have been lost, and of particular interest for bodies drowned and “buried” at sea.

Books were opened, and the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. These are divine records, the unabridged and unerring biographies of the deeds of men (the opening of “books” is also mentioned in Daniel 7:10 following the Ancient of Days on the throne). While God reveals that He accounted all men unrighteous in Adam, God also reveals that He assigns judgment based on what men do (Romans 5:12, 15). Works always reveal what is in our hearts, and the hearts of rebels lead to sins, of some kinds and at varying levels.

Verse 13 repeats the same standard, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Though they are all thrown into the lake of fire, this does not necessitate that all the punishment is the same. All the punishment is awful, yes, so it’s not as if there is a “better” place to be in the lake of fire. But even if all that was different were the consciences of men, the justice of God means that there will be different degrees of punishment “according to what they had done,” even if we don’t know exactly what it looks like (and can appreciate the imaginative effort in Dante’s Inferno).

There was a distinguished book among the books: Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. John has already referenced the book of life previously (13:8, 17:8), and it has also been called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” written before the foundation of the world.” It is not a book of deeds, but a book of names. It appears to be the names of all the redeemed, and therefore the names of all those elected by the Father and given to the Son. While the works of the saved are considered, it is not the works that save. Those in the book of life are not there because of what they did but because of what the Lamb did for them.

The second death has no power over them (see again verse 6), and this is because they’ve been given new and eternal life in Christ. They have believed in Him, and so they have not only been raised with Him spiritually but their bodies were raised to reign with Him before the Millennial Kingdom. They will know everlasting joy in the presence of the Lamb in the new heaven and new earth, going further up and further in to glory. Much of chapters 21 and 22 are about this.

But the last enemy must be eliminated. Then, Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. For those who think that fire is merely symbolic, it does beg the question why the enemies would be resurrected first and then sent to this punishment?

Death and Hades were mentioned together as two separate riders in Revelation 6. They are presented here as characters, perhaps as demonic agents, even though we usually think of Death as a state of being and Hades as the intermediate place for the dead. It is unusual to say that a concept and a location are throw into the place of final punishment, but perhaps they are thrown into the lake as in their purpose is completed.

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Conclusion

We are of a race that expects that judgment. God has “put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

These are the ends: judged according to our works and punished in the torments of the lake of fire forever and ever, or, redeemed by the Lamb’s work and brought to worship Him forever and ever. How do you know which group you’re in?

The requirement is not to determine if you are in the Lamb’s book of life, the call is to repent and believe in the Lamb. Only after that do you make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Do you believe in the Lamb? Do you love Him? Do you seek to obey Him because you love Him? Do you desire His return?

Death is not our friend. Death has been dealt a death blow (Hebrews 2:14), death cannot have the victory (1 Corinthians 15:55).

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears
from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away
from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8 ESV)


Charge

The apostle Peter wrote about when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved,” and how “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13). There is no mistaking what sort of people we’re to be: holy and godly and hastening the coming day of God (2 Peter 3:11). “Beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14).

Benediction:

[May you] grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV)