The Final Judgment
June 5, 2016 / No. 3831
Dear radio friends,
Today, in our series of messages on the end times and the coming of Jesus Christ, we are going to talk about the final judgment. We are going to do that from Revelation, chapter 20, verses 11-15.
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
When you think about the Judgment Day, do you long for the Judgment Day, or does it terrify you? You ought to long for it, as a believer. As much as you pray in the midst of your troubles and trials, “Come, Lord Jesus,” so much you should pray for and long for the Judgment Day. As much as you long for the resurrection of your body and being made perfect like Jesus Christ, so much you should pray for the Judgment Day. As much as you long to be free from sin and in the presence of Jesus Christ and enjoy the wonders of heaven, so much you should long for the Judgment Day.
That is because, when we think about the end times, or even of our life in the present, it is God’s glory that is the most important thing. The Judgment Day will be a theodicy. It will be a vindication of God. It will be a public demonstration that God is right and just in all that He does. This is more important than what you will receive or what you might think about heaven or hell.
This should also be our longing because this is the first purpose of Jesus’ coming, the first reason for our resurrection. Today, Jesus is exalted and waiting for this final aspect of His exaltation, when He will come again as Judge, and when the resurrection, which we considered last week, will have as its purpose the judgment—a resurrection unto life and a resurrection unto damnation.
Further, you should long for the judgment because without it you cannot enjoy the wonders of heaven. Think of the Old Testament picture of Israel coming into the land of Canaan. They could not receive Canaan as their possession until God’s judgment had come on the Canaanites. Through judgment, then, came their salvation.
But we can also long for heaven, as believers, with confidence, because you and I who believe in Jesus Christ do not need to fear the judgment. The Judge on that day will be our Savior, the One who died and gave His blood for us. The judgment is not taught in the Bible to scare us into heaven but to remind us of the holiness and the righteousness and the grace and the mercy of God, so that those who love Him will live lives that are more holy and will be better prepared, then, for the day of Jesus Christ.
As we look at these verses, the first thing we notice is who the Judge will be. In verse 11, John says, “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” This answers the question of who the judge will be. Notice what John sees. John sees a throne. This is not a throne of royalty but this is a throne of judgment. That is the way it is presented elsewhere in Scripture, too. II Corinthians 5:10: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Matthew 25:31 pictures also a king, sitting on a throne, in judgment.
There are three things here to notice about this throne. First, its size. John saw a great white throne. It rises above the people. In Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah sees the Lord, high and lifted up on a throne. It refers then to His majesty.
Second, this throne is white. It is pure white. This is a reflection of the purity of God. So Isaiah says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” That means sinless. This refers to the holiness of the One who sits on the throne.
Then, notice also the throne is solitary. It stands alone. We read at the end of the verse that heaven and earth fled away, and there was no place found for them. This is a different presentation of the throne than what we read about the throne in Revelation 4, where the twenty-four elders and the forty-four thousand appear before the throne. Now, no one can stand before this throne because it is the throne of the righteous judgment of God.
We do not actually see the One sitting on the throne, though He is identified for us in verse 12, but there is no description here of God on the throne. That is because no one can see the glory of God and live. What Scripture is describing here is the majesty and the righteousness and the holiness of God. Modern Christianity today does not like to think of God this way. They like to think of Him as a God of love, and the judgment is denied. Or they try to soften the judgment by speaking of Jesus the Lamb as the Judge. But we see throughout Scripture that God is presented as a just and holy and righteous Judge. From the very beginning He came against Adam and Eve and they fled from His presence. When Cain killed his brother Abel, then God came. When the world was destroyed with a Flood, then God came as Judge. God’s judgment came on Egypt in the ten plagues. God’s judgment came on the Canaanites for their idolatry. God’s judgment came on Saul and then on Israel, the ten tribes of the north, because of their rebellion and disobedience.
That does not change in the New Testament. Jesus speaks words of judgment: “Woe unto thee,” He says to the Jews of His day, “woe unto thee, Tyre and Sidon.” The apostles preached judgment, and they taught that Jesus would come as Judge in the end. All the way to the last book of the Bible, where we read of the vials of the wrath of God, we see God as Judge. To speak of Jesus as Judge softens it not at all because in Revelation 6:16 we read of the “wrath of the Lamb.”
God is the Judge in the final day, and He is a righteous Judge. He has the right to be Judge because He is God. The outcome of the judgment, because God is righteous, will be a perfect outcome. This Judge cannot be bribed. He cannot be coerced or manipulated by man. He knows all the evidence and He will give a perfect accounting, and there will be a perfect accuracy in His final judgment on the last day. So God, the righteous One, is the Judge.
When we say that God is the Judge we do not mean that Jesus will not be the Judge. We do not set these up against each other, but rather God has appointed His Son Jesus Christ to be the Judge and He will represent God on the Judgment Day from the throne. In John 5 Jesus says, the Father judges no man but has committed all judgment to the Son. This will be a part of the final glory of Jesus Christ. There is no contradiction here because Jesus, the Son, is Himself God. We see a unity in the persons of the Godhead when we speak of Jesus as the Judge. That comes out, a couple chapters later, in Revelation 22:1 and 3. Verse one speaks “of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” That is one throne. Then verse 3 says, “there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him.” The possessive pronoun “his” is important here. Ordinarily, in English, after you have said “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” you would say, “their servants shall serve them.” But here it says “his servants shall serve him.” So the throne of the Lamb is also the throne of God because the Lamb is God. God Himself will appoint Jesus Christ, the righteous One, to come with the rod of iron and to judge.
Who will stand before the throne to be judged? This is answered in the passage in the next verse, Revelation 20:12: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.” The idea is that this will be a general and universal judgment of all who ever lived. It will not be a judgment just of the wicked, but also of the righteous. It will not be a judgment just of men, but it will be a judgment also of the angels. All will be judged together. This is what the Bible teaches. Not future, multiple judgments, but one final judgment in which all moral, rational creatures will be judged.
That is clear in the passage when it says, he saw the dead, small and great, stand before the throne. “Small and great” refers to people from every class. The “dead” refers to those who have now been raised from the dead as we saw in John 5 last week. There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Verse 13 indicates that these are all the people that have ever lived. “The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man.” So there is a universal judgment of all. Verses 12 and 15 speak of the book of life. This indicates that the righteous will also stand on that day and be judged, and their names, because they are written in the book of life, will mean that they are not sent into the lake of fire.
We see this is the teaching of the rest of Scripture as well. We can begin, for example, in Daniel 7:10. First, in verse 9, there is a great throne and the Ancient of days sits on that throne and His garment is white as snow, His hair is like pure wool, and His throne as a fiery flame. Then we read in verse 10 that “ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Ten thousand times ten thousand refers to the completeness of humanity, all of humanity.
In Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 we again see that this is a universal judgment: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep form the goats” (vv. 31, 32). Then the outcome of the judgment there in Matthew 25:46 is this: “These [the wicked] shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
II Corinthians 5:10 says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” And again, in Acts 17:31, “He hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
When we speak of a final judgment, we do not mean that this is the last judgment in contrast to earlier judgments, but that there will be one final judgment. That does not mean that there are no previous revelations of the judgment of God against man. No, in this life the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The conscience of man knows there are consequences for man’s sin in this life, and there are rewards, too. God has expressed His judgment at the cross. Jesus says when He goes to the cross: “Now is the judgment of this world, now is the prince of this world cast out.” Also, at death there is a preliminary judgment. The souls of believers immediately pass into glory in the first resurrection. In the first death, the souls of unbelievers do not receive this blessing but they receive torments. Then there is the judgment at the appearance of Jesus Christ immediately prior to this final judgment. In the resurrection we stand in our resurrected bodies, a resurrection to life and a resurrection to damnation.
Revelation 20 alludes to this resurrection when it says, “I saw the dead…stand before God.” That is the language of Revelation 5, where we see the Lamb who had been slain standing before the throne, or the two witnesses of Revelation 11 who had been slain, standing on their feet. Now, the dead stand before God. They are resurrected. So, at the moment that immediately follows our resurrection, this judgment will take place.
This judgment will be miraculous. We cannot explain all the details of it except to state it. How it will happen, how all our works will be revealed, how each will be judged, how all this will be possible in a moment we cannot say, except to state it and believe it as a miracle that God will work in that final day.
What is it that God will judge when men stand before Him? You see this in the passage when, in verse 12, where we read, “the book[s were] opened…and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” The idea of the books being opened is that there is a record of the works that everyone has done, whether good or evil. There is a book for each one that ever lived that contains a full record of everything he has ever done. The book’s being opened gives the idea that everything will be revealed in that final day and that all that a person has done will be raised as evidence on the Judgment Day. There will be a full exposure.
We do not take this literally, that God writes down books for each one, but this figure, this illustration, represents at least these two things. First, that God is omniscient, that He knows all, that every work that we have done will be brought before God. Every secret thought, every idle word spoken, there will be nothing hid. The other thing that these books and their being opened indicates is that there is a record of every sin that a man has committed etched in his own mind and consciousness. It is not that we remember each and every sin that we commit or each and every deed that we perform, but it means this, that we are shaped by our sins and that our actions leave a mark in our life. On the Judgment Day, who we are will be revealed before God. Our character, what we are, is shaped by our sins. That is what will be exposed on that day. This will be a personal judgment. The books will be opened and, one by one, each will stand and be judged before the throne.
But now, it is important to see as we look at this verse and the rest of Scripture, that we are judged not on the basis of what we do or of our works, but notice, we are judged “according to our works.” The dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books according to their works. The idea is this. If we were judged on the basis of our works, everyone would deserve hell. But our judgment is according to our works.
So, there is another book that is opened besides those books. That is the book of life. This is not a record of man’s deeds, but it is a record of the names of God’s elect people. This book, according to Revelation 17:8, is written before the foundation of the world. So, it is a record of God’s election of some to life eternal. In chapter 13:8 we read of this book of life that it belongs to the Lamb who was slain. This indicates that the Lamb, when He goes to the cross, gives His life’s blood for those whose names are written in this book, that is, for the elect. This second book is opened so that the evidence that is presented before God on the final Judgment Day is not just the evidence of what God’s people have done—their works—but also the evidence of what God has done for them in the death of His Son Jesus Christ and in His eternal election of them. So, our final judgment is not based, our salvation is not based, on our works, but it is based on the fact that God has written our names in His book and that His Son has given His life’s blood for us.
Yes, we will be rewarded according to our works. But even our works are a result of the grace of God in us. Salvation is not of works lest any man should boast.
In the text we see the outcome of the judgment also. This is something that we will come back to in the coming two messages when we speak of hell and then of heaven. But we see here the punishment of the wicked. “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (v. 15). The lake of fire is hell. This is a place of continual burning. You back up to verse 10 and you see that this is the place where the devil, the beast, and the false prophet are already. So, there is a kind of pre-judgment for them. In verse 14 we read that death and the grave were cast into this lake of fire. That is a very beautiful picture because it means the end of death for God’s people and the end of the curse. Death and the curse are also destroyed by Jesus Christ. The second death has the idea of the final death of body and soul together in hell for the wicked. Matthew 25 speaks of this lake of fire as a place prepared for the devil and his angels before the foundation of the world. This is in contrast to the book of life, which is the decree of God’s election. Now we see God’s reprobation, that God prepares this lake of fire in His decree of reprobation and ordains some to condemnation. That does not mean that God is unjust, for we see here that the wicked are punished according to and as a result of their own works.
But what will be revealed in that final Judgment Day is this, that the One who sits on the throne is not only holy but also righteous and just in all His judgments. He is just in the punishment of the devil and the beast and the false prophet and all the wicked as well as the demons, the wicked angels, who are cast into the lake of fire. They receive what they deserve. He is just, also, in the salvation of the elect, which is the expression of His mercy. On that day the redeemed, who believe in Jesus Christ and trust in Him for salvation, will not get what they deserve themselves, but they will receive justice because Christ already has taken their place. He has received justice for them, and what we deserve (hell) will already have been paid by Jesus Christ, and the righteous will depart into eternal joy and glory in the presence of God.
Sometimes we ask, What will be the experience of the wicked in hell? Sometimes men will flippantly say things like this: “Well, I may be going to hell, but at least I’ll be with my friends.” No, dear listeners, in that last day, when God sends the wicked to hell, there will be no fist-pumping and there will be no high-fives. There will be no smiling. There will be no fellowship. Only outer darkness and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—a burning that never ceases, a worm that eats but never consumes, never dying. That is hell, to be cast out from the presence of God.
As we think about the Judgment Day, what is the appropriate response? This: Look to God, the One who is on the throne. He expects your praise and your worship and your adoration because He is worthy of it. The text here that speaks of God as Judge reveals at least three things about Him. First, that He is the sovereign Lord over all. When we stand on that final Judgment Day, there will not be any who stand on their own righteousness, there will not be any who say, “Well, I did this or that for Jesus Christ.” No, everyone will confess on that day the sovereignty of God. Even the wicked will bow their knees and say, “Thine, O Lord, is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess.
The fact that God is Judge reveals also that God is righteous. In that day every wrong will be righted. All the scores will be settled. We do not have to seek revenge in this life because God will do it then on that day. His revenge will be far more than ever you or I have dreamed. God is righteous.
But also it reveals, this judgment does, that God is a God of infinite love and grace and mercy. There is really one verse in Scripture that sums it all up: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” So, when I say our response must be one of praise and worship and adoration, I mean this: respond by putting your faith in Jesus Christ, worshiping the Father through the Son. No man can come unto the Father but by Jesus Christ.
So, we are reconciled to God only through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. It was on the cross that He endured the death and the hell that we deserve, that He endured the wrath of God in the place of sinners.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast given Thy Son to bear in His body what we deserve eternally. Give us faith to believe and trust in Him and, if there are some who are listening to this message today who are not believers, turn them, Lord, from their way of sin, work in their hearts a faith in Jesus Christ and a trust and dependence on Him for life eternal. He is our only hope. In His name we pray, Amen.