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suitable for His eternal purpose and built on a different principle. The new heaven and new earth described in chapter 21 has no similarity to the present earth and heaven.

20:12. The purpose of establishing the great white throne is to judge the dead. John wrote that the dead, great and small, stood before the throne. From other Scriptures it seems that all the righteous dead have been raised, including Old Testament saints, the dead of the Great Tribulation, and the church saints, the body of Christ (see comments on v. 20:5). Thus it may be assumed that verses 20:11-15 refer to the judgment of the wicked dead, who according to verse 5 would not" be resurrected until after the thousand years and will have no part in what is called "the first resurrection."

At that judgment John saw books...opened, including a book called the book of life. The text does not state clearly what these books are, but the first opened books may refer to human works and "the book of life" is the record of those who are saved (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27). The fact that these dead have not been raised before is evidence in itself that they do not have eternal life and that their judgment is a judgment of their works.

All final judgments deal with works, whether the works of Christians rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ or the works of the unsaved which are in view here. The question of who is saved is determined not in heaven but in life on earth. What is revealed here is the confirmation of one's destiny by means of God's written records.

Some view the book of life as the record of all the living and that when the unsaved die their names are deleted from it. A better view is that the book is the record of those who are saved whose names were "written in the book of life from the creation of the world" (17:8). Regardless of which view is taken, at this time only the saved are in the book of life.

20:13. In order for the wicked dead to be judged...the sea...death, and hades will give up their dead. Those who are unsaved at the time of death go immediately to a state of conscious punishment described in the Old Testament as sheol and in the New Testament as hades. Neither sheol nor hades ever refer to the eternal state and should not be considered equivalent to the English word "hell," which properly is the place of eternal punishment. The lake of fire (vv. 14-15) referred to as "the fiery lake of burning sulfur" (19:20) is the same as gehenna (cf. Matthew 5:22,29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6) and is translated "hell" in the NIV and KJV with the word "fire" added in several passages. Actually gehenna was originally a name for the place of burning refuse, located in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem. The term, however, goes far beyond this geographic background and refers to eternal punishment.

The statement "death and hades gave up the dead" means that the physical bodies of the unsaved will be joined with their spirits which have been in hades. The mention of "the sea" giving up its dead makes it clear that regardless of how far a body has disintegrated, it will nevertheless be resurrected for this judgment.

2. THE LAKE OF FIRE (20:14-15)

20:14-15. Following the great white throne judgment death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death, the final destination of the wicked. The doctrine of eternal punishment has always been a problem to Christians who enjoy the grace of God and salvation in Christ. The Bible is clear, however, that the punishment of the wicked is eternal. This is confirmed in verse 10, where the beast and the false prophet are still in the lake of fire after the thousand years of Christ's millennial reign. Though the wicked dead will receive resurrection bodies, they will be quite unlike the resurrection bodies of the saints. The former people will continue to be sinful but will be indestructible and will exist forever in the lake of fire.

Though many have attempted to find some scriptural way to avoid the doctrine of eternal punishment, as far as biblical revelation is concerned there are only two destinies for human souls; one is to be with the Lord and the other is to be forever separated from God in the lake of fire. This solemn fact is motivation for carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth whatever the cost, and doing everything possible to inform and challenge people to receive Christ before it is too late.

(from Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries; Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries. All rights reserved.)

Revelation 20:11-15

20:11-15 A test no one will pass. John saw the Judge of the universe seated behind his great white throne, sentencing all the unsaved to the lake of fire forever. Faith in Christ would have placed their names in the "Book of Life," and they would have been saved. The only other possible avenue of salvation was to be judged "according to what they had done" (20:12), but the Bible is clear that no one can be saved on this basis (see Romans 3:20).

(from Willmington's Bible Handbook by Harold Willmington Copyright © 1997 by Harold L. Willmington. Produced with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Romans 3:19-31

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. NIV

Verses 11 through 15 bring us to the last sobering scene of Revelation 20 . It is a scene of final judgment.

20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Here is a startling and terrifying scene. Imagine standing on a starship, watching the earth and the planets recede from view, the stars moving against the background of eternal night. That is the vision suggested by John's words, "Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them." This suggests that all of humanity will be removed from earth, perhaps from the universe as we know it, to eternity itself, where there is no space and no time. That is where judgment will take place.

The judge is Jesus, not God the Father. "The Father judges no one," said Jesus, "but has entrusted all judgment to the Son." It is Jesus who sits upon the Great White Throne of majesty and gathers all the dead before Him. There will also be some living people from the Millennium, for it must be determined if their names are recorded in the book of life. Judgment will be "according to what one had done." Deeds reveal the condition of the heart. Deeds reveal belief.

All the deeds of mankind are preserved in God's great library. Books are a symbol of the eternal record of our lives. If John were receiving this vision today, the symbol would probably be videotape or computer disks rather than books. The books are metaphors for the record of every life — and the final judgment of every life shall be made on the basis of that record.

Only those whose names are in the book of life can do righteous deeds. Only the deeds of the righteous will survive the fire of judgment. All other deeds will be consumed to ashes. Only those acts that have been done by the power of the Spirit of God and done for the glory of God will remain. Even the noblest and most impressive accomplishments, even acts which have helped many people or changed the course of history — if they were done by the power of the self and for the glory of the self — will vanish without a trace.

If your name is not in the book of life, your evil deeds will be revealed. All the hidden corners of your life will be subjected to scrutiny. Nothing will go unnoticed. Today you may have a reputation for your devotion, your caring, your humility, your abilities — but in that day Jesus will judge the hidden motives behind your deeds. He will know if your real reason for service in the church and the community was to glorify God — or if it was all tainted by selfishness, pride, and the lust for prominence, power, influence, and recognition.

That question that confronts you and me from this passage is the question of the old song:
Is my name written there,On the page bright and fair?In the book of God's kingdom,Is my name written there?

When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to minister to other cities and towns in Israel, they returned rejoicing that they had cast out demons with just a word of command. They were amazed at the power of God that was flowing through them, at the wonderful deeds that were being accomplished, at the fact that even the demons submitted to them in the name of Jesus.

"Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you," Jesus replied, "but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

That is the central question in life: Is your name written in the Lamb's book of life? Beside this one issue, everything else pales in comparison. Your name is written in that book when you commit your life to Jesus.
No one needs to face the lake of fire. No one goes into the Abyss against his or her own will. It is a choice we all make in this life. If we refuse the Savior, God can only give us the fate we demand.

The issue of eternal punishment raises a problem in the minds of most thoughtful Christians: What about those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? Isn't it unfair that someone should be condemned to an eternity apart from God simply because he never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? This is a difficult question, but it is addressed in Scripture. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "Anyone who comes to [God] must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him." God knows the intent and condition of every human being, and He will deal with every individual according to the great declaration of Scripture, "Far be it from [God] to . . . kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. . . . Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

We know that God only holds us accountable for the light of understanding we have received. Those of us who have received more revelation are responsible for how we respond to that revelation. Scripture does not explicitly tell us the fate of those who have not heard of Jesus, of the cross and the empty tomb, of the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. But the Bible does tell us that God will deal justly with them.
The question that confronts you and me, since we have received so much of the revelation of God's truth, is this: Have our names been written in the Lamb's book of life? Jesus knows our hearts. Nothing is hidden from His view. If we come to Him, we belong to Him and He to us. We need fear nothing from the final judgment and the second death.

These are sober matters. This is a somber and dark chapter of Revelation. It is painful to write about such things. Yet the darkness of this scene in Revelation provides a clear and unobstructed contrast with the shining and precious gift that Jesus offers us through His sacrifice on the cross. It is a joy to announce — particularly against such a dark and ominous background — that there is still time, still hope, and that the grace of God is still available to you. If you have never accepted His grace before, I urge you by the mercy of God to do so now.

"God has given us eternal life," said John in his first epistle, "and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." The ultimate issues of life are all settled here. If you belong to the Son and your name is written in heaven, you have life. If you refuse Him, you share the fate of the devil, the beast, and the false prophet. No one can make that choice for you, not even God Himself.

You have been given the choice. What will your answer be?

(from God's Final Word, Copyright © 1991 Ray Stedman.)

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