Please turn with me in the pew Bibles to the last book of the Bible, Revelation, chapter 20, verses 11-15.
11 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.
12 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.
13 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.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Amen. The word of God. thanks be to God.
One of the most famous paintings in history is a mural painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City by Michelangelo. This huge work that spans the entire wall took eight years to complete. Michelangelo finally finished it in 1541. The title and subject of this mural is “The Last Judgment.”
When it was first produced, “The Last Judgment” was considered by some to be an immoral and shameful piece of trash. Michelangelo portrayed the dead rising to judgment naked. A lot of folks in the Vatican were outraged. They said the work was more suited for a brothel than a church. They launched a campaign to clothe the naked. This is called in art history, the fig leaf campaign. Another painter was hired, Daniele da Volterra, to cover the most scandalous parts of Michelangelo’s nudes. Thus, Daniela da Volterra is forever remembered by the derogatory nickname "Il Braghettone" ("the breeches-painter").
On the actual day of Judgment, I do not suppose it will matter to risen dead whether they are with or without clothes. They will have far more important things on their minds.
The Day of Judgment, or the Last Judgment, is one of the most often proclaimed doctrines in Scripture. The prophets of the Old Testament called it the "Day of the Lord." Thus, we read in the prophet Joel, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (2:31). In the New Testament the last Judgment is linked to the second coming Christ, as Judge of the world. The Savior Himself foretells the event. For example, in Matthew 24:27, Jesus says, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” In the next chapter, in Matthew 25:31, Jesus says, “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.” Further along in the NT, in Acts 10:42, we are told that Jesus was “ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead.”. The Apostle Paul spoke frequently of the Last Judgment. Romans 14:10, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” And, in 2 Thessalonians, chapter one, Paul speaks of the time “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (1:7-9) Wow! If that does not get your attention I do not know what would.
Then we have this awesome passage before us from Revelation. RV20:11-15 is sometimes called “The Great White Throne Judgment.” We are told that the Judge, the one who sits upon the White Throne is so awesome, so terrible, the earth and the heaven flee from his presence, “and there was found no place for them.” The whole creation shudders before the creator come as judge and executioner. Now the Judge is Jesus. But this is not the gentle Jesus who walked the fields of Galilee and taught us about the love of God. The time for that is past. This is a time for judgment. The whole universe stands before the Risen Lord, and the universe cannot bear it. We have an image of the very atoms and molecules of all space shrinking away from this dread Lord, this cosmic judge.
But we cannot shrink away. Christ is the Judge. We are the judged. Every human being is brought before God. No exception. In v12, John says, “I saw the dead, small and great.” Young and old, rich and poor, male and female, none are so “small” that they do not have to give an account for their lives, and none are so “great” that they can escape this accounting. The sea gives up its dead, death and hell give up their dead. The emphasis again is that all humankind must come before the great white throne.
And the books, the verse says “were opened.” What books? I suspect that the author of Revelation has read the prophet Daniel. Dan. 7 speaks of the coming of the Ancient of Days, or the Ancient one, which was Daniel’s terminology for the Second Coming of Christ. In v10 Daniel writes: “the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Again we ask, what books? These are the ledgers that contain an account of all human actions, thoughts, and words. Every word that was ever spoken, every thought that was ever thought, every deed that was ever done, is recorded in “the books” and therefore known to God.
This is somewhat figurative language. There are no actual books. God does not need books to remind him of what was done and thought and said. God is omniscient, all-knowing. “The books” mentioned in Daniel and Revelation are just a symbolic way of saying that. God knows all that there is to know. God knows everything about us, literally everything. There is not one thought that I have ever had that God does not know. There is not one secret sin that God does not know. And at the last judgment, I will know that God knows. Every sin will be brought before the Great White Throne for judgment.
That then is a summary of the Last Judgment. As I have noted, this doctrine has been always a major part of Christian belief. We say in both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed that Jesus will “come to judge the quick and the dead.” And the quick, is just the old English word for “the living.”
In our own Westminster Confession of Faith, we have a whole chapter, chapter 33, on the Last Judgment. We read the first paragraph of that chapter together. It emphasizes that “God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ.”
Of course the question that arises in our minds is When? When will the Last Judgment occur? The Scriptures mention certain events, which will take place before the final judgment. These predictions do not tell us the day nor the hour of the end of time, for that is know only to God, but they foreshadow the end
For example, we read in 2 Thess. 2:3 “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” Paul seems to speak of a time of falling away from the church, an abandonment of the faith, and the appearance of “the man of lawlessness” “the son of destruction”—whom most commentators think is the antichrist, the beast of Revelation. This happens before the second coming and the last judgment. Then we are told of extraordinary natural chaos: Earthquakes, pestilences famines, calamities of all kinds, and an final universal conflagration.
IIPeter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
We are also told that a last trumpet call will sound and the sign of the son of man will appear in the heavens. Then comes Christ and his heavenly court to stand in judgment upon all of us.
You might say, OK we don’t know the time of the Last Judgment. What about the place? Where will it occur? Again, this is a matter of debate. A verse in Joel seems to indicate the day of Lord will take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat, which is the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. It is a small valley for the judgment of all humankind, and, in Thessalonians, Paul indicates we will rise into the clouds to meet the Lord, implying the the Judgment will take occur in Space.
However, that may be, wherever the Judgment might be, a more important question is What will be judged. Rev. 20:12 says that everyone will be “judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Now that gives us pause. You might say, wait a moment here. The whole point of being a Christian is that we are not judged according to our works. Paul says in his letters that no one is acceptable to God by works. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The whole point of the gospel is that Christ died for my sins and through him, I am made acceptable to God---not by deeds that I have done, but through Christ alone. Why then should Christians be called before the Great White Throne to be judged for our works?
We understand why nonbelievers will face a judgment of works. Those who do not believe in the gospel are, in effect, demanding to be judged by their works. They want justice from God, and God, being a just God, will give them justice. Thus, unbelievers should willingly appear before the throne of Christ and receive what they deserve, which is condemnation for their sins and eternal punishment.
So I have no problem with a judgment of works for unbelievers, but the problem is that Revelation emphatically states that the great White Throne Judgment is for everyone. Is revelation teaching a doctrine of salvation by works? No it is not. but Revelation does have its own unique way of proclaiming the gospel of mercy through Christ.
Notice what it says. After the books of human works are opened and examined, there is another book. V12 again, “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.” Everyone is judged for their works. That is what it says, but that is not end of story. There is another book, which we are told is entitled the book of life. V15 says, “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Everything condemned is cast into the lake of fire. Death is cast into the lake of fire. Hell is cast into the lake of fire, and everyone whose name is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire and burned up and finally and totally destroyed. V14 calls this “the second death.” The first death is the death of the body, which obviously every human being faces. The second death is the death of the soul in the lake of fire.
But those whose names are in the book do not face that death. Which leaves us with one last question: How do I get my name in that book? Accept the cross as the payment for your sins, trust in the resurrected Lord.
Revelation is not teaching any kind of works salvation. Revelation is teaching the same gospel as the rest of the NT. Salvation is found only through Jesus Christ.
If we trust in Jesus, when we come to the Last Judgment, we will be judged for our deeds, thoughts, words, and found guilty as sinners, but the judgment of the court is the judgment of our lord, and therefore, the court will have mercy upon us. Unbelievers receive justice at the Great White Throne. Believers receive mercy at the Great White Throne. We are guilty sinners, but through Christ, we are forgiven, and received as children of God, and our names are in the book.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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