Revelation-Part 47

By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003
Dr. Thomas describes for us the setting of the Great White Throne Judgment, and the ones who will stand before it in judgment. Who will be judged, and on what basis?


Events of the Seventh Bowl, #6: The Great White Throne Judgment

The sixth scene of the seventh bowl judgment portrays the setting of a Great White Throne in the absence of the old earth and heaven (Rev. 20:11). Then follows a description of judgment that proceeds from that throne, which is the seventh scene (Rev. 20:12-15). As with the rest of the scenes in Revelation 19:11–21:8, the words “and I saw” introduce both scenes.

Setting of a Great White Throne (20:11)

At Revelation 20:11 we reach a predictive picture of the last aspect of the present order of creation. The departure of the earth and heaven therein announced indicates that this is the last. Dominating that last scene before John’s eyes is “a Great White Throne.” It is “great” compared to the thrones of 20:4 because it is the throne of God Himself and be­cause it is the scene of the last of the judgments. The throne is white because of the purity, holiness, and righteousness of the verdicts issuing from it.

Because of their view that other passages—e.g., Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:24-29; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10—teach just one final judgment, some have viewed this throne of judgment as the one and only final judgment. But a closer look at those passages reflects that future judgment will come in several phases. Since resurrection and judgment go together, the clear indication of two future resurrections separated by a thousand years in Revelation 20:4-5 necessarily will involve at least two phases of final judgment. The judgment of martyrs has already occurred before the Great White Throne is set and before the passing away of the present creation—i.e., before the thousand years. The judgment of those who sit on thrones (20:4) will have preceded that of the martyrs. The judgment of Matthew 25:31-46 precedes the millennial kingdom, but this one from the Great White Throne follows the millennium. The judgment of 2 Corinthians 5:10 will be in heaven as it now exists, but the Great White Throne does not come until the disappearance of the present heaven. The above data lead to the inevitable conclusion that future judgment will come in a number of phases, with this one from the Great White Throne being the last of all.

The heavenly Father is undoubtedly the one seated on this throne, just as He has been throughout Revelation (cf. 4:2-3, 9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5), but the Son sits there with Him (3:21; 22:1, 3, 12) and works with Him (John 5:19-21; 10:30). The present passage does not mention the Son on the throne, but John elsewhere indicates His in­volvement in judgment (Rev. 22:12). The oneness of the Father and Son harmonizes the two lines of teaching about the identity of the judge.

The words “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled, and a place was not found for them” place the Great White Throne somewhere in limitless space outside human history. A fleeing from the face of God leaves nowhere to go, because God is everywhere. The flight of the heaven and the earth means a flight from present existence. Revelation 21:1 will shortly tell us of their replacement by a new heaven and a new earth.

Judgment from the Great White Throne (20:12-15)

Once the Great White Throne is in place, the next sight to greet the prophet’s eyes is a group of people described as “the dead, the great and the small” (20:12). They are stand­ing before the throne, having risen from the dead as a part of the second resurrection (cf. 20:5). Because “the great and the small” are among them, we know that the group includes all classes and conditions of humanity.

This gathering includes no living mortals, only “the dead.” Besides those who had no part in the first resurrection before the millennium (20:5), it includes people who joined forces with the devil and perished in his final rebellion after the Millennium (20:8-10). In other words, those judged are the unrighteous dead from all ages of human existence. Some who hold to only one final judgment would like to call the dead mentioned in 20:12 the redeemed of all ages, and distinguish them from the unredeemed rebels in 20:13-15. We have already noticed that the righteous dead are raised before the Millennium, for example, the martyrs (20:4). The only possible conclusion is that this is the second resur­rection implied in 20:5 and it includes only those who are not exempt from the second death. The only reason for the mention of the book of life in 20:12 is to demonstrate that the names of these dead standing before the throne are not written in it.

The basis for judgment from the Great White Throne is not arbitrary. One of the books records the deeds of those being judged, providing for them to be sentenced on the basis of their works (20:12). Whether that book records any good deeds at all is open to ques­tion, but it certainly contains a record of their evil works. The description focuses more on the other book, the book of life, which apparently decides the ultimate issue in this trial (cf. Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27). That focus does not contradict a judgment according to works, however, because works are an unmistakable mark of where the loyalties of each person lie. Salvation is by grace through faith, but in the end character will be the test of the fruit of the tree (Matt. 7:16, 20; 10:32-33; 25:41-46; John 15:6; Rom. 2:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:23; 22:12).

The resurrection implied in Revelation 20:12a receives a fuller description in 20:13. Of note is the absence of any sentence for those destined for life. Since “the rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were completed” (20:5), all those judged here fall under the authority of the second death (20:6). Mentioning the sea as a source of the dead recalls the great horror attached to death by drowning among the ancient Greeks and Romans. “Death and Hades” as the other source of the dead encompasses the state of death and a place of death.

For “each” (singular) to be judged according to his works (20:13) echoes the Bible’s emphasis on individual responsibility. Condemnation will be because of works. Salvation cannot be through works, but it cannot be without works as the fruit of faith.

The first to be cast into the lake of fire will be death and Hades, now pictured as insepa­rable companions (20:14). Two voracious and insatiable monsters who have swallowed all past generations now meet the same fate as the prey they have disgorged. This last enemy will no longer threaten the human race. Death will not be around to disturb the tranquility of the new heaven and the new earth, because it will join its victims in the lake of fire, which here is further described as “the second death.” The lake of fire is a figure of speech to accommodate a limited human understanding of how awful eternal punishment will be. Though it is a figure of speech, it is nevertheless real. Those in that lake must endure an unending torment in which the physical and spiritual realities are inseparable. That will be indescribable misery.

Those whose names are unrecorded in the book of life will then join death and Hades in that lake (20:15). Such is the doom of those outside of Christ—those who have never trusted in His saving work on the cross. The language of this passage leaves no room for any form of universalism, soul sleep, intermediate state, second chance, or annihilation of the wicked. It is a negation of the eternal life that the lost could have received through faith in Jesus Christ before they died. Because of the presence of the lost in this lake, “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they do not have rest day and night” (Rev. 14:11).

The above brief description of the setting of the Great White Throne and the action of the Judge on that throne is a sobering summons to anyone in this life who has for whatever reason failed to turn to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Friend, will you extend your hand of faith and accept the gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord? May He open your eyes to see this as your only escape from the horrors of the lake of fire.

Note: For more details on the Great White Throne Judgment, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 427-435. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or

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