The Concordant Version
11And I perceived a great white throne, and Him Who is sitting upon it, from Whose face earth and heaven fled, and no place was found for them.
12And I perceived the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. And the scrolls were opened. And another scroll was opened which is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged by that which is written in the scrolls in accord with their acts.
13And the sea gives up the dead in it, and death and the unseen give up the dead in them. And they were condemned, each in accord with their acts.
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
THE concluding scene in the first Temple Section of the Unveiling is the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev.20:11-15). In the literary framework we find that it corresponds to the judgment of the saints (20:5,6). A comparison between the two will serve to emphasize the salient points of each. As to time, the saints are judged before the thousand years, the sinners after it is past. One is on the earth, the other is in space. One leads to a millennium of bliss, the other to the second death. But both are judgments. And we must insist that this term has no sinister signification. It applies to the vindication of the saints just as aptly as it does to the condemnation of sinners. Each is preceded by a resurrection, one by the resurrection of life, the other by the resurrection of judgment.
The former resurrection is the first of a series of two. The latter resurrection occurs at the great white throne judgment, more than a thousand years later, for the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years may be finished (Rev.20:5,6,11). The introduction of this explanatory statement seems a little abrupt and uncalled for until we examine previous teaching on this subject. We must see that, before this, there was little or no distinction between these two resurrections before we appreciate the special effort here made to separate the former from the latter.
Daniel was a prophet of the exile, hence had light in addition to that found in Isaiah and the pre-exile prophets.
Where they have only one advent, Daniel has two. But beyond the second advent he does not discriminate. It is as if we looked at two stars, one in a straight line beyond the other. They will appear as one, though they may be millions of miles apart. The final revelation to Daniel seems, to some, to support the idea of a "general" resurrection and judgment, in which all, saved and unsaved, are roused. The messenger said, "And many sleeping in the ground of the soil shall awake, these to eonian life, and these to eonian reproach and repulsion" (Dan.12:2, C. V.).
Yet a closer glance at this very passage is enough to destroy the idea that both enter a period of blessing. Whenever the unbelievers may be raised, they cannot enter an era like the thousand years. There is judgment in it, but it is always swift and condign. Even at the end, the apostasy is tolerated only long enough to come to a head. But those in Daniel are roused to eonian reproach and repulsion. There is no hint of any probation. Indeed, it would be contrary to the plain prediction to expect them to enter life, in the same sense as the other class, during the eons. So long as the eons last, one of these classes will have life, the other eonian reproach and repulsion. So much is clear in Daniel. There are two different classes, and the duration of this distinction is clearly indicated, but the time of the resurrection of each class is not divulged.
Almost everyone imagines that, since both are mentioned in the same breath, they must occur simultaneously. The memory of Isaiah 61:2: "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God," should prevent us from any such deduction. Rather, since we know, from our Lord's example and other passages, that the day of vengeance will follow the acceptable year, we should infer that the class which is mentioned last follows the former. This, of course, is only an inference, but it has a precedent, and the other inference has not even that. We know, from later unfoldings, that these two classes are raised in the order given, but separated by a thousand years.
This indefiniteness as to the time of the resurrections is not confined to the Hebrew prophets. Even Paul, before Felix, speaks of a "future resurrection of the just as well as the unjust" (Acts 24:15). Our Lord separates them but slightly, when He says, the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will be hearing His voice, and those who do good things shall be going out into a resurrection of life, yet those who commit bad into a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). Let us note that He, as well as the messenger in Daniel, mentions the former resurrection first. Both speak of the rousing of two kinds of people, but only the Lord mentions two kinds of resurrections. It is the function of the Unveiling to amplify and clarify these earlier unfoldings. Our inference may only lead us astray. Previous revelation was not explicit as to the time periods. This is the reason that we read of a "former" resurrection and are warned that the rest of the dead have no part in it.
The somewhat vague statement in Daniel needs elucidation. All are agreed on that. The particular point is the time when the two classes are to be roused from the dead. We might formulate it into a question: "Are the rest of the dead roused when the saints received eonian life?" The spirit of God recognizes this difficulty. After telling us of the resurrection of Daniel's first class, the instructive parenthesis is inserted to the effect that the second class is not included at that time, but waits until the end of the thousand years. There is a former and a latter resurrection included in Daniel's prediction. The thousand years is no place for those who endure reproach and repulsion. The former resurrection includes only those who are blessed and holy.
Our Lord gave character to these two resurrections by calling one a resurrection of life, the other a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). This is further amplified by John, in the Unveiling, and by Paul, in the fifteenth of first Corinthians. All who have part in the former resurrection are blessed and holy. Everyone roused before the thousand years belongs to Christ, and receives eonian life and all the hallowed bliss to which that is the introduction. The people of the millennial era are not all saints by any means, but those resurrected are of no other class. Those doomed to reproach and eonian repulsion cannot be included in the former resurrection.
Our Lord's characterization of these two resurrections is most suggestive. Both lead to life and judgment. But the emphasis in one case is on life, for they are vivified, and can never die, even though they are judged. The other emphasizes judgment, for, though they are raised, they die again. One gives life until the eons are finished, and then eternal life. The other leads to a temporary return for judgment and the second death, and does not enter into eonian life in any real sense at all. They are not vivified until the eons are past and death is abolished.
Paul makes this most emphatic in his marvelous summary of vivification (1 Cor.15:20-28). There are only three occasions when resurrection includes "making alive," or when the dead are recalled to immortality. Christ Himself is the first. He will never die again. The second class includes the saints. All of these will be made alive at His presence. The last class includes all, for death itself will be abolished. In each case there is not only physical life, but superabundant vitality, immortality, deathlessness. The latter resurrection, at the great white throne, for judgment, for "reproach and eonian repulsion," is not a vivification. It leads to the second death, not to eonian life.
Some things are very plain. During the eons there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. The most innocent babe and the most noble pagan lack the one essential for eonian life. They are not Christ's, hence are not vivified at His presence. All who have that honor receive it by grace. It is not a question of their deserts, for no one can merit such a salvation. Some reject the evangel. Others do not believe because they have never heard. Others are too immature. Since all that are in the graves must be roused, either in the resurrection of the just, or of the judgment, it is evident that all who are not believers, for any reason, must be raised to stand before the great white throne.
It is here that we almost all go astray. Our idea of judgment is so distorted, so warped and exaggerated by religious misconceptions, that we usually connect it only with criminals, and with the vicious and the vile. It is not so in the word of God. Judgment is not confined to the discovery and punishment of crime. That is only incidental. It is the great tribunal at which justice will preside. Each will receive what is his due. Wrongs will be righted. The secrets of all will be exposed. Feuds will be finished. All scores will be settled.
The tragedy of human experience is recognized by all. The wicked prosper and the poor are oppressed. Few receive their due, whether good or ill. Philosophy has tried to explain this, and religion has sought to correct it in some after life. Reincarnation is merely a scheme for leveling the inequalities of fate by repeated experiments. God's method of dealing with this great problem is simple and direct. A great assize will be held, with Christ as Judge. There all who are not sheltered by His blood will get their due, and suffer for their sins.
No one is vivified at this judgment session. No one is found written in the book of life. Vivification occurs only at the presence of Christ, before the millennium begins, and at the consummation, after the following eon ends (1 Cor.15:22-28).
Death and the unseen are cast into the lake of fire. Here we have undoubted figures of speech. We know that persons are cast into the lake of fire, for it comprises those who are "not found written in the scroll of life" (Rev.20: 15). Immediately before this we are told that death and the unseen give up the dead in them. This cannot be literal. It must be a comprehensive figure intended to include all the bodies and souls of those who are dead. "Death" contains the bodies. "The unseen" harbors their souls. As this is not a vivification, nothing is said of their spirits. The omission is most appropriate and significant. All the dead are raised and roused. We are told this by referring them to "death" and "the unseen." Later the same "death" and "unseen," once the receptacles of the unbelieving dead, are both cast into the fiery lake. There will be no death elsewhere in the universe. The lake of fire will be the depository of all who enter the second death.
It is one of the weaknesses of the word "judgment" that it brings to mind the picture of a human judge who merely tries and sentences those brought before him, but who has nothing to do with the infliction of the sentence. Judgment, in the Scriptures, includes the pains and penalties imposed in an adverse decision. It is not merely a trial to see who deserves the second death. That point is decided entirely by the scroll of life. The other scrolls have nothing to say as to that. The judging of the acts of the unbeliever is confined to the era of the great white throne. They do not suffer in the first death which precedes it, neither are they conscious in the second, which succeeds it. Death is not the sphere of judgment. They are raised from the dead in order to be judged. They are not returned to death until judgment has been concluded.
We must remember that, to the consciousness of those who stand before it, this judgment follows immediately after death, and is instantly succeeded by their vivification at the consummation. Some, before the flood, may have died nearly seven thousand years before entering into judgment, yet, so far as they are aware, it occurs at the moment of their death. All will wait many thousands of years to the end of the cons, yet, so far as they perceive, the consummation comes the very moment their judgment ends. Each unbeliever's career consists of birth, life, dying, [death], judgment, [second death], vivification. Time ceases in death. Except for the brief judgment period, they have no knowledge of the vast spaces of eonian time which they spend in absolute oblivion.
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
The spirit of God emphasizes two features of this throne - its size and its color. Its greatness doubtless consists in the vastness of its jurisdiction. There have been many thrones before it, but these were related to the living. They had no sway over the countless corpses of the tombs. Earth's cemeteries are far more populous than its cities. Innumerable multitudes lie beneath its surface, waiting for the voice of Him Who sits upon the great white throne. Surely, compared to preceding thrones, it is the greatest of them all, for, if we except the saints, it includes the subjects of every other throne within its jurisdiction.
The throne is white. May the One Who will be seated upon it keep us from painting it black! Almost all that has been spoken or written concerning it has not only changed it to ebony, but has darkened the character of Him Who will sit upon it in that day. Judgment does not consist in dealing out pains and penalties without due deserts. He Who occupies that throne will never be unjust or vindictive. Yet this is required of Him by almost all who seek to set forth the awfulness of His judgment throne.
The reason for this is simple. The judgment is viewed in the light of its outcome. If it leads to eternal conscious torment in the lake of fire for all who stand before it - Christ-rejecting "Christians," the immoral, the moral, those who never heard of Christ, children, idiots, infants - as orthodoxy demands, then the throne is black and an outrage on justice and a heartless exhibition of fiendish cruelty. The very first principle of justice demands that each case should be dealt with according to its deserts. But when the most innocent infant or unoffending and ignorant pagan is given an infinite sentence of unbearable pain no such distinctions are possible. Some, who have faced this dilemma, have repudiated the damnation of infants and those who never had an opportunity to believe, but they have no Scripture for their position.
It is only when we see that the outcome of this judgment is universal reconciliation (Col.1:20), that we can really acknowledge that the throne is white. It is only as we limit the actual infliction of pains and penalties to the judgment era and refuse to extend them into the lake of fire, that we are able to appreciate the righteousness of God's throne. Some will suffer severely, some slightly, and all according to their deserts. On all other occasions God has done His judging swiftly. There is no reason to prolong this time to infinity. The lake of fire is death, not life, and is not the means of prolonging the torture of those who appear before this august tribunal.
The dead will be judged before the great white throne, not in the lake of fire (Rev.20:12). Only thus will it be possible to judge them according to their acts. Only thus can they be prepared for the final reconciliation. It is entirely unscriptural and unreasonable to insist that it will take more than a lifetime to judge, or set right, the acts of a lifetime. If God were bent on sating His wrath by hurling them all into eternal torment, this judgment would be a farce, a useless gesture, vindictive, and vain. The mere fact that there is a great white throne is sufficient proof that eternal torment is not the uniform sentence. The judgment is as varied as the individuals. It is as different as their acts. It is preparatory to their reconciliation.
We unconsciously color the Scriptures by our preconceptions. If we believe the unscriptural doctrine of eternal torment, judgment becomes an enigma, it is impossible to explain how there can be justice or variety, and we are driven into a hazy hope that God will do the right thing. When we apply the doctrine to infants, we are overwhelmed by its injustice and many repudiate it. Others cannot reconcile it with those who have never heard the evangel. Yet there is not a single scripture which warrants us in excusing either infants or pagans. Surely these are not saints. If they are not among the dead before the great white throne, where do they come in? Orthodoxy drives its honest adherents to conclude that the Scriptures do not reveal the destiny of by far the greatest class of mankind!
Once we believe that the dead are to be judged according to their acts and that this judgment is to be a means to their reconciliation, all doubts and difficulties vanish. The whole complexion of this great judgment scene is altered. The One Who sits on the throne is no longer a fiend, but Christ. The throne is not black, but white. There will not be a single infliction which will not meet the hearty approval of all. There will he no illusions. Each one will acknowledge his own sin and the justice of his judgment. In order to avail ourselves of the salvation of Christ we need a sense of sin. Before we can be reconciled to God we need to realize our offenses. This is the function of this judgment. The believer, by faith, anticipates this by judging himself, and receives eonian salvation. The unbeliever is judged by Christ and forfeits salvation until after the eons have run their course.
THE SCROLLS OF ACTION
There seems little doubt that the figure of the scrolls has an actual basis in fact. We need not insist that all men's actions are literally recorded in books, for every move we make is inscribed in the imperishable photographic gallery of nature. Many of the major events of our lives mark our frames. A keen physician can diagnose much of a patient's physical past. An intelligent dentist notes his health history in his teeth. All human action leaves a permanent record of some kind in the world. Theoretically, at least, all the sounds arising from the earth are still traveling through space. Likewise, all sights are soaring into its infinitudes.
We do not hear a sound when it occurs. The steam from a locomotive's whistle is usually seen before the noise is audible. Likewise, we do not see instantly. It takes time for light to travel. We cannot see the sun. What we behold is the image it made about five hundred seconds before. Consequently, if our eyesight were sufficiently keen, and we were at the proper distance from the earth, we could still see Adam and Eve in Paradise, plucking the forbidden fruit. And, if we could fly toward the earth from that point, we would behold all of earth's history unroll before us as it once occurred. These somewhat fantastic fancies are founded on facts, and leave little doubt that God has the action of His creatures as easily at His command as if they were all recorded on film. Nature is filled with records of His creatures' acts.
What an aid to justice it would be if our courts could open such a book instead of relying on testimony! Written records, letters, photographic evidence, fingerprints, and all the minute details so dear to the detective, are far better evidence than that elicited from human witnesses. Men do not see anything alike. They color it with themselves. Even their truest testimony is tinged with their own ego. How interminable would be the session if sinners were to be judged according to the testimony of their fellows! None of this is needed. All will be confronted with the facts. The scrolls will be opened. "And the dead were judged by that which is written in the scrolls, in accord with their acts" (Rev.20:12).
THE SCROLL OF LIFE
"Another scroll was opened, which relates to life." Some have been stumbled by the statement, "I perceived the dead, great and small, standing before the throne." As a matter of fact they are alive; yet in truth they are dead. They were not raised in the resurrection of life. They are not vivified. They do not possess deathlessness, as was the case in the former resurrection. Hence, though living, they are figuratively and vividly described as dead. This is the key to the scroll which relates to life. It contains names, not acts. Life is not dependent on deeds. It is God's gift. Why bring it up at this time? Is it to find out if any of these dead have their names in it? Is it to flaunt God's grace in the faces of those doomed to eternal torment? It can be neither of these. It is the great testimony that life is not gained by acts, unless they are the sufferings of Christ.
No one whose name is in the scroll of life will have any part in this judgment, for these are not merely judged, but condemned (Rev.20:13). It is true that most of the manuscripts read "judged," but Sinaiticus seems more likely to be right here, as the preceding KAI may easily lead to the omission of the prefix KAT-, which changes judge to DOWN-JUDGE, or condemn. This is not the resurrection of life. It is not a vivification. It is utterly ignored when the apostle recounts the three classes to be made alive (1 Cor.15:23).
How shall we reconcile the concluding statement with these facts? "And if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." Does not this seem to imply that some who appear before the great white throne escape the second death? By no means. There is another and better reason why the matter is put thus. It is necessary that the basis of God's salvation should be guarded at all times. And it is most imperative that all sinners should learn the great truth that salvation is not of works, but of grace. These sinners are to receive life and reconciliation at the consummation. During the judgment era it is acts, acts, acts. Their acts condemn them. Will their suffering save them? No! Is this judgment a sort of purgatory which will cleanse them and fit them for God's presence? No! All of this is made clear to them by the book of life.
The introduction of the scroll of life at this judgment has been wholly misinterpreted. Let us look at its practical effect. It contains the names of many who might well be haled before the great white throne and suffer for their sins. In fact all who are in it deserve no better fate. Why are they not present to answer for their acts? The blood of Christ! The grace of God! The sinners who stand before the great white throne need to know more than their own failure. The day of faith is past. The saints have already received life, and are enjoying its abundance. What better method could there be to impress this on the hearts of the unbelievers than to give the names of these unworthy recipients of God's grace? Will it not impress upon them their own utter dependence on God and constrain them to bow to His will, as nothing else could do?
The infliction of the penalty due will teach sinners that God is righteous, and the exhibition of the trophies of His grace by means of the scroll of life will reveal His love. Both are preliminary to their ultimate salvation and reconciliation. The scroll of life will be the evangel of that day, yet it will not appeal to faith but to facts which no one can misunderstand. Some who were sinners like themselves are not present in the judgment. They are enjoying life and felicity notwithstanding their acts. They were saved by Christ. That is the only way to life and peace! The inference is unavoidable. The deduction is logical. The facts are unanswerable. So they see, by sight, what we perceive by faith. It will not save them in the eons. But it will prepare them for salvation when the eons are past.