Saturday, 31 July 2021
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. Revelation 20:12
With the great white throne brought into the forefront of John’s view in the previous verse, he now continues with the narrative, saying, “And I saw the dead, small and great.” This is an expression that simply means, “and I saw all of humanity from the small to the great.” At times, more expressive terms are used, but this one is simple enough to say that none will be exempt, from the small to the great.
Of this, Albert Barnes says, “The fair meaning in this place therefore is, that all the dead would be there, and of course this would preclude the idea of a ‘previous’ resurrection of any part of the dead, as of the saints, at the beginning of the millennium. There is no intimation here that it is the wicked dead that are referred to in this description of the final judgment. It is the judgment of all the dead.”
There is no reason to assume this. The Bible clearly speaks of a rapture of the church, and it also refers to the first resurrection. One must deny a literal reading of those events in order to dismiss them as something other than what is referred to. Further, Paul notes that believers in the church must appear before the judgment (bema) seat of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Nothing is said there of a great white throne judgment. The two are, therefore, distinct judgments. Understanding this, John says of this mass of humanity that they are “standing before God.”
It is an expression that means they are exposed before Him as creatures before their Creator. He is the judge, and they are the judged. As judgment has been granted to Christ Jesus, He is the member of the Godhead they actually appear before. While standing there, it says, “and books were opened.”
The same terminology was seen in Daniel 7:10. The order of events there is not the same as here in Revelation, but it is certainly referring to the same judgment upon humanity. The idea of books being opened is that there is a documented record of the life and deeds of humanity.
This does not mean that a literal book, as we think of it, is kept. The imagery is given for us to understand that all of what man has done is recorded. At the time of John, a biblion, or a papyrus roll, was the standard means of recording things. Later, books as we know them today were used. Now, we record things on computer hard drives or various other devices. The symbolism is set forth so that the truth is conveyed, regardless as to the means of recording such things. Each person’s record is to be evaluated. John next says, “And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.”
This book has already been seen in Revelation 3:5 –
“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
This “Book of Life” is that which records those who have gone from the spiritual death of Adam to the born-again life of Jesus Christ. All who have been restored to a right relationship with God through Christ are recorded in the Book of Life. With this understood, it next says, “And the dead were judged according to their works.”
There are several possibilities as to what could be conveyed here, but the simplest explanation is that all the dead standing before the throne will be judged on their deeds. Those who are recorded in the Book of Life will have their deeds judged for their eternal state in heaven, just as believers in the church will when they go before the judgment seat of Christ.
Those who are not in the book of life will be judged for their deeds, setting their eternal fate in hell. As such, there will be greater punishment for those whose deeds were more wicked. In the end, however, those who are saved will have eternal glory in heaven, and those who are not will have eternal condemnation in hell. It is by their deeds that the state in one of those places will be determined. As John says, “by the things which were written in the books.”
The record of the life of all people will be taken into account. God is perfectly just, and He will reward each person exactly as is deserved and without any partiality at all.
Life application: Everything we as humans do is recorded. If we fail to come to Jesus Christ, we will not receive His covering and we will stand utterly exposed and naked before our Creator. There will be absolutely no doubt of guilt, though now we as humans try to hide it. Every person who has ever lived will receive his judgment. There will be no soul left unremembered before God.
Concerning the term “God” in this verse, some manuscripts have “the throne” instead of “God.” As the throne is the throne of God, the intent is the same – it is Jesus who sits to judge. Unfortunately, some scholars try to disconnect the two (God and Jesus) when the terminology changes, but one must continually ask, “Is Jesus God?” The answer is “Yes.” Therefore, based on Jesus’ own words about all judgment being committed to Him, it is He before whom they stand.
Why does it say God (or “the throne,” implying the throne of God) then? The reason is so simple that it is easily overlooked. It is because He is God that the term is used. In other words, even those who have denied His deity during their lives – such as members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults, as well as unbelieving Jews – will realize that the One they are now being judged by is the One whose deity they denied.
From the first chapter of the Bible, all the way through to the last, the concept of the Trinity and the concept of the God/Man are to be found, understood, and accepted. God has stepped out of His eternal domain and united with human flesh in the Person of Jesus in order to show us the unseen Father. Now, at the end of the ages, these people await their judgment.
For sure, the book of works is insufficient to save. Paul sums this up in Ephesians 2:8, 9 –
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
At this judgment, no person will say, “I deserve eternal life based on what I did.” Either they are saved through faith in Christ Jesus and are recorded in the Book of Life, or they worked out their lives apart from Christ. If the latter is the case, they will see the futility of the life they lived.
What a terrifying thought – to stand naked and exposed before the Living God without the covering of Christ. May none presume that deeds are sufficient to appease the wrath of God for sins committed while in the flesh. May we understand now the severity of the consequences of the choices we make concerning our beautiful, perfect, just, righteous, and holy Lord – JESUS.
Lord Jesus, apart from You we are fallen and wicked. We know that without Your righteousness, there is no hope for us. Please help us to be able to clearly convey this to others and to stand firm on the message that without You we stand exposed and condemned. May You be praised for providing a way of reconciliation and restoration. Amen.