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S. Lewis Johnson: The writer of the Epistle of the Hebrews says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” The final judgment is one of the great truths of the word of God, and unfortunately, it is one of the ones that our society, in our day, does not really like to emphasize. In fact, we like to speak somewhat disapprovingly of hell, fire and damnation preachers. But if we are preaching the word of God, if we are paying attention to Scripture, then it does not seem possible for us to avoid being a hell, fire and damnation preacher.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: Here is the last and final judgment of history following the close of the Millennium. It is an awesome and solemn scene and one which should cause deep concern to our hearts for many of our friends and even relatives will be here, those who have never received Jesus Christ as their Savior. All who have scoffed at God, denied His being, rebelled at His rule, or rejected His sovereignty, and in the process, have also rejected His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, must at this time stand before this throne to be condemned to eternal judgment. May the study of these verses make us more concerned and more committed to reaching the lost for Christ.

John MacArthur: This passage describes the final sentencing of the lost and is the most serious, sobering, and tragic passage in the entire Bible. Commonly known as the Great White Throne judgment, it is the last courtroom scene that will ever take place. After this there will never again be a trial, and God will never again need to act as judge. The accused, all the unsaved who have ever lived, will be resurrected to experience a trial like no other that has ever been. There will be no debate over their guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender; an accuser, but no advocate. There will be an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused; the convicting evidence will be presented with no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be an utterly unsympathetic Judge and no jury, and there will be no appeal of the sentence He pronounces. The guilty will be punished eternally with no possibility of parole in a prison from which there is no escape.

Buist Fanning: This paragraph gives the all-important transition between Satan’s final judgment at the end of the millennium (vv. 7-10) and God’s full blessing of his people in renewing all of creation (21:1-8).  Before the ultimate renewal occurs, the fate of the ungodly dead who followed Satan’s way during their lifetime must be settled, and John records their destiny here in vv. 11-15.

Robert Mounce: And so ends “the tale of the first city.” Babylon has ruled the world with regard for no one but herself. She is a great prostitute who has seduced the nations into following her illicit way of life. Inspired by Satan, she has taken into her own hands the right to control the entire inhabited world. Her deceptive practices have lured all but the faithful into ungodliness. Her doom, however, is certain. She will be reduced to a heap of burning ashes, and her “lovers” will stand afar and marvel at how great has been her fall. Heaven will be filled with the Hallelujahs of those who have resisted her claims even to the point of death. The triumphant Messiah will return, and all who have fallen under the control of the beast and false prophet will be destroyed. The death of the martyrs will be vindicated. Satan will be bound in the Abyss for a thousand years, while the church will reign triumphant with the Lamb. Babylon has fallen. The forces of Satan in this world will be destroyed, and he and his henchmen will burn forever in the lake of fire.

Daniel Akin: Main Idea: Jesus will defeat all the enemies of God forever by sending them to eternal punishment in hell.

  1. Unbelievers Will Stand Before the Sovereign God of the Universe (20:11).
  2. Unbelievers Will Be Judged for Their Righteousness, Not the Imputed Righteousness of Christ (20:12-13).
  3. Unbelievers Will Spend Eternity Separated from God in the Lake of Fire (20:14-15).


A.  Transcendent Authority

  1. Impressive Throne

And I saw a great white throne

Newell: Weigh each word. Great, — it is the Infinite before whom the finite must stand;

White, — it is the unveiled, undimmed blaze of the divine holiness and purity and justice;

Throne, — it is majesty unlimited, in which inheres utter right to dispose of the destiny of creatures. Before such a throne, creatures cannot stand; but they shall stand — even the lost!

J. Hampton Keathley, III: First it is called “great.” The Greek word is megaswhich connotes:

(a)  the size of something, the extent,

(b)  the intensity or degree of something, and

(c)  rank, dignity, or standing.

In essence, all of these ideas have application here. It is great because of the awesome intensity and the degree of its importance. Here each unbeliever’s eternal destiny is determined and declared with ample proof and reason. It is great because it is the final judgment putting an end to all judgment for all time. Finally, it is great because all the unbelievers of all time, from Cain to the final revolt at the end of the Millennium, will be here assembled to face the bar of God’s perfect justice. The only exceptions will be the beast and false prophet and perhaps those of the judgment of the Jews and Gentiles at the end of the Tribulation who have already been consigned to the lake of fire.

Second, it is called “white” because it will be the supreme, undimmed display of the perfect righteousness and justice of God. Throughout history God has taught man that he must have God’s kind of righteousness, that God is of purer eyes than to approve evil, or to accept or look upon wickedness (Hab. 1:13), that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), and that the penalty of sin is eternal death, separation from God (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:2). Now these facts will become evident to each individual and proven without question.

Third, it is called a “throne” because here the Lord Jesus Christ will sit in absolute majesty and sovereign authority to consign these eternally to the lake of fire. In Revelation 4:2 John beheld a throne set in heaven from which the Tribulation judgments proceeded. The word “throne” is used more than 30 times in the book, but this throne, the great white one, is to be distinguished from all others because it is the most significant of all.

John MacArthur: It is called great not only because of its size as greater than the thrones mentioned in 20:4, but also because of its significance, majesty, and authority. That it is white symbolizes its purity, holiness, and justice. The verdict handed down from this throne will be absolutely equitable, righteous, and just. “The Lord abides forever,” wrote David, “He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity” (Ps. 9:7–8). Daniel described this scene in Daniel 7:9–10; cf. John 5:29; Rom. 2:5.

  1. Impressive Sovereign

and Him who sat upon it,

David Thompson: We learn from Daniel that this one is “the Ancient of Days” who actually takes His seat (Dan. 7:9). This Divine Person is none other than Jesus Christ.

Kendell Easley: He is simply him who was seated on the throne, fulfilling John 5:22: “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (see also 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1). Until the victorious coming of Christ, the occupant of the throne was God; now Christ has taken his seat on a great white throne (see also 21:5). This is heaven’s throne John had first seen without describing in 4:2.

Alternate View:

Robert Mounce: There is some question about the identity of the One who sits upon the throne. The NT teaches generally that judgment has been committed to the Son. John 5:22 specifically says, “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1). Similarly, in 1 Enoch, eschatological judgment is the function of the Messiah (“On that day Mine Elect One shall sit on the throne of glory and shall try their works,” 45:3; cf. 51:3; 55:4; 61:8). Yet in the present passage it is apparently God the Father who is judge. Elsewhere in Revelation the One seated upon the throne is the Father (4:2, 9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). It is more natural in the present context to see the Father rather than the Son in the role of judge.2 The ease with which the NT speaks both of the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) and of the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10) implies a unity that makes unnecessary any quibbling over exact assignment of functions. In his Gospel John records the statement of Jesus, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

B.  Terrifying Presence

from whose presence earth and heaven fled away,

and no place was found for them.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: Heaven and earth are seen fleeing from the face of Him who sits on this throne. In other words, they are destroyed, dissolved (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). The point is the great white throne judgment does not occur on earth or in heaven as we know it, but somewhere beyond, perhaps in extreme outer space. The indication is also clear that it does not occur in the new heaven and earth which is not created until after this event.

John MacArthur: That amazing, incredible statement describes the “uncreation” of the universe. The earth will have been reshaped by the devastating judgments of the Tribulation and restored during the millennial kingdom. Yet it will still be tainted with sin and subject to the effects of the Fall—decay and death; hence it must be destroyed, since nothing corrupted by sin will be permitted to exist in the eternal state (2 Pet. 3:13). God will in its place create “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away” (21:1; cf. 21:5; Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13). The present earth and heaven will not merely be moved or reshaped, since John saw in his vision that no place was found for them. They will be uncreated and go totally out of existence. This is nothing less than the sudden, violent termination of the universe (cf. Ps. 102:25–26; Isa. 51:6; Matt. 5:18; 24:35; Luke 16:17; 21:33; Heb. 1:10–12; 12:26–27). Barnhouse wrote, “There is to be an end of the material heavens and earth which we know. It is not that they are to be purified and rehabilitated, but that the reverse of creation is to take place. They are to be uncreated. As they came from nothing at the word of God, they are to be sucked back into nothingness by this same word of God” (Revelation: An Expository Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], 391).

Alternative View:

G.R. Beasley-Murray: Verse 13 provides a puzzle, since the sea can hardly be said to give up its dead if the world has passed away. . .  [John’s] subject at this point was not geophysical and astronomical changes in the universe, but the majesty of God in the judgment. . .  It is not the earth and the heavens but “those who dwell upon the earth” and the angelic, or rather demonic, powers which seek to flee from the overwhelming glory of the presence of the Lord.


A.  (:12) Unimpeachability of Judgment by Works

  1. Applies without Distinction to all the Dead

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne,

Tony Garland: Every category of man now stands on an individual basis before God. Wealth, power, fame, is all immaterial now. As the cross stands as the great equalizer among people of faith on the road to salvation, so the Great White Throne Judgment is the equalizer among those on their way to eternal damnation.

Kendell Easley: Premillennialists generally believe that “the dead” here are only the wicked dead in that the righteous were already judged before the thousand-year reign of Christ. (On this view, the judgment of Matt. 25:31–46 occurs long before the judgment at the white throne.) This means both judgments conclude identically with the wicked cast into everlasting fire and so serve the same purpose.

John Phillips: There is a terrible fellowship there. . .  The dead, small and great, stand before God.  Dead souls are united to dead bodies in a fellowship of horror and despair.  Little men and paltry women whose lives were filled with pettiness, selfishness, and nasty little sins will be there.  Those whose lives amounted to nothing will be there, whose very sins were drab and dowdy, mean, spiteful, peevish, groveling, vulgar, common, and cheap.  The great will be there, men who sinned with a high hand, with dash, and courage and flair.  Men like Alexander and Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin will be present, men who went in for wickedness on a grand scale with the world for their stage and who died unrepentant at last.  Now one and all are arraigned and on their way to be damned: a horrible fellowship congregated together for the first and last time.  (Exploring Revelation, rev. ed. [Chicago: Moody, 1987; reprint, Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1991], 242-43)

Charles Swindoll: The final judgment has three phases —the verdict, the sentencing, and the penalty. The verdict is determined quite simply by confirming that the accused is not, in fact, listed in the Book of Life. Having determined this, the next step is the sentencing, which will be based strictly on the deeds of the accused. The implication is that those who acted more wickedly will receive a greater degree of punishment than others. How this actually works out is up to God. Finally, having determined guilt as well as a just sentence, the Judge assigns the penalty —they will be thrown into the “lake of fire,” which John calls “the second death.”

Robert Mounce: The point is that no one is so important as to be immune from judgment, and no one is so unimportant as to make judgment inappropriate.

  1. Applies on the Objective Evidential Standard of Recorded Works

a.  Transparent Evidence

and books were opened;

James Hamilton: Perhaps the Bible, with its standard of righteousness, is among these books. No evidence is lacking. Just judgment is rendered.

Craig Koester: The judgment is based on not one but two sets of books: the book of life and the books in which people’s deeds are recorded (20:12). Each set of books has its own function. The book of life has to do with divine grace, while the books of deeds have to do with human accountability. The book of life is like a civic record, in which the citizens of the city of God have their names inscribed (21:27). John has already said that people are inscribed in this book “from the foundation of the world” (13:8; 17:8), which means that they cannot obtain access to the book of life by their own efforts, but they are included in the book as an act of divine grace. Some cities expunged from the citizenship rolls the names of those who were condemned and executed, but the risen Christ said that he would not blot the names of the faithful out of this book, even though they were condemned by human beings (3:5).

The other set of books includes the records of what people have done during their lives. The book of Esther tells of an earthly book in which the king would keep a record of the good deeds that people performed, so that they could be rewarded (Esther 6:1–2). The book of Daniel speaks of more comprehensive books that are kept in the archives of heaven. On the day of judgment, these books will be opened and people will be held accountable for their actions (Dan. 7:10). The idea that people’s deeds are subject to final divine judgment appears in various New Testament writings (for example, Matt. 25:31–46; John 5:28–29; 1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:10).

b.  Transformative Exception

and another book was opened, which is the book of life;

Buist Fanning: These books are records of human deeds, a symbol of God’s complete and lasting knowledge of human actions, which ensures that his judgment will be informed and just.  The theological point of this (in light of the absence of these dead in “the book of life”; vv. 12d-e, 15) is that apart from God’s electing and redeeming love in the Lamb all humans will fall short when God’s righteous judgment comes (Acts 17:31; Rom 2:16).

Craig Koester: Note that in the judgment, both divine grace and human accountability are important, but God’s decision finally is based on the grace that is represented by the book of life. John does say that people are “judged according to their works, as recorded in the books” and that they are “judged according to what they [have] done” (20:12, 13). Clearly, he understands that God holds people accountable for their way of life. At the same time, John does not suggest that salvation is ultimately based on human achievement, so that only those who achieve a certain score in their books of deeds merit a place in the kingdom. God’s favorable judgment is an expression of grace. People can hope for a place in the heavenly city because God wants them there and writes their names in the book of life (20:15; 21:27).

c.  Thorough Evaluation

and the dead were judged

from the things which were written in the books,

according to their deeds.

Fruchtenbaum: There is a principle in Scripture that does teach degrees of punishment based upon degrees of sinfulness and upon greater or lesser light or knowledge and the response or lack of it to that light [Mat. 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11].

John MacArthur: It should be noted that while there are varying degrees of punishment in hell, everyone there will suffer intolerable, indescribable misery and torment.  All sinners in hell will be utterly separated from God and all that comes from His goodness.  Thus, they will be miserable, but not equally miserable.

Tony Garland: The unbelieving dead will get what they desire: they will be judged by their works. But their works will be found to be imperfect. Not only in application, but in motivation because it is impossible for those who lack faith to please God (Heb. 11:6). Even their altruistic works are flawed by selfish and deceptive motivations.

David Thompson: When we analyze Scripture, we learn of some of the kinds of things that go into these condemnatory works books:

1)  Every act contrary to God’s word. Rom. 2:5-6

2)  Ever word spoken that was contrary to God’s word. Mt. 12:36-37; James 3:6

3)  Every thought a person had that was contrary to God’s word. I Chron. 28:9

4)  Every motive a person had for doing something contrary to God’s word. Heb. 4:12

5)  Every secret sinful act that a person did contrary to God’s word. Rom. 2:16

6)  Every rebellious act one did contrary to God’s word. James 4:17

7)  Every suppression of God’s word and Spirit when convicting is stored up. Rom. 1:18

8)  Every violation of God’s law is all recorded in the works books. Rom. 3:19-20

Robert Mounce: The great white throne judgment is not arbitrary but based on the evidence written by the life of every person.  Books are opened, and the dead are judged on the basis of what they have done as recorded therein. The teaching of judgment by works runs throughout both the OT and the NT. Ps 62:12 gives expression to the commonly accepted principle that God requites a person according to his work. In Jer 17:10 God says, “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” The same principle is taught in the NT. Paul writes that God “will give to each person according to what he has done” (Rom 2:6), and Peter reminds his readers that God “judges each man’s work impartially” (1 Pet 1:17).

B.  (:13) Universality of Judgment by Works

  1. The Subjects of Judgment

a.  From the Most Remote Area Possible

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it,

David Thompson: The reference to the “sea” metaphorically could refer to all unsaved Gentiles (Rev. 17:15). It also may refer to the fact that no matter where the person’s dead body was, including in a remote place like the sea, that person will be raised up to face this judgment.

b.  From the Holding Zones of Death and Hades

and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them;

J. Hampton Keathley, III: They come from:

(a)  “the sea,” i.e., those who died at sea and were not buried in the earth,

(b)  “death,” those who were buried in graves in the ground, cremated, or destroyed in any other way on earth, and

(c)  “Hades,” a reference to the place of torments, the compartment which contains the souls of unbelievers (Luke 16:23).

The sea and death (i.e., the ground) contain the bodies and Hades contains the souls. At this second resurrection, the soul and body are reunited and the person is brought up before the throne.

  1. The Basis of Judgment

and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.


A.  (:14a) Designees of Eternal Torment

And death and Hades

Speaking of the wicked unbelievers delivered up from death and Hades who had been judged and condemned and now cast into the lake of fire.

B.  (:14b) Description of Eternal Torment

  1. Lake of Fire

were thrown into the lake of fire.

Sola Scriptura: Perhaps, the reason John personifies death and Hades is to emphasize their termination as instruments of God’s judgment.

  1. Second Death

This is the second death, the lake of fire.

C.  (:15) Destiny of Eternal Torment

  1. Unique Exemption

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life,

G.K. Beale: What is it about the book of life which spares them? The fuller title for the book is “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8; and 21:27 has “the Lamb’s book of life”). The life granted them in association with the book comes from their identification with the Lamb’s righteous deeds and especially with His death, which implies likewise that they are identified with His resurrection life (cf. 5:5-13). They do not suffer judgment for their evil deeds because the Lamb has already suffered it for them: He was slain on their behalf (so especially 1:5 and 5:9; see on 13:8). The Lamb acknowledges before God all who are written in the book (3:5) and who are identified with His righteousness and His death.

  1. Unrecoverable Destination

he was thrown into the lake of fire.