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Revelation 20:11-15: Judgment Day Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 July 2012

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It makes me nervous to appear before a judge.  I found this out the hard way when Glenna and I had to appear before a judge to finalize Isaiah’s adoption.  It was a great day.  The government was going to officially and legally recognize my son as my son.  Looking back, I realize that I should have just been excited, but I was nervous.  I am not even sure why, but I was.  How do I know?  Well, when the judge was identifying us by our names he asked me if I was ‘William David Marshall.’  And of course I said yes.  Then he asked if I go by ‘Bill’ or ‘Billy.’  And even though no one has ever referred to me as either one, guess what I said?  Yes.  I think my wife may have laughed out loud.  What can I say, the judge made me nervous.  Although it was odd on that particular occasion, I figure that most people understand being nervous before a judge.  He has power and authority.  In certain situations, he can determine whether or not we are going to face punishment.  Such power rightfully makes us nervous.

Yet, the passage that we are looking at this morning speaks not of a judge or a judgment.  Rather, it speaks of the judgment by the Judge.  The Bible is full of what is called ‘temporal judgments.’  Egypt faced the judgment of God when the pharaoh refused to let Israel go.  The nations of the Promised Land faced judgment when Joshua led God’s people across the Jordan.  The prophets of Baal faced God’s judgment on Mt. Carmel when Elijah called down fire from heaven.  All of these (and many more) are temporal judgments.  They occurred in time and even though they were severe, they only pointed to the way to the coming judgment.  They only prepared us for the judgment that we see in our passage this morning.  This judgment, the white throne judgment, is eternal judgment.  Its impact is not just temporal, it is eternal.  Thus, the weight of this judgment cannot be overstated.  In one sense, all of our lives are about being prepared for this Day.  One of the main reasons that my ministry exists is to do all I can to prepare us for this Day.  So then, what does John teach us about this coming Day of judgment?

God will judge (and creation will receive judgment):

You may be thinking: ‘Well, of course William, why do you need to point this out?’  I want to emphasize this because I think John is emphasizing it in this passage.  He begins by speaking of God’s throne.  Look at verse 11.  John does not tell us in this verse who is occupying the throne, but from the rest of the book (and the rest of the New Testament) it is not hard to know that God is there.  God is the One who is seated on the throne.  He will be the Judge on that Day.  And notice His glory and majesty and power when we are told: From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  John tells us in chapter 21 that a new heaven and a new earth will come.  I believe that this phrase, along with others we have seen in the book, marks the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth.  So we see in this description the emphasis of the power and authority that belongs to the One seated upon the throne.  Not only this, but we also see this emphasis in the fact that God alone is the One who acts in this passage.  The verbs that speak of the dead are all passive verbs.  Men do not speak and plead their cause on this Day.  The time for pleading will have passed.  Men will give an account (see below) and be judged.

All will be judged:

So then, who will be judged by God on this Day?  What does John tell us?  Look at verses 12-13.  John speaks of the great and small, those in the sea and those in Death and Hades.  John is telling us that all will be judged on that Day.  No one will be excluded.  You need to know that you will face this judgment.  John makes it clear that all will be judged, so there is no reason to pretend like we can somehow get around it.  We will all be judged.

Believers will be judged on this Day.  What does this mean?  What will this Day be like for believers?  John does not go into great detail, but from the rest of the New Testament we can at least say something about what this involve.  Jesus said: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak (Matthew 12:36).  We will have to give an account for careless words.  Paul adds: So then each of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12) and: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).  The author of Hebrews writes: And no creature is hidden from his (God) sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account (Hebrews 4:13) and later applies this specifically to leaders in the Church (13:17).  Thus, I think we can safely say that we will have to give an account on this Day.  Such passages should cause us to strive for obedience in every thought we think, every word we speak, and every action we take.

Unbelievers will be judged on this Day as well.  They too will have to give an account.  Their actions and their lives will be laid bare before Almighty God.  Now to be sure, there will be a difference between the judgment for believers and the judgment for unbelievers.  We will focus on this difference in a moment.  But I think it is important to note that all will be judged, small and great, believer and unbeliever.  None will be excluded from judgment.

Creation, at lest in one sense, will be judged too.  We have already seen that the heavens and the earth will flee away from God’s presence in verse 11.  Look at what John says will happen in verse 14.  John tells us that even Death and Hades will be judged and thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.  Again, John tells us in chapter 21 that death shall be no more (v. 4).  Death, the physical death of our bodies, the final enemy, will be defeated by the second death.  Indeed, the former things will pass away (21:4).

All will be judged according to the book(s) and their works:

If all will be judged by God on this Day, then the critical question is what will be the basis of this judgment?  John makes it plain.  Look again at verses 12-13.  John tells us twice in these verses that men will be judged according to what they had done.  People often struggle with John’s words here.  How can John claim that we will be judged based upon our works?  Well, first, we need to realize that he is not alone in stating this truth.  Jesus says: For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done (Matthew 16:27).  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, it is clear that the judgment is based upon what a person did or did not do to the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46).  Paul teaches the same in the passage that we read as our call to worship: He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience and in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:6-8).  Likewise, the passage we read from 2 Corinthians 5 notes that all will appear before Christ so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Peter also teaches that God will judge us according to our deeds (1 Peter 1:17). 

Thus, it seems clear from the New Testament that we will be judged according to what we have done.  Does this teaching contradict salvation by faith alone?  No, it simply reinforces the New Testament teaching that saving faith will always produce good deeds.  Notice the close connection in the Romans passage between obedience and belief in the truth.  As we have seen over and over again, the Bible does not teach salvation by works.  Rather, it teaches that works always evidence true, saving faith.  One of my commentators writes: “The issue is not salvation by works but works as the irrefutable evidence of a man’s actual relationship with God.  Man is saved by faith, but faith is inevitably revealed by the works it produces.” 1  Thus, we are saved by faith and we are judged according to works.

John says that the deeds will be recorded in books.  It is not as if God needs to have books in order to remember all the deeds.  Rather, it just symbolizes that the judgment will indeed be based upon our actual deeds.  But another book is mentioned in verse 12: the book of life.  This book is mentioned again in verse 15.  Look at that with me.  The simple statement teaches that anyone whose name is not in the book of life will be thrown into hell, the second death.  We have seen such simplicity throughout the book of Revelation.  There are mysteries in the book, but one thing is abundantly clear: those who do not turn from their sins and follow Christ will be punished eternally for their sins.  John later refers to this book as the Lamb’s book of life.  The Lamb who was slain has a book of names.  Those whose names are written in this book will enjoy eternal life and those whose names are not written in it will face the lake of fire.  Of course the obvious question is this: How does one make certain that their name is written in the book?  The answer is to turn from our sins and believe in the work of Jesus, our Lamb, who sacrificed Himself on the cross to pay for our sins and was raised victoriously from the dead.  By turning from our sins and following Him we can be sure that our names are written in His book.

So then, are you prepared for this Day?  John tells us that God will judge everyone according to the deeds they have done.  All those who have not turned from their sins and trusted in Christ will be cast into the lake of fire, for their names will not be in His book.  If you are hear and you have never trusted in Christ, then let today be the day that you begin preparing for that Day.  Whatever keeping you from following Christ today will mean nothing on that Day.  I plead with you to flee the coming wrath by trusting in Christ and following Him as your Savior.  If you have professed faith in Christ, then I encourage you to make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10) by examining your life.  The Bible teaches that saving faith will produce fruit.  What fruit is you faith producing?  Does your life make it plain that you have turned from your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Savior? 

Perhaps you have spent this whole series assuming that you were a believer.  I am not trying to get you to doubt your salvation.  I am only saying that a false assumption of salvation will be absolutely devastating on the Day of judgment.  And Jesus told us that many will make that terrible error (Matthew 7:21-23).  Let’s spend a few moments this morning making certain that we are indeed prepared for the coming Day.  If we are not, then let’s turn from our sins and trust in Christ while there is still time.  If we are, then let’s rejoice that our name has been written in the Lamb’s book of life.  Amen.

1 Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), p. 366.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 14 July 2012 )

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