“In Words We Live By, Brian Burrell tells of an armed robber named Dennis Lee Curtis who was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Curtis apparently had scruples about his thievery. In his wallet the police found a sheet of paper on which was written the following code:
This thief had a sense of morality, but it was flawed. When he stood before the court, he was not judged by the standards he had set for himself but by the higher law of the state.
Likewise when we stand before God, we will not be judged by the code of morality we have written for ourselves but by God's perfect law.”
I’ve probably shared this personal story with you before
I was traveling back from the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Ohio’s, Christian Youth In Action training at Cedarville University, when I got stopped by a local police officer in a small town
I knew the speed limit through the small town was 25 miles per hour (MPH) and had been going that speed until I saw the 35 MPH sign
What I didn’t know was that the local police officer was sitting right before the 35 MPH sign
Long story, short, he cited me for speeding
I took the citation and finished my trip home
In my humanness, I could have asked God why He allowed that to happen to me, because I was returning from helping young people learn how to teach children about Him – I was doing something good
I went back to pay the fine in person and tried to convince the clerk that I didn’t need to pay the court fees, because I wasn’t going to court to contest it
I obviously didn’t understand how the court system works – I guess it still had to come before the judge, so they had to charge the court fees
Changing the oil or working on the car
I’m doing a good thing when I change the oil in my car, but I don’t wear my best clothes to do it
There are certain clothes that I wear when I’m working on our cars, especially when I’m changing the oil
They are stained from previous use for the same purpose
Even though they have been washed, I still consider them to be filthy
They also have holes in them and could be referred to as rags
I’m doing good things while wearing these filthy rags
We all probably have some filthy rags we wear?
Perhaps we all wear certain clothes when we clean the house or work in the yard
Maybe we have certain clothes we wear to mow the lawn or work on our vehicles
All of us have perhaps questioned God in the past about why He allowed something difficult to come into our lives while we were doing something good
It’s easy to question God, when we’re returning from helping at the food pantry and our car breaks down
Maybe we took someone to a doctor’s appointment and then we find out a week later at our doctor’s appointment that we are dealing with some medical condition of our own
God doesn’t accept us solely on the good things we have done, but on the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for us on the cross
God sees us through the righteousness of Jesus Christ
Our good deeds are an expression and result of the transformational power of the Gospel
We do good, because we love God, not to gain favor with Him
What John sees after Satan is thrown into the lake of burning sulfur is the judgment of the dead, which would include those who were just devoured by fire from heaven. Some books are opened that probably contained all of the deeds they had done. But those deeds didn’t cut it. Their name had to be found in the Book of Life. John wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – Our “righteousness” falls short.
God’s judgment isn’t based on whether or not our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. Isaiah 64:6 says, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Our own “righteousness” isn’t sufficient to avoid God’s judgment and eternal punishment.
GOD (Revelation 20:11-15)
Judge (v. 11)
Great white throne
The Greek word μέγαν (megan) has been used throughout the book of Revelation
It is referring to something that is large or loud
A loud voice
This is the throne where the final eternal judgment will be handed down
Perhaps the word “great” is used to differentiate it from the thrones mentioned in Revelation 20:4
It is also possible that this throne was much larger than those thrones, because of who is sitting on the throne and the task they will have in judging humanity
This throne has great significance as does the color associated with it
Most scholars agree that the color is representative of the purity of the One sitting on it
The One sitting there is holy, pure, without blemish
That is why they are able to judge humanity
It also represents the glory and majesty of the One occupying this throne
The color white has been used to represent purity and holiness throughout the book of Revelation
Rev. 1:14 – Christ has white hair
Rev. 14:14 – Christ sits on a white cloud
Rev. 19:11 Christ returns on a white horse
Rev. 4:4 – celestial beings wear white
Rev. 3:4, 5; 6:11; 7:9, 13 – the triumphant saints wear white
Rev. 19:14 – the saints return with Christ on white horses
We are given a description of the throne, but not the One who is sitting there
God/Jesus seated there
Because of the description of the throne, we know that only two individuals could occupy it – God and Jesus
PRINCIPLE – God is holy (God the Father or Son of God)
1 Samuel 2:2, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”
That God is holy, means that He is completely pure, without sin
The same is true of Jesus Christ, He is completely pure, without blemish, which is why He was the only One who could take our punishment for sin
2 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
That’s the awesome reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
We cannot take care of our sin problem on our own, we have to have a substitute
Jesus willingly took our place on the cross – He bore all of our sin in His body on the cross
Because of that ultimate, selfless, sacrifice on the cross, God sees us as righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ, when we repent of our sins, turn to Him and follow Him
That’s why He is able to sit on the great white throne and judge justly, because He is holy!
Is it God or Jesus sitting on the great white throne?
Naturally we would answer that it is God sitting on the throne
Because the Father and the Son are One, we could say that they are both sitting on the throne
Jesus sitting on the throne to judge has some great Biblical backing
John 5:22, 26-27, Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, . . . For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
Acts 10:42, He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
2 Timothy 4:1, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:
There are other passages as well that talk about Jesus being the One who is given authority to judge
While John simply mentions him who was seated on it, we can know with confidence that he is referring to Jesus
As this scene unfolds, we see that the Earth and sky flee from his presence
Earth and sky flee
“The Morgan sea gypsies are a small tribe of 181 fishermen who spend much of the year on their boats fishing in the Andaman Sea from India to Indonesia and back to Thailand. In December, though, they live in shelters on the beaches of Thailand. In December 2004, in the hours before the killer Tsunami crashed ashore, the Morgan sea gypsies were living on those beaches. They were in harm's way and would have likely all perished—had they not listened to their elders.
For generations, the elders of the tribe had passed along one piece of wisdom. The tribe's 65-year-old village chief Sarmao Kathalay says, “The elders told us that if the water recedes fast it will reappear in the same quantity in which it disappeared.”
And that is exactly what happened. The sea drained quickly from the beach, leaving stranded fish flopping on the shore. How easy it would have been for those who live off of the sea to run down where the water had been minutes ago and fill every basket available with fish. Some people did just that in other areas of South Thailand. Not the Morgan sea gypsies. When the water receded from the beach, the tribal chief ordered every one of the 181 tribal members to run to a temple in the mountains of South Surin Island. When the waters crashed ashore, the 181 sea gypsies were safe on high ground.” (Craig Brian Larson, Arlington Heights, Illinois; source: "How 'Sea Gypsies' Survived the Tsunami," Associated Press, as seen in) [https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2005/january/15717.html]
No place to hide
When the sixth seal was opened, the inhabitants of the earth hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountain
Read Revelation 6:12-17
“John sees a great white throne and One seated on it from whom the earth and sky fled away, and yet there was in the end no place to seek asylum. The One who sits on the throne is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. One cannot avoid the presence of an omnipresent God nor seek asylum from an omniscient and omnipotent God.” [Patterson, The New American Commentary, Revelation, 359]
There will be no place for unbelievers to hide from the judgment of God
Preparation for the new heaven and the new earth
That’s what John sees next in Revelation 21
Isaiah 51:6, Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, my righteousness will never fail.
Read Romans 8:18-22
2 Peter 3:10-12, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
John tells us that there was no place for the Earth and sky to go – judgment and destruction has come
We see from verse 11 that Jesus is the Judge, but who is being judged and what are they being judged on?
Judgment (vv. 12-13)
Who all is being judged?
There are two beliefs that we’ll look at briefly
The minority belief
They believe that both believers and unbelievers are being judged at the great white throne
They point to the book of life being mentioned in verse 12 as one indicator that it is talking about believers and then verse 13 would be referring to unbelievers
They also reference Revelation 20:4 as only the martyrs being raised to life to reign with Christ for a thousand years
So, where is the judgment of the believers?
The majority belief
Most scholars hold to the belief that only unbelievers are being judged at the great white throne
They distinguish between the “Judgment Seat of Christ” (The Bema Seat of Judgment) and the “Great White Throne Judgment”
They use Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; and 2 Corinthians 5:10 as references to the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers
They definitely believe that all of humanity will stand in judgment before Jesus Christ, but they only see unbelievers represented in Revelation 20:12-13
There is also the idea that when it is speaking about the dead, it is referring to the spiritually dead (unbelievers)
I lean towards the majority belief, that only unbelievers are being judged at the Great White Throne Judgment
If we remove the modern Bible translation paragraph headings and read it like John’s audience would have, then what we find in the context is important
The vast, innumerable army that Satan rallies after being released from the Abyss are all devoured by fire from heaven
Satan in thrown into the lake of burning sulfur with the beast and the false prophet, then John sees the great white throne and Jesus sitting in judgment
It seems in the context that Jesus immediately judges those who have been devoured by fire from heaven
It is these spiritually dead, together with the spiritually dead who physically died in the past, that are being judged
PRINCIPLE – We will all stand before Jesus in judgment.
So, whether the great white throne judgment is only unbelievers or both believers and unbelievers, the principle remains the same
We see this Matthew 25:31-33, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
We’ll see more of Jesus’ teaching about this in just a moment
There is no escape from judgment – no one is exempt
Dead standing before the throne (vv. 12a, 13a)
It seems logical that the dead mentioned in verse 12a are referring to those who have just been devoured by the fire from heaven
Then in verse 13a we see unbelievers, who physically died in the past, being resurrected for their final judgment
It doesn’t matter if they died by drowning in the sea, without their body being recovered, or if they died on land and had a proper burial
From wherever they died, they will be resurrected to stand before the great white throne and Jesus Christ
John also sees that some books are opened
Books were opened
One of the books is identified as the book of life, which will play an important role when unbelievers are punished in verse 15
The other books are not specifically identified
The fact that “books” is plural means that there are multiple books being referenced
Some commentators identify them as the “books of works” simply because the unbelievers are being judged based on what they had done
That’s what we see in the second half of verses 12 and 13
Judged according to what they had done (vv. 12b, 13b)
Let’s return, then, to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25
We already know from Jesus’ teaching in verses 31-33 that everyone, both believers and unbelievers, will stand before His throne and He will separate them
What we see next is Jesus addressing those on his right, first, then those on his left
The righteous (Matt. 25:34-40)
He calls those on his right blessed and invites them to enjoy the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world
He then lists the things they had done for Him without even thinking about it (fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, invited strangers in, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited prisoners)
The righteous wonder when they had done these things for the Lord and he tells them that if they have done it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters, they did it to him
The unrighteous (Matt. 25:41-45)
Those on his left he calls cursed and tells them to leave him and enter into the eternal fire prepared for them
Their deeds did not include feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting strangers in, clothing the naked, or visiting the incarcerated
The king tells them that if they did not do it to one of the least of these, they did not do it to him
The final verse of Matt. 25 says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (v. 46)
PRINCIPLE – Jesus will judge unbelievers on their own righteousness.
When unbelievers stand before Jesus at the great white throne, they will be judged on their own righteous acts
Unfortunately, they will realize that their righteous acts are nothing more than filthy rags in Jesus’ eyes
Our good deeds, our righteous acts are not what gets us into heaven, where we will have eternal life
Our name has to be written in the book of life
John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
God’s standard requires a perfect sacrifice for sin
Jesus was that perfect sacrifice
No human being is perfect, because we are all born with a “want to” to sin
Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Romans 5:8-11, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Our names will be written in the book of life if we believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life
My Next Step Today Is To: Repent of my sins and believe in Jesus as the way and the truth and the life.
If we decide to reject God’s perfect plan of reconciliation, then we will stand before Jesus some day and be judged on our own righteousness
Our “righteousness” falls short.
Once the verdict comes down, “guilty,” then the punishment is announced
Punishment (vv. 14-15)
Death and Hades punished
Death and Hades are both “personifications of the realm of evil” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 722]
Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire
The lake of fire is the second death – spiritual death, complete separation from God for eternity
The book of life is the primary source for determining whether or not a person goes to heaven or hell
The “books of works” simply lists the good and bad things individuals have done, but they have no authority when it comes to salvation, eternal life, and entering heaven
Only the book of life has that authority
Is your name in the book of life?
Have you repented of your sins and turned to Jesus as the way and the truth and the life?
Have you been justified by believing that Jesus took your punishment for sin when He died on the cross, was buried, and came alive again?
Your own righteous acts will only be written in the books of works and not the book of life
Take time to make sure your name is in the book of life today!
Our righteous acts should come from a heart that has been transformed by the power of the Gospel
We don’t do good to gain favor with God, we do good because of what God has done for us
James talks about faith and action working together
They are not mutually exclusive
James 2:15-17, 21-22, Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. . . . Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
As followers of Jesus Christ we will be judged on our faith and actions working together (James and Jesus both said it)
Where are you with faith and actions working together?
Jesus gave us a short list in Matthew 25 of some of the things we should be doing to show our faith in action
Feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting strangers in, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison
This is just a starting point for us as believers
Are you involved in at least one of these activities on a regular basis?
My Next Step Today Is To: Show that my faith and actions are working together by serving others in some capacity.
As I mentioned last week we have responsibility as believers to share the Gospel with those in our sphere of influence
We also have the responsibility to take care of those who are in need
We have teams that serve at the Gettysburg Soup Kitchen and the Upper Adams Food Pantry
We are collecting items throughout this year for Operation Christmas Child
There are shut-ins who just want someone to talk to and visit with
There are children, youth, and adults who are looking for someone to disciple them or teach them
There are many other opportunities to serve those in our community
“After moving to a new state, I walked into the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my new driver's license. Imagine my surprise when the guy behind the desk said he couldn't help me because my license was suspended.
I said, "There must be some mistake. I've never done anything to deserve that."
The civil servant was very civil and said I had to clear up the problem with the State of Massachusetts before he could help me. I hadn't lived in Massachusetts for 10 years, so I couldn't imagine what was wrong. But five long distance phone calls later, I found that it was no mistake—the law had finally caught up with me. When I'd moved from that state a decade before, I owed part of an excise tax of two dollars.
Blissfully unaware that I was a scofflaw, the tiny little bill began to work hard accruing penalties and interest. That bill had to be settled—and I had to pay for a new Massachusetts driver's license and registration for a car that had long ago become scrap metal—before I could become legal in my new home state. The price tag was nearly $300.
The whole thing made me a lot embarrassed. It wasn't so much the money that bothered me. It was knowing that I was guilty—on the wrong side of the law for all those years without even being aware of it.
How shocking it will be for those who stand before the God of the Universe one day and realize, for the first time, that he holds them accountable.”