The Great White Throne, Revelation 20:11-15

But on May 11th, 1960, it would be his last time passing the familiar field with its Jacuranda trees.  He would never see their purple blooms again. On this day 3 men appeared out of nowhere…

Justice is every man getting whats due him.  And justice comes to every man eventually.

If I can I’d like to take you back to 1960 in Argentina.  Politically it was a time of uncertainty as the civil government was overthrown and replaced by a new military regime.  Our story takes place outside of Buenos Aires where a man was riding a rickety bus home from work like he did every day.  About a ½ mile walk or so from his home he walked the same path every day. Along that path he passed the same field twice every day: once on his way to work and again on his way home from the bus stop.  He loved the Jacaranda trees and the gorgeous purple blooms they produced in November – he wished they were blooming in May.


But on May 11th, 1960, it would be his last time passing the familiar field with its Jacuranda trees.  He would never see their purple blooms again. On this day 3 men appeared out of nowhere, grabbed him, stuffed him into a car and sped away.  Since the end of WWII he had made Argentina his home, but he would never see it, or the beautiful blooms of the Jacuranda trees again.


Those 3 men who grabbed him were part of an 8 man team.  This team was a highly trained, specially designated unit within the Israeli Intelligence Agency, known as the Mossad.  Their job was to go to Argentina to kidnap a high-priority target: none other than Adolf Eichmann, the notorious organizer of the Holocaust that resulted in the murder of 5 million Jews.  Eichmann was quoted at the end of the war saying he would “leap laughing into the grave because the feeling he had 5 million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.


Like many Nazi criminals he escaped capture and trial in Europe through the infamous ratlines provided by the Nazi sympathizing Catholic church.  Given safe housing, fake papers, a new identity, and safe passage to Argentina, Eichmann lived for 15 years having escaped justice, while watching his old comrades like Hermann Goering being tried and executed at the famous Nuremberg trials.  


But justice comes to every man.  And on May 11, it caught up with Adolf Eichmann as he was secretly carried away back to Israel to face the people he tried to exterminate.  He would never see Argentina, or, the Jacuranda blooms again.  In 1962 he was hanged to death by the Jews.


Our text this morning reminds us that God has a day when justice will be brought to every man.  Here at the Great White Throne we encounter the future day of Judgment for the wicked – their day of Reckoning.  This is the day when the divine Judge will execute His justice against every evil human being who has ever lived.


The Great White Throne passage in Revelation 20


#1:  The Throne

First let’s notice this throne.  It is Great and it is White. Verse 11 says, “Then I saw a great white throne…”  It is great in that it is greater in size than any other throne.  It is greater in majesty than all other thrones. The thrones of the 24 elders will not compare (4:4); the thrones reserved for resurrected Tribulation martyrs will pale next to this throne (20:4).  Not only is it great in size and majesty, but, also in theme: this is the throne from which final, divine judgment will be executed. All who stand before this throne will be filled with awe.


And the throne is also white.  It is great, and it is white. White is the color of righteousness.  The robes of the saints are white symbolizing their righteous deeds (6:11; 19:8).  The head and hair of the Lord Jesus Christ is white (1:14). Clean, pure, unblemished white brings to mind the kind of spirituality and the quality of morality of the person in white.  Projecting the image of purity and righteousness God implored Israel: “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow; though they are crimson they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18).


This throne is Great and White, which is to say that it is Great in Righteousness.  It is the throne from which righteousness will be the standard in judgment. It is the throne that upholds and executes righteousness without fail.  And every man and woman standing before this throne will have their unrighteousness compared to and exposed by the divine righteousness of this throne.    


Application:  If my “righteousness” is compared to the pure, white righteousness of God will I pass?  Absolutely not! That is why we need the righteousness of God to be given to us by Christ.  You cannot live so righteously as God demands. You must forgoe your own effort to be moral enough, to be rightoeus enough, and, instead recieve the gift of forgiveness in Christ and with it the righteous standing before God that He gives you.  


Application #2:  Christians let us not defile our robes.  In other words, let us not live in sins that we have been saved from.  Don’t be the washed pig that returns to the mud and soil our pretty garments.  Our clothing is a euphemism for our conduct, so our application here is simply:  live for righteousness; live towards righteousness. Here is a test:  is my conduct such that it would be fitting for Jesus Christ to act or talk in the same way?  


#2:  The One Seated on the Throne

Our focus shifts from the throne to the One seated on the throne.  Verse 11, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it.”


Commentators predominantly agree that the one on the throne is Jesus Christ.  And it makes sense because repeatedly the NT declares Jesus will be the Judge.  


  • John 5:22, 26-27, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son
  • Acts 10:42, “He [Jesus Christ] is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”
  • Acts 17:31, “For He [God] has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed [Jesus Christ].  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:1, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead…”

The One who became a man to save mankind will judge all mankind.


#3:  The Earth and Sky Disappear

Next we move from the Creator to the creation, and we see how the creation moves away from its Creator, “Earth and sky fled from His presence…

I remember one time at a restaurant before a Bible study I was talking with a young
waiter.  We had talked several times and I really liked him.  I learned from earlier conversations that he was studying science in college and that he believed in
evolution. During this particular conversation I asked him a question:  where do you think everything in the world is leading to?  He said quite passionately that humans were ruining the earth with pollution and wars. I could tell he was sincerely concerned and so I tried to encourage him with a Biblical promise. I said, “You know I would agree with you except that the Bible says God will preserve this earth long enough so He can destroy it Himself with fire.” I could tell from his expression he had never heard that before.  Of course, after He destroys the first earth he is going to create a new earth. The
point here is that if a new earth is going to be here forever then God intends for us to
live on it.


What is happening is the termination of the universe as it now exists.  It is uncreation – the reverse of creating. In 2 Peter 3:10, it says, “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….and verse 12 says, “That day will bring about the destruction of the ehavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”  All prophecy will be accomplished when this finally happens, Jesus said in Matthew 5:18, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  


What is left is man and His Maker.  Theologically this is important: man has vilely committed idolatry with God’s creation – rejecting the Creator to worship the things created by the Creator:  animals, stars, the sun, using wood and stone to form images to bow down to and worship. But its all gone. The things man worshipped are all destroyed and no longer exist.  Man will be forced to stand before His Creator, the One he refused to worship, now to receive his due for his rebellion.


And there is nowhere to hide.  That thought struck me when i read the words “earth and sky fled from his presence…”  Man will have absolutely nothing in existence to hide him from his Judge.  Originally in the garden, when man sinned, he hid from God among the trees God created. But standing before this great white throne there will be nothing there to hide him from those divine eyes of the Only True and Living God.  


Application:  What created things are we looking to instead of God?  What blessings from the Creator are we loving more than the Creator?  Jesus said heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  His words are our eternal treasure. Everything else is terminal.


#4:  The Assembly of the Dead

Fourthly we come to the Assembly of the Dead.  Verse 12 begins with, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne…”  


What is this scene?  This is the final and ultimate moment of divine reckoning on all wickedness throughout human history.  This is the point where the wicked of history are finally resurrected and assembled before God for their judgment.  “For a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice [the Son of Man/Jesus Christ] and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”  (John 5:28-29).  Daniel was told about this judgment in Daniel 12:2, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life and others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  The Great White Throne is the time for those others to awaken, not to everlasting life and glory but to everlasting shame and contempt.


First of all, everyone – absolutely everyone – is going to be called to account and get their due for their evil.  You see that the “big” and the “small”, the movers and shakers of human history and the nobodies will all be called to account for their evil.  It won’t be only the Hitlers and the Stalins who stand before this throne, it will be the everyday sinners too, as J.B. Phillips says it so well:… Read Phillips quote 242-243.  


See how the Apostle says he saw “both the great and small”.  No one will be such a big shot that they will get a pass for their wickedness.  God is unimpressed with human wealth, prestige, and power when it comes to rebellion against Him.  Just as importantly we see that the little man has no advantage for being a nobody in history. He is not so small and insignificant that God will not take note of his sins.  


Secondly, notice the description of this assembly is that they are dead.  To say someone is dead means means two things. First it means that they are separated from the life of God due to their sins.  Ephesians 2:1 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”.  Verse 5 says, “But Christ made you alive even when you were dead in your transgressions…”  Colossians 2:13 says, “You were dead in your sins…”  Jesus affirmed the death-state of unsaved people when He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  THis is what Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus was getting at when he heard the words, “You must be born again…”, He meant you must be born in a different way than the physical birth you already have had Nicodemus, you must be born in a spiritual way, you must be born from your spiritual death into spiritual life.  And just to be clear Nicodemus: you can’t do it yourself. You must come alive spiritually and only I, Jesus, can do that for you.


The people standing before the Great White throne never came to life spiritually.  They rejected God; they rejected Christ; they had a life and they thought it was enough, but it wasn’t.  Therefore they were raised up from death to death.


But secondly someone who is spiritually dead is also condemned by God.  God is against someone who is dead. His holiness and His righteousness are offended by the dead person’s sins and His wrath is stoked by the person’s transgressions.  And that condemnation will be consummated at the Great White Throne of Judgment.


#5:  The Opened Books

Next we see these opened books.  I saw the dead great and small standing before the throne and books were opened….The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”  


Everything is remembered and recorded about our lives.  It’s all on record in the court of heaven. Everything that someone has done as the text says.  Everything we’ve said, Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “I tell you the truth men will have to give an account for every careless word they have spoken.”  Everything someone has thought in their hearts or minds, “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” (1 Cor. 4:5)


Application:  Be sure that justice will be done.  The books ensure perfect justice will be done:  no one will get more than their due and no one will get off with less than their due.  God’s perfect knowledge, His “all-knowingness” will ensure that, as seen in the books.


Application:  Since our lives are seen by heaven let us live for heaven.  


Application:  Do not be judged for your sins.  Understand that Christianity is the salvation from this very event:  you beign judged for your sins. God loves you and sent Jesus for the very purpose of dying in your place, taking your penalty on the cross and brining God’s grace and forgiveness to you.  Anyone who rejects that chooses to be judged for their own sins. They will never survive.


#6:  The Lake of Fire

So, like there are two resurrections, there are also two deaths.  Did you see verse 6? “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection.  The second death has no power over them.”  You might even remember when Jesus encouraged the believers in Smyrna back in 2:11 not to be afraid of dying for their faith when He said, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”  


What is this second death that they are insured against?  The answer is in 20:14, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.”  This is the final, permanent place of separation from God.  The first death is physical death, what each of us will experience.  It’s when our souls are separated from our bodies; our bodies go into the ground and our spirits go to be with the Lord.  


The second death is the separation of the whole person from the presence and blessings of God forever.  The second death involves not just the location separate from God, but, the condition experienced for all eternity apart from God:  never-ending fire and brimstone, weeping and gnashing of teeth, suffering and torment. The location and the agonizing condition experienced in that location is called the second death.


The Bible does not teach annihilation – the idea that God obliterates unsaved people entirely from existence.  Nor does the Bible teach soul sleep, an unconscious existence for eternity. The Bible says that people who are not saved will be resurrected (Rev. 20:12; John 5:28-29), judged, and heaved into the Lake of Fire – fully conscious, forever under the painful torments of this awful place.  We will explore this more as well as the Bible’s teaching on death in the next week when we study the Great White Throne of Judgment.

Death, biblically, means separation.  The first death is the separation of the soul from the body.  The body goes into the ground, now unanimated by the soul. The soul however, fully conscious, fully awake and aware, entirely able to perceive, and possessing all the faculties of the mind, goes either to be with the Lord in heaven or in Hades.  This the first death. The second death is another kind of separation: separation of the whole person from God permanently in a place called the Lake of Fire, cut off from the blessings and presence of God forever. “It is not the dead who praise you but the living” the Psalmist said (Psalm 115:17).

This state of being dead is the condition every human being is born into since Adam and Eve.  The whole human race is spiritually dead – separated from and lacking the spiritual life that God gives.  Sure we are up walking around, talking, working, achieving, loving, creating, solving, doing this and that.  But we are literally dead before God even while we live and breathe. But it goes further: being dead, being separated from God because of our sins, we are under the condemnation of God.  



No one will escape justice.  But God, the Judge, has made a way for us to do just that.  Jesus is the one and only way a man may avoid getting what’s due to him.  Jesus is the only One who can remove a man from the wrath of God and place that man in the scope of God’s grace.  Grace, remember, is the opposite of justice:  not getting what’s due to you.  How can that be?  Is God unjust?  No, never.  The penalty for sins was paid at the cross and God is satisfied with the payment His Son made there.  If you will not accept the payment Jesus made for you, then, God will demand payment from you.  But, if you accept Jesus Christ’s death for you then God will forgive you for all your sins and give you everlasting life:  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:1)

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