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11. The Great White Throne Of Judgment

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What is the great white throne of judgment? The great white throne of judgment is where Christ will ultimately judge unbelievers. Revelation 20:11-14 describes this judgment:

Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.

Characteristics

What are characteristics of this judgment?

1. At the judgment, deceased unbelievers will be raised to life and judged according to their works—including thoughts, words, and actions which are being accurately recorded in divine books.

Various verses describe how Christ will judge people’s works and specifically the works of unbelievers. Romans 2:5-6, 8-9, and 16 say,

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! He will reward each one according to his works: … wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek. … on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.

Also, Matthew 12:36-37 says, “I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

2. At the judgment, people will receive differing degrees of punishment based on the deeds they committed (Rev 20:12).

The degrees of punishment will be affected by how much revelation each person was exposed to and disobeyed. Christ described this in Luke 12:47-48 when he said:

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.

Degrees of punishment are also implied by how Christ talked about the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. In Matthew 11:21-24, he said:

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you! And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!

Since Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had experienced so many of Christ’s miracles and not repented, they would receive greater punishments than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom—all cities that God judged severely for their sins. At the great white judgment, various degrees of punishment will be meted out based on peoples’ deeds and exposure to God’s truth.

3. At the judgment, believers will participate in condemning the guilty.

Various verses describe how believers will participate in the final judgment. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:1-3, Paul said this to the Corinthians who were going to secular judges to get their disputes decided:

When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!

Paul said that believers will eventually judge the world and angels. Revelation 20:4 may refer to believers who will participate in these judgments. It says, “Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge.” Though it does not say who is sitting on the thrones, it most likely refers to believers. Likewise, in Matthew 19:28, Christ said this to his disciples: “… I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Wayne Grudem’s comments on this are enlightening:

This accords with the fact that throughout the history of redemption God has from time to time given the right to exercise judgment into the hands of human authorities, whether Moses and the elders who assisted him, the judges of Israel whom God raised up during the period of the judges, the wise kings such as David and Solomon, the civil government of many nations (see Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–14), or those who have authority to rule and govern within the church and to oversee the exercise of church discipline.1

Believers participating in the final judgment is similar to how God has used people (not just believers) to participate in making judgments throughout history. In Romans 13:4, Paul called government “God’s servant” and in 1 Corinthians 3:9, he called believers “coworkers” with God.

Applications

What are some practical applications from this judgment?

1. The great white throne of judgment reminds us that God is just.

As we look at the world today, at times people may be tempted to doubt God’s justice. Children are aborted daily, people are enslaved and trafficked, the wealthy commonly commit crimes and go unpunished, while the poor suffer. However, though the world is often unfair today, God will eventually make all things right. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.” God will not be mocked. People will be judged for their evil works.

2. The great white throne of judgment reminds us that we can freely forgive.

It is often hard for people to accept Christ’s teaching about loving and blessing our enemies (Matt 5:44). His teaching seems to go against our natural sense of right and wrong—those who hurt us should pay, and at times, we should participate in dishing out the payment. However, when we understand that God has reserved vengeance for himself, it frees us to love those who hurt us, while trusting that God will bring justice in his time. In Romans 12:19-21, Paul said:

Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

With that said, this does not mean that we should never seek justice. God has given the authorities to pursue justice by rewarding those who do right and punishing those who do wrong (Rom 13:1-5). We should certainly never take vengeance into our hands; however, if we feel led to pursue justice, we should use the governing authorities (including parents, teachers, church elders, employers, police, mayors, governors, and presidents) which God has given for that purpose.

3. The great white throne of judgment reminds us of our need to evangelize.

In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter said that God is delaying Christ’s return to judge because he is “patient” and “because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Therefore, in this time of God’s patience, we must faithfully share the message that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins so that we would not be condemned, and that we must repent of our sins and believe in him as our Lord and Savior to be saved.

Conclusion

The great white throne of judgment will be where Christ resurrects unbelievers and judges them for their works. Each deed, thought, and word are being documented in divine books. Because God is just, each person will receive what he or she deserves. Some will receive severe judgments and others less severe, based on the amount of revelation they received and what they did with it. Because believers are co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17), they will participate in this judgment (1 Cor 6:1-3). This judgment reminds us that God is just, and because of that, justice will ultimately be accomplished, even though it may at times seem like people are getting away with various sins and injustices.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What is the great white throne of judgment?
  3. What are characteristics of this judgment?
  4. What are some applications for believers which can be taken from this final judgment?
  5. What questions do you have from the reading?

Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown

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1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (pp. 1145–1146). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)

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