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The Great White Throne, the Last Judgment,

and the Outer Darkness

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Question #1:  Dr. Luginbill, Grace and peace be multiplied to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I am in a bible chat group and have been trying to explain that the G.W.T. judgment is for the unrighteous only. So a question was fired back at me stating asking if this means that all the people born during the millennium are going to be damned? I believe the person wanted to know when the righteous born during the millennium would be judged. I could not answer him. Could you help me out? In Christ.

Response #1:  Well, by that standard we might all be damned, since the precise time of the judgment of the rest of the righteous is not specifically laid down in scripture either. But then it doesn't need to be. There is plenty of scriptural evidence to show that the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15 involves unbelievers only. For one thing, the Bible is very clear on the point that when we are resurrected, we are rewarded, and that as believers our judgment is one of reward rather than of condemnation (cf. 1Cor.3:12-15; 2Cor.5:10) – and there is of course not a hint of reward at the Great White Throne (whose end is “the lake of fire” in Rev.20:15).

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Luke 14:13-14 NIV

Behold, I am coming quickly (i.e., the 2nd Advent and the time of resurrection), and I bring my wages with me which to repay each according to his work.
Revelation 22:12

Resurrection and entrance into full eternal life is inextricable from the rewards for which we hope, because it is at our resurrection that we are rewarded, and our reward forms a significant part of the hope of eternal life which of course cannot be separated from the resurrection of our bodies. Scripture does talk about the reward of the millennial believers (i.e., they are the “sheep” of the “sheep and goats judgment” in Matthew 25:31-46) and also about their resurrection:

But each [will be resurrected] in his own echelon. Christ [is the] first-fruits (i.e., the initial person and echelon of resurrection). Next [will be] those belonging to Christ at His coming [all believers at the 2nd Advent]. Then the end [of human history - the resurrection of millennial believers], when He will hand the Kingdom over to the Father, after He has brought an end to all rule, all power, and all authority (i.e., hostile human and angelic control). For He must rule until He has placed all His enemies under His feet. 1st Corinthians 15:23-25 (cf. Psalm 110:1)

By putting together the time of resurrection with the time of reward that we get an answer to your question: Millennial believers must also be rewarded at resurrection, and that resurrection must take place before the destruction of the present heavens and earth and their replacement by the new heavens and earth. According to the above scriptures, millennial believers must follow the same pattern of “reward following resurrection” as does our Lord (who received the Name above every name: Phil.2:9-11), and the same pattern of “reward following resurrection” as do we (Is.40:10; 60:11c; 62:11; cf. Rom.8:18-25), receiving their reward "at the end" (1Cor.15:24), being resurrected at the conclusion of history. In this all three echelons of the resurrection are identical, with entrance into full eternal life being inextricable from the rewards for which we hope.

But that the Great White Throne judgment is of unbelievers only, there is plenty of scriptural evidence. Firstly, we know that the Bible is careful to distinguish between the resurrection of the righteous and that of the unrighteous:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.        Daniel 12:2 NIV

Truly, truly I say to you that an hour is coming, and is now [imminent] when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear it will come to life. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given authority to Him to render judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this [statement], that an hour will come in which all those in their tombs will hear His voice and will come forth. For they shall come forth - those who have done what is good to a resurrection of life (i.e., those who have faithfully followed Jesus Christ), but those who have done what is worthless to a [separate] resurrection of judgment.
John 5:25-29
 

Unbelievers face the inevitable "judgment" of condemnation after death (Heb.9:27), that is, the Great White Throne, while believers have passed from the terrifying expectation of such judgment into eternal life (Jn.3:17-18; cf. Heb.10:27). We are evaluated for reward (1Cor.3:12-14), but they face a judgment of fiery condemnation, one which they cannot escape since they have rejected God's work in Jesus Christ and must now stand judgment on the basis of their own evil works (Jn.3:18).

Moreover, some believers have clearly already been resurrected, evaluated, and rewarded by the time of the Great White Throne judgment (cf. Rev.20:4-7). Yet the Great White Throne judgment is described as being comprehensive. The only way it can be comprehensive and not include some believers is if it doesn't include any believers (which it does not), but does include all unbelievers (which it does). We see this division clearly in the other passage which refers to this event, the judgment of the "sheep and the goats" in Matthew 25:31-46. The two groups are separated, and the judgment that is leveled upon the goats comes after the sheep have already gone into eternal life, rewarded for what they have done for the Lord (NIV's "then" in verse 46 is not in the Greek text). Thus the entire resurrection of the righteous is completed (the sheep are the third and final echelon) before the G.W.T.'s comprehensive judgment of all unbelievers.

Finally, in Revelation 20:11, there are numerous indications that this judgment is of unbelievers only. The context is one of awe and foreboding (cf. the same contrast between judgment and the New Jerusalem which we have here also in Heb.12:18-24). The throne is imposing. Earth and sky flee from our Lord's presence. Books of judgment are opened. The sea, death, and Hades are all evil places to be avoided (see the links: "The Sea as an Indication of Divine Judgment", "The Fourth Seal", and "The Keys to Death and Hades"). The dead come from these horrid places (so that they can hardly be believers who enter into life when we go to be with the Lord). They are all judged according to their deeds instead of having their sins remitted on the basis of what Christ has done. All of these things bespeak the presence of unbelievers but none of them is consistent with those being judged being believers.

The “book of life” deserves special mention as it is also a clear indication that the context here in Revelation 20 is one of judgment. This point is widely misunderstood (see the link: "The Book of Life"). Everyone is “written in the book” originally, because God had ordained His Son to pay for sin since before the world began. He came into the world not to condemn, but that all might have life through Him (Jn.3:16-17). Unbelievers do stand already condemned at the last judgment, but because they have not believed (Jn.3:18). Rejection of God through the rejection of the Savior is the reason for "blotting out" one's name (cf. Ex.32:32-33). This step of the judgment process is the safeguard ensuring that no true believer in Jesus Christ will be condemned, but in our context here, it shows with certainty that no one involved in the Great White Throne judgment falls into that category, and instead all who are so judged at that time are "cast into the lake of fire".

Taken all together, it seems clear that the correct understanding of the biblical picture of these events is that at the end of history, there will take place two judgments: the first of the those who, alive or dead, are believers in Jesus Christ – these will be resurrected in the final echelon of the “resurrection of the living” and will receive their rewards at that time (i.e., the judgment of the sheep); the second of those who, alive or dead, are not believers – these will be resurrected in the comprehensive single echelon resurrection of judgment (i.e., the judgment of the goats, also known as the Great White Throne judgment). Millennial believers thus have nothing at all to worry about just as we have nothing at all to worry about, and it certainly behooves us as believers in Jesus Christ to give attention to this important doctrine of resurrection and reward on at least a daily basis, reminding ourselves in the Spirit that we are living for what is to come, not for what exists on this corrupt earth. For even though we would gain everything this world has to offer but lose our share in the resurrection and the rewards that accompany it, that gain would be as pointless as it were short-lived. But the eternal life we shall enjoy with our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ forever, and the rewards we are earning for serving Him and our fellow believers will endure forever and ever. Amen!

You can find out more about all of this at the following links:

*The Last Judgment (in CT 6)

       The Great White Throne Judgment.

       The Book of Life (in CT 4)

       “I will not erase his name from the book of life” (in CT 2A)

       1st Peter 18: "Eternal Rewards"

*The Judgment and Reward of the Church: the three crowns


Hope this helps. Keep up your good work for the kingdom of God!

In the One who is our hope of glory and reward forevermore, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Based upon this study I am enclosing, I now believe that the Bible does not teach eternal punishment and suffering.
 

Response #2:

You are free to believe what you will. However, this false doctrine is a particularly dangerous one, whether the interpretation of this incorrect premise be taken to mean that suffering is temporary or that unbelievers face oblivion after judgment (rather than the biblical “hell” of the lake of fire). For on the one hand, the first interpretation is sometimes used to suggest that damnation is based upon bad deeds (whereas true evil is the result of unbelief and condemnation only occurs for rejecting Jesus Christ, actively or passively), and therefore to support the idea of a “purgatory” where one can suffer for a while and “pay off” whatever wrong they have done (and so gives people a completely false idea about the ways of salvation through faith in Christ and false hope that no matter what they may “eventually” get to heaven apart from true salvation, only having to “suffer off” their evil deeds first). On the other hand, many unbelievers take great comfort in the false notion that they only have oblivion to face after death. Indeed, entire schools of philosophy have been based upon this premise (e.g., Epicureanism), and many current religions make this incorrect premise a major source of false comfort. Scripture, however, says otherwise. The letter you include is filled with twisted argumentation, but no scriptures which directly (or even indirectly) support this false claim. But if we look to the Bible, the truth is very clear.
 

It is appointed unto men to die once, and, after that, judgment is in store.
Hebrews 9:27
 

So, all are judged after death, which means by necessity that even the unrighteous are to be resurrected and if resurrected, then to inhabit said body of resurrection forever (since resurrection is by definition unchangeable). And this resurrection of the unrighteous is well documented in scripture:
 

Truly, truly I say to you that an hour is coming, and is now [imminent] when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear it will come to life. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given authority to Him to render judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this [statement], that an hour will come in which all those in their tombs will hear His voice and will come forth. For they shall come forth - those who have done what is good to a resurrection of life, but those who have done what is worthless to a resurrection of judgment.
John 5:25-29
 

Further, this resurrection of the unrighteous is accompanied by eternal fire:
 

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous (i.e., “shall have already gone into”) to eternal life."
Matthew 25:41-46 NIV

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
Matthew 18:8 NIV
 

Thus the lake of fire is the second death where the punishment is eternal and from which there is no escape as the scriptures make crystal clear:
 

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10 KJV

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Revelation 20:14 KJV
 

So the stakes are huge: eternal life or eternal death – just as our Lord and His apostles and all the books of the Bible proclaim. Attempting to take away the "sting of death" is a cruel, deceptive heresy, because it removes a major motivation for turning away from the world and to our Lord. And as the scriptures quoted above make very clear, it also happens to be a lie.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through whom we have eternal life.

Bob L.
 

Question #3: 

My family and I participate in a home church of sorts on Sunday that isn't very large. However, we attempt, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to understand the True meaning of God's Word. Just finishing up Matthew we spoke at great lengths about "the outer darkness" that is spoken about in Jesus's parables. What do you feel that it is? My friend feels that when this world is all said and done the "overcomer's" in Christ, those who have given their all for Him in this life, will end up in the "Kingdom" where they will participate in the wedding feast. All the rest of the people will be out in the outer darkness, a place of cleansing and renewal for those saved (regenerated) Christians who chose not to gather enough oil...such as the virgins in Matthew. Call it a second chance, my father doesn't believe that everyone is going to be at the wedding feast. What do you think?
 

Response #3:

I'm afraid I have to disagree with your friend. Scripture is very consistent on this issue. We have plenty of chances to choose for the Lord, and if we don't, or if our choice isn't firm enough to maintain it until the end, we have made a choice that we would make even if we had a million choices. Christ's work is sufficient to cleanse and regenerate and justify everyone, and the basis of our reception of that wonderful grace is faith, not works (Eph.2:8-9). There is nothing we could ever do (or have done to us) that could ever be sufficient to cleanse away the least of our sins in God's eyes. Only the blood of Christ can redeem from sin. We are not redeemed in this life through what we do or suffer but instead by virtue of our faith in what Christ did for us. If that is true now, how could it possibly be any different on the other side of this life (please see the link: "Is there a 'purgatory' in the Bible?")?

As to the outer darkness in particular, it is a little appreciated fact that what is colloquially referred to as "hell" will be dark, not bright. People tend to associate the well-known quality of eternal fire with the light that fire produces, but, when you think about it, it really does make sense for hell to be dark. Darkness is undesirable and painful (e.g., Rev.16:10-11), whereas God is light completely separated from darkness (e.g., 1Jn.1:5). And the contrast between the darkness of evil, self-separated from God, and the light of God's goodness, in all that He does and is, is ubiquitous in scripture, with darkness very specifically coming as a result of divine judgment, the very point which underlies this discussion (see the link: in SR#2 "The Darkness"). The specific descriptions of the "outer darkness" in the Bible show pretty clearly in my view that this is an alternative name for the "lake of fire", the ultimate destination for all fallen angels and all human beings who refuse to accept God's alternative of the light – in their lives they loved darkness rather than light, so this is where and how they will spend all eternity in accordance with their own free will choices against the advice, will, and sacrifice of God on their behalf. Here is a section from the previously noted link that directly addresses this:

The picture of "hell", as it is commonly understood, differs in the Bible quite substantially from many of the popular accounts with which we may be familiar. One difference apropos of our topic is that hell will be a place of terrible and unbearable darkness. This is despite the fact that hell is also described as a lake of burning sulfur and fire (Is.66:15-16 & 24; Dan.7:9-11; Matt.3:11-12; 5:22; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mk.9:43 & 48; Jas.3:6; Rev.19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). Here is the "outer darkness" that will deprive its inhabitants - those who rejected Christ in life - of the very thing they so stubbornly rejected in life, i.e., "light" (Jn.3:19-21). Just as the darkness of the Exodus plague (Ex.10:21) and the bowl judgment of Revelation (Rev.16:10-11) are tangible, this too will be a palpable, painful darkness (Matt.8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Even now, this particular type of supernatural darkness and fire exists in the interim hell (for unbelieving humans: Lk.16:24; 2Pet.2:17; Jude 13) and Tartarus (for certain of the fallen angels: 2Pet.2:4; Jude 6), although the ultimate "lake of fire" has yet to receive its first inhabitants (Rev.19:20; 20:10).

The specific phrase "outer darkness" occurs three times in the New Testament, all in the book of Matthew (Matt.8:12; 22:13; 25:30), but it is significant to note that in Matthew 13:42 and 13:50 the same companion phrase used with the "outer darkness" passages, namely, "weeping and gnashing of teeth", is definitely connected with the "fiery furnace", a clear reference to the lake of the fire, the place of eternal judgment for all unbelievers (cf. Is.66:15-16 & 24; Dan.7:9-11; Matt.3:11-12; 5:22; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mk.9:43 & 48; Jas.3:6; Rev.19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). "Outer darkness" is thus another way to describe this place of eternal "weeping and gnashing of teeth" rather than a different, separate and distinct place. This interpretation is solidified when the contexts of the three "outer darkness" passages are considered, for they are all passages which speak of eternal condemnation for unbelief:

1) Matthew 8:12: In the prophecy of the rejection of the "sons of the kingdom", Jesus is obviously drawing a contrast between the remarkable faith of the gentile centurion and the remarkable lack of faith of the majority of the generation of Israel to whom He had come. This man and other gentiles will "recline at the feast", the wedding supper of the Lamb, when Jesus returns at the Second Advent, while the unbelievers by way of contrast will "be thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth". Luke's account of this parable is more extensive and he places it in conjunction with the narrow door (Lk.13:22-30), an unmistakable reference to the need to choose the narrow way of eternal life as opposed to the broad way which leads to death (outer darkness); cf. v.25 those outside are "pleading" to come in, but Jesus says "I don't know you or where you have come from"; v.27 "get away from Me all you evil doers!"; v.28 "weeping and gnashing of teeth" and "thrown out".

2) Matthew 22:13: In the parable of the man with the unclean wedding garment, we see a similar situation where those called to the banquet (again a reference to the resurrection at the Second Advent and the wedding banquet of the Lamb to celebrate Christ's victorious return) are found not to be worthy. The man with the soiled garment represents those who, like the goats of Matthew 25, are present in the kingdom for the 1,000 year "feast" but who nonetheless do not deign to clothe themselves with the righteousness which can be had only by faith (i.e., his attire shows that he is an unbeliever, and at the end of the age he and his like will be judged and thrown into the lake of fire: on the garment issue see Rev.7:14; *16:15; 19:8; 22:1).

3) Matthew 25:30: The parable of the Talents comes in the context of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, where we have the contrast between faithful and faithless "believers" during the Great Tribulation, with the lamp referring to the light of faith empowered or kept alight by the oil of the Spirit which is the Word of God; those whose faith is weak turn apostate (i.e., become unbelievers and worship the beast; see the link: "The Great Apostasy"), while those who "endure until the end will be saved" (Matt.24:13). In the parable of the talents, the man with the one talent is not a believer since works necessarily follow true belief (e.g., Jas.2:14-26). Understand, we are not saved through works, but if we are truly saved genuine works cannot be avoided. On the other hand, unbelievers by definition cannot perform truly "good works", not even if they give a billion dollars to charity or even if they give up their life for another. Since they are not of God they are not capable of operating in the power of God; therefore nothing they do can be of His righteousness. On the other hand, even the laziest, most cowardly, most marginal believer in history who finishes life with faith intact will at least have some "interest" on his/her talent – something he/she did at some time for someone or some Christian enterprise that was empowered by God. This is unavoidable (Eph.2:10). The fact that this one-talent man has nothing at all to show for his life proves that he never put his faith in God through Jesus Christ. So the "outer darkness" where he is subsequently thrown once again by broad context and specific context refers to the just deserts of unbelievers.

It may sound harsh, but God knows everything. I have full and complete confidence in my Lord that He wants "all to be saved" (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9). Therefore He has done / will do all that is good and right and fair that may bring any and all so inclined to the point of salvation. After all, Jesus went to the cross and died for the sins of all, even those who will be eternally condemned. For us who believe, it seems inconceivable that someone would go to hell of their own free will! But remember that this is the entire story of Satan and his followers who knew and know God's goodness and greatness far better than any human being yet on earth, and who rebelled against Him nonetheless. Hard to accept or not, the truth is that by giving His creatures free will, God also of necessity gave us the opportunity to misuse that will and choose against Him. Sadly, in the history of the Plan of God, the majority of human kind has chosen the wrong road, the one that leads to outer darkness, and have done so through absolutely no fault on God's part who sacrificed His one and only Son for them. Having rejected Him, they will spend eternity apart from Him in outer darkness and fire entirely out of their own free will choice.

In our dear Lord Jesus Christ with whom we will enjoy fellowship in His glorious light forever.

Bob L.


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