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The Great White Throne Judgment

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Question:   Would you please explain the great white throne judgment. Who is being judged here? Are these deceased people, people that have never heard the gospel, through out the ages? Thanks.

Response:   The Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11 is the Last Judgment of all unbelievers.  This is covered in great detail in section VI of Coming Tribulation part 6, "The Last Judgment".  You can also find lengthy discussions under "The Time of Judgment (Peter #18)", and in part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion: The Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire.  I will, however, attempt to give you the basic overview here:

1) The Great White Throne is without question the last and the final judgment of "the dead" (Rev.20:12: "the dead were judged"). From all indications in the context of Revelation chapter 20, unbelievers are the focus. Compare 2Pet.3:7:

Now the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire by that same Word (of God), preserved for the day of judgment and the destruction of godless men.
2nd Peter 3:7

This last judgment of unbelievers follows immediately on the heels of (and is therefore closely associated with) the life-judgment of millennial believers, as is made clear in the second major description of this event, the “sheep and goats judgment” of Matthew chapter 25:31ff. Note that in that context, when the “nations are gathered” our Lord deals with those “on His right hand” first, and these are clearly the believers who enter eternal life (Matt.25:46b). Only after the believers have received their rewards are the unbelievers dealt with in verses 41-46, and this is the same as the Great White Throne judgment (cf. Jn.5:29). Notice the similarity of description in the thrones in Matt.25:31 and Rev.20:11, with the former one "of glory" and the latter "large [and] white" (cf. "white" as a color of glory on the Mount of Transfiguration: Matt.17:2).

2) So by the time the Great White Throne judgment takes place, all believers (i.e., "the living"; cf. 1Pet.4:5-6; cf. Acts 10:42; 2Tim.4:1) will have already been resurrected and judged (if only just in the case of the Millennial believers. Compare 1Cor.15:23-24, where the three echelons of the resurrection are explained: [1] Christ; [2] the Bride; [3] the believers of the Millennium whose final evaluation must have just preceded the judgment of unbelievers at the Great White Throne.

3) As an aside, it is important to note in this regard that since believers are judged in respect to their lives on this earth, and since this judgment apparently takes place in every case at the time of their resurrection, there is thus no need nor any rationale to posit any delay in our Lord's evaluation of our lives, for example, nor any indication that there would be some further judgment following the post-resurrection “judgment of life” treated extensively by scripture (Matt.16:27; 19:28; Lk.14:14; Rev.11:18; cf. Rom.14:10; 1Cor.3:10-17; 2Cor.5:10). Thus while it is true that there is apparently little or no time-lag between the evaluation of the Millennial believers and the judgment of unbelievers at the Great White Throne, clearly, the Church has by this time already been judged 1000 years prior, and has “reigned with Christ” in resurrection throughout the tenure of His Millennial Kingdom (cf. Rev.2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4-5).

4) Thus by "the dead" in Rev.20:11-15 are meant all those in the course of human history who did not come to Christ, from Cain to the last generation of unbelievers who rebel against our Lord during the Gog-Magog revolt of Revelation 20:7-10 (2Pet.4:5-6; cf. Acts 10:42; 2Tim.4:1). While everyone is judged “according to their works” (Jn.5:29; 2Cor.5:10), for believers this judgment is one of determining rewards (Matt.16:27; 19:28; Lk.14:14; Rev.11:18; cf. Rom.14:10; 1Cor.3:10-17; 2Cor.5:10), since our eternal life is based upon having God's righteousness through faith in Christ rather than upon anything we have “done” (Rom.3:21-22; 4:5; 4:13; 3:28; 5:1; 6:7; 8:1; 9:30-31; 10:6; 2Cor.5:21; Gal.2:16; Eph.2:8-9; Phil.3:9; Heb.11:7). In contrast, all unbelievers from the beginning of time are judged here at the Great White Throne “according to their works” not for rewards of course, but rather to reveal 1) that nothing a person could ever do would ever be sufficient to absolve them of a single sin apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and 2) that, indeed, everyone has committed ample sins to demonstrate their imperfection and need for a Savior. This is why the Book of Life is also mentioned here (Rev.20:15), because it will be shown that it is by their own choice in rejecting and/or not choosing for Jesus Christ that their names have been “blotted out” of the book. Believers, by way of the sharpest possible contrast, have their names in the Lamb's book forevermore (see the link: “The Book of Life” in CT 4).

5) So the Great White Throne is the final judgment of all judgments and, as far as the details of Revelation chapter 20 are concerned, technically concerned with the totality of history's unbelievers alone (since the believers of Matt.25:31ff. have already preceded them into eternal life). In this judgment, moreover, as Matthew chapter 25 also makes clear, Jesus Christ is the Judge (Acts 17:31; Rom.2:16). Thus the Great White Throne judgment is the last stone to be put into place in the edifice of human history before we enter the Kingdom of the Father in the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and the new earth. On that day it will be clear to all, believers and unbelievers, men and angels alike, that God has worked His perfect will in every way and in every individual case from the beginning to the end, with grace and mercy and blessing forever more in abundance for all who would but come to the grace and mercy and blessing He has freely provided through the sacrifice of His one and only Son, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

You might also check out the following links:

The Last Judgment (in CT6)

Time of Judgment (in Peter #18)

The Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire (in SR 5)

Torments (in CT part 4: “The Great Tribulation”)

The Throne of God

Hope this answers your question.

In our Lord,

Bob L.

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