The Final Judgment - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
In connection with the first ten verses of Revelation 20 we found that the position of those who would find in these verses an indication of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth is untenable. Their theory is untenable because the temporal-historical view of the Book of Revelation is untenable. It is unrealistic because even a complete binding of Satan would nevertheless not do away with the sin which is in the hearts of men. Further, their view is untenable because in that case Revelation 20 would be the only place in Scripture where such a millennium were taught, while other passages contradict it. And, finally, this millennium theory is impossible because it is plainly not taught even here in Revelation 20. Satan's binding, we found, is symbolic of the restraint placed upon him with regard to Gog and Magog. The reign of the saints with Christ, we saw, refers to the souls of the saints before the bodily resurrection. And the loosing of Satan we explained as referring to the fact that he will be allowed to stir the heathen nations against Christ shortly before the time of the end.
In our present passage we have a new vision, as is evident from the introductory words, "And I saw..." We have been shown the end of history from every aspect. Various enemies have been pictured to us as overcome. Babylon is destroyed. Antichrist and the false prophet have been cast into the lake of fire. The devil has played his last part in the us conflict of the scene of the world's history, and the last tremendous
nations and their destruction has been pictured to us. The last enemy to be overcome is death. And in the present vision the victory over that last enemy is pictured to us, along with the last judgment, which will inaugurate the age of ages, in which history will be made no more. This vision, therefore, properly precedes the description of the New Jerusalem and the new creation in subsequent chapters.
A Judgment Over All
First of all, we must note that the judgment described in this vision is a general, a universal judgment. It is a judgment over all men, a judgment passed upon the wicked and upon the righteous at the same time. The judgment pictured here is not merely a judgment in the unfavorable, evil sense of the word, resulting in punishment only; but it is general. All are judged; and the judgment results in rewards as well as in punishments.
Naturally, this is denied by premillenarians. According to them, the saints have been raised a thousand years before this time. They have already been judged; and in their reign with Christ they have received their reward. Hence, according to the premillennial theory, what is left is nothing but the wicked; and they only are judged here and receive their punishment.
But let us note carefully that this view is contrary to the text. Notice, in the first place, that there is no exception made with respect to this judgment, but that all the dead in general are included. We read in verse 12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." And again: "...and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.---In fact, throughout the passage the dead are mentioned entirely in general and without any exception. Verse 13 speaks the same language: "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." The completely general nature of these expressions would certainly be misleading if only the wicked were meant. Still more, there is even positive reference to the saints in this passage. Verse 12 tells us . and another book was opened, which is the book of life.---Also out of this book of life these dead were judged, according to the vision. And this would be neither necessary nor possible unless there were saints, as well as wicked, among these dead who are judged. Again, we read in verse 15, "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." This presupposes a differentiation between those who were and those who were not found written in the book of life, and that among these dead there were also those who are written in the book of life. True enough, the reward of the saints is not pictured in the present vision, and the emphasis here is upon the punishment of the wicked. But in the following chapters that reward of the righteous is pictured in detail.
This explanation is confirmed by other passages of Scripture. In the parable of the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 we find the very same picture. In verse 32 it is plainly taught that both the righteous and the wicked shall appear together in the judgment: "And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." And in verse 46 the Lord also refers to the wicked and the righteous: "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." And in John 5:28 and 29 the Lord Jesus plainly speaks of a general resurrection which will be followed by the final judgment: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." Certainly, a statement like this does not at all leave the impression that a thousand years shall intervene between the "resurrection of life" and the "resurrection of damnation." In fact, the text literally teaches that they shall take place in the same hour.
This, therefore, is the picture. All the dead, both wicked and righteous, all who ever lived, from Adam to the very last man that ever lived, shall appear in the final judgment. Cain and Abel, Noah and the men who perished in the flood, all the saints of the old dispensation and their enemies, Judas and Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod, the apostles and the martyrs of the early new dispensation, all the saints from Pentecost until the end, all the enemies of God's people down through the centuries, and all the heathen, - all men shall appear in that judgment. Moreover, they shall appear as they lived on earth. The dead, that is, those who have died the physical death, and that too, small and great, shall appear before the throne of judgment. "Small and great" may simply mean children and adults; but it may also refer to the different stations and positions which they occupied in this present life. Whatever the reference may be in this expression, - and there is really no reason to exclude either idea, - the point is that this description of those who appear in the judgment is
A, derived from their earthly position and their relative differences in this present world. All shall stand before God. The powerful and the
insignificant, adults and children, the kings of the earth and their subjects, masters and servants, the rich and the paupers, learned professors and the ignorant and illiterate, ministers and those who constituted their flock, - all shall appear in the judgment in their proper relations in the organism of the race.
Finally, we must notice that they shall appear in the judgment as raised.
In the twelfth verse we read that John "saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." Then, in the rest of verse 12 we read of the judgment. And then, in verse 13, we read of the resurrection: "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them." The meaning is that John indeed beholds the dead, that is. he beholds them as those who passed through physical death. But from this and from the fact that the judgment is described before the resurrection we may not conclude that the judgment shall actually take place before the resurrection. This is not the order. And that it is not the order is plain from the last part of verse 13, where it is stated (after the description of the resurrection) that "they were judged every man according to their works." The order, therefore, is this, that in our text the dead before the throne of God and the judgment are described first; and then it is explained whence these dead came, namely, out of the resurrection.
But we must notice that the tremendous wonder of the resurrection is included in this vision. The end of history shall be characterized by many wonders; in fact, this is the one element which makes the events connected with the final consummation so inconceivable, so incomprehensible. Wonder shall follow upon wonder, and they all belong to the things which eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and which have never arisen in the heart of man. The final, bodily resurrection is one of those wonders. It exceeds our boldest comprehension. Just ponder for a moment what shall take place, according to the description in this vision. John writes that "the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hades delivered up the dead which were in them." In short, all the dead are raised. They are raised from every form of death. The vast majority, of course, are in the graves, in hades. Many of them are literally in the sea; they have gone down to a "watery grave," which, of course, was no grave. But also "death," that is, all kinds of violent death, has taken many of them. They were burnt, or they were devoured by wild beasts, or their bodies were blown to bits so that they never could be recovered and buried. One would certainly say that their bodies are irretrievably in the power of death and physical corruption. From the depths of the sea they could never be recovered. Those who died a violent death seem in many cases to have been utterly destroyed. And those in the graves have decayed and returned to the dust. Yet they shall all be recovered and raised. No essentially new bodies shall be created for them; but they shall be raised in their own individual bodies. The same bodies shall be reunited with the same souls. This is indeed a great mystery. I cannot "explain" how it is possible. In fact, I cannot even form a conception of this vast wonder and begin to comprehend all that is involved in it. It is a miracle! But the Lord is powerful! He is the omnipotent!
This, in comparison with what is earlier called "the first resurrection," shall be the second (stage of the) resurrection. It shall include all the dead, righteous and wicked. But it shall immediately be distinguished as a resurrection to glory or a resurrection unto damnation. Even though the righteous judgment of God must still be revealed, the state of the righteous and of the wicked is already determined. When the resurrection shall have taken place, and when all shall stand in the judgment, there can be no fear and no cause of fear for the righteous; but there can also be no hope and no reason for hope for the wicked in the hour of judgment. The latter shall be raised unto damnation, while the former shall be raised unto life and glory.
A Righteous Judge
The Judge, according to this vision, is God Himself.
John writes: "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them." The throne as it is pictured in this vision is not the same as the throne pictured in Revelation 4:2 (cf. our explanation in Chapter XI). Here it is evidently a throne of judgment. This throne is described as "great," indicating the magnitude of the judgment which is to take place: all the dead stand before it! And it is described as "white," symbolic of the glory and holiness and righteousness of the Judge, and therefore also of the perfect holiness and righteousness of the judgment which proceeds from Him.
As to the identity of Him Who sits on the throne, there have been especially two interpretations. According to some, the Judge pictured in this vision is our Lord Jesus Christ. Others, however, maintain that according to the present vision the Judge is God Himself.
Now it is certainly true that Scripture more than once speaks of the fact that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and that Christ shall appear as the Judge of the whole world. Thus, we are instructed in John 5:22: "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." And again, in verse 27 of the same chapter: "And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man." In 11 Corinthians 5: 10 we are taught directly: "For we must all appear before the judgment scat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Nevertheless, in the vision of our text it is less correct to say that the Judge is Christ, not God. For there is more than one indication that here it is God Whom John beholds in the vision as seated on the throne of judgment. In the first place, it is significant that though John states that he "saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it," nevertheless he offers no description of Him Whom he saw seated on the throne. At the same time, in the second place, he adds the significant fact that from the countenance of Him Who is seated on the throne the heaven and the earth flee away. His appearance itself is not described, therefore; yet that appearance is so terrible, so awesome, that the earth and the heaven fled away. And in verse 12, according to the rendering of the King James Version, we are told that the dead, small and great, stand "before God." We take the position, therefore, that the Judge in this vision is God Himself. He is the sole Judge of heaven and earth, the great, the righteous, the awful Judge.
And if, then, the question is asked as to the place of Christ in this judgment, the answer is not difficult to find. The fact that Christ is presented in Scripture as the Judge is not to be explained as though there are two judgments, one of the church by Christ and one of the world by God. As we have already pointed out, both the wicked and the righteous, all of them, must appear in the final judgment, the judgment described in our text. But the explanation lies in the fact that God judges the world in and through Christ, Who is His representative and revelation also in the hour of judgment. He is God in the human nature. And He is the revelation and representative of God in all the world. And it is through Him that also the final judgment of God will be revelation, revelation of the righteous judgment of God. And with respect to Christ Himself, in view of His work as the Christ and the Mediator, this is but proper. Moreover, with a view to those who are judged, we may add that this very fact, that Christ will be the revelation and representative of God in the judgment, constitutes at once a great comfort for the believers and a terror for the wicked world which always hated and opposed the cause of God's Anointed.
A Judgment According To Works
Here, as everywhere in Scripture, this judgment is pictured as taking place according to every man's works. Thus we read in the text: "...and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works," (vs. 12). And of this we read again in verse 13: "...and they were judged every man according to their works."
That "the books were opened" is a symbolic representation of the truth that all men must be and shall be revealed in their true ethical character, in their right moral value. All must be made manifest before the judgment scat of God in Christ. We must not ask the question in this connection: what are those books? This is not the point of the symbolism; nor is there anything in the text which would help us arrive at an answer to such a question. It may be true that subjectively the consciences and the memories of men have something to do with these "books." It may also be true from an objective point of view that creation itself, the creature, has something to do with the books. Who knows what creation shall reveal concerning men in that day? Who knows, for example, how the ground shall testify of the blood of the saints which it has swallowed down through the ages? Nevertheless, the text does not say anything specifically about this. The idea is, rather, that these books in the case of each and every man constitute a record, a record which has been written full, as it were, with all their works. And in the day of judgment that record shall be opened and shall be made known. The symbolism of the opening of the books, therefore, represents one idea; and that idea is much the same as that expressed in 11 Corinthians 5:10, namely, that every man and his works shall be manifested in that day. All men with all their works shall be manifested in their proper value and light. Our works in their proper light shall be exposed not only before God, but also before ourselves, and also before all the world.
The reason is that God must be justified when He judges. It must be revealed that God is the righteous Judge, and He must be acknowledged as such by all the judged. Moreover, it must be revealed that He always did judge a righteous judgment in all the history of the world,and this also must be acknowledged by all. In that day the judgment of the righteous Judge of heaven and earth will not be disputed. Now, indeed, in this present time, it may seem sometimes as though there is no judgment, as though the wicked sin with impunity and as though the cause of the righteous stands condemned. Now, indeed, it may even be that the righteousness of God's judgments is challenged by wicked men; and in the face of the plain judgments of God in the earth they may wickedly say, "There is no God." And it may even seem, though that is never really true, that men may ignore or dispute God's judgments with impunity. But in that day every mouth shall be stopped, and all shall acknowledge the perfect justice of God. No one shall be able to be dissatisfied with the judgment. This cannot possibly be. For this is the final judgment of the entire universe, remember. From that judgment there is no appeal; and of that judgment there is no reversal. God will stand justified in the minds and hearts of all His moral creatures. Satan and hell and all the wicked, as well as God's people and all the angels, will have to acknowledge, "His judgment is perfectly righteous." To this end the opening of the books serves. All that the moral creature has ever done, his internal as well as his external works, his thoughts and words and deeds, his deepest and secret motives and desires, and that too, in their proper relation and connection, - in connection with the time and age and country and environment in which we lived, in connection with our gifts and talents, in connection with our relation to former generations, in connection with our relation to the whole human race, - all will be made manifest in its proper value and light. And we shall be able to see clearly the proper value of "every man's work" and the relation between all our life and the judgment which is pronounced. And all shall justify God!
The question may be asked, however: if all shall be judged according to their works, what will become of God's people? They also have sinned; and they also would be condemned, would they not?
To this question the text furnishes the answer when it informs us that not only shall "the books" be opened, but also another book shall be opened, which is the book of life. The book of life is God's own record of His elect saints, the book of God's election in Christ. It contains the names of all His chosen saints. They are written in that book as redeemed by the blood of their Lord and Savior. Through that blood they wefe justified. By that blood they were also sanctified in Christ Jesus. This book is also opened. For when men are judged according to their works, the work of Christ for His people, in His people, and through His saints, the elect whom God hath given to Christ from before the foundation of the world, shall also be made manifest. This work of Christ for, in, and through the saints belongs to the works according to which they shall be judged. And therefore the saints can never perish in the judgment. Also God's children, therefore, shall see their sins in that day of judgment as they have never fully seen them before. Everything shall be brought into remembrance and shall be seen in its true light. They shall see the corruption and filth of their sin in that day, and they shall fully understand that even their best works were defiled by sin. They shall understand the truth of their confession that even the holiest of men has but a small beginning of the new obedience in this present life. But, thanks be unto God, we shall also understand as we have never perfectly understood before that we are in Christ. We shall see ourselves in Christ as God sees us, as perfectly righteous, as having all our sins so covered by His atoning blood that it is as though we never have had nor committed any sin. And we shall be able to appear before the judgment scat of God without terror, clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ!
Such, then, shall be the judgment. All the works of men shall be seen in their true ethical character, our works inward and outward, our works together with their motive and purpose; and they shall be judged according to the standard of the Judge of heaven and earth, the holy law of God, and that according to perfect justice. But this judgment will take place organically. There will be distinction, distinction between the righteous and the wicked. For we must remember that this opening of the book of life has a negative significance for the wicked as well as a positive significance for the righteous. The great question shall be whether or not one's name is written in the book of life! For according to verse 12, the dead, all the dead, are judged out of the things which were written in the books; and those books include not only the first books mentioned in the verse, but also the book of life. And in verse 15 the negative significance of this book of life is very clear; for there we read that "whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." The judgment, therefore, shall be passed on all organically. Some shall appear in that judgment outside of Christ, that is, in Adain only; and they shall be judged and condemned. Their names are not found written in the book of life. And all the saints shall appear in that judgment as in Christ Jesus through faith; and they shall be judged as such and justified. For their names are written in the book of life!
Finally, the fact that the judgment takes place according to works also implies that there shall be individual difference of degree in the judgment of both the righteous and the wicked. All the works of the wicked shall be judged in the true ethical character; and they shall be judged individually according to their individual wickedness, so that there will be difference of degree of damnation unto desolation. And also the works of the saints in Christ, the works of faith, the works of repentance, of sorrow over sin, of sanctification shall be judged, in order that it may be manifest of all the saints in general that although their own works were wicked, nevertheless the saints are perfectly righteous in Christ. But also the latter judgment shall proceed individually. Not all the saints are alike. There are also among them great and small. They shall, therefore, be individually judged as righteous; and in that judgment it shall be made manifest that there is difference of value unto glory in their works of righteousness in Christ.
What a mighty day that will be! How terrifying for the wicked! And what a glorious day for the righteous! And God in Christ shall be perfectly justified, and acknowledged by all in His perfect righteousness!
A Just Verdict
As to the outcome of this judgment, the vision points to the following elements.
In the first place, the heavens and the earth pass away. In the vision they are pictured as fleeing from the face of Him Who sat upon the throne of judgment. And it is added that "there was found no place for them." The last clause here explains the first. It tells us that the earth and the heaven so "fled away" from the face of God that they completely pass away and completely disappear. This presentation is in accord with other parts of Scripture, as, for example, 11 Peter 3:10-14: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless." The fashion of this present universe must pass away, according to Scripture. The old heavens and the old earth will have served their purpose at that day; and they must be consumed in the final world-conflagration, in order to make room for the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness shall dwell.
In the second place, we are told that "death and hades were cast into the lake of fire," and that this is the "second death." Death and hades are here personified. In reality they are powers of corruption; but here they are being presented as if they were persons. And they are represented as being cast into hell. They, too, will have served their purpose. Henceforth there is no place for them any more. They have done their work, and they are now completely overcome by Christ and consigned to their proper place, hell. They are banished from the new creation. For, according to 1 Corinthians 15:26, death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed. That destruction is the "second death." And that second death implies eternal desolation in hell.
To that second death, in the third place, all the wicked are consigned. For thus we read: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." The verdict of the righteous Judge of heaven and earth consigns all whose names are not written in the book of life to the place of everlasting torment, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In conclusion, we may notice that the lot of the righteous is not mentioned in this connection, except by implication. Their names are written in the book of life; and therefore they are not cast into the lake of fire. This reference is only negative. But in the next two chapters of the Book of Revelation they are pictured as being in the tabernacle of God, in the New Jerusalem. There is neither sorrow nor crying. And there God will be their God forevermore!