When I began this study of Revelation, it was because we were living during a pandemic, unlike what any of us has ever seen in our lifetime. People were applying concepts and visions from this book to the things that have been happening in our country and world, and pointing to the “fulfillment” of the book as happening before our eyes. I imagine previous generations have done similarly, but up until this point, I’ve shown how most of the book was something fulfilled in the first century during which geopolitical events that occurred then were wreaking havoc on the church. In the previous lesson, we began to get a glimpse of the current state of affairs that applied as much to the first century as to us now. Then, we began to see what the future holds for Satan at his second coming. The harlot, the beast, and Babylon will have all been dealt with—and the climax at the end is that Satan is cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Despite thinking all is accomplished, there are still two more enemies of humanity that must meet their demise—death and hades.
The Judgment Scene
The New Testament is replete with the fact that a final reckoning is to come. Christ attested to His second coming being a point at which He sits on the throne of His glory for judgment (Matt. 25:31–46; cf. John 5:22–23). The Pauline corpus mentions as a corollary to his counsel the future judgment (Rom. 2:5, 16; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1), and he is as much recorded as having preached such too (Acts 17:30–31). The fact of judgment is a foregone conclusion in Christian theology and is to be expected, but what exactly will it be like? John gives us insight as do other passages. Christ will separate the sheep from goats and uses a litmus test as to how they regarded their brethren—with love or disregard. Judgment is spoken of in 2 Peter as coinciding on the day of fire and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7). Jude also mentions judgment relative to the ungodly sinners (14–15).
To the Christian who’s been “justified” in the name of Christ, judgment isn’t anything to necessarily fear. To be justified is to be declared righteous, or literally to be set right by God. Our Father does this through the blood of His Son when we demonstrate faithfulness to and in Christ. It’s a legal term in Greek (dikaioo) and held the weight of a person being acquitted. In legal speak, a person acquitted has been freed from a criminal charge, and this is the plight of Christians—we are free of the charges against us because the blood of Christ has cleansed us. Judgment, therefore, shouldn’t be something we dread because of our standing in Christ Jesus.
This is a spectacular scene. Center is a great white throne, upon which the Lord sits (Rev. 20:11). This scene and all of Revelation in some way hearken back to Dan 7:9–10. We next note that the earth and heaven fled from His face. Moses once asked to see God’s glory, but God would show him only His goodness because were Moses or anyone, for that fact, to see His face, they would die. God, however, in His grace made provision for Moses to see Him as much as he could (Exod. 33:18–23). In eternity, the New Jerusalem, we shall see Him as no eye, but Jesus has ever seen Him (Rev. 22:4). On judgment day, there’s no hiding place. Everything is laid bare before the presence of the glory of the Lord. Humanity, like Adam and Eve after the fall in Eden, has tried to hide from God, but there’s no hiding place now, and at the judgment, we will realize just how bare we have been (Heb. 4:13).
All stand before the Lord, and books are opened. First, no one, no matter how grand they have been in life nor how small, stands before God. We’re all on equal ground. Social standing doesn’t matter. Accomplishments in life are insignificant. God doesn’t much care about that stuff like we do. He doesn’t care how many times we’ve appeared in the paper, or what awards we’ve won, or even the degrees we’ve earned in university. He’s looking at the record of our deeds (vv. 12–13). Before there’s any concern, the fact that God judges according to our deeds does not negate justification by faith. When we take the whole of Christian theology into account, this actually makes perfect sense. Our works proceed from our faith, so if we’ve been faithful, then we’ve been justified and need not worry. However, if our actions reflect a lack of faith, then we have something with which to be concerned. How have we responded to the love of God? Have we responded to love with love, or have we rejected love? The response we give to God’s love is the sum total of our works and deeds, and these are recorded in the books brought to God at the judgment.
What “books” are we speaking about? In Jewish literature and tradition, angels record the misdeeds of humans and report such to God in the interlude between the destruction of the earth and the resurrection (Sib. Or. 2.215–16; cf. Dan. 7:10). However, the book with which we need to be most concerned with is the Lamb’s Book of Life (vv. 12, 14). This book’s been mentioned already (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8), and Jewish teaching upheld that God had a record of those who were in communion with Him and those who weren’t (cf. Exod. 32:32; Is. 4:3; Dan. 12:1–2). We whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are those saved by God’s grace. We have been bought with the blood of the Lamb, and our faith has borne our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus. It isn’t that we lack works ourselves, but that the grace of our God far outshines any misdeeds we may have against us because we have trusted the Lord. If our name is absent, we, like Death and Hades, join Satan and his entourage in the lake that burns with fire. Such do not live eternally, but die, never to live again.