Text: Rev 20:11-15
Featured Verse: Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
NT Parallel Texts
Matthew 25:31-32 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."
Romans 14:10 For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Acts 17:31 ...he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Psalm 96:13b He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Main Idea: Quoting the Westminster Confession of Faith 33:3 - Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there will be a day of judgment, both to deter all people from sin and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity. He makes that day unknown to mankind, so that they may shake off all worldly security and be always watchful, because they do not know when the Lord will come, and may be always prepared to say, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.
The final judgment of God on all humans is one of the most attested ideas in Scripture. I purposefully added multiple parallel texts (above) to help convey the sense of this. Of course, Revelation continues to convey these truths with symbolic language. For example, it is hard to picture how "death and hades" are literally thrown into the lake of fire. But the message is clear. After the final judgment death will be no more. When we see it happen, we will understand the appropriateness of the symbol.
Central to the passage is the idea of personal accountability of the creature to the creator. Also, notice the significance of two types of books. The first books are a record of "all we have done." (20:13) The second, is a reference to "another book" which is called the "book of a life." This is a record of all who are connected to Jesus by faith. Actually, this is the fifth of six references in Revelation to the "Book of Life" so it is not a new idea.* Here is how it seems to work:
On one hand, acquittal in the final judgment is dependent upon connection to the righteousness of Jesus through faith. Salvation is by grace.
On the other hand, part of the final judgment is a reckoning with "all we have done." Not only do our works reveal our faith (see Matthew 25 and mercy to the "least of these"), but the works of believers will be judged. In 1 Cor 3:10-15, Paul describes how our Christian service will pass through judgement on the last day. He writes, "each one's work will become manifest, because the Day will disclose it." (1 Cor 3:13) Some of the things we did in the name of Christ will really last, and some will be exposed as selfish and useless service. Paul says that some Christians will be saved by grace ("as if through fire" - 1 Cor 3:15), but their life of service could be largely worthless.** Most importantly, Jesus says that he will "confess the names" of his followers before God and before the angels. Those in Christ, will be publicly recognized.
By contrast, those who are outside of Christ will be judged for their works. They will be judged completely fairly with perfect justice. Sometimes, we may get the impression that rebellious people will be judged for their rejection of Christ. While that can be part of the picture, we can lose sight of the importance of the first set of books, and the general witness of Scripture - the rebellious are judged for their sin, done in the body. (20:12. See also, 2 Cor 5:10.)
Conclusion and Application
Analysis is important here. But application is critical. What does it mean for us to live as people who will one day stand in judgement? I suspect that this concept is largely lost from our culture. As Christianity fades further into our cultural memory, the concept of "Judgment Day" is lost. Largely people in our culture speak of death in benign terms. In the words of many old Western movies. Death means that we must be "prepared to meet our maker." The Bible tells us that prospect should have a huge influence on our lives now. Here is a partial list:
1.) Knowing that death leads to standing before God in judgment, gives us urgency to repent and turn to Jesus.
2.) And urgency to share this with our neighbors.
3.) And urgency to pray for our neighbors.
4.) Knowing that death will lead to all of our works being revealed before God, gives us motivation to live lives of integrity. All will be exposed.
5.) Knowing that our works will be revealed means that we are absolutely dependent upon the grace of God - not only for salvation, but to bear spiritual fruit that endures. (1 Cor 3:10-15)
6.) Knowing that all people will stand in judgment means that we do not have to get perfect justice now. We can love our enemies, and endure momentary injustices, because "vengeance is mine, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
7.) Knowing that Jesus has been judged in our place and that we are secure in him give us hope and joy in the face of death. (1 Cor 15:56-57, Romans 8:1-4)
* Two notable references are included in the address to the church in Sardis, where Jesus promises not to blot the names of the faithful out of the Book of Life, but "confess them before the Father. Also, Revelation 21:27 refers to the "Lamb's Book of Life" as being the key for admittance into the New Jerusalem.
** In regard to judgment day, WCF 33:2 says, "In that day, not only the apostate angels will be judged, but also all persons that have lived on the earth will appear before the tribunal of Christ to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive judgement according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil."
Also, WLC #90 What will be done to the righteous at the day of judgment? [A.] At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, will be set on his right hand, and having been openly acknowledged and acquitted, they will join with him in judging reprobate angels and people. They will be received into heaven, where they will be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery, filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and presence of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. This is the perfect and full communion that the members of the invisible church will enjoy with Christ in glory at the resurrection and day of judgment.