|THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT
Erwin W. Lutzer
I AM REVEALED
Dec 30 2011
When I was a teenager, I developed a fervor for the game of Monopoly. I would try to buy the most expensive property
and, if lucky, find my opponent paying a hefty fee for his brief sojourn on Boardwalk. But when one of us was bankrupt,
we just put all the fake money and deeds back into the box. The game was over.
Is that what life is all about? Is it true that when we breathe our last everything just gets put back into the box and the
game is over? Is the bumper sticker right when it says, "The person with the most toys wins"?
No. Life is an eternal game. When it's over here, you and I will be tenderly laid into a box, but the game we played here
will continue into the life beyond. We will have to meet God. Death is not a thick wall, but a soft, yielding curtain
through which we cannot see, but a curtain that beckons us nevertheless.
This book has been dedicated to a study of the judgment seat of Christ to which all Christians will be summoned.
However, there is another judgment that will also be compulsory. In it the names of all those who have not received
Jehovah's forgiveness will be called into account.
no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books
were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things
which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and
death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to
their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:
together in the presence of the One who sits upon the throne, the One who looks intently at each individual.
We are accustomed to human judges; we know their partial and imperfect verdicts. In the presence of the Almighty, all
previous judgments are rendered useless. Many men and women acquitted on earth before a human judge will now be
found guilty before God. Men who have been accustomed to perks, special privileges, and legal representation now
stand as naked in the presence of God. To their horror they are judged by a standard that is light-years beyond them:
The standard is God Himself. Little wonder they feel what one writer calls "unfamiliar awfulness."
A DESCRIPTION OF THE PLAINTIFFS
For the first time in their lives they stand in the presence of unclouded righteousness. They will be asked questions for
which they know the answer. Their lives are present before them; unfortunately, they will be doomed to a painful,
What do we notice as we look at this scene?
These multitudes standing before the throne are diverse in size. " I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing
before the throne" (verse 12). Lives separate on earth come together here: the attorney and the storekeeper, the
farmer and the king. Those who lived a private life on earth awake in a realm in which human differences do not
matter. The dead of all the ages stand together: black, white, yellow, brown.
There is diversity in time periods and civilizations. "The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades
gave up the dead which were in them" (verse 13). We think of those who died before Christ came to earth, those who
rejected the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then we think of those who lived since the time of Christ, but have
treated Him with benign indifference.
We think of Asia with its teeming millions. We think of the country of China, of Japan, Russia, and all of Europe. We
can visualize the United States, and Central and South America. Here are people who lived during the time of the
patriarchs as well as those who lived during the days of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.
Not one can beg for a postponement of the court date. Every individual feels that his own soul is immortal; he knows
that his existence is what is most important to him. And now it is too late to change his destiny.
This multitude is diverse in its religions. We see Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. We see those
who believed in one God and those who believed in many gods. We see those who refused to believe in any God at
all. We see those who believed in meditation as a means of salvation and those who believed that doing good deeds
was the path to eternal life. We see the moral and the immoral, the priest as well as the minister, the nun as well as the
Their Common Experience
The books are thrown wide open and the past is recalled. Details long since forgotten are brought to light. The good,
the bad, and the ugly. Many have a litany of good deeds: acts of charity, love, and sacrifice. There is the priest who
conscientiously visited the people of his parish standing next to the Protestant minister who expended his life to help the
poor and spread justice. There is the poor beggar and the wealthy raja.
Their good works will be carefully recounted, but none will have enough for admittance into heaven. But the good
deeds done will make their punishment in the lake of fire more bearable. They will be judged on the basis of what they
did with what they knew, or should have known; thus hell will not be the same for everyone.
How accurate will the judgment be? Jonathan Edwards says that it will be meticulous. Sinners will wish they had done
just a little less evil that their punishment would be slightly more tolerable; pornographers will wish they had published
fewer magazines; control freaks will wish they had been less angry and hurtful; abortionists will wish they had killed
fewer pre-born infants. All of this would adjust the degree of punishment at least a bit.
Justice is symbolized on courthouses by the figure of a blindfolded woman with scales in her hand; the point to be made
is that she deals impartially, without reference to the parties involved. However, with God it is different: He judges with
eyes that are wide open, eyes as of fire that can penetrate the most hardened criminal. He knows not only the
individuals, but their parents, brothers, and sisters; He sees the opportunities they had and takes into account their
predicament. Justice is carefully administered. Nothing will be overlooked.
Their Common Destination
Why do the good people and the bad share a common fate? Alas, the good people were not good enough! The
requirement to enter heaven is that they be as good as God, and no one qualifies. Even the most devoted religious
persons will discover that they fall short of the glory of God.
In addition to the book containing a list of their deeds, there is a second book called the Book of Life. Symbolically, this
book is checked from top to bottom, but none of those who are here have their names written there. If their names had
been in it, those fortunate souls would already be in heaven appearing at the judgment seat of Christ (discussed in the
earlier chapters of this book).
We read, "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation
20:15). They must go obediently into outer darkness. The words of Dante, long since forgotten, come to mind, "All
hope abandon, ye who enter here!"
Is the lake of fire a just sentence for those who find themselves in this frightful predicament? What about those who
have a raft of good deeds to show for their sojourn here on earth? Does it not appear as if the punishment is greater
than the crime warrants?
We must proceed cautiously.
What if it is true, as Jonathan Edwards says, that the greatness of the sin is determined by the greatness of the being
against whom it is committed? If so, then even the smallest sin is a serious affront to God. Hell exists because
unbelievers are eternally guilty. No human being's suffering can ever be a payment for sin. If human suffering could
erase sin, then the lake of fire would eventually end.
Also, keep in mind that the unbelievers will be judged "according to their deeds" (verses 12,13). This means that they
will be judged fairly; the person who never heard of Christ will be punished more leniently than the person who
consciously rejected Him. The good person will be punished less severely than the criminal.
If a man grew up without an understanding of the gospel, this will be taken into account: He will be fairly judged. Blame
will also be equitably distributed to his parents who did not teach the child when he was growing up. Parents,
grandparents, opportunities, and handicaps - all of this will be relevant to the final verdict.
To our way of thinking, hell might be considered unjust. But we are not asked to make up the rules by which the game
of life is played. Since this is God's universe, He runs it according to His eternal purposes. We must bow to His
authority, believing that He does all things well.
WHAT THE PLAINTIFFS LACKED
What binds these millions of people together is the common view that they will be accepted by God on the basis of their
goodness. Virtually all the religions of the world teach that if we live moral lives, if we treat our neighbor with respect
and "do the best we can," we will be able to save ourselves. The specifics may vary, but the bottom line is the same.
What these people lack is the righteousness that God requires for entry into heaven.
The problem, as I have already mentioned, is that we have to be as good as God to get to enjoy eternity with Him. And
since that is impossible, our only hope is to trust Christ, who died so that we might be saved by His merit. In other
words, when we believe on Christ, His righteousness is credited to our account so that legally we are declared to be as
perfect as God. Thus, while millions languish in the lake of fire, millions of others who have placed their trust in Christ
alone will be enjoying the bliss of heaven.
It would be a mistake to think that those who appear at the Great White Throne Judgment are punished with a different
standard than Christians who are enjoying heaven. God is just; He must exact the same from every sinner.
Here is the big difference: Christ bore the wrath of God on behalf of those who believe in Him. He, as the God-man,
personally took the punishment of God so that those who believe in Him will be exempt from the lake of fire. Either we
must personally bear infinite punishment for our sins or else our sins have to be laid upon an infinite being, namely,
Christ. Either way, God is eminently just.
This explains why only those who believe in Christ will be spared the eternal wrath of God. His suffering accomplished
in a few hours what purely human suffering can never do. Christ is our sin-bearer, our shelter, our Savior. He forgives
us and reconciles us to God. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:
YOUR ETERNAL REWARD, by Erwin W. Lutzer, Copyright 1998, Moody Publishers.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES