QUESTION: I was reading in Revelation 20:11-15 about when the books will be opened at the Great White Throne. What is this referring to?
ANSWER: This is referring to the judgment of those who have died without accepting Christ as their Lord and Saviour. It is good to remember that the Lord Jesus said “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
In the verses you mention, the apostle John saw three things:
1. A “great white throne,” which speaks of greatness and purity.
2. “Him that sat on it” is Jesus, the same One who died on the cross of Calvary. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22; 2 Timothy 4:1).
3. “The dead, small and great” are people who may have been small or great in man’s opinions. They may have been religious and attended a church regularly, but they never came to the Lord Jesus confessing their sins and trusting Him alone as their Lord and Saviour. They may have been buried at sea or their bodies cremated, but their bodies are raised up and reunited with their souls to stand before the Judge.
Books are then opened which have recorded every act, every sinful word, and every sinful thought. Because of the things written in the books, the dead are condemned as guilty sinners; they are not judged because they were born with a sinful nature, but because they have sinned. A search of the Book of Life is then made to show that because they rejected God’s free salvation through Jesus Christ, their names are not written there. As a result, they are cast into the lake of fire.
It is important to remember that God is longsuffering and not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). He has provided a salvation that is available for every person. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This gospel of God’s grace has been preached throughout the world for almost 2000 years. As a result, nobody in the lake of fire will be able to say, “I didn’t have a chance to believe” (see also Romans 1:20).
Those who by faith have received the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour—either by looking forward to the cross as did the Old Testament saints, or by looking back to the cross as we do today—can say, “Jesus died for me. He was judged for my sins and there is no judgment now for me” (see 1 Peter 2:24,25). If you come to Him, confessing your sins and accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour, you will be able to say “I’ve been born again! I have a new nature, a new life. I will never come into judgment.”
Note: There is a common belief today that everyone will come before the Lord at the same time and He will receive some and reject others. The Holy Scriptures do not teach a general resurrection. The Bible tells us of two distinct resurrections: the resurrection of believers at the coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17; Revelation 20:6), and the resurrection of the spiritually “dead” which we have been looking at.
—John D. McNeil