The Spirit World: Ch. 20 (The Great White Throne)

This entry is part 22 of 23 in the series The Spirit World

The Great White Throne

(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

With the fullness of the righteous dead accounted for, one remaining category of resurrection and judgment remains.  From the beginning of time there has been no resurrection or judgment appointed for the unrighteous.  They have been relegated to Abaddon, within Hades, awaiting a final judgment which will determine their stature in the eternal lake of fire.  This final assignment of the unrighteous is noted also in Revelation 20.

Revelation 20:11-15 (NIV)
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This judgment is conducted in the presence of the Lord himself, seated on a great white throne.  Revelation 21:6 notes the identity of the one seated, as he states, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.”  In this moment, all who have rejected the Lord’s authority over their lives will have the distinct horror of giving account to him face to face. 

The Second Resurrection

Verse 12 continues, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.”  In this moment, the collective unrighteous dead of history are to be gathered before the Lord’s throne and have judgment rendered upon them.  Verse 13 notes, “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them.” 

This language illustrates the first important characteristic of this event.  It is a bodily resurrection.  Of the dead it has been demonstrated that body and spirit dwell separately until one’s resurrection date.  In the case of the unrighteous, the body decays in the ground until it is called for and the spirit dwells in Hades.  While the righteous were released from Hades at Christ’s resurrection, the unrighteous remained in that location until this moment.  Body and spirit, both accounted for, are called together to endure this judgment.  “The sea” giving up its dead refers to those unrighteous lost at sea at the time of their earthly demise while “death” refers to those otherwise buried in the earth.  “Death and Hades,” together incorporate the entirety of the dead of man.  Death represents the material body while Hades is the container of the spirit of the dead.  Thus, with the sea and death giving up their dead bodies and Hades giving up its dead spirits, the unrighteous are resurrected to stand before the Lord in reunion of body and spirit.

It should be noted that theirs is a far different type of resurrection from that of the righteous.  The resurrection of the righteous is a translation from earthly, physical substance to a unique spirit-body which is suitable for life in Heaven.  The new bodies of the righteous are purified, supernatural in power and incapable of deterioration.  Unfortunately, the resurrected body of the unrighteous dead is not completely similar in nature.

Jesus speaks briefly concerning the state of the unrighteous resurrected body in his discourse in Mark concerning the price of one’s sin.

Mark 9:47-48  
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.

Concerning being thrown into Hell, which is the context of the Great White Throne Judgment, Jesus notes that it is a place, “where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”  This exceptionally graphic depiction indicates an eternal state quite different from the glorious abode of the righteous.  No mention of a new spirit-body is referenced in the text.  Rather, it indicates that one’s earthly body is one and the same as the body of the future abode.

Likewise, Revelation 20 notes nothing of a translation for the unrighteous dead.  Rather, the bodies of the unrighteous are cast into the lake of fire in their original state.    The conclusion of the matter in verse 14 is that, “…death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”  Once again, death and Hades represent respectively the physical and spiritual attributes of the dead.  Without a translation into a permanent spirit-body, as the righteous anticipate, the unrighteous dead are instead relegated to an eternity in their former reconstituted bodies.

Jesus represents the same principle in his teaching in Mark 9.  His imagery first of all represents an element of decay, as “the worm” is depicted feeding upon the flesh of those in Hell.  Flesh which a worm can feed on is by definition not consistent with the eternally perfect spirit-bodies of those who are translated into righteousness.  Likewise, a worm that never dies depicts one which will eternally consume the flesh in which it resides.  This produces a particularly eerie image.  The worm which eats eternally must have an eternal food source.  The description Jesus presents demonstrates that one’s flesh is eaten, yet never gets consumed.  This body is represented as fleshly substance which reproduces itself, yet is simultaneously eaten away. 

Likewise is the imagery of an eternal fire.  Revelation 20 notes a “lake of fire,” while Mark 9 speaks of a fire which “is not quenched.”  Fire, by its earthly measure, is a substance which deteriorates and consumes that which is placed in it.  Yet, in Hell the fire is not quenched nor do the bodies which are thrown into it burn away.

The idea represented is that one’s state at death will follow him into the eternal abode of the lake of fire.  Jesus notes that “it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell….”  Obviously, one who enters the Kingdom of God has the promise of renewed flesh at his future resurrection.  It is no loss to enter the kingdom with one eye for the righteous, for a new body will be granted at a future point.  Yet, Jesus’ warning to his listeners was to not attempt entering Hell with two eyes.  This designation infers that one who does so will in fact enter with the same two eyes he is protecting in this life.  While the righteous have the promise of a new body, the unrighteous do not.  It is this principle which is represented in verse 15, “The lake of fire is the second death.”  Those who enter the lake of fire do so from the state of death, and will remain in the state of death.  Their bodies will be flesh, yet will be shielded from consumption and deterioration.  They will be utterly dead, yet conscious and inconsumable.  As was noted of Satan, the beast and the false prophet who were cast into the same lake of fire, “they will be tormented forever.”[1]

Let the reader of this work take heed to the warnings of scripture.  Hell is not a place in which one should desire to endure eternity.  It is a place of incomprehensible destruction, yet without deterioration.  It is a place fitting of the sin of mankind.  Praise be to the Lord Christ, who offered himself as a sacrifice of atonement for man’s sin to rescue those willing from this hideous eternal judgment.

The judgment

While any depiction of the lake of fire is graphic enough, it should be noted that within the confines of Hell exist additional specific punitive measures which are duly ascribed to their subjects.  Hell is not an equal plane, but is tiered into varying degrees of sentence.  Such is the nature of the great white throne judgment.  Just as the judgment seat of Christ determines one’s reward for the kingdom, so the great white throne judgment will determine the nature of one’s castigation in Hell.

Concerning this conclusion, the first clue of affirmation is found in verse 13 noting, “each person was judged according to what he had done.”  A primary commentary related to this text is that it does not teach that the great white throne judgment will determine who will enter Hell.  That decision has been made by merit of one’s relationship with Christ.  All who endure this judgment will enter Hell by merit of their standing outside of the grace of Christ.  As noted in Revelation 20:15, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  The only way for one to escape Hell is to have one’s name written in the book of life, which is a book containing the names of all who have placed their faith in Christ during this life.  Yet, the disclaimer “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life” clearly references the totality of all who participate in this judgment.  Verse 13 notes the sea and death giving up their dead while verse 14 notes death and Hades being cast into the lake.  All who exist in Hades, with their corresponding bodies from death and the sea, are relegated to Hell prior to the advent of this judgment.  They are simply the only ones left, as all of the righteous dead have been raised, judged and glorified.

Rather, being “judged according to what he had done” should lead one to the understanding that this judgment determines the final estate of one within the lake of fire.  According to what one has done, he will be subjected to a particular level of future punishment.

The Substance of This Judgment

While it is not indicated in the book of Revelation, numerous other scriptures affirm this principle. Hell is a place which has varying degrees of punishment available to its tenants.  Jesus noted this truth in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:20-24 (NIV)
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

In this text, Jesus speaks concerning degrees of bearability on “the day of judgment” for various cities which had rejected him.  While “the day of judgment” varies depending on which judgment one is to be evaluated by, it is clear that Jesus speaks to the unrighteous in this context, who had refused to acknowledge him as the Christ.  All unrighteous, other than those of the millennial judgment of the Gentiles[2] which is not detailed in this work, are to share the same “day of judgment;” the day of the great white throne judgment. 

Concerning this judgment, Jesus notes that “it will be more bearable” for some than for others.  Clearly Jesus teaches that the severity of punishments which are handed out at judgment are varying.  It is worse for some than for others, according to their actions.  In this case, their actions included the fact that Jesus himself preached, performed miracles and witnessed to certain cities, yet they rejected him.  Other cities, who are also subject to eternal condemnation, did not have the same weight of evidence as did Korazin and Bethsaida.  As such, Jesus notes a more severe penalty for those cities.

The author of Hebrews also describes a tiered judgment to be handed out in this day.

Hebrews 10:29-31 (NIV)
29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The author is not asking a rhetorical question, for he answers it.  The question is “how much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot…?”  The context of this passage relates to those who deliberately continue to live in sin after having heard the gospel message of Christ.[3]  His answer is that “the Lord will judge his people.”  Thus the judgment referred to is inherently tied to the offense of one having treated the blood of Christ as “an unholy thing.”  Once again, one’s sin will follow him to the lake of fire as evidence used to determine his eternal position within that abode.

A final and very clear confirmation of this principle is found in Luke 12.  In this parable, Jesus teaches concerning a wicked servant who ignores his master’s instructions while the master is away.  He notes of the master’s return that,

Luke 12:46-48 (NIV)
46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Decisively in this text, Jesus notes that, “the one who does not know” will be “beaten with few blows” while the “servant who knows his mater’s will” and fails to do it will “be beaten with many blows.”  Clearly, once again, a link will exist between one’s works and his eternal state within the lake of fire.  In this case it is one’s level of knowledge of his master’s will which he will be judged by, while the actual works of each servant are otherwise equally evil.

Deductions from these numerous texts indicate that the great white throne judgment will be concerned with the severity of punishment of those who are to enter the lake of fire.  While there are no acceptable positions within the lake of fire, clearly there are some places which are worse than others.  During this judgment such determinations will be made, and the whole of unrighteous humanity will be relegated to this abode for all of eternity.  As Hebrews 10:31 notes, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

[1] Revelation 20:10

[2] The judgment of the Gentiles is found in Matthew 25.  It is a judgment which Jesus will cleanse the earth with prior to the Kingdom.  This judgment is only inclusive of those who live through the great tribulation.

[3] See Hebrews 10:26-28

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.

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