Questions and challenges: Revelation 20 and the Great White Throne.
The premise, posed far too many times, is that God sends everyone appearing before this throne to the lake of fire and it’s eternal hell.
Question: If all you used for your argument was Revelation 20 verse 15, could you find God showing anyone mercy there?
The mercy is there, but you have to look for it, and you have to take in the entire context of an aspect of God’s conversation that he is having with John, as he describes the judgment taking place there.
Before we dive in, there are some considerations to keep in mind.
The entirety of the Revelation is about Jesus Christ.
Revelation 1:1 KJV The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
This reference to a Great White Throne is only found here in the Revelation.
However, you can find references to, the throne of His kingdom; a great throne of ivory, covered over in gold (1Kings 10:18); the Lord’s throne (Psalm 11:4); His Holy throne (Psalm 47:8); Isaiah 66:1 says, Heaven is My throne; Jeremiah 17:12 calls it a glorious throne, and, Matthew 25:31 which declares that He will sit on His Glorious Throne.
This throne represents judgment.
Isn’t that odd, our introduction to Matthew 25:31 is presented by the translators of the NASB as the throne of judgment as well, and that idea is seen here in Psalm 9:7.
Psalm 9:7 But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment,
In opposition to the throne of judgment, Psalm 76:9 tells us that His purpose is to save the humble of the earth.
To the Jews he said,
Jeremiah 2:35 Yet you said, ‘I am innocent; Surely His anger is turned away from me.’ Behold, I will enter into judgment with you Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’
Ezekiel 20:35 and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face.
Ezekiel 39:21 “And I will set My glory among the nations; and all the nations will see My judgment which I have executed and My hand which I have laid on them.
But to those who have placed their hopes and lives into His hands, He says,
John 5:24 NASB “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
Jesus, as recorded in John 5:25-27, tells us the same thing we see in Revelation 20. There is, however, a difference as he says, “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Perhaps this can explain how the dead are now standing before the throne.
John 5:25-27 NASB “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26) “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27) and He gave Him authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man.
Note how many of the aspects of this statement from 1 Corinthians parallels Matthew 25:31
1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
One last thing I want to consider as I ponder the potential for mercy in Revelation 20:15, is that all judgment has been given to Jesus and that all punishment for sins was placed upon Him, on the cross.
The evidence for this statement comes from several locations throughout the Bible; here are just a few.
Ezekiel 16:62-63 NASB “Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, 63) so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord GOD declares.
Jesus declared and established this new covenant when He ate the last supper, with the disciples. For us, the cross was sealed with the blood of that covenant, His blood.
Colossians 1:20 NASB and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
To reconcile is to bring a thing back into harmony. Did that happen that day on the cross? Without a doubt. I know this because Colossians 1:20 tells me it happened through the blood of His cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 NASB 13) When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14) having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
So, with all that being said, what then are these people being judged for, as they are brought before the “Great White Throne”?
Perhaps the answer to that could easily be summed up with a verse or two.
John 12:44 NASB And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me.
Believe in Jesus and believe in the Father who sent Him. While there is always more to such a simplistic statement, the premise is just that simple. Here is a bit more depth.
John 14:10-13 NASB “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11) “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12) “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13) “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Romans 4:21-25 NASB and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22) Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 23) Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24) but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25) He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Your belief in Jesus is tied in with your faith in the Father. That Father is Jehovah, Elohim, not Allah.
Occasionally, our men’s study leader takes a few weeks off and switches topics, but eventually, the judgmentalism creeps back in. When it does most of the men that attend the study, side with the leader and demand that all before that Great White Throne are sent to hell. While there is no doubt that some in that crowd get sent to hell, but it is only because they have chosen, in their arrogance, to go there.
2 Peter 3:9 NASB The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
As you can see from above, that God is not looking for reasons to punish anyone; and, He is certainly not going to penalize us merely because we currently have this built-in ability to create and participate in iniquity. I understand this based on the passages I have already shown you. If your actions include breaking the laws of man, then there is a prescribed punishment met out here on earth, and it often includes jail time. But God has set all sin aside, by putting the sentence and payment upon Jesus. Since that time God is looking for one thing, did you, in any way, act in the nature and character of God who created you?
Revelation 20:15 – We will start this dissemination here, with the KJV, as that was shoved in my face recently.
Revelation 20:15 KJV And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
As I have pondered these words a bit more, I can see that the KJV is not so ominous and that it does demonstrate some variability.
The phrase, “and whosoever was not found,” indicates that there was a serious look, in this case, into the Book of Life. Obviously, there were some who did not have their names written in that book. There is nothing about the phrase that indicates an all-encompassing number. It does, however, open the door to some quantity that was found there.
As I have talked about this Great White Throne scenario with a few open-minded people, I pointed out how this becomes little more than a cruel joke when you bring people before this throne of judgment, with the possibility that you might gain entrance into the kingdom of God; only to find that God knew all along that there was no hope for you. What I have described in this paragraph, is in complete opposition to who God is and how He acts. God already knows whether your name is there or not, and some of these people are found in God’s books. Look at this interaction between God and Moses.
Exodus 32:32-33 KJV Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33) And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
Without the assurance of salvation which we obtain in Jesus Christ, how did Moses understand that his name was written in God’s book? And then, God’s response, whosoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. The implications are that we are erased, not written in.
How did King David know that his name was already in the book?
Psalms 139:16 CJB Your eyes could see me as an embryo, but in your book, all my days were already written; my days had been shaped before any of them existed.
When I was challenged about Revelation 20:15, it was an attempt to draw me into an ongoing argument with my father and another bible screamer who was a part of the dinner crowd that night. My dad pushed his phone at me, which was the KJV and said read it. I responded by bringing up the NASB and thrust it at him and said the same thing. My version reads, “if anyone.” This phrase takes no effort on my part to see that it is a variable. I used see statements like this in math. The variable is that He does look for their names and finds many.
I believe that what we see here in Revelation 20:15 is the same story as Matthew 25:31, only from a different perspective. The major differences are,
The Revelation focuses on Jesus as God, while the story in Matthew 25 focuses on Jesus as a gentle shepherd.
In Matthew’s account, it merely says that all the nations shall be gathered before him, while the Revelation tells us that all the dead are brought before Him.
How do you rectify the differences between the two versions? Walk through the known factors.
The church was caught up, and the dead in Christ rose first.
This act, on God’s part, eliminates the church from the equation.
After the rapture, the wrath of God is now being poured out upon the earth, and people are being slaughtered for the testimony which they held. There is little to protect these people from 100-pound hailstones, and the other onslaughts being poured out and are therefore killed by God’s wrath and the wrath of humankind.
Those who die for their testimony are resurrected at the end of the seven-years and reign with Christ throughout the thousand years. So, they are not included among the nations or the dead we see before this throne.
So, who is left?
Keep in mind that since Christ formed the church, there have only been three people groups in the world: the Jews; the nations, and the Church. Since the church has been caught up, leaving only the Jews and the nations those who’ have not accepted God’s leadership, then you are left to fall under the category of the nations – those outside of a relationship with God. We know from the Revelation that the number of people who come to a relationship with Jesus Christ is innumerable.
From the beginning of time there have always been those outside of relationship with the Father, and these are the focus here at the Great White Throne, but the assumption is that you have to be alive to stand there, and that is not what we see in Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.”
The next question you have to ask is, do we ever really die? The answer is no. God then, brings in all those who have previously ceased to breathe, and, have no standard religious form of salvation, as the church requires. Some would argue that NO ONE comes to the Father except through Jesus and their path through the religious form would prove their acceptance into the kingdom.
Isaiah 26:19 KJV Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
Again Matthew’s gospel recorded one of Jesus responses which we find in Matthew 25:1-13. Here Jesus told us about the ten virgins, all receiving the same invitation to the wedding. However, half were not prepared and therefore missed the entry. If this is an allusion to the church, then next time you sit among your congregation look around, for half are not prepared and will prove their allegiance to the Father, during the time of wrath, with their lives.
Since the book of Revelation is the revealing of Jesus, then this is none other than Jesus sitting upon this great throne. Should they obtain mercy, then yes, they are only coming to the Father through Jesus, and the dilemma is solved.
Matthew 25 speaks only of the nations being brought before his throne of glory. I point this out in contrast to Revelation 20 where we only see the dead being brought before the throne. Once again, the church was taken out of the way, and the martyred saints were resurrected to reign with Christ, leaving only the Jews and the nations. This throne of judgment is set up at the end of the thousand-year reign, immediately after the mass deception where the nations have risen against God and the Holy City. Here, all those deceived are killed (caused to no longer breath.) While this number makes up a vast portion of those standing before the throne, there will be others and may include some Jews and pretend church people.
Since we can’t tell who the pretenders are most of the time, perhaps the best approach is to educate them on and in, God’s word.