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An Introduction to Bible Prophecy (8): The Great White Throne

J Hay, Comrie

Human history will end, as it began, with rebellion against God. In Eden, Satan incited Eve to disobey Him (Gen 3.1-6), and at the end of the Millennium he will foment the last revolt against divine authority (Rev 20.7-10). Whether it is in the paradise of Eden, or in the millennial earth, or in every phase of God’s dealings with man in between, the human heart is fixed in its opposition to Him (Rom 8.7). The last insurgency will result in the destruction of the rebels, and their deceiver will be "cast into the lake of fire" (Rev 20.10). The verse states that that is where "the beast and the false prophet are", a clear indication of the reality of eternal punishment; they had been consigned to that place of anguish a thousand years previously (Rev 19.20). With a thousand years behind them, eternity will still stretch ahead, for they will be "tormented day and night for ever and ever" (20.10). Such horror defies exposition.

The Destruction of the Material Universe

With mankind’s final rebellion quashed and the archenemy suffering the flames of eternal judgment, it remains for the heavens and the earth to be dissolved to make way for "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21.1), a condition that we describe as the Eternal State.

The dissolution of the heavens and the earth will coincide with the last great assize, the Judgment of the Wicked Dead. The Lord Jesus will be the judge (Jn 5.22), and Scripture says, "from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them" (Rev 20.11). Peter also aligns the destruction of the heavens and the earth with "the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2 Pet 3.7).

We have more details in 2 Peter 3.10-13. The passing away of the heavens and the burning up of the earth will conclude the day of the Lord (v.10). That era will commence after the Rapture, its initial stages coinciding with the Tribulation period (1 Thess 5.1-11). Its last episode will be the destruction of the material universe.

The passing of the old order of things will be a necessary precursor to the introduction of the day of God, the eternal state (2 Pet 3.12). Most translations say something like this: "the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved". In other words, before that eternal day can dawn it will be necessary to obliterate the old cosmos.

Noise and heat will attend the destruction of the universe. Men claim that it all started with a "big bang" billions of years ago when in fact the only noise that accompanied its birth was the voice of God: "And God said…" (Gen 1.3). "He spake, and it was done" (Ps 33.9). However a big bang will signal its end: "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise" (2 Pet 3.10).

Twice over Peter uses the phrase, "melt with fervent heat", then, "burned up", then, "dissolved", then, "being on fire". It indicates the awesome release of energy that will take place. During the twentieth century, mankind discovered the effects of the tremendous release of energy that results from splitting the atom. What is it that keeps every atom in the universe stable, with its electrons "orbiting" the nucleus? "By him all things consist (hold together)" (Col 1.17). One day He will loosen His grip; the divine power that holds every atom together will be suspended, and the result will be such a release of energy as to completely destroy the material universe.

Men speak of the indestructibility of matter, that is, while every form of matter can be changed or modified, it can never be destroyed. However, the God who created matter out of nothing (Heb 11.3) will assign it to nothingness once more. The God who laid the foundation of the earth and created the heavenly bodies will preside over their destruction. "They shall perish; but thou remainest; And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, And they shall be changed" (Heb 1.10-12). When we speak of changing our clothes, we do not mean remodelling them; we remove and discard one set and don another. In the same way, the new heavens and the new earth will substitute for the old; "we…look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet 3.13).

The Throne

Solomon’s throne with its ornamentation is described in great detail in Scripture (1 Kings 10.18-20), but only two adjectives describe this throne of judgment; it is great and it is white (Rev 20.11). The first indicates the supremacy of this assize - there is no higher court, there will be no recourse to appeal. The second points to the purity of the justice that will be administered - there will be no miscarriages of justice in this court.

While the occupant of the throne is not identified, He is undoubtedly the Lord Jesus, for "the Father…hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (Jn 5.22). His own words are sobering: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him" (Jn 12.48).

The Accused

In previous articles it was noted that believers will be judged, in the sense of being assessed, at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Returning Israel will be judged at the borders of the land. Gentile survivors of the Tribulation will be judged when the Lord separates the sheep from the goats. The subjects of this judgment will be the impenitent dead of all ages, "the dead, small and great" (v.12). In Revelation 20.5, they are described as "the rest of the dead", those who have remained in their graves after saints of every age have been raised throughout the phases of "the first resurrection". Their bodies will be raised from the grave and reunited with their souls from Hades, as "death and Hades" release their captives (v.13, RV). This is "the resurrection of damnation" (Jn 5.29). Those lost at sea will not evade the fateful summons (v.13). "Small and great", the insignificant and the influential, will all be arrayed at the throne. That is why, like Paul, we need to witness "both to small and great" (Acts 26.22). They are all in grave danger of judgment.

The Books

"The books were opened" (Rev 20.12), and the content of these books will form the basis of the judgment that will be meted out, for "the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works". In other words, the books contain the records of the lives of unbelievers, the evidence of their sin and rebellion, the facts that leave them exposed to condemnation.

The opening of "the book of life" will demonstrate that while they had opportunity for pardon and salvation, that offer was spurned. The names of believers are "in the book of life" (Phil 4.3). They can "rejoice, because (their) names are written in heaven" (Lk 10.20). On the day of judgment there will be ranged before the Throne a vast host whose names were never inscribed in that celestial register. So, the contents of the books, and the absence of names from the book, will combine to see these wretched beings "cast into the lake of fire" (v.15). "The Lord knoweth how to…reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Pet 2.9). Those guilty of every category of crime will be there, but at the head of the list are "the fearful, and unbelieving" (Rev 21.8). Is it an indication that fear of ridicule and persecution hinders some from believing, to their eternal ruin.

The Contrast

The eternal bliss of the saved is in contrast to the eternal torment of the lost. The sweetness of God’s presence will be enjoyed eternally (Rev 21.3). The sorrows of earth, particularly those occasioned by death, will be over (v.4). Pain is another disagreeable factor in our present experience. It too will become history as "he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new" (vv.4-5). Abundant and perpetual refreshment will be enjoyed (v.6), and a plethora of blessings, summarised by the phrase, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things" (v.7). Our crowning privilege will be the joy of being with Him to behold His glory (Jn 17.24). Little wonder Henry Durbanville entitled one of his publications, "The Best Is Yet To Be"!


As explained in the first article, this series has been intended as only a primer on prophecy for the young believer or the new convert. Large areas have been left untouched, so your questions about the finer details of prophecy are still unanswered! It has been an attempt to present the basic events of the future chronologically and in as simple a way as possible: the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Appearing in Glory, and the Millennium.



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