The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 158

The Great Judgment Day    

Revelation 20:11.     And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

     Now, before the amazed John a vision is unfolded of an even grander scene than any he had ever witnessed before.  In fact, the spectacle is so blindingly glorious that the very earth itself disintegrates before it.

     The fire which had fallen from heaven to consume the multitudes following Gog and Magog seems to be nothing less than the unveiled glory, the pure, white-hot energy, of the Creator in all His ineffable brilliance.  Now that same cosmic power penetrates the very atomic structure of the earth and its atmosphere, and they are vaporized in a gigantic holocaust that brings this present world to an end.

     This is the cataclysmic fire foretold by the Apostle Peter: “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. . . . But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.  Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for the hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (2 Peter 3:7, 10-12).

     The very elements (Greek stoicheion, a word properly referring to the fundamental components of matter, the very “dust of the earth” out of which all things were made in the beginning) will be “melted” (Greek luo, translated “melt” in 3:10, with respect to the elements, but “dissolved” with respect to “these things” in 3:11 and with respect to “the heavens on fire” in 3:12).

     The elements of the earth are to be dissolved in the intense heat of the divine fire and all of man’s “works” on the earth will also be burned up (Greek katakaio, “wholly consumed”).  The agelong effects of God’s great curse on the ground (Genesis 3:17) must be purged from the very elements before the earth can be renewed for its eternal purposes.  The great beds of fossils and other testimonials of an agelong reign of sin and death must all be burned away.

     The atmosphere likewise will “pass away,” because its structure is inseparably intertwined with that of the earth.  This is the same word used by Jesus in Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”  An even more graphic term is used here in Revelation 20:11.  “The earth and the heaven fled away.”  It is as though the sin-cursed earth quails before the advancing glory cloud of the divine fire and runs away, disappearing in a great explosion of light and sound and fervent heat.

     This should not be understood, however, as an actual annihilation of the earth and its atmosphere.  By the principle of mass/energy conservation, nothing is ever actually annihilated, except by a miraculous act of God, in God’s completed creation (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17).  The phenomenon may well be one of mass/energy conversion, with the “matter” of earth structure converted into “energy” (heat, sound, or light).  This same energy will be available for reconversion into the materials of the renewed earth, with all the contaminating effects of sin and the curse purged out of it.  On the other hand, it may be simply that the solids and liquids of the earth will be dissociated and vaporized by the intense heat.

     In either case, the solid earth and its atmosphere will disappear and scatter their elements and energies out into space so that their former “place” in the cosmos is bare and empty.  But then John sees the cause of their flight.  The awful fire was merely a prologue, a field of divine energy advancing ahead of the mighty Creator of the universe ascending His great throne of judgment.

     There is no rainbow above this throne (compare Revelation 4:3), speaking of grace in the midst of judgment.  There is no sign of a Lamb on the throne, once slain in substitution for sinful men (contrast Revelation 5:6).  Here is seen only the great throne of divine justice, blinding in its whiteness.  No human figure can be discerned there, no incarnate Son of man.  It is rather an awesome Presence, none other than the triune Godhead, the Creator and King and Judge of the universe, “who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy 6:16).

     No explanation has been given concerning the inhabitants of the millennial earth, except for the rebels who were devoured in the fire.  The camp of the saints and the beloved city with its occupants had surely been preserved through the conflagration that destroyed the Magogites, but then the earth itself had been burned up.

     These saints do not appear at the great white throne, and nothing further is said concerning them until after the new Jerusalem descends to the new earth. Since at that time all the people of God will be in the heavenly city, it is quite likely that another great rapture will have taken place just before the dissolution of the earth.  The godly Israelites in the beloved city as well as those from other nations who had remained true to the Lord during the last rebellion, thus demonstrating the genuineness of their faith in Christ, must have been “caught up to meet the Lord in the air,” translated to the new Jerusalem still suspended high above the terrestrial atmosphere.  Those saints who had already participated in the first resurrection and rapture, before the millennium, will already have shared in the blessings of the heavenly city, but now there will be a host of new inhabitants, coming out of the Millennial Age.

     Before the blessings of the holy city are described, however, the tragic events at the great white throne must be revealed to John and recounted for our own admonition, for multitudes from our own age will assemble there. 

Revelation 20:12.     And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

     The terms “dead” and “death” in these verses refer to the body rather than to the soul.  The latter, of course, had continued its conscious existence in Hades during all the centuries when the body was dead.

     As noted before, the term “resurrection” also applies only to the body.  Those who were “dead in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) had all been resurrected from the dead before the millennium, but the “rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5).  That was the first resurrection, this is the second resurrection.  Over these will also prevail a second death (verses 6, 14).

     But for one awful hour they must stand before God for judgment.  This will be the “resurrection of damnation” spoken of by Christ (John 5:29).  Actually the word “damnation” is a translation of the Greek word krisis, which is normally and properly translated “judgment” (see, for example, the next verse, John 5:30, “my judgment is just”).  Thus this passage in John 5:29 says that the first resurrection will be unto life, the second unto judgment.  Those who have believed on Christ unto salvation will not appear for judgment at the great white throne at all.  “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [same  Greek word, krisis]; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

     God has books in heaven, so that no deed or word of any man or woman who ever lived has been lost.  These books may be in the form of scrolls as used in John’s day; or bound pages as in our day, or some other type of book about which we know nothing.  Possibly they will consist of something analogous to modern videotapes.  If man can use electronics to preserve sights and sounds, there is no question that God, who created all forms of electromagnetic energy in the first place, can certainly do it, and far more efficiently at that.

     No unsaved man or woman should ever take comfort in the fact that certain of their ungodly words and deeds were performed in secret.  “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad” (Luke 8:17).  Evidently the record of all these works of every individual will not only be shown to God, but also will be displayed to everyone else, so that all will know that God bases His judgment on the true facts.  God would not need books of records Himself, of course, since He is omniscient, so that these books apparently are mainly for a testimony to all His creatures.

     There is also another book, which is not a book of records of works but the book of life.  In this book had once been inscribed the name of every child ever conceived and who, therefore, had been granted “life” by God.  Sadly, however, multitudes during their lifetimes (whenever it became evident that they had irrevocably rejected God’s provision of salvation for them through Jesus Christ) had had their names “blotted out of the book of life” (Revelation 3:5; Exodus 32:33; Psalm 69:28).  This book will also be opened, as the resurrected dead stand before the awful Majesty on the shining throne.

     Then judgments will be pronounced, one after another, as each stands before God for a review of his life.  If each were to take an hour, the tribunal scene would last perhaps 5 million years, (assuming 45 billion people to be judged).  But this is nothing in the scale of eternity.  This judgment is to be based on works, so all of man’s works must be reviewed, and reviewed fairly, in light of opportunity and motivation.  “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.  But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.  For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47, 48).  God’s punishment, in each case, will be carefully meted out in perfect justice.

Revelation 20:13.     And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

     When “death” overtakes a man, his body decays and goes back to the dust.  However, in most nations his body is first buried in some kind of tomb, and this was true of the nation of Israel in particular.  Consequently, the terms “death” and “the grave” are often used essentially as synonyms in Scripture, as in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

     However, when the body dies, the soul descends into Hades (the word for “hell” here is Hades; see discussion on Revelation 1:18).  In most cases, the body had been claimed by “death,” that is, by a tomb in the ground.  Many, however, have drowned in the sea, so their bodies were never in the ground.  Many also have had their bodies cremated and their ashes scattered.  But wherever they are, God is able to call the atoms all back into place, presumably in the same form as when they died.  Bodies will emerge from both land and sea and, as they come, the great pit of Hades will also disgorge all its imprisoned souls, enabling them to reenter their former bodies.

     One other reason for the initial reference to the sea here is probably the tremendous numbers of people who had been drowned long ago in the waters of the great Flood (Genesis 6:17).  The Flood had destroyed the first cosmos (2 Peter 3:6); now the fire had destroyed the second cosmos (2 Peter 3:10) each slaying multitudes of sinners.  It is possible that the souls of those who had perished in the final conflagration had never reached Hades proper, since the physical earth had been dissolved soon after their own destruction.  This possibility is intimated by the reference to “the dead” in verse 12, right after the holocaust.  Thus, first there may be a reference to those who died in the fire, then to those in the Flood, finally to all others buried in graves, with Hades then emptying out all its lost souls when the great fire dissolved its walls.

     In any case, every unsaved man or woman through the ages, from every nation of every time, rich or poor, mighty or insignificant, educated or ignorant, all will be raised in their old bodies of flesh to stand before God in judgment.  This resurrection will not, like the first, be a resurrection unto life, however – that is, the bodies will not be immortal, like those of the saints in the first resurrection, but will be the same old mortal bodies, still subject to pain and death.  Paul says that “death is swallowed up in victory” at the time when “this mortal shall have put on immortality,” but that God gives “us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54, 57).  Those who refuse to follow Jesus Christ obviously will not share in His victory.

     There, in an aching, trembling body of flesh, every man will have to watch his deeds in the flesh displayed to the whole creation so that both he and every other man must finally acknowledge that his condemnation is just.  Some may protest, as their evil works are reviewed, that they have also done many good works, even many religious works.  “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22, 23).

     Since they have rejected God’s grace and His offer of forgiveness and salvation through personal faith in Christ, and have chosen instead to offer their own meritorious works in payment for salvation, God will indeed judge them by their works.  But it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” that He can save us, since the measure of righteousness is Christ Himself, and “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Titus 3:5; Romans 3:23).  None have attained God’s standard, and therefore “they were condemned every man according to their works.”

 Revelation 20:14.     And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death. 

     The result of a judgment according to works can only be condemnation, so “death and Hades,” that is, everyone whose body had been dead until the second resurrection and whose soul had been locked in Hades, are cast into the lake of fire.  There they will remain forever, with the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), as well as the beast and false prophet, who had already been judged and condemned a thousand years earlier (Revelation 19:20; 20:10).

     The exact character and location of the lake of fire have not been revealed in the Scriptures, but there is no reason to question the physical reality of its fires.  There are more than twenty references in the New Testament alone to these fires of hell, most of them in statements of the Lord Jesus Himself, with no indication in the context that they are figurative fires of some kind.  If, indeed, they do symbolize something else, no explanation is given anywhere as to what they designate.  The warnings are given with such urgency as to leave no doubt that they should be taken with all seriousness.  At the very least, one would have to conclude that the reality, whatever it might be, is every bit as fearful and tormenting as actual fires would be, so that no one should take any comfort in the thought that they might not consist of real fire.

     The location of this final and everlasting hell of fire cannot, of course, be on this present earth, since the present earth is to be dissolved (2 Peter 3:10).  It also seems highly unlikely that it will be on the new earth, since that will be an earth “wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13), and a fiery cauldron tormenting billions of unrepentant sinners forever would surely seem out of character anywhere on such an earth.  Furthermore the lake of fire had been in existence even before the millennium, in order to receive the beast and the false prophet and yet it obviously survives the vaporization of the earth at the end of the millennium.

     There are Scriptures which at least intimate that it may be located in some far corner of the universe, almost infinitely removed from the new earth and its holy city.  Jesus spoke of apostate “children of the kingdom” who would finally be “cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).  He used similar terms with respect to the usurper without a wedding garment: “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).  The same judgment was meted to the “unprofitable servant” (Matthew 25:26-30).

     In Jude’s epistle, the false teachers are said to be “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 13).  Peter says such people are those “to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever” (2 Peter 2:17).  These two expressions (“blackness” and “mist”) are translations of the same Greek word, both expressing the concept of an impenetrable cloud.  The same word is translated “darkness” in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6, both speaking of the chains now binding the fallen angels awaiting the judgment.  This “outer darkness” in some way must correspond to the “everlasting fire” into which the Lord Jesus also indicated the unsaved would ultimately be cast (Matthew 25:41).

     The Apostle Paul says that all those “that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9).  The term “destruction” here does not connote “annihilation,” but rather “death” in the sense of bodily death (compare 1 Corinthians 5:5) or “ruin.”  The word “from” (Greek apo) is significant, carrying a strong sense of “away from.”  That is, the ungodly will be sent into their condition of eternal ruin in some location far away from the location of God’s personal presence, where His glorious power is specially manifested.  Since this location is on the earth, in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:23), the conclusion must be that the unsaved are removed from there as far as possible.

     All of these specifications seem to point to the likelihood (though we cannot be certain at this time) that “hell” (Greek gehenna), or “the lake of fire,” will be located on some far-distant star.  A star, after all, is precisely that, a lake of fire.  There are indeed, stars and galaxies that, although “burning,” do not give off light in the visible part of the spectrum, so that they consist of both “fire” and “cloudy darkness.”  One might even suggest a “black hole,” if and when such objects are actually proven to exist, would fit the description.

     Wherever the lake of fire may be, there is still the question as to whether resurrected physical bodies can burn forever in a cauldron of real physical fire.  It is possible, of course, that the fire will immediately consume these bodies, so that they will actually go through a physical “second death” similar to their first death, leaving their disembodied souls to suffer forever in the lake of fire.  That souls can actually suffer in some way in a fiery environment is indicated by the testimony of the rich man in Christ’s parable.  “And in [Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments . . . And he cried and said, . . . send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:23, 24).  It seems that the souls in Hades (as well as those in Paradise – note 2 Corinthians 5:1-4) retain a form of spirit body which resembles their respective earthly physical bodies.  Even disembodied souls seem to be recognizable in terms of their earthly identities.  Note the remarkable descriptions of the dead in Sheol in Ezekiel 31 and 32, as well as Isaiah 14.  That being so, such spirit bodies also may possess spirit senses and are capable of experiencing feelings analogous to those they possessed in the flesh.  We obviously have little understanding of such things, having no instrumentation with which to measure degrees of pain or pleasure experienced by persons who are without their physical bodies but who still retain the spirit/soul identities associated with those physical bodies.  We can only infer that such things are real on the basis of these and other biblical intimations to that effect.

     This is another possibility.  Just as the resurrected physical bodies of the saints will be living forever, perhaps the resurrected bodies of the unsaved will be dying forever.  That is, their physical bodies will not be consumed by the fire, but will eternally remain in a state of being consumed!

     This seems almost unthinkable, except for the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself seems to have issued this dire warning.  Three times (Mark 9:43-48), He spoke of the awful danger of being “cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

     Gehenna, translated “hell” in the above and other passages, received its name in reference to the valley of Hinnom, outside Jerusalem.  Into this valley in ancient times were cast the dead bodies of criminals, as well as all the city’s refuse.  The terrible contents of the valley were continually being eaten of worms and were also frequently set on fire, so that the valley indeed often had the appearance of a lake of fire.  The Lord Jesus seemed plainly to be saying that in the ultimate gehenna, the bodies of its inhabitants would be unconsumable bodies, everlastingly being consumed by undying worms and burned by unquenchable fires.

     We have no idea how such a thing could be possible.  The Lord will see to it, however, that the glorified resurrection bodies of the saints will be fully physical bodies, no longer subject to pain or death, “according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:21).  If He can do the one, He can surely do the other, making the unglorified resurrection bodies of the ungodly eternally subject to pain and death.  If this should prove to be the correct understanding of this dread prospect, it is indeed appropriate to equate the lake of fire explicitly with the second death!

     Whatever the exact meaning of all these sobering warnings may be, it is obvious that those who die as lost sinners face a terrifying future.  If these should all be mere symbols, the reality must be still worse.  No wonder Jude urges that many should be saved “with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23).

 Revelation 20:15.     And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

     Not only are lost men and women condemned by the record of their works but also by the absence of their names in the Lamb’s book of life.  One can speculate that beside each person’s name as entered in the book at time of conception will be recorded the time of his “age of accountability,” the date of his conversion to Christ as His Savior, and evidence demonstrating the genuineness of that conversion.  However, if there are no entries for the last two items by the time that person dies, the entire record will be blotted out (Revelation 3:5), and an awful blank will be left in the book at the place where his name would have been.  Exhibiting this blank spot in the book will be the final and conclusive evidence that the person being judged must be consigned to the lake of fire.

     As already pointed out, there will be degrees of punishment in hell, just as there are degrees of reward in heaven, both being based on works in light of opportunity and heart motivation.  With all the unsaved alike being cast into the burning lake of fire and brimstone, it is not yet revealed as to the means by which the more wicked will be made to suffer there more than the less wicked.  Exactly what is meant by the “many stripes” and the “few stripes” of Luke 12:47, 48, and how it will be “more tolerable” for Sodom and Tyre “in the day of judgment” than for Capernaum and Bethsaida, as Jesus warned in Matthew 11:20-24, are unanswered questions.

     In one sense, wickedness generates its own suffering.  Among the last words of the Bible are these: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (see on Revelation 22:11).  Men and women will have to live with themselves and their own sinful, yet unrequited, lusts and hatreds forever.  After all, that is what they preferred to the love of Christ.  This consuming evil will surely torment them in proportion to its intensity.

     It may also be that the resurrection bodies designed for them by God at the “second resurrection” will be designed with individual nerve systems whose sensory responses are graduated in proportion to the degree of punishment appropriate to the individual, so that the actual pains of hell will be felt differently by each one.  Or it may be that some other graded system of punishment will be used of which we have no inkling at this time.  God is surely able to inflict His punishments in perfect justice, individually tailored.  We do not have very much specific information on this subject in the Bible, but we do know this much: every unsaved man and woman will spend eternity in conscious suffering in the terrible lake of fire, the second death.

     These same ungodly men and women today scoff at such a notion, even using it as an excuse for rejecting Christ. “How could a God of love,” they say, “send someone to such a horrible fate in retaliation for a few years of sin and rebellion on earth?”

     They forget, however, that God has already suffered all these pangs of hell Himself, in substitution for them, when Christ died on the cross.  In fact, He suffered infinitely, as the sinless One made sin for us, the awful separation from God which is the essence of hell, to deliver them from suffering eternally that same separation.  No matter how great or numerous the record of their sins in God’s books may be, the mere record of their names in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world would be more than sufficient to save them from the lake of fire and reserve for them an undefiled inheritance in heaven in the presence of the Lord (1 Peter 1:3-5).  God loved them and Christ died for them, to give them forgiveness and eternal life.

     But they did not desire Him nor His love nor His presence.  They preferred to continue in their sins, independent of God and His will.  There is no punishment that could possibly balance such a crime as this.  To despise the loving care of their Creator and the infinite suffering of their Savior for them is to strike at the very heart of God and the purpose of their creation.  This infinite sin will continue forever in their hearts, so they will actually suffer less in hell than if they were forced against their will to spend eternity in the presence of the One whom they have spurned and hated.

     Finally, we should remember that the authority for these fearful warnings is none other than the One who has the keys of Hades and death (Revelation 1:18).  Whether we can fully understand the ways of God or not, there is no excuse for rejecting the clear teachings of Christ.  He is not only the Creator of all things (Colossians 1:16) and the Judge of all men (John 5:22) but is the only man who has conquered death Himself.  When He warns of everlasting fire and outer darkness and the undying worm, we can be sure He is telling us things as they really are.  Furthermore, even the Book of Revelation has come from Him (Revelation 1:1, 11) and He is Himself the Judge who will send the unsaved to their second death in the lake of fire.  The most tragic and foolish mistake that one could ever make would be to ignore His warnings and reject His Word.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

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