From: Reinterpreting Revelation Twenty Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2014
The Final Judgment and
20:11 (KJV): 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.
NASB: And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
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: tne the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
NASB: And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
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.
NASB: And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them, according to their deeds.
20:14: And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
NASB: And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
20:15: And whosoever was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
NASB: And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
1. The descent of the throne (20:11).
a. The description of the throne: “a great white throne.”
As Lenski rightly points out, “throne” is “here again the symbol of power, rule, and dominion, and thus the seat of the King.”
Although some have taken “great” in the sense of physically larger, more substantial, bigger than the thrones of the martyrs (verse 4), a spiritual or moral point is far more likely to be intended: It can be called “great” because of the one who sits upon it is Deity—the embodiment of absolute purity. From another standpoint also the throne can be called “great:” Because of what is done from the throne, i.e., the great and final judgment of the human species.
“White” suggests the ideals of holiness and purity. Revelation 7:14 (speaking of human beings rather than deity) makes white symbolic of the individual whose transgressions have been forgiven, i.e., is purified from all sin: “. . . They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Man’s purity is a relative purity as one lives the Christian life: always striving against sin, but never obtaining sinlessness. In contrast the Being on this throne is the personification of perfection, complete, total blamelessness and the throne He sits on is given the moral trait befitting that Divine essence.
The importance of this can be found in the fact that the Judgment is about to begin. The throne seat is untouched by bigotry, prejudice, blindness or naïveté. He knows what we really are and can’t be fooled. Hence absolutely fair judgment can be anticipated—and will be given. If it were not mixed with grace as well, might not such Divine judgment be feared worse than biased judgment?
b. Who is sitting on the throne? Who does the judging?
In verse 11 we read of “Him who sat upon it”—but nothing more. Verses 12 and 13 mention a judgment, thereby implying a Judge, but without stating or suggesting the identity. So in the current text, is the Judge Jesus Christ or the Father personally? (Or, for that matter, is differentiation between the two in such a setting even important since the nature of both and their decisions would be identical in any case?)
Since the one on the throne is mentioned in one verse while the Judgment is not introduced till the following verse, it may be useful to give separate treatment to the two questions of intended identity. First, who is “Him who sat upon” the throne in verse 11?
Robert M. Mounce reflects the common belief that the Judge is the Father. He attempts to establish this by arguing from other texts in the Apocalypse the speak of the person who sits there:
In the present passage it is apparently God the Father who is judge. Elsewhere in Revelation the One seated upon the throne is the Father (4:2, 9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). It is more natural in the present context to see the Father rather than the Son in the role of judge.
[Page 276] One can concede both the appropriateness of the identification and the fact that other Revelation texts do indeed speak of the Father on the throne (though one may sometimes have to resort to context rather than the specific verse references he provides). The problem with Mounce’s argument is the impression he leaves rather than what he directly asserts: one would naturally conclude from the wording of his argument that only the Father is identified in Revelation as being on the throne.
That this is the dominant identification, Mounce’s references abundantly establish. He omits, however, at least one Revelation text that points in a very different direction. In Revelation 3:21, we read of both Jesus and His Father occupying the throne:
“He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Note that it does not have to be either/or but this-and-that . . . not Jesus or the Father on the throne, but Jesus “with My Father on His throne.” Jesus sits on the throne because He was given the totality of spiritual authority in the world (Matthew 28:18-20). It was not His by right, but by delegation. Ultimately the authority is returned to the Father at the end of the world (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Yet the singular “Him” in 20:11 does lead one to expect just one individual. Revelation 3:21 should warn us that the issue might not be so straightforward as one might think.
[Page 277] For one thing, Revelation pictures Christ’s kingdom as already in existence in the first century (1:6, 9), which implies Jesus was then king and, if king, on His throne. Who more appropriate to judge the citizens of that kingdom but the King Himself, Jesus? Indeed, would that not be the King’s logical last task before handing over the reigns of the kingdom to the One who had originally bestowed it upon Him in the first place, His father?
In addition, the New Testament presents a picture of us as standing before the judgment seat of both:
Of Christ: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Of God: But you, who do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. . . . So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10, 12)
Revelation 20 specifies neither in particular and 3:21 even pictures them both on the same throne. In light of the repeated New Testament stress on the subservience of the Son to the Father, we can easily grasp how Jesus could judge on behalf of the Father, but there is no reasonable way to imagine the Father doing the judging on behalf of the Son. Hence when we read of “God” judging in Romans 14, it is most natural to take it to mean that the Father judges through His designated agent, Jesus.
[Page 278] This is also thoroughly compatible with other streams of “judgment” teaching in the New Testament. It is, in fact, exactly the scenario pointed to by Jesus Himself: “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27).
The broadest possible meaning must be put upon that judging authority for Jesus went so far as to tell us: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22-23). Since we have the same author envolved in both John and Revelation, would this not powerfully argue that the judge John would place on the throne would be the Son?
The comprehensiveness of Jesus’ judging authority was not limited to the Jews, as Paul pointed out in one of his sermons:
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man who He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
[Page 279] God demands repentance because all of us will be subjected to judgment. It is to be a universal one, applicable to the totality of the human race without any exceptions (“all,” “everywhere,” “the world”). It is singular in number (“a day,” not “days”), i.e., all to be done at one time rather than at widely separated chronological points. Although it is God’s judgment in that He has decreed that it will occur and the standards to be used to judge, it is to be conducted by His Son.
On an earlier occasion, the apostle Peter referred to both this delegated judging authority and the fact that even death would not permit one to escape from it:
“And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:42-43)
Although Revelation 20:12-13 does not specifically identify the Judge, texts such as above point clearly to the Son exercising that power on behalf of His Father and makes Him the most likely person to be pictured as sitting on that judgment seat. For reasons such as these we feel that it is not only safe, but necessary, to assert that Jesus is under discussion as the final magistrate to be faced by the human race. Furthermore, if He is the One under discussion in these verses it is virtually inescapable that He is also the One who “sat upon” the throne in verse 11 as well. Who else sits upon the judgment throne, but the Judge?
2. The fate of the earth (20:11b): Elimination.
“And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
This earth ceases to exist: “earth and heaven fled away”; “no place was found for them.” If “no place was found for them,” how could they continue to be? Hence we are justified in finding in such references an indication that the earth is to be removed, eliminated, destroyed, cease to exist. (We would certainly not object to any reasonable concept / word that conveys the same idea to the reader if he hesitates at one of these in particular.) This fits in well with a literalistic reading of 2 Peter 3 which we will examine next. Indeed if it is not his intent, it is hard to see how Peter could fit John’s theology in 20:11 in with his own—or vice versa.
From our individual standpoint, earth is where we are and heaven is above us. Though this cosmos will not pass into eternity with us, the next world will have something that will function as the equivalent of earth and sky. We deduce this from the fact that what we have now will be replace with “new,” better ones:
[Page 281] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)
The text is not talking about renovation, but elimination, termination. And not about destruction in the limited sense of “loss of well being” either. (Indeed how could one speak of the mere “loss of well being” of the old earth when its “destruction” results in an improved “earth”? The word / concept “destroyed” or “destruction” simply doesn’t fit the end result. Note six key phrases:
1. “The heavens will pass away.”
2. “The elements will be destroyed.”
3. “The heavens will be destroyed.”
4. “The elements will melt.”
5. The trifold description of the means: “intense heat,” “by burning,” “intense heat.”
6. The result: “destroyed” (used of both the “elements” and the “heavens.”
[Page 282] One or more of these might have some type of figurative meaning permitting the idea of “renovation” but put together in such a short space—and lacking any textual indication of something less dramatic being intended—they seem to clearly point to the elimination of the cosmos as we now know it and the replacement with something far better. If this is not the idea, what would Peter have had to say to teach such a complete elimination and substitution?
Even if we try to take the language as hyperbole indicating a total and complete earthly disaster, it is not—as in the Old Testament—a particular nation or people that is targeted. Here it is the entire cosmos. How then can the language escape the connotation of a catastrophe totally overshadowing any earthly or human precedent?
And if life on our current style earth (with its sin and deadly spiritual and physical enemies) does continue, why doesn’t Peter provide a clear cut indication that it will? Hence we have major problems with what he says and with what he does not say in order to make such a more restricted interpretation work well.
As Peter paints it, what was is no more. Concededly, from the standpoint of the observer there will be a “heaven” and an “earth,” for there will still be an “up” and a “down,” a “below” and a “sky.” Even in Heaven. It can be called a new “heaven and earth” or it can merely be called “heaven” to distinguish it from the temporal / carnal earth on which we now dwell.
Some who would readily concede a termination scenario in 2 Peter are unwilling to grant that the same subject is under discussion in Revelation 20. Hence we need to carefully consider some objections to the termination scenario as applied to the Apocalypse.
a. The means of removal is not stated in the Apocalypse?
As far as it goes, that is a true statement. All the Revelation text states is “from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” “No place” (to make a pun) leaves “no room” for the temporal earth as we know it today! Its elimination is essential if this pledge is to be fulfilled.
Peter provides us the additional piece of data: How it will be accomplished: by “fire” so intense that even the constituent “elements” will melt. Those who assert a mere renovation of some type find no legitimate comfort in either text; both assert a far more dramatic and comprehensive conclusion to this world-cosmos than can be found in such limited end-event interpretations.
b. “Mere” apocalyptic rhetoric for a dramatic change?
In arguing against a literal destruction of the world being under discussion in Revelation 20, some conservative religious people point out that somewhat similar [Page 284] imagery is used to describe earth shattering events that do not involve the ending of the world. (Liberal religionists use a similar argument, but not in order to fairly interpret scripture but in order to downgrade the credibility of apocalyptic as genuine revelation originating in the mind of God rather than the psyche of the individual author.)
In Isaiah 34 we find language that quickly brings to mind the terminology of Revelation 20:11 and several other passages referring to the end of the world—yet the Isaiah text concerns God’s judgment on Edom, an event far prior to the final judgment of mankind:
Draw near, O nations, to hear; and listen, O peoples! Let the earth and all it contains hear, and the world and all that springs from it. For the Lord’s indignation is against all the nations, and His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter. So their slain will be thrown out, and their corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood.
And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or one withers from the fig tree. For my sword is satiated in heaven, behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom, and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction.
The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is sated with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams. For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom. Wild oxen shall also fall with them, and young bulls with strong ones; thus their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust become greasy with fat.
[Page 285] For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. And its streams shall be turned into pitch, and loose earth into brimstone, and its land shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall go up forever; from generation to generation it shall be desolate; none shall pass through it forever. But pelican and hedgehog shall possess it, and owl and raven shall dwell in it; and He shall stretch over it the line of desolation, and the plumb line of emptiness.
Its nobles—there is no one there whom they may proclaim king—and all its princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in its fortified towers, nettles and thistles in its fortified cities; it shall also be a haunt of jackals and an abode of ostriches. (Isaiah 34:1-13)
We have quoted a substantial part of the chapter to set the parallel phrases and ideas in context. It is the context which determine their scope, meaning, and intent. Standing by themselves, a given phrase or phrases might well mean one thing, but that maximalist reading must be altered if the context indicates something far less comprehensive.
Some New Testament end-of-the-world type references are certainly found in these verses. Yet Isaiah tells us that “Edom” is the target of this Divine wrath. He also tells us that as a consequence of her punishment only wild animals will dwell in her borders in the future. Therefore when we read . . .
“And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled
up like a scroll”
“Its . . . loose earth [turned] into brimstone, and its land shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall go up forever; from generation to generation it shall be desolate; none shall pass through it forever.”
These phrases must be interpreted as the picturization of the destruction facing Edom. Not that these are literally so—for the author could not have intended that interpretation since he explicitly has the “pelican and hedgehog” and “owl and raven” continuing to “dwell in it”—after it is consumed with “brimstone” and “burning” pitch that is “not quenched night or day . . . forever.” Internal consistency within the Isaiah text prohibits any such crude literalization.
The political heavens and earth—the power structure of the day—that is, indeed, “rolled up like a scroll” when Edom is finally stomped into submission. Her power and prestige and accomplishments are as effectively removed as if they were burned up with pitch and brimstone. The defeat is so abiding and permanent that the evidence of her punishment will be visible “forever” due to God’s intervention. The symbolism / picturization fits the severity of the punishment. It is used because it is accurate in result rather than because it is literal.
[Page 287] This is a two-edged sword. On the other hand, it explains why the Apocalypse is so full of imagery that in a literal sense is well nigh unimaginable and impossible. It uses the “super-sized” imagery to convey that massive forces are at play and how God emerges triumphant and victorious in spite of them.
Yet there are places where such imagery seems to carry an element of literalness and the end event picture in Revelation 20:11 is one of them: “earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” Call it “symbolic” if you wish—would we even grasp the tiniest element of the literal description of such a removal?—yet what is the intended symbolism of . . . but of the complete removal of the current physical earth and cosmos?
There is no hint of any of it being continued as we find in the case of Isaiah and Edom. There cosmic imagery is “reined in” by references to the ruins of Edom continuing to exist. None of this is found here. The same is true in 2 Peter 3 as well. If that text is actually talking only of the Great Revolt that ended in the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.—or any other massive tragedy you might suggest—there is not the slightest hint of the old earth or any part of it continuing. Indeed neither there nor here is there anything that reasonably hints at its continuation. Instead we read of new heavens and a new earth—the replacement of what we have.
Hence the apocalyptic language should be taken in its fullness as conveying what its unrestricted and unhedged and unlimited “geographic” language indicates—the ending of this cosmos: “Earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
3. The final judgment (20:12-13).
20:12 (KJV): 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.
NASB: And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
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.
NASB: And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
a. Is this the Final Judgment? Or “merely” God’s final, definitive judgment on Rome?
Rodney M. Miller has written at book length in The Lion & the Lamb on Planet Earth a detailed and effective refutation of dispensationalist premillennialism. When we turn to these final verses of Revelation 20, Miller proposes an interesting variation on traditional amillennialist interpretation: he contends that the Final Judgment is not under consideration in these verses. According to him, the text is actually doing what so much of the rest of the book does—describing God’s judgment upon Rome. To establish his thesis he presents four arguments that deserve careful consideration.
(1) The time frame of Revelation requires a PROMPT fulfillment throughout rather than permitting a reference to what happens at the end of earth-time.
There are many indications that the bulk of the book was, indeed, fulfilled within the first century. The very first verse of the book sets that time frame: “The [Page 290] Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John” (Revelation 1:1).
Revelation 1:19 commands John to “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” With the point of “jumping off” point chronologically being things which then existed (“the things which are”), “the things which will take place after these things” is most naturally interpreted as things that would promptly or at least relatively soon occur as well.
At the other end of the book we read in 22:10, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.”
Furthermore, throughout the book we see abundant evidence of genuine miracles being worked, true believers (in the Biblical and not denominational sense) being alive in substantial numbers, a still large Jewish segment of the church (the 144,000 are identified not as Gentiles or Christians in general, but specifically Jewish believers). The first century Christians themselves—rather than some distant generation—were instructed to calculate the number of the Beast. These and other evidences certainly point to a prompt fulfillment of the main body of the work.
But as the book draws to chapter 20, are the final elements of the then future picture still within that prompt-fulfillment-framework? Miller is confident that they are and introduces this as an argument in behalf of his position:
In the background, we have seen the time frame of “shortly come to pass.” The book opens with it and closes with it given at least six times. John seems to have a premonition that we would have a difficult time accepting his word for it.
This reasoning works well, but falters in chapter 20. There, as we have seen, the writer introduces the concept of “a thousand years.” Even interpreted figuratively or symbolically (and so does Miller) the idea requires an extended period of time. That is thoroughly incompatible with the period being over in the near-term: “near” and “a thousand years” are literally and symbolically polar opposites.
Since the bulk of what is discussed in the Apocalypse was in the short term, it is natural to return to that terminology at the end of the book. But that in no way alters the lengthy period of time when he describes as the “thousand years” which comes after that short period of time. It is not a matter of rejecting John’s own time frame; it is a matter of also accepting the additional, prolonged time period that John interjects in chapter Twenty.
In the chronology of the Roman Empire, Rome doesn’t fatally fall for centuries (476 A.D. is a typical dating). That doesn’t fit the nearness language either! And even if one embraces it, the “millennium” language would still need to be figured in—taking the time line far further.
Of course, we could argue that the book has the upheavals of the late 60s A.D. in mind, which would be near (if we assume an early date for the writing of the book). Some have even attempted to take all the “Roman” symbolism and say it’s really talking about Jerusalem. (I still find that idea hard to take seriously; the Romans and Jews of the first century would surely have both fallen into hysterical laughter at such an exaggeration of the status and power of the Palestinian Jews!)
[Page 292] One might find it far more useful to argue that 66-70 A.D. (the years of the Great Revolt) were a judgment on both Jerusalem and Rome. Somehow we always seem to forget the Year of Four Emperors (June 68-December 69), a trauma so severe that one line of emperors (Nero’s) was brought to an end and another began with Vespasian (in charge of the Jewish War!)—an emperor who was hailed as savior of an Empire tottering on the edge of distintegration. This would do profoundly more justice to the distinctly “Roman” symbolism as well as the emphasis on Jerusalem and provide a near term “fulfillment” such as is being sought.
However this would still constitute a fulfillment only of the near term elements of the prophecy. The problem still would be that a “thousand years’ occurs before the promised judgment of individuals.
The fatal years of 66-70 make a great deal of sense as the subject matter of the bulk of the book, but there is no way on God’s earth that the 40 years between Jesus’ death and the destruction of Jerusalem can possibly be twisted into meaning such a hugely longer period as “a thousand years” requires.
Hence that still won’t fit into the period prior to 70 A.D. The promised “time line” John provides is simply not amenable to this approach. Hence we feel fully justified in asserting that to call the events of chapter twenty a judgment day on Rome . . . or Jerusalem . . . or any other first century entity—making it parallel to the “judgment days” on Old Testament powers such as Edom—is to confuse these temporal judgments with the final judgment not of nations, but of individuals, of all humanity.
[Page 293] Which is the subject of Revelation 20’s judgment scene. That goes far beyond God’s periodic judgment actions against political and even religious entities throughout history and takes us to that time when the judgment is not upon the group we are within (nation state or what have you), but upon us as individuals. And that occurs not simultaneously with the upheavals narrated in the earlier chapters, but after the Millennium of Martyrs comes to an end. Far, far later.
(2) This turns symbolic language into literal language.
In conclusion to this section on Revelation 20, we have first noted the background to the text which involved its language and time frame. The language was symbolic; a presentation by the inspired writer of word pictures drawn to teach one basic truth. These word pictures each have essential parts of the picture just like a still life has a table, fruit and a bowl. We are not at liberty to put one of the elements out of the symbolic painting and press it to a forced literalism to suit our doctrine.
[Page 294] As applied to whether “a thousand years” should be taken as meaning that number of years on a calendar, this is a fine argument. But what we are arguing about is whether to accept the length of time implied by the very symbol itself--the “thousand years.” That would require an extremely extended period of time before the judgment occurs, making it a far distant event in comparison with those described by the “near term” language explicit or implicit throughout the earlier parts of the book. How does one possibly make long-term symbolism (“a thousand years”) equivalent to near-term symbolism (the “near” language)? One can’t and have a consistency in language usage.
Furthermore note what is described as occurring: When the judgment language of verses 12-13 is combined with the images of the vanishing of the earth (verse 11) and all places for the dead being emptied (verses 12-13) and the destruction of the holding center for the dead, Hades (verse 14), what most logical event of judgment can the text refer to than that of the Final Judgment—not of nations but of all individuals?
(3) The “geography” of the account argues against the Final Judgment being under consideration: The “lake of fire” is placed as if “in” heaven?
Miller presents his case in this manner:
These . . . who are resurrected to die again are pictured as being cast into a lake of fire and brimstone. This is not a description of Hell as we understand it, meaning the eternal torment of the wicked. Revelation 14:8-12 tells us about this lake of fire into which these “dead” are cast. In 14:8 the third angel cries, “If anyone worships the beast and his image (exactly what the “dead” did) and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will . . . “be tormented with the fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
When the “dead” are cast into the fire and brimstone it is not Hell as we commonly use the term because, note it is in Heaven! The “fire and brimstone” are “in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb.” We know Hell as the place of eternal punishment, as banishment from the presence of the Lord, but not so with the judgment on Rome. The judgment on Rome came from God’s throne and was spoken of as fire and brimstone.
If the lake of fire and brimstone can’t be Hell because it is placed “in” Heaven, how can Rome receive punishment on earth when the place of punishment (by Miller’s own argument) is placed “in” Heaven? Would not his argument be as fatal to his own view as the one he opposes? Although this may well be sufficient to deal with the specific argument he raises, his underlying question of how both Heaven and Hell could be “geographically” located in the “same” place deserves more detailed attention: We find a similar closeness language used of punishment in Hades.
[Page 296] In Luke 16 we have a more interesting description of that “holding area” for mankind between death and the end of the world. Though many label the story of Lazarus and the rich man as a mere “parable,” this is a severely inadequate description. Parables were always based on what had really happened (like a sower going forth to sow) or on what could happen (the rewarding of faithful servants). An element of exaggeration—even severe exaggeration—may readily be admitted in certain cases, but the stories are still centered in reality at their core, whatever modest or substantial embellishments they may have added.
Hence we rightly expect to find in the story of Lazarus a reliable description—as far as it goes--of what happens after death in spite of the many questions it leaves unanswered. (A very similar situation applies to eternal rewards and punishments as well.)
In this narrative Lazarus and the rich man both waken in “Hades.” Lazarus receives joy and comfort and blessings; the rich man is in torment and anguish. Though there is “a great chasm fixed” between them (verse 26) they are “close enough” together that Abraham and he can communicate and speak with each other. Hence, in a very substantial sense, they are both in the same place.
Yet they also are not: because of the “chasm” between them and because one is enjoying existence and one is cursing it. If the places of pain and anguish can be placed so “close” together with the place of reward, joy, and happiness—yet maintain their strict separate existence—how is it surprising that the places of reward and punishment in eternity are similarly placed geographically “close” in the Apocalypse. Although it may strike us today as a tad odd, conceptually it is in keeping with this earlier description of Hades.
[Page 297] And
there it is surely individuals and not nations being punished. As is the case in Revelation 20.
(4) Similar language is used in the Old Testament of this-world judgment on temporal powers?
Miller argues that “that the Old Testament helps define this judgment scene because Daniel sees one exactly like it in Daniel 7:9-12.” In the NASB these verses read:
I kept looking thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat and the books were opened.
[Page 298] Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed, and given to the burning fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.
The verses certainly refer to a Divine judgment prior to the Final one because only one of the beasts is destroyed; “an extension of life was granted” to the rest of them. To contend as Miller does that Daniel 7 refers to “the judgment on Rome” seems most unlikely: the following verses (Daniel 7:13-14) refer to Christ receiving His kingdom from the Father. This would put the events of these verses in the first century prior to the writing of Revelation since the kingdom was already in existence at that point (1:6, 9).
Yet this judgment on Rome occurs only in chapter 20, we are told, and yet the kingdom was in existence prior to John taking up pen and ink to even write the book. How then can they refer to the same event?
Whether Daniel 7 refers to a Divine judgment on Rome is actually irrelevant in our current discussion: Even if Daniel 7 refers to the subject, it still can’t be the same judgment as that pictured in Revelation 20. The Daniel text itself indicates a survival of temporal-earthly powers beyond that event (“an extension of life was granted”). Such a survival is neither stated nor implied in Revelation 20. Indeed, the reference to how the earth is no more would be major evidence against even the possibility. Hence the conclusion seems inevitable that Revelation 20 is referring to the Final Judgment—not merely of Rome, but of all humanity.
b. How comprehensive is this day of judgment? All humanity or just part?
The text refers to the category being judged as “the dead”—not merely the wicked dead; “the dead,” as if all the dead. Verse 13 refers to “every one of them,” with, apparently, the same idea of comprehensiveness. This analysis is confirmed by the fact that though this chapter explicitly refers just to the punishment of the wicked, the following chapter immediately moves to the eternal rewards of the righteous.
How could that happen unless they have faced the Final Judgment also? If the righteous are judged at all in the close of the Apocalypse, it must be at this judgment for it is the only one referred to by the text. It is only after this judgment that the “new Jerusalem” descends. Hence the righteous receive their rewards only after the judgment of the wicked in verses 12-13, again implying that is the judgment time for the righteous as well.
Miller insists that “there are no righteous” standing before the judgment of chapter 20. The text, of course, asserts no such thing. In fact, the reasoning we have presented argues strongly in the opposite direction, of it being judgment day for all mankind.
[Page 300] The universality of this judgment is significant in itself for many have the delusion that death will enable them to escape any punitive judgment of God: It occurs either here or nowhere, they reason. To whatever extent there is “punishment” for sin, they see it happening in this world or never. After this life, only eternal darkness. They will discover to their horror that even death itself is no protection from God’s wrath!
Others covet death because of the pressures and turmoil of this life and they desperately long for an escape from all of it. The difficulties can become so intense that suicide appears the only way of escape from the terrors of existence. But the testimony of the Bible is that it won’t work: that, whether one likes it or not, one will continue to exist in the spirit. Existence will be; the only question is where.
Our text stresses the universality of that awesome and even frightening day by pointing out that “the great and the small” all stand before the throne of judgment. Mounce rightly suggests, “The point is that no one is so important as to be immune from judgment and no one is so unimportant as to make judgment inappropriate.” Power, status, and wealth mean nothing to God; they neither gain extra reward nor extra punishment in themselves. What does is what we’ve done with them. On the other hand, insignificance won’t hide one either.
[Page 301] To say that “the sea gave up the dead which were in it” (verse 13) is a strange remark because one would expect “sea and earth” but the pattern is sea, death, and Hades which “gave up the dead which were in them” (verse 13).
Perhaps John is alluding to a deep psychological fear found in many: When a man dies he is buried and people know where he is buried, but when an individual drowns and the body is lost at sea, he disappears, vanishes. From the standpoint of the family and relatives, it is almost as if he has not merely died, but has even ceased to exist.
The Jews had little sympathy with the sea; they were a land people. Which was the cause and which was the result matters little: the result was an almost conscious aversion to the ocean. Perhaps this is why John stresses that even the sea will be forced to give up its dead. Even a feared object like the sea cannot escape yielding to God’s command. And those lost there subject to God’s justice.
And multitudes have been lost there. Civilians (remember the Titantic?). Many submarines and sailors. Of an uncountable number of nationalities and over thousands of years as well. All of those will join the scene for what is about to happen—the administration of Divine justice.
The skeptic (and the honestly perplexed) sometimes wonder why the sea—being part of the “earth and heaven”—are spoken of as removed in verse 11 while in verse 13 the sea is still around to give up its dead. Verse 13, however, actually says that “the sea gave up the dead which were in it,” but not the exact time that it occurred. It conspicuously does not commit the error of saying that it did so after the removal of the earth; indeed, the vanishing of the earth in verse 11 requires—on the grounds of narrative consistency much less inspiration—that this “giving up” occurred prior to that being fully accomplished.
c. The standard of judgment: One’s lifestyle / one’s “deeds.”
Their destiny was determined “according to their deeds” (verse 12):
“according to their works” (Holman)
“according to their actions” (ISV)
“according to what they had done” (ESV, NIV)
“on the basis of what they had done” (God’s Word)
“in accordance with what their conduct had been” (Weymouth).
This affirmation is repeated in verse 13: they were “judged every one of them, according to their deeds.” No one could take refuge in some other standard: church, kin, wealth, position.
In both texts note that they were critically evaluated according to how faith was expressed—or not expressed—in their lives. Their works did not save them independently from their faith, but as an expression of their faith.
[Page 303] Those who are lost are so because their manner of life reflected a lack of true belief. Faith and deeds—faith and works—faith and lifestyle: these are two sides of the same coin. Without both the coin is defaced and worthless. Hence John speaks of their conduct being their judge.
“Deeds” (as reflected in the alternative translations also) covers the totality of one’s behavior—everything one does and, for that matter, doesn’t do. Other scriptures touch on various aspects of this and connect them with the Divine judgment as well. One’s secret behavior, for example, ones that few or none know of, are included: “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus,” Paul warns (Romans 2:16).
Rash and profane words that demean and insult will be remembered, cautioned the Lord Himself:
. . . For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. And I say to you, that every careless word that man shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:34-37)
What is said and done reflects what is in the heart: one’s faith or lack thereof. But God goes beyond the external manifestations and judges not only what has been done, but the underlying reason for it as well:
[Page 304] 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. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
“I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10)
We often think in terms of our deeds condemning us, perhaps because we instinctively recognize that no matter how good or virtuous or hard working we may be, that we will inevitably fall short of what we could be and, perhaps, even what we think we should be. The Bible presents a far more balanced picture than our own insecurities permit us: They stress that our good will not be forgotten, that the faithful Christian will be judged on the basis of the good that faith has produced rather than upon the basis of the bad that God has forgiven:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Psalms 62:11-12)
The judgment is an impartial one for this very fact, that one’s lifestyle is the standard and not any of life’s advantages or disadvantages including place of origin or where we currently reside. The apostle Peter made this very connection when he wrote:
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth. (1 Peter 1:17)
d. The “books” used in the judgment: “the books of deeds.”
“And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” [“works,” NKJV; “what they had done,” ESV, God’s Word, NIV; “according to their actions,” ISV; “in accordance with what their conduct had been,” Weymouth] (Revelation 20:12). In other words, God maintains an ongoing record of mankind’s behavior. No one can accuse God of a “bad memory” (if one dared!) for there it will be in the equivalent of the proverbial “black and white.” Accurate, comprehensive—damning or salvational—depending upon the kind of life that has been lived. Whichever it may be, still undeniable and irrefutable. The record of all “deeds” be they good or ill.
Not a matter of balancing good and evil deeds, it should be stressed, but of having only good conduct remaining on the record book because the bad behavior has been forgiven and blotted out. With the slate wiped clean, the faithful follower of Jesus is rewarded with eternal joy; being confronted with a mountain of unforgiven misconduct produces only eternal condemnation.
[Page 306] The idea of records being maintained of behavior is found in the writings of the Psalmist as well:
Thou hast taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Thy Book? (Psalms 56:8)
A recording of everything about us, down to our physical characteristics seems surely included in Jesus’ remark in Matthew 10:30: “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” If they are “numbered,” there must be a record somewhere of them. Trivial, yes, but also a testimony to just how all-encompassing God’s record keeping is!
The reason for it is given in the parallel in Luke 12:7: “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” We are not trivial, unimportant creatures. We are each important in His sight. Hence the detailed information. The other side of the coin, however, is that because of this we are also accountable in His sight.
Malachi also refers to a book of record:
Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. (Malachi 3:16)
[Page 307] This text, however, could refer to either a record of honorable conduct or, perhaps more likely, to a list of the redeemed comparable to the “ book of life,” which we examine next.
e. The other record used in the judgment: “the book of life.”
“ . . . Books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life . . .” (Revelation 20:11). “The book of life” could carry with it the connotation of “the book which provides the requirements and conditions of gaining (eternal) life.” If this were the only place where the expression were used in the Apocalypse, this equating of “the book of life” with the gospel (New Testament) would be too tempting to reject. However a consideration of the other places where it is found forces us to conclude that it is—at least primarily if not exclusively—a listing of the names of the redeemed. For example, we find it referred to this way in both this and the following chapter:
And if anyone’s name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
And nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it [the heavenly, new Jerusalem], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)
[Page 308] Turning to other passages in the last book of the Bible, we find that this register is not one begun in the Christian dispensation; it contains the names of all those who have kept God’s will since the beginning of creation:
And all who dwell on the earth will worship him [= the Beast], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:8)
The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8)
These verses could be read as indicating God has had an irrevocable list of the redeemed from the time of creation—from before they were even born. (Of course there is always the not insignificant problem of why permit them to be born if you already know the outcome?) The point of the verses, however, is that the list was begun at creation rather than being completed and fully in place at that date.
[Page 309] Nor the idea of an irrevocable listing does not fit well with John’s theology in the third chapter where he warns that names in this book could be removed:
He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5)
In short, the listing in the book is conditional upon good behavior and is forfeited when the individual turns to a reprobate life.
The apostle Paul also refers to the “book of life” in the Johnanine sense of a listing of the saved and points out what we would normally imply even without it being made explicit—that both genders are included:
Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:3)
The earliest Old Testament reference to God maintaining such a record is found in Exodus 32 and there it is combined with an indication that names can indeed be removed:
Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!” And the Lord said to me, “whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” (Exodus 32:31-33)
[Page 310] In Malachi 3:16 (which may instead refer to the record books of conduct) we read of “a book of remembrance . . . for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.” We then read of the day in which God will “spare” them as a man “spares his own son who serves him” (verse 17). It is presented as a day in which a distinction is made between the righteous who serve God and those who do not serve Him (verse 18). Presumably the end judgment and resurrection is under discussion. If used of something that occurs in the current life, however, it still shows that any retribution God Himself pours out is based upon a solid record of evidence and not due to some casual decision on His part.
The question naturally arises of why there would be two sets of books, one listing the redeemed and one providing an account of conduct. One possible explanation is that a person might have (relatively) little of a derogatory nature so far as behavior and attitude goes, and yet never have come into a covenant relationship with God. Hence the need for a second record that lists only those who have not only lived right, but have also put their faith in God and His Son.
Another possibility is to avoid any effort at gainsaying in the day of judgment from those arguing from their “virtuous” life that they should be counted as redeemed regardless of the lack of an adequate spiritual life. Then, again, there may be some entirely different set of factors involved in the matter.
[Page 311] Some have found in the use of the singular “book of life” rather than the plural “books” an indication of few being saved. As far as it goes this is certainly true. In comparison with the number of wicked the number of the redeemed is small:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
In absolute numbers many will be lost; when the comparison is between saved and lost, “few” are saved.
However, when the actual figures of the redeemed are presented in absolute numbers it should still be impressive indeed. (Remember the picture of multitudes around the celestial throne that is painted in Revelation!) Hence the use of the singular “book” to contain their names says nothing about the numerical count of the redeemed.
[Page 312] One seems on far sounder ground to argue that the reason we read of both a “book” (of names) and “books” (recording behavior) is that a list will always be “short” when compared to the many books/volumes/records (plural) required to contain the vast accounting of all mankind’s behavior.
f. The destruction of the distinction between death, Hades, and the eternal fires of perpetual punishment by being merged into one.
As 20:14 puts it: “And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
The scriptures personify both Death and Hades in a few other texts as well. In Romans 5:14 Paul makes Death the ruler of pre-Mosaical man, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses. . . .” Revelation 6:7-8 presents the personification quite effectively:
And when He broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” And I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name “Death”; and Hades was following with him. And authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
That which had been man’s enemy is now itself “punished” by being cast into the fiery lake. A very real enemy is given a very real retribution: being hurled where it can not have any ability to escape nor does it have any more ability to harm redeemed mankind—ever.
Others might reason along this different line: Death no longer exists for the physical universe has been eliminated. Hades—the “holding area” for men and women till the point the universe is removed—no longer has any function to fulfill for none will now die and enter it. So it also ceases to exist. Both statements are true as far as they go, but what does either have to do with the casting of Death and Hades into the fiery lake?
The first interpretation is certainly correct as far as it goes for we find that personification in both Romans and quite explicitly in Revelation 6. Yet the second interpretation probably explains why the personification is made: to enable them to be removed in an image that our minds can grasp.
They are “merged,” so to speak, into one. The means (Death) and place (Hades) of pre-eternal punishment and confinement are almgated with the place of eternal punishment.
[Page 314] Death is pictured as cast into/merged with the burning lake because Adamic sin created death and the burning lake is where unforgiven sin continues to be punished. Furthermore, the lesser—physical—death is blended into the greater (second) death as well for that will no longer be around to plague us like an unwanted (and often feared) guest.
Likewise Hades was the temporary resting place for all and as such it was also the resting place for the wicked. Hence it is thrown into/merged with the eternal fires which are the abiding place of punishment--for its function is now complete.
Literally done this way? Probably not. But how else does one portray the permanent purging of existence of these two fundamental realities? It has to be by imagery and symbolism so that we can “see” what will happen. “Facts are facts” and words can certainly convey them. But to see the reality—if only in symbolism—adds vast power to the facts. We see them “live” and, in this case, “die” in front of our eyes. The experience is surely far more profound when done this way.
g. “The second death, the lake of fire.”
[Page 315] It is a place of “death” because one is cut off once again from where there is life. Physical death cuts one off from physical life. The second death cuts one off from the “spiritual” life of joy and happiness in eternity. You are cut off just as much from that elation as your death in the current world cuts you off from that wonderful travel excursion to Europe you had been looking forward to for years.
This is part of the Divine retribution. This separation from life would be bad enough, but the text goes beyond this to indicate that continuing wrath is also involved.
“The lake of fire” it is called. Figurative. Symbolic. Call it what you will. The verbal picture certainly carries nothing with it that would encourage happiness and joy, but fear and dread in its place. The picture carries with it the ideas of pain and anguish, suffering and sorrow.
A place to be avoided at all cost. And yet the cost is one most find too high to pay: Faithful service to the Lord. So little and yet so much.
And in it lies the difference between eternal life and joy and eternal exclusion from happiness and the pain of overt punishment. A dreadful combination which the Lord has warned of time and again.
Who, then, is to blame if the warning is not heeded? The Lord will willingly redeem all who wish to be saved, but that desire must be manifested in more than empty words. It must be manifested in a changed lifestyle and a restrained and ethical pattern of life. God coerces no one—but He warns all! And if one refuses to listen, there will be no one left to blame except oneself when eternity dawns and this world is left far behind.
What we have proposed in this volume is nothing short of a drastic reinterpretation of Revelation 20. Premillennialism isn’t right for many reasons. It is the author’s hope that this study has exposed one of its most glaring faults: It can’t even read chapter twenty and grasp the fact lying on the very surface of the text that TWO millenniums are clearly under discussion rather than just one. And if it can not even add one thousand and one thousand and come up with two thousand, how dare we trust its exegesis on points that are vague and ambiguous under even the best conditions?
Our approach also challenges much—though far from all—of the “amillennial” approach to the text. We believe that it, too, has been blinded by a too superficial reading of the chapter. Bimillennialism represents a powerful tool against traditional premillennial/dispensationalist speculation. Yet it also requires a considerable modification in traditional amillennial argumentation. Amillennialism can carry out such a modification without repudiating its basic assumptions; it is very unlikely that premillennialism will be able to.
It is always dangerous to assert that an idea is absolutely new. A form of Bimillennialism was present in the 18th century and we have examined it. Unlike this earlier model, the Bimillennialism presented in this book is far more strongly rooted in the clear wording of the text itself.
[Page 317] The opponent of Bimillennialism is on the defensive from the start: he is compelled to read into the text mental parentheses around “This is the first resurrection.” As written, the event is placed at the end of the first thousand years and most naturally describes what comes next: “The first resurrection” itself. Only by finding a way of ignoring this fact—and all four major differences the text makes between the two millenniums—can he return to his desired monomillennialism.
We have interpreted the entire chapter within this Bimillennial framework, but it should be emphasized that much of what is said will stand firm regardless of whether the reader accepts the central framework of Bimillennialism. Now it is time to hand the book over to the reader: to ponder, to question, and to challenge. To the extent it forces you to do that, the many hours of research and meditation that went into it will have been amply rewarded.
 Robert M. Mounce. New International Commentary on Revelation. Page 364.
 Rodney M. Miller. The Lion & the Lamb on Planet Earth. Orlando, Florida: Miller Publications; Second Edition. 1981.
 Ibid. Pages 266-267.
 Ibid. Page 266.
 Ibid. Page 266.
 Ibid. Page 265.
 Ibid. Page 266.
 Robert M. Mounce. New International Commentary on Revelation. Page 365.