Reading 2

Further transcripts

Revelation 20:12-13

 Plumstead Conference 2001

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is that of life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books according to their works." (v.12)

In verse 12 whether "small and great" or "great and small", presumably that is either in men's eyes or in their own eyes. Before God all are the same, exceedingly small. So reputation and self-esteem will count for nothing in that day. Before God as with Belshazzar, all will be "weighed in the balances, and found wanting" (Dan.5:27). It is the person that is judged in the light of the works, not only the works, but the person in the light of deeds done.

May I suggest that "great and small" is also related to the light a man has from the Lord. I would like to mention two passages, first of all Luke 12:47-48 "And that servant, who 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 have the more". Another passage is Matthew 11:21-22 "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you". So I suggest that "great and small" may be related to the light one has from the Lord. For example, unbelievers from Western Europe who have been confronted with the gospel many, many times will be judged more severely than one who has never heard the gospel.

I am glad that has been mentioned. We did notice in the providential judgments that the Western world comes in first for judgment, then the Arab world, and then Gog and Magog. It would seem that the Western world, so favoured with the light that we have had, must of necessity be judged first, and most severely. Gog, which has perhaps been deprived of the gospel, will come in last, but they will not escape.

There is one other reference that may be relevant, and that is Matthew 23:14-15 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for pretence make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves". So it does look as if the severity of judgment will vary, but the duration, alike, is eternal and irrevocable.

We read here of books that are opened. It is significant that the Lord uses things with which we are familiar. Today, as well as books, rolls etc., we have tapes and computers and CD's and complicated machines with which we can record things, but I think the idea here is that everything is recorded. The plural - books - may suggest that those who are going to be condemned are more than those that are saved. There is only one book of life.

Last night we heard about the two trees in the garden of Eden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil speaks of responsibility. The books (mentioned in the plural) in verse 12 show the responsibility of man. The book of life proceeds from the tree of life. It is the line of grace. It will become clear at the great white throne that all those who appear there will be judged according to their responsibility. Another matter will become clear, namely that they refused grace because their name is not found written in the book of life. This is the solemn fact before us here. My own father was converted out of the world to faith in the Lord because of this verse, "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire". This brought him on his knees and to his conversion.

The criterion for judgment here is shown to be the works as recorded in the books. A similar thought is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10 "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad". Will the works only be judged? What about the thoughts? They are so interrelated in us that definitely everything will be brought to light. I think the apostle Paul mentions this in 1 Corinthians 4:5 "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God". Man is a complex person. His works, his deeds, and these are the result of thoughts and the imagination of his heart. So everything will be brought to light and judged according to what has been done. The man who had only the testimony of creation, the eternal power and divinity of Godhead, will be less responsible than the antichrist for example, who has led millions into darkness. The question has been raised 'What will be the kind of torment?' We do not know, but resurrection implies the reuniting of body, soul and spirit, and I do not think the body of the unbelieving that are judged here will be consumed by the fire. Whether torments will be physical or otherwise we do not know. We do know there will be gnashing of teeth and tears, irritation and deep suffering. Yet there is a way out of it, now, with the good news of salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I wonder whether the reason for the plurality of the books is that it records, as has been suggested deeds and thoughts. The judgment is in relation to what man has done and thought, and no doubt the entry would run to many pages; but in relation to the Lamb's book of life, works have no part. It is all of grace, "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags". All that is necessary in regard to that book is an entry of our name. We notice to the difference between the books and the book.

The Lord taught us that we are going to be judged for every idle word (Matt.12:36), but it seems that no act of life escapes the record. Not a word will be lost, not a thought will be forgotten, not a deed unnoticed. This is very solemn. God knows these things all together. Every moment we live, a record is being written. These books are not provided to aid God's memory, but to demonstrate perfect justice. Additionally it seems that no witnesses are called to this courtroom, no human witnesses, only the books. There is no identity parade, neither is there any forensic evidence, all these things that men use will not be referred to, it is God's record of what has happened. That is extremely solemn, because there is nothing done that can be erased. We may attempt to erase things on a computer, but not from God's book. It is only the precious blood of Christ can cleanse us from all sin. The persons here are unrepentant and unforgiven. Their deeds which can only be evil works, because they are not in Christ.

I am concerned about the idea of the partial or different level of judgment at the great white throne as has been suggested. We have the case in Luke 16 of the rich man who in hades was in torment, this is not the same as the lake of fire, is it? We get rewards during the millennium, but in the eternal state we will all be there by God's grace, the same. But surely for the unbeliever, the difference in the judgment will either be in this life or in Hades after death. At this time here all are found guilty, and all are alike judged in the lake of fire. It does not seem to me to suggest any difference of judgment. What do the brethren feel about this?

The same thought was troubling me, but I do not think it is a problem. Is it not morally right that those with more light will be responsible for it? but there is no suggestion that anyone will be less than responsible for their own actions, thoughts and words. There is another thing here, it does not quite say in this section the Lamb's book of life. It is the book of record, the record of those who have lived a responsible life. When the Lamb's book of life is mentioned it is entirely a matter of privilege. Here it is a question of responsibility before God at the great white throne, responsibility of the person for the life that they have lived. Everyone who has lived upon earth must answer to God for every feature of that life.

In response also to the question, "according to their works", it seems clear that although these are vessels fitted for destruction by their sins, their works vary and on that basis, and the additional verses from the gospels which have been brought forth, I think that there are degrees of judgment, but they are all alike condemned.

It is a matter of judgment, not sentencing. It is possible for people to be judged and things weighed up, but sentence may or may not be variable. As to thoughts we cannot judge motives, but God does so. Nobody will be able to bring in a false motive to try to defend what they did, "I meant well" etc. God will correctly assess the motive. No doubt he does that also with us.

In regard to our responsibility, we should certainly put no limitations upon God. There is a powerful verse which says "the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed" (1 Sam.2:3), He is able to weigh it up and consequently He sees it from all ends and sides. His eyes are as a flame of fire, as has been mentioned. As to the question of variations in punishment, are we not right in linking it still with what we have in Luke 12:48, the many stripes and the few? This verse does support degrees of judgment that will be known even in eternity.

There is a verse in Ephesians 2 which is salutary, "among whom we also all once had our communication in the lusts of our flesh, doing what the flesh and the thoughts willed to do" (v.3). J.N.D.'s footnote says "that is, the things willed", showing it is not only the deeds but the will and the lusts which lead to the deeds.

Might it help also to consider the believer in glory. It has been said before that whilst all believers are the same and will all be in heaven with our joy full to the brim, our capacity will differ. So that in one sense, yes, there is an equality, but our capacity to enter into the things of God is measured as to how we have entered into in that life here. Is this not a counterpart to this question of relative levels of judgment. On the one hand, there is an equality, all in the lake of fire, the sentence the same, but there seems to be room for this measure of relativity also.

Need we say that Scripture makes no room for the theory of purgatory. We are to guard against that completely. Once these dead are sadly condemned to the lake of fire that is final. It is not a purgatory at all. Let us be sure of this when we speak to Roman Catholics.

Before we move to the next verse may I quote another passage from Romans 2 where we have the judgment for those who condemn others while doing the same things themselves "according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, [thou] treasurest up to thyself wrath, in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who shall render to each according to his works: to them who, in patient continuous of good works, seek for glory and honour and incorruptibility, life eternal. But to those that are contentious, and are disobedient to the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there shall be wrath and indignation...." (vv.5-8). It does not say how people work in these two very different ways. That is not the question, but the fact is that God judges what they do. We know that people can only seek for glory and honour and incorruptibility if they have received the Lord Jesus, if they have received new life. This is obviously so, but this is not the point here. Responsibility is according not to what men are but according to what men do.

It is worth looking at Romans 1:32. Here you get the basis of the works. Those that do such things are worthy of death, not only practise them but take pleasure or delight in them that do them. Those who love word studies will understand the importance of this particular expression. There are two words for doing. One of them is the word poieo which has the object in view, and usually in an ethical sense, it is a good end. The other word prasso are the acts leading to the end, and ethically it is usually in a bad sense. So you sometimes have to consider carefully which particular word it is, because you can often discover from the original language whether it is good or bad. The particular value of Romans 1:32 is that you get both these words in the same verse. J.N.Darby's footnote is particularly helpful. See also John 5:29.

I have noticed these two words, but I do not think either of these words imply good or bad.

If you consider the top authority of synonyms, which I take to be Archbishop Trench of Dublin, he says that if there is a suggestion of an ethical flavour in the words, we find it in the use of these words.

There is another delightful reference in Ephesians 2 "We are God's workmanship", which could be translated as "God's poem", it puts a very delightful colour upon the assembly, we are God's masterpiece.

Gospel preachers have sometimes said that the only reason a person will be condemned is for their rejection of Christ, but this passage would suggest that the judgment is according to works as well as their rejection of Christ in the gospel.

Without compromising, cannot the two can be put together? The popular way of expressing it is to say it is not the sin question it is the Son question. We should all agree it is very much the sin question, but because the Son is the only one who has dealt with sin it is also the Son question.

"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 each according to their works:" (v.13)

Verse 13 continues the same line of things, but tells us that the sea gives up the dead, and that death and hell delivered up the dead that were in them, then it tells us again that every man is judged according to his works. This verse especially impresses upon the reader that no individual will be overlooked, wheresoever they may be found at that time.

Are we to look at the sea then in a physical sense? When they caught Eichmann, one of the culprits in connection with the Jewish holocaust, he made the express desire that when he was executed his body would be burnt to ashes and scattered on the ocean.

This verse would mean that no one is able to escape God's judgment. But it is not always used in a physical sense.

Is this figure of the sea akin to previous usage of the word in the Revelation? We can understand Scripture using death and hades, but we now have a third element. Why is that mentioned? It is clearly an interesting question.

Isaiah 57:20 "the wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, and whose waters cast up mire and dirt". So whether we use it morally or physically, it brings home the matter of accountability to the Lord.

May the two, land and sea, be shown to demonstrate God's authority over every aspect of creation, so that there is no hiding from God. Even if one is in the sea as in the Titanic disaster, or washed away in the flood long ago, or devoured by sea creatures, it makes no difference to God, no individual will be able to escape this assize if they are unrepentant and unforgiven.

Do you think that probably the first meaning is physical? Thousands of people have been 'buried at sea'. When one dies at sea usually they bury the body by dropping it in the water. It is interesting to see that the question of death and hades is treated in the same verse.

Does the sea giving up it's dead refer to the physical body, and death and hell, soul and spirit, as we referred to earlier, resurrection of the dead bringing together again the three parts of man?

I would suggest the distinction is more between death and hades. Hades is in relation to soul, and death in relation to body. The first distinction is settled in Revelation 1:18 "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (lit. 'hades') and of death". However if "sea" is to be taken literally it can only refer to the physical body.

Death is not a place, it is a condition. Whether hades is a place or not, I think it is also a condition. Both of them show the separation of soul and spirit from the body. In death it is the body which is separated from the soul, and in hades it is the spirit or soul which is separated from the body. In this case, surely if they both give up the dead it means there will be no more separation of body and soul. That answers the question as to whether those in the lake of fire were all three, body, soul and spirit, or whether they would be separated again.

Perhaps we could also note that verse 13 does not seem to be following on chronologically from verses 11 and 12, if I see this correctly. On the whole, the passage from 20:1 until 21:8 appears to be chronological, in sequence, but in verse 12 we have the great white throne, and then it says in verse 13 that "the sea gave up the dead". Clearly the dead have to be given up by the sea before they can stand in front of the great white throne. As a suggestion, the train of thought might be that first it is stated "I saw the dead, great and small", then "the dead were judged", and the question might arise 'Well, is there no escape?' In order to close that door, so to speak, to make it completely unambiguous, it is stated that even the sea gave up the dead, there was no place of escape.

I would like to make a remark about death and one about hades. Death first. We have three kinds of death in Scripture. One is the spiritual state of unconverted man which we have in Ephesians 2:1 "dead in trespasses and sins". Then we have physical death, which is the separation of body and soul and spirit. Thirdly we have eternal death, which is separation of body, soul and spirit from God, the eternal destiny of unbelievers. As far as hades is concerned, we find hades in Luke 16, where we find the rich man, when he was dead, lifting up his eyes in torment, so we see him as a conscious person in hades. In Acts 2:27 there is one thing I would like to point out, just to make the difference between the Old and the New Testament plain. In Acts 2:27 we have a reference to Psalm 16:10 when the Lord says prophetically "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hades, nor wilt thou give thy gracious one to see corruption", and the question has been asked whether the Lord Jesus was in hades. If we see that this is a quotation from Psalm 16 where we really have the Hebrew word sheol, which is rendered in Greek hades, then it is clear that in the Old Testament we do not have the same light that we find in the New Testament, because in Luke 16 it is clear that there is a difference. Lazarus is in paradise, and the unbelieving rich man is in hades, but in Acts 2:27 we have an Old Testament reference and therefore the distinction does not appear.

The Lord Jesus certainly was in hades in the sense that his spirit was separated from his body. That is the condition. Being in that position he could also be, as regards to place, in paradise. Immediately He gave up His life down here He was in paradise. But at the same time I do think that He was in hades, because His spirit was separated from His body.

I think it is difficult to judge whether it was position or a place. But definitely, hades in the New Testament, or sheol in the Old Testament, are never mentioned except for the position of a soul separated from the body. One verse in 2 Timothy 1:10 is very encouraging as to the work of the Lord Jesus, "who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel". Life is connected with the soul, and immortality connected with the body. But definitely it is as clear as possible according to the promise the Lord made to the repentant malefactor on the cross, that the Lord Jesus' soul, was in paradise that very same day. The soul of the repentant malefactor would be with him.

This matter of the distinction between the spirit, the soul and the body is a major study. It is complicated to our finite minds because often while it is clear that the body is the material part of the person and the spirit and the soul together constitute the immaterial part of the person, quite often, especially in the Old Testament, the term 'spirit' or 'soul' is used as the immaterial part, and maybe either the spirit, or the soul, or the rest of the person apart from the body. The only way to distinguish them really is to go through every reference in Scripture to spirit and soul and body. The definitive Scripture about when death occurs is in James 2:26 "the body without the spirit is dead". This is a clear statement and we cannot go beyond that. There is a book which has some very good statements, distinguishing the various parts, and that is 'Facts and theories as to a future state' by F.W. Grant. It is not easy reading, but it very helpful in this kind of study.

It is not really entirely precise to say that the spirit and the soul are in paradise and the body is in the grave. To be more precise, we would have to say, he or she is, as far as the soul or spirit is concerned, in paradise, and he or she is, as far as the body is concerned, in the grave. The Lord Jesus said "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Scripture says they laid Jesus in the tomb (Matt.27:59-60). Our dear ones who are deceased, they are in paradise, and they are also in the grave, both are perfectly true.

Just to add to what has been said, it is clear that God has created man, spirit, soul and body. So when we are speaking about the dead, clearly it is an abnormal situation. It is right that when we are speaking about a body, we are speaking about a part of a person, and when we are speaking about a soul and spirit we are speaking about the same person. It is an abnormal situation for them to be separated.

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