The Study of Last Things
"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 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." Revelation 20:11-12
and the Lake of Fire
A. The Fearsome Judge on His Massive White Throne (Rev. 20:11). What does the Bible teach about the Final Day of Judgment and Hell? The Apostle John had been transported into the heavens to view the future (Rev. 4:1). At the very beginning, he had been instructed to write in a book what he saw (Rev. 1:9-11). Now, after describing the Return of Christ to Earth (Rev. 19:11-21), the Millennial Reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6), and the Revolt quelled at the end of His reign (Rev. 20:7-10), nearly to the end of his epic vision, John continued to record the things he viewed. John records, briefly, but with graphic detail, his viewing of the Final Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). John wrote (my literal translation), “And I saw (a) throne, great, white, and the one sitting upon it – from whose face was fleeing away the earth and the heaven, and place was not found for them.” Take note of the specifics which John the Apostle observed:
1. A throne appeared (Rev. 20:11).
a. A throne is the seat of a King, a Sovereign.
1) In the United States, we believe a Representative Republic is the ideal form of government. We are wrong. As we have observed over the last two hundred plus years, eventually politicians deduce that those politicians who promise their constituents the most benefits from the public treasury are the most likely to be re-elected. So politicians sell their souls to the highest bidders in order to retain their power. This is not justice. It is corruption that is leading to socialism and bankruptcy. In our country we have three branches of government – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. The framers of the U. S. Constitution endeavored to install checks and balances between the three branches. Unfortunately all three branches of government have ignored the Constitution, and so, on balance, the Judiciary, represented by the Supreme Court, carries the greatest balance of power. But in our Supreme Court there are nine justices, and so power is diluted nine-fold.
2) In God’s administration there is only one branch of government – the King. It is a Monarchy, or, if you will, a Theocracy. God is the Monarch, the Theocrat. In God’s administration, the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches are all subsumed under one person, God. He makes Law, He enforces Law, and He adjudicates Law. God is both King and Judge. We humans have no input whatever into the Laws God makes. We have no input whatever into the way God enforces His Laws. And we certainly have no input whatever into the way God adjudicates our compliance or noncompliance with His Laws. The humans who stand before this throne will have no other recourse. They will have no counsel, and they will have no opportunity to appeal. There is no Supreme Court other than this one. God is the Supreme Judge, and He is the Supreme Court. All decisions are final. Eternally final.
b. The throne was massive (Rev. 20:11). It is large, and it is intimidating. The person sitting on this throne is elevated above the defendants standing before him. In our courtrooms here on earth, the judge is seated on a platform significantly higher than the level on which the defendants sit or stand. That is a significant statement. It means that no person is greater than, or above the Law of the Land. So it will be at this Great White Throne Judgment. No human is above God’s Law. No human can reinterpret God’s Law with impunity. God’s throne towers above the humans who appear here. The people will cringe with their smallness, their puniness in contrast to the massive throne before which they will stand. There will be no bravado before this throne – no baseball caps turned backwards – no slouching – no insolence. This throne, with its massive size, will be ultimately intimidating. All who had no fear of God in their lives on earth will be riveted with fear of God as they stand here. All who were atheists in this life will cower in fear as they stand, without recourse, before Him whose existence they had vehemently denied.
c. The throne was white (Rev. 20:11). Even in our entertainment, we know the symbolism of white and black. In TV westerns, the good guys wear white cowboy hats, and the villains wear black. A bride wears white on her wedding day to symbolize her purity. At least that used to be the symbolism. This throne is white for a reason. Holiness is the color of this throne. Holiness means that God is all goodness and has no sin. Pure goodness and righteousness undiluted with any taint of evil, impurity, or corruption. White stands for justice. There will be no plea bargains before this throne. Not only actions, but motives will be calculated by a God who is Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Sovereign. God is everywhere, and there is no man or woman or child upon earth who is immune to His presence or who escapes His jurisdiction. God knows everything, and no person will be able to conceal what he has done, what he has said, or what he has thought. God is the final arbiter, and no one can deter Him from executing His sentence. But God is fair. He is just. He is righteous. He is right. He is holy. He will execute justice fairly and squarely, but justice will be served by His Laws, not ours; by His standards, not ours. God demands absolute perfection to be allowed into His presence for eternity. His laws and standards are unbending, unyielding. But they are just and they are fair. God cannot be moved by extenuating circumstances. God will not excuse our actions because we were either poor or wealthy, or because we pleaded insanity, or because we were surrounded by negative examples, or because we came from a racial minority, or because of our sexual preferences. No, justice will be served. An aside: Do you really want justice from God, or do you want mercy? That is a question you really need to ask yourself!
2. An unidentified person was sitting upon this throne (Rev. 20:11). Though the massiveness of the throne is utterly intimidating, and though its white color makes the defendants who stand thereat tremble because of the justice they know is coming, the REALLY intimidating element of this celestial scene is the person sitting on it. Who is this person? Though John does not identify him explicitly here, we are not left without clues as to his identity.
a. Reference is made repeatedly in the Book of Revelation to one who “sits on the throne” or who is “sitting on the throne” or “who sat on the throne” in heaven, the abode of God (Rev. 4:2-3, 9-10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). It is clear from reading these passages that the one sitting on the throne is God. In one way or another, God is identified as the one sitting on the throne (Rev. 3:21; 4:9-11; 7:10-11, 15; 11:16; 12:5; 19:4).
b. As early as Psalm 110:1, Yahweh authorizes David’s Lord (the Messiah) to sit at His right hand until God makes the Messiah’s enemies a footstool for the latter’s feet. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament make it clear that the Messiah authorized to sit at Yahweh’s right hand is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the God/Man (Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:33; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22).
c. It is further revealed in the Book of Revelation that Jesus Christ is presently in heaven, seated with His Father on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21; 5:6, 13; 7:17). In Rev. 3:21 Jesus means that after He had, by His death and resurrection on earth, conquered sin, death, the devil and all his demons, He ascended up to heaven and “sat down with” His “Father on His throne.” By that He means that He presently is a co-regent with God the Father. There is a co-rule, a sharing of power. Jesus, furthermore, offers a shared rule with those in the Church who also conquer in their lives here on earth. In Rev. 5:6 John records that He saw a Lamb standing in the middle of the throne [see the footnote]. The Lamb, of course, refers to Jesus, God’s sacrificial lamb who, by His death on the cross, provided a sufficient sacrifice to pay for the sins of the entire world (John 1:29). It is not stated specifically in Rev. 5:13 that the Lamb is seated on God’s throne, but the language is consistent with that fact. In Rev. 7:17 the Lamb, Jesus, is said to be “in the center of the throne,” implying His sharing of power with God the Father.
d. Will this co-regency continue to exist throughout eternity? Evidently so. In New Jerusalem John observes a river flowing “from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1). Again, reference is made to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” situated in New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:3). Two persons, but one throne.
e. So how will this co-regency play itself out at the Great White Throne Judgment? Rev. 20:11 refers to a single person sitting on the throne. It is my conclusion that the visible person is none other than Jesus Christ. In John 5:22-30, Jesus revealed that the Father had authorized Him to judge all humanity (John 5:22) “because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). Jesus Christ is God’s appointed Judge of all mankind. Jesus, the eternal Word of God (John 1:1-3) at a point in time was incarnated into human flesh (John 1:14), and so He is the descendant of man. But the term “Son of Man” also means that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Ultimate Man. As 100% God, Jesus has the authority to judge man, whom He created (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). As 100% Man, Jesus is qualified to judge mankind from a human perspective. Jesus, in order to judge all people, will even resurrect all who have died (John 5:25, 28-29)! The Apostle Paul, in Athens, confirmed to those listening God’s guarantee that Jesus will judge all men – God Himself raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31)! Though numerous Scriptures speak of Jesus as Judge, the statements regarding the throne in the Book of Revelation lead us to believe that God the Father will also be there, regardless of whether He is visible or not. Clearly Jesus’ judgments will be fair, for He will arrive at no decision other than that which the Father instructs Him (John 5:30). There is not one-size-fits-all judgment at the end of time, but rather a series of judgments, just as there are a series of resurrections.
f. There are many who perceive of Jesus as operating solely out of love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. They look at the cross as evidence, and they rely on Scriptures which support Jesus’ loving aspect (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16; 4:7-12). Yet these people are wearing theological blinders, and they choose to ignore or misinterpret other Scriptures.
1) They forget that Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind, far from precluding His judgment of humans, actually justifies His judgment of them. In the coming Tribulation period, for example, Jesus will be found to be the only one in heaven worthy to break the seven seals of the scroll of fierce judgment (Rev. 5:1-7). And indeed He will break those seven seals of judgment (Rev. 6:1-17; 8:1). He was found worthy to do so precisely because He had sacrificially provided redemption for mankind (Rev. 5:5-6, 9-12) – which redemption was obviously spurned by people left behind on the earth after the Rapture of the Church.
2) Jesus is the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:6, 8, 12-13; 7:9, 10, 14; 14:1, 4; 15:3; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3). But if the Lamb’s sacrifice is rejected and scorned, savage judgment from the Angry Lamb is inevitable (Rev. 6:1, 7, 9, 16; 8:1; 13:8; 14:10; 17:14)! Grace Spurned is Judgment Earned! The man, Jesus, has been designated by God as the one through whom He will judge the world righteously. And God has guaranteed that day of judgment by raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31)!
3) Being Himself God, Jesus is able to execute justice and represent God’s interests.
4) Being Man, Jesus is able to weigh human frailty.
5) Jesus, when He came to earth the first time, did not come to judge men, but to save them (John 3:17). When men place their faith and confidence in the Son of God, they inherit, as a gracious gift, eternal life. But when men reject the Son, God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36). The time is coming, at the Final Judgment, when men who have rejected the Messiah experience God’s unending wrath.
3. Heaven and earth fled away from the presence of the one sitting on the throne, and no place was found for them.
a. The appearance of Jesus on this massive white throne has a traumatic effect upon the entire universe. Heaven and earth will flee from His face (literally), and will disappear entirely, for no alternative repository will be found for the most massive physical entity known to man.
b. I am convinced that this refers to the same event the Apostle Peter described (2 Pet. 3:7-12 ), the destruction of the present heavens and earth by fire! In that passage, several factors are stated:
1) Fire is the agent that will destroy the universe (2 Pet. 3:7).
2) The destruction of the heavens and earth enables the judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7). That is precisely what will ensue at the Great White Throne Judgment. Ungodly men will be judged, and ungodly men will be destroyed!
3) The destruction of the stars and galaxies out in space will be accompanied by a great roaring sound (2 Pet. 3:10).
4) The molecular, atomic, and subatomic particles that form matter will be obliterated, evidently in a gargantuan thermonuclear explosion that creates heat so great that everything is consumed and nothing is left (2 Pet. 3:10, 12).
5) The earth, and everything in it, including any humans left alive on it, will be utterly destroyed by the flaming inferno (2 Pet. 3:10).
6) God’s purpose is to ultimately to eliminate any vestige of sin, evil, and corruption. When that has been accomplished, God will subsequently create a brand new heavens and earth in which only righteousness and righteous people exist (2 Pet. 3:13).
B. The Judgment of the Defendants Resurrected to Appear before the Throne (Rev. 20:12-13). In this paragraph John described the defendants whom he saw standing before the throne. He described the utter impossibility of failing to appear at this trial, for in every place where the dead might hide, they could not – those places gave up their dead for judgment. He also described the evidence which was used in determining the outcome and the severity of their sentences. Here is what John wrote (my own literal translation):
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another (of a different kind) was opened, which is the one of the life; and were judged, the dead ones, out of the things having been written in the books, according to their works.”
Let us make a number of observations, based on what John saw:
1. It was the dead who appeared before this throne (Rev. 20:13). Since these are called the dead, they are to be identified as those who are spiritually dead, as well as having died physically. Though this passage clearly teaches that these who appear here have been resurrected, they are still dead, which means that they are separated from God.
a. John had already written about a resurrection to life (Rev. 20:4). That resurrection had occurred a thousand years earlier. Those who had been beheaded during the Tribulation period on earth were the ones who participated in that resurrection to life. They had been beheaded because of their faithfulness in testifying about Jesus, because of their adherence to the Word of God, and because of their refusal either to worship the image of the beastly world ruler or to be imprinted with his identifying mark on their foreheads and heads. God had resurrected them back to life at the beginning of the Millennium. They were given the glorious privilege of reigning alongside Christ for a thousand years.
b. There actually are two categories of resurrections – a resurrection to life and a resurrection to judgment (John 5:29). While it seems that there is only one resurrection to judgment, the one described here in Rev. 20:11-15, there is a series of resurrections to life (Rev. 20:4-6).
1) The first resurrection to life was that of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-29). Jesus’ resurrection was of singular importance, not only because it validated His claim to be Messiah (Rom. 1:4), but because it is the first fruits, the guarantee of more resurrections to life to follow (1 Cor. 15:23).
2) A second resurrection to life will take place when deceased believers in Jesus Christ will be resurrected during the event known as the Rapture (1 Cor. 15: 50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) at the end of the Church Age, prior to the onset of the Tribulation.
3) A third resurrection to life will occur when believers in Jesus who were martyred during the Tribulation will be resurrected (Rev. 20:4) at Christ’s return after the Tribulation and at the beginning of the Millennium. Undoubtedly this resurrection will encompass all non-Church believers, including all Old Testament saints, whether Jewish (Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 37:24; Hos. 3:5) or Gentile (Job 19:25-27), as well as the righteous dead of the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4).
c. The category of resurrection in view in Rev. 20:11-13 is evidently not a resurrection to life (John 5:29), but a resurrection to judgment, reserved for those who have committed evil deeds, never having been forgiven.
1) The Category of First Resurrection – a Resurrection to (Eternal) Life. Those who “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” because they have been faithful to Him even in the face of death (Rev. 20:4) are said to partake of the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5). Not only these Tribulation martyrs, but all those who partake of the first resurrection are called “blessed and holy” (Rev. 20:6). All those who partake of the first resurrection are exempted from second death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). They will all serve as “priests of God and of Christ,” and all will “will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6), regardless of whether they were New Testament or Old Testament saint.
2) The Category of Second Resurrection – a Resurrection to (Eternal) Second Death. In sharp contrast, those who appear before the Great White Throne are not said to be believers in Christ. They are not partakers of the first resurrection, which they missed, but rather of the second resurrection (though the term is never used). They missed the first resurrection precisely because they were not believers in God or Christ. They are spiritually dead because their names were never written in the book of life (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27), and thus they were never regenerated (made alive) through faith in Christ.
d. In summary, those who appear at this judgment have died physically, but have been resurrected. Tragically, however, they are still dead spiritually, that awful malady never having been corrected. Had they been alive spiritually, they would have been resurrected at a prior resurrection, all of which were one of a series of resurrections to life. The outcome of their sentence, as far as their final disposition, is a foregone conclusion. What needs to be determined is the severity of their sentence.
2. Both the great and the small appeared before the throne (Rev. 20:12).
a. Those whom the world esteems as powerful, wealthy, and influential will not find any way to escape this judgment. They will be forced to appear utterly against their will. There will be kings and presidents who are forced to appear before this throne. Prime ministers and dictators will be unable to forego their summons. Being the founder or the head of a religion will be insufficient to forestall an appearance. We are all familiar with congressman and senators who write laws for the general populace, but arrogantly exempt themselves from those laws. They will be helpless to exempt themselves from appearing before this throne. We know of diplomats who routinely flaunt the laws of the country in which they serve because they have “diplomatic immunity.” Those tactics will not work at this judgment. Being a diplomat will grant one no immunity whatever from appearing before this throne. We stand in awe of a Bill Gates, who presently is worth $59 billion. We marvel at someone like Warren Buffet, presently worth $52 billion. Jesus Christ will be utterly unimpressed with the net worth of a single individual standing before him. Being a member of the Forbes 400 will not curry any favor with Him. We have this saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” But at this judgment no one will be able to pull any strings and rid themselves of an unpleasant court hearing because they know someone who has influence. This court will be the great leveler. The great will stand before this throne.
b. At the other end spectrum, no one will be so small either in stature or in influence that he escapes a summons. Peasants and the lower class will be forced to appear. Dish-washers and check-out clerks, garbage collectors and drivers of rendering trucks all will appear. The homeless, the unemployed, and those with no fixed address will be unable to avoid the Divine summons. There will be no way to escape this judgment by mere anonymity. Rich or poor, old or young, slave or free, American or Iranian, Asian or African, heterosexual or homosexual, athlete or disabled – it will make no difference whatever. There will be no one who will be able to slip away undetected or never have his name called because he was just part of the wood-work. Both the great and the small will appear before this throne.
3. The dead were standing before the throne (Rev. 20:12). In our courtrooms in America, the bailiff or clerk of the court implores those in attendance, whether defendants, counselors, plaintiffs or spectators, to stand when the judge enters. Just as quickly they are given permission to be seated. This court will be different. There will be no seats provided. All will be forced to stand during the entire proceeding. This court is not designed to provide comfort, but to maximize respect and honor for the Judge and to underscore the gravity of the offenses. If we read the text carefully, we observe that there is no court room mentioned. All that appears is an imposing white throne, the intimidating Judge who sits thereon, the record books, and the defendants, apparently all of them – standing there mute, in horrified shock, shoulder to shoulder. They will simply stand there, without any distinction in class or power or wealth or influence, awaiting their turn. We must remember that heaven and earth will have fled away from before the face of the One sitting on the throne (Rev. 20:11). Matter, space, and time as we know it today, will be no more. There will be no court house, no court room, no floor, no tables, no chairs. There will be no clocks, and no walls on which to affix them. Mankind will stand before the Judge stripped of all the creature comforts he has ever known. There will be no earth, no flowers, no trees, no sun, no stars, no fluorescent lights, and, I would guess, no clothes. Even nudists will shrink in shame before the leveling gaze of the Judge upon the throne. I presume all the vast assemblage will stand there in one enormous crowd numbering in the billions, awaiting their turn. There will be no private conferences, for everything is public here. There will be plenty of tears, but no facial tissues with which to wipe them away, and no handbags or purses will be allowed. There will be no hearing aids or public address systems, for none will be needed. The person standing farthest away will be able to hear clearly, every agonizing detail revealed before the throne. No doubt it will seem like an eternity to most standing there, but then, eternity is just beginning. And it will never end. . . .
4. Books were opened at the throne (Rev. 20:12). The dead were judged according to their works. It appears that justice will be served before this throne. Records have been kept, and the records will be opened and read. This judgment will not take place capriciously or arbitrarily. Accuracy is important, and truth must prevail. No one will be able to depart from before this throne and this judge complaining that there was no evidence to support the charges laid against him. All the evidence will be there, and all the evidence will be produced.
a. The dead will be judged on the basis of their works.
1) There are evidently two different kinds of books at this trial. The first set of books opened evidently contains detailed records of each person throughout all of human history who appear at this judgment. The dead will be judged according to their deeds as recorded in these books. The other kind of book is totally different. It is different, first, because it is a single book in contrast to the first set of books, which are multiple in number. It is different, second, because it is not a book of description, but a book of identity. We might label the first set of books the Books of Works. The second book is the Book of Life. Specifically, as John wrote literally, it is the Book of the Life. With God, there is only one kind of life, and that is Eternal Life, that which inheres in His very being. So this Book of Life is a record of the Living. It is a book of Final Outcome, a book of Destiny. More about the Book of the Life later.
2) John goes on to divulge what he saw. He recorded twice (Rev. 20:12b, 13b) that the dead people (those standing before the throne) were judged out of the information having been written in the books (the Books of Works). In fact, John twice concluded his statements about the dead being judged with the words – “according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12b, 13b). Several observations can be made:
b. God keeps detailed records of every deed every human being has ever done. And every person without exception appearing at this judgment will be thoroughly evaluated. A great many people go through life believing there is no hereafter. “We are no different than cats or dogs,” they say. “We die, and that’s it.” Will they ever be surprised! There is a hereafter, and there is an inevitable accounting. We also hear this argument: “What a person does in the privacy of his own bedroom is his own business.” Wrong again. It is God’s business, and he is keeping an accurate and detailed record of it. In basketball and football games, we hear the case made, “You have to figure out how the referees are calling the game.” The implication is that there is no absolute standard, and a successful player is obliged to “get away with as much as he can.” Again, wrong. God is alarmingly consistent in how He referees the “Game” of Life. He has extremely high standards. Justice is the rule of His court, not “We’ll see how much we can let them get away with.” There are some disturbing Scriptures which reveal how Jesus will adjudicate on the Day of Judgment.
c. Jesus will judge people not only by their deeds, but also by their words. To Jesus, one’s speech reveals his inner character.
1) In the day of judgment, men will be required to give an accounting of every careless word they have spoken. What we speak is a reflection of our character, and we will be judged by the words we have spoken (Matt. 12:36-37).
2) In the day of judgment, the things that we have spoken privately to a restricted audience will be brought out into the public and proclaimed loudly for all to hear. We may pretend to be something in public that we are not in private. Every hypocrisy will be bluntly disclosed. There is nothing that we wish to conceal that will not be made public (Luke 12:1-3).
d. Jesus will grade people on both a standard and a curve. By standard is meant that Jesus will evaluate people by God’s own absolute standard, not man’s situational ethic. By curve is meant that Jesus will compare relative opportunity and culpability for different individuals.
1) For example, on one occasion, Jesus commissioned His twelve Apostles to a tour of preaching and healing among Jewish cities (Matt. 10:1-10). If the people of those cities would reject them, Jesus said it would go more harshly for those Jewish cities in the day of judgment than it would for the Gentile cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:11-15). Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities incinerated by God in Abraham’s day because of their intolerable evil, including blatant homosexuality (Gen. 19:1-29). Yet Jesus predicted that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah would be better off in the day of judgment than would the Jewish people in Jewish cities who rejected the ministry of Jesus’ Apostles!
2) On another occasion, Jesus pronounced woe upon the Jewish cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida because they did not generally believe in Him in spite of all the miracles He had performed among them. He predicted that it would be more tolerable for the Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than it would be for Chorazin and Bethsaida. In fact, Jesus stated that, had He performed the same miracles in Tyre and Sidon that he had performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida, the Lebanese (Phoenicians) would have repented “in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:20-22).
3) Doubtless, Jesus was teaching that there will be degrees of punishment and torment in hell. All of hell will be perpetual torment, yet some will be tormented more than others!
e. Clearly Jesus was saying (in Matt. 10:11-15; 11:20-22) that those who receive a greater exposure to truth will be held accountable to a higher standard than others who have received a lesser exposure. Those who hear about God and Jesus in this life, but do not respond positively, will have more severe punishment in eternity than will those who have not heard. More succinctly, those who receive greater light from God will be held accountable for the greater light. By way of illustration, Americans, who in any city can attend a church or hear a Christian radio station, yet still reject Jesus Christ, will have greater culpability on the day of judgment than will Brazilians who live in the remote reaches of the Amazon jungle and have no access to churches or radios.
f. Jesus, because He is omniscient, will have the capacity as Judge to discern the truth. There is no evidence in Revelation 20:11-15 that any of the defendants will have any opportunity for rebuttal or self-defense. But if they do, they will not be able to deceive the Judge. The Judge will have had plenty of opportunity in the preceding one thousand years to evaluate correctly human testimony. Isaiah 11:1-5 speaks of the Messiah’s uncanny capacity to arrive at the truth. He will be abundantly endowed with the Spirit of Yahweh (Isa. 11:2), and He will delight in the fear of Yahweh (Isa. 11:3). Consequently, as reigning King over the entire earth, and thus as the sole justice on earth’s Supreme International Court during the Millennium, He will not be swayed by misleading appearances – that which the eye can see. Nor will He be deceived by slanted testimony – that which the ear can hear (Isa. 11:3). Instead, He will know intuitively what the truth is. He will, in the Millennium, adjudicate the poor with righteousness, and it will be impossible for the wealthy to influence His judgment. He will provide justice for the powerless and minorities, unswayed by the prevailing political correctness of the political elites of that day (Isa. 11:4). Whenever Jesus serves as Judge, He will be clothed with righteousness and faithful adherence to the truth (Isa. 11:5). That will be no less true of Jesus at the Great White Throne Judgment than it will be true of Him in His Millennial tenure as King-Judge. Jesus is Truth personified (John 14:6)!
g. Jesus, because He is omniscient, will have the capacity at that judgment to answer every hypothetical objection uttered by every defendant. Again, we do not know if the defendants will have a single opportunity to speak on their own defense. But if they do, we can imagine a defendant pleading, “But this is not fair! No one warned me this judgment was coming. I have not had enough opportunities!” Jesus told about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, both of whom died (Luke 16:19-31). The poor man found himself in comfort with Abraham, but the rich man found himself in Hades, tormented in flame. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them so they might escape the place of torment. Abraham replied that they already had access to Moses and the Prophets (the Jewish Bible). The rich man pleaded that if someone returned from the dead, his brothers would certainly respond appropriately and repent! Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31).” Jesus, far more than Abraham in this instance, will be able to extrapolate hypothetical outcomes. He will be able to rebut successfully every, “But if only ....” Jesus is omniscient to the degree that He not only knows everything that has happened, but He also knows every thing that might have happened if! At this judgment the complete truth will be revealed, and all defendants will find themselves utterly bereft of a solitary excuse for their rejection of God and His Messiah in their lifetime (Rom. 1:18-20).
5. The sea gave up its dead (Rev. 20:13).
a. In Middle Eastern thought, the sea is a difficult place from which to retrieve a body. A body buried on earth, though it decomposes, eventually at least leaves a skeleton behind for a very long time. Human remains can later be retrieved (1 Kings 13:2; 2 Kings 23:16, 20). Even burned bodies leave something left to bury (1 Sam. 31:11-13). But a human drowned at sea would be impossible for man to retrieve. But the sea presents no obstacle whatever to God. God is able to resurrect the bodies of those who have died under the most difficult circumstances.
b. What, to the modern mind, is the circumstance under which someone has died that would present the greatest difficulty for resurrection? On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members perished. “How can those bodies be resurrected?” some might ask. “The bodies were consumed in a fiery inferno and whatever fragments remained were scatted over a broad area.” What is an insuperable problem to man is no problem to God. Burial, drowning, cremation, fiery demise – whatever the cause and no matter how long ago or under what circumstances man has died, God will resurrect that body to appear, in the last days, for a final evaluation.
6. Both “death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them (Rev. 20:13).” The terms death and Hades are a Hebraism in which synonyms are used to rhyme ideas. Hades is the place of the dead in New Testament (Greek) language (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14), just as Sheol is the place of the dead in Old Testament (Hebrew) language (Gen. 37:35; Psa. 16:10; 49:12-15). In a technical distinction, death is a state, and Hades is a place. Without going into detail, it is the position of WordExplain that, prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, both the righteous and the unrighteous went to Sheol or Hades upon death. However, as Jesus illustrates in Luke 16:19-31, the righteous dead went to a place of comfort (Luke 16:22), while the unrighteous went to a place of torment (Luke 16:23-24). There was a great chasm between the two compartments of Hades, so it was impossible to cross from one side to the other (Luke 16:26). It appears that, when Jesus ascended back to heaven after His death and resurrection, He took the souls of the righteous with Him, where they remain to this day (Eph. 4:8-10). Since that time Hades has been populated only by the unrighteous dead. It is the unredeemed dead who are resurrected from Hades to appear before the Great White Throne in judgment (Rev. 20:13).
7. Again (see Rev. 20:12), all who appear at this judgment will be judged by their works (Rev. 20:13). Here the emphasis is that every defendant who appears here will be judged by his works. There will not be a single defendant who is not judged. There will not be a single defendant who escapes accountability. Justice will not be haphazard – it will be meted out according to the works of every person as recorded in God’s infallible “Books of Works.” At issue here is not primarily guilt or innocence – all who appear here are presumed guilty (John 3:18), else they would not have been summoned here. They are spiritually dead, separated from God. They have not passed out of the realm of death into life, but rather have remained in the realm of death (John 5:24; 1 John 3:24), else they would not be standing here. Their guilt will be confirmed by referencing the Book of Life. At issue here is degree of guilt, degree of culpability. The outcome of the evidence presented in these “Books of Works” is severity of punishment. Evidently in hell there will be degrees of punishment.
8. Nothing can prevent man from standing before God.
Things that cannot prevent man from standing before God:
a. Materialism cannot prevent man from standing before God! Materialism is the belief in the supremacy of matter, and consequently a denial of the spiritual realm. Man's crutch, matter, will be abolished. Matter is not virtually eternal, as evolutionists want us to believe. The earth and the heavens appeared as matter far more recently than most men believe possible (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11). And matter will disappear far more quickly than most men believe possible (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). Resurrected dead men will stand utterly naked before God (Rev. 20:11-12).
b. Death cannot prevent man from standing before God (Rev. 20:12-13)!
c. Station in life cannot prevent man from standing before God! Both the great and the small will stand before Him (Rev. 20:12)!
d. Lack of evidence cannot prevent man from standing before God (Rev. 20:12)!
1) Books will be opened which contain records of every man’s deeds (Rev. 20:12-13).
2) The Book of Life will be consulted (Rev. 20:12, 15).
e. No hiding place can prevent dead men from standing before God (Rev. 20:13)!
1) Not the sea;
2) Not death itself;
3) Not Hades, the temporary repository of the dead.
1. Both death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. The Apostle John succinctly stated two terrible events that occurred at the conclusion of the Great White Throne Judgment. The first event is this: “And the death and the Hades were cast into the lake of the fire (Rev. 20:14, author’s literal translation).” The same death and the same Hades that had given up all the dead within them in order to be judged (Rev. 20:13), now were thrown into the same lake of the fire mentioned earlier in the Apocalypse – the one into which the Beast and False Prophet had been thrown at Christ’s Return (Rev. 19:20), and into which Satan himself had been thrown after the Final Revolt (Rev. 20:10).
a. Physical Death as we know it in this present era is a ghastly, gruesome event. There is nothing good about death. It is man’s final foe to be eliminated (1 Cor. 15:26). Physical Death is both a process and a state. As a process, it is the gradual deterioration of the human body, a corrosion of the body’s ability to hear, feel, smell, see, taste, and think. As the human body ages and finally enters the last few moments of old age in this physical life, it becomes increasingly grotesque. Finally, the spirit leaves the body and goes into existence elsewhere. For the wicked, the destination of the spirit is Hades, a place of torment (Luke 16:23). Apparently the wicked in Hades are given a temporary body in which they experience the agonies of Hades (Luke 16:23-24). As a state, physical death for the unbeliever is a separation from one’s original body. But the state of physical death will be forever eliminated, tossed into God’s eternal, cosmic dump, as John MacArthur puts it (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Revelation 12-22).
b. Hades, the temporary residence of the unbelieving dead today, will also be cast into the Lake of Fire. Will conditions in the Lake of Fire be worsened when both Death and Hades are cast into it? The Scriptures do not say. Doubtless conditions will not be improved. Probably the primary significance of this event is that temporary measures will be concluded. Physical Death will be no more, and Hades, presently the temporary repository of the wicked dead, will be no more.
c. Physical Death will have been eliminated because these standing here before the throne partook of physical death, but now they appear in their resurrected bodies. Resurrection for believers in God and Christ down through the millennia will be a blessed, triumphant event – a resurrection of eternal life in order to inherit the kingdom of God (Dan. 12:2-3; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 20:4-6). But resurrection for those who have rejected God and Jesus will be a resurrection to “disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2), judgment (John 5:29), and eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46), called the Second Death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 21:8).
d. The sad thing about the abolition of physical death for unbelievers is that, with their resurrected bodies, there will be no diminishing of their physical senses. They will witness every horrible sight with undiminished vision; they will hear every agonized cry with horrible clarity; they will feel every pulse of pain with full-orbed sensation; they will smell every putrid odor with unending revulsion; they will long for a morsel of tasty food, but never be able to eat; they will remember every painful memory with relentless recall; and the ghastly sensations they experience will never end.
2. People were cast into the Lake of Fire. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).” A more awful statement is not found anywhere else in Scripture. What can we discover about the Book of Life?
a. First, what is the Book of Life? There exists in heaven a book of life, referenced in Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27, in which has been inscribed, apparently from the foundation of the world, the names of all those who (in the Old Testament era) would one day trust in God and (in the New Testament era) in Jesus Christ. "The book of life evidently refers to the roll of those who are saved and have eternal life." John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1966, p. 306. The book could be accurately titled, "The Book of [those who have God's] Life [which is Eternal]."
b. A study of Rev. 20 reveals that no names will be added to the Book of Life at this judgment. John was very specific. “And if a certain one was not found in the book of the life having been written, he was cast into the lake of the fire (author’s literal translation).” According to this text, all names that appear in the Book of Life at this judgment had each previously been recorded there at some indeterminate time in the past.
c. The tragic end of each person appearing at the Great White Throne Judgment is that all of them are cast into the Lake of Fire. All those who appear at the Great White Throne judgment, not having God's life within them (since they have rejected Him), are spiritually dead (Rev. 20:5-6; 20:12). Their names never had been written in the book of life (Rev. 13:8); therefore they are all thrown into the lake of fire.
d. Nothing can be sadder than the eternal plight of humans who have rejected God and the forgiveness freely and lovingly offered them by Jesus at enormous personal cost (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:8, 10). There are many who make no claim of believing in Jesus, and many who do claim to believe in Him, who reject the idea of a literal hell. “How can a loving God,” they say, “cast people into a lake of fire for eternity?” Sadly, these people are grievously mistaken, having an exalted view of themselves, an insufficient view of the deadliness of sin, and a defective view of the holiness of God.
e. There are a number of different terms the Bible uses in describing a place of torment. These terms include the Lake of Fire and Hell, a translation of the Greek term Gehenna. These two terms evidently refer to the final and eternal place of torment. A number of other passages refer to Hades, and one refers to Tartarus. These seem to indicate temporary places of punishment for the unbelieving dead. Hades, however, is ultimately cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14), and so it makes sense to consider the conditions found in Hades, which evidently will not differ considerably from conditions found in the Lake of Fire. In addition, Jesus spoke a number of times about a place of outer darkness, where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Let us examine each of these terms plus some miscellaneous terms that apply to the place of torment.
3. What does the Bible tell us about the Lake of Fire? The Lake of Fire appears more than once in the book of Revelation (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8).
a. The Beast who deceived the world and set himself up as (the False) Messiah (Antichrist), along with his spokesman, the False Prophet, had been cast alive into the Lake of Fire at Christ’s Return to Earth (Rev. 19:20). There the place of torment was described as “the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.” Brimstone is sulfur, which has an extremely low flash point. Burning sulfur produces an acrid smell that both irritates the nostrils and emits a highly offensive, “rotten eggs” smell. Fire is bad enough, but the sulfur will heighten the torment. For the False Messiah and his False Prophet to be trapped in a lake with flames and burning sulfur will be an incredible and wretched outcome. The whole experience will be both offensive and unbearably painful.
b. A thousand years later, after the Millennium has ended with man’s Final Revolt against God inspired by Satan, the Devil himself will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). We are told that, a thousand years later, the Beast and the False Prophet are still in the Lake of Fire. They have not been consumed. The statement ends with the ominous words, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Not only is the Lake of Fire offensive and unbearably painful, but it is also eternal. There will never be any relief! It should be noted that in the hereafter in the Lake of Fire we are dealing with an altogether different chemistry than we are in the present on earth. For a thousand years the Antichrist and his spokesman have been burning in hell, yet they are not consumed. They are still there. Bodies that can experience the pain of flame without being burned up is more than the mind can comprehend. Yet it is true.
c. We also read that both Death and Hades, the temporary receptacle for the unbelieving dead, are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14). The whole place will reek of death for the Lake of Fire is the Second Death. Physical Death is an enormous enemy, but there is a cure – Resurrection to Life. If one is not included in the Resurrection to Life, he is inevitably destined for Resurrection to Death – the Second Death. Unbelievers in resurrected bodies that will never decay will spend a horrible eternity in hell, the Lake of Fire, always being consumed but never being burned up.
d. Rev. 20:15 is perhaps the saddest verse in the Bible. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Again, apparently all who appear at this judgment who do because their names are not found written in the Book of Life. What a sad and horrible place to spend the rest of eternity!
e. In the final reference to the Lake of Fire in the Bible, we are told the sorts of people who will populate that ghastly place. It will be the cowardly, the unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, immoral persons, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Rev. 21:8). There will be no good people in hell. There will be no good in hell. There will be no such thing as friendship or loyalty or support in hell. It will be a ghastly, selfish existence. The eternal portion of all these people will be “in the Lake that burns with Fire and Brimstone, which is the Second Death.”
a. Several different times Jesus referred to hell (the Greek word is gehenna). In Matthew 5:29-30; Mark 9:43, 45, 47-48, Jesus said that if your right eye or your right hand or your foot causes you to stumble in this life, you should remove the offending member. His reason? It is better for you to be maimed in this life than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Many commentators suggest that this is hyperbole – exaggeration for effect, and that we shouldn’t take it literally. But what Jesus said is literally true! It would be better to be deprived of one or more of one’s body members in this life and go to heaven than to retain all one’s body members in this life, yet have the whole body be cast into hell! We can draw a couple of conclusions:
1) There are steps we can take in this life to avoid going to hell!
2) People in hell have bodies with which they can experience pain!
3) The word gehenna is a Greek translation of two Hebrew words ge hinnom meaning “valley of Hinnom.” “The term originally referred to a ravine on the south side of Jerusalem where pagan deities were worshiped (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:32; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6)” (Ralph L. Smith, “Hell,” Holman Bible Dictionary). This abominable worship included sacrificing one’s children in the flames of the valley! There were always flames somewhere in the valley of Hinnom, and places where the flames had not yet burned, but where decaying flesh bred maggots. John MacArthur has appropriately labeled hell as “God’s eternal cosmic dump” (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Revelation 12-22). As far as Jesus is concerned, the Valley of Hinnom, gehenna, was the best illustration of hell! Jesus took hell literally and seriously! We had better also!
b. In Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5, Jesus urged his listeners not to fear those opponents of God and Christ who could kill the body, but were unable to kill the soul. He told them they should rather fear God, who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell!
c. In Matthew 18:9, Jesus repeated his warning to remove one’s eye if it causes him to stumble. Again, that would be better than having two eyes and being cast into hell. What Jesus said, literally, was, “Better for you it is with one eye into the life to enter than with two eyes having, to be cast into the hell of the fire!” (Author’s literal translation.) Here Jesus emphasized the fiery nature of hell (gehenna).
d. In Matthew 23:15 Jesus excoriated the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites. He accused them of going to great lengths to acquire even a single proselyte, then making him twice as much a “son of hell” as they themselves were. By that He meant that the scribes and Pharisees had hellish natures and were doomed to partake of hell. Their proselyte was doubly so.
e. Blistering the scribes and Pharisees in His white hot fury, Jesus called them snakes and vipers who would kill and persecute prophets and wise men He would send to them (Matt. 23:34). How could they possibly “escape the sentence of hell” (Matt. 23:33)? They had already committed the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:22-32).
f. Jesus added some subtle details about the torment of hell. In Mark 9:43 he described hell as “unquenchable fire.” In Mark 9:47-48, Jesus described hell has a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Evidently in hell the torment is interminable. The flames are never extinguished, and maggots that never die feed forever on the flesh of human victims whose bodies, while feeling the excruciating pain of fire and maggot, never die either.
g. Hell is a place from which an evil influence emanates. James described the human tongue as an iniquitous, defiling fire that ignites into flame one’s whole life and is itself “set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).
5. What does the New Testament reveal about Hades? (Matt. 11:23; Matt. 16:18; Luke 10:15; Luke 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14) Even though Hades is the temporary abode of the dead, the conditions therein are similar to hell. Hades will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), so consequently the lake of fire will, in large part, partake of the same characteristics as Hades. The Lake of Fire will be at least as tormenting as Hades, but probably worse, if for no other reason than that its inhabitants will know they have failed their final examination, and there is no other recourse for the rest of eternity.
a. Matt. 11:23. The people of Capernaum would find themselves in Hades because the did not respond in faith to the miracles Jesus had performed in the city. It would be more tolerable for the people of Sodom in the day of judgment than it would be for the people of Capernaum (Matt. 11:20-24). Added revelation brings added responsibility.
b. Matt. 16:18. Throughout the Church Age, Jesus will be so aggressive in building His Church that the gates of Hades will be unable to halt its militant advance. As Jesus builds His Church, He will rescue people otherwise destined for Hades!
c. Luke 10:15. Capernaum is again singled out as especially destined for Hades because her people did not respond to the miracles Jesus and His followers had performed within her (Luke 10:1-16).
d. Luke 16:23. A rich man found himself in torment in Hades.
1) Note that he had eyes with which he could see. In his agony, he cried out for mercy (Luke 16:24). He requested a small token of relief – a little water to cool the tip of his tongue. He was in agony in the flame. He was denied any comfort and any mercy, and he would be forced to remain in agony ( Luke 16:25). He was completely cognizant of his situation and implored for someone to warn his brothers back on earth so that they could escape the agony of Hades. Thus he was distressed both in body and in spirit. He was denied even the comfort of someone warning his brothers, for they had already rejected the revelation God had given them in the Old Testament Scriptures, and they would not repent even if someone were to arise from the dead (Luke 16:27-31).
2) Evidently there were two compartments in Hades before Jesus’ death and resurrection – a place of torment, in which the rich man resided after death (Luke 16:23) and a place of comfort in which the poor man and Abraham resided after death (Luke 16:23, 25). There was a great distance between the two compartments (Luke 16:23) and a great chasm between them so that neither side could journey to the other side (Luke 16:26).
3) Evidently Jesus took the saints from the comfortable side of Sheol / Hades back up to heaven with Him at His Resurrection (or Ascension) (Eph. 4:7-11). Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Rom. 8:34, etc.) so that now, when believers die, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
e. Acts 2:27, 31. Quoting Psalm 16:8-11, Peter applied David’s relief at not being abandoned to Sheol to Jesus’ not being abandoned in Hades, but being resurrected instead (Acts 2:24-32). Observe the following:
1) Old Testament Sheol is New Testament Hades.
2) Jesus went to Hades, but He did not stay there. While there He announced victory to the spirits in prison, evidently demons who had attempted to subvert the whole human race in the days of Noah (1 Pet. 3:18–20).
3) When He was resurrected (or perhaps when He ascended – Acts 2:32-33), He also apparently took believers from the comfortable compartment of Sheol / Hades up to heaven with him (Eph. 4:7-11). Having received the promise of the Spirit from the Father, He sent Him forth to believers on earth (Acts 2:33) and in the process gave gifted men to the church (Eph. 4:8, 11-12).
f. Rev. 1:18. Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:12-16), who triumphed over death, holds the keys to both death and Hades, the place of the dead (Rev. 1:18). It is He who determines when people die and when they are deposited in Hades. It is He who will requisition the dead from Hades to stand before Him at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-13).
g. Rev. 6:8. Jesus the Lamb, the only one worthy to open the seven-sealed book of judgment (Rev. 5:1-11), and the one who holds the keys of Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18), will one day open the fourth seal on the book (Rev. 6:7). When He does so, He will send Death and Hades across the face of the earth to claim the lives of a fourth of the earth’s population (Rev. 6:8). As of August, 2007, the world’s population was estimated at 6.6 billion. Using that figure, at least 1.65 billion people will lose their lives in a relatively short time. The carnage will be horrific. Those who die without trusting in Christ will find themselves in Hades.
h. Rev. 20:13-14. Since Jesus holds the keys of death and of Hades (Rev. 1:18), he will turn those keys and all the dead in Hades will stand before Him at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-12). All will be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:13). Following this judgment, death and Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death (Rev. 20:14). Tragically, all those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life will be cast forever into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15).
a. Tartarus (or Tartaros) is a noun not found in the New Testament. Thayer calls it “the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews (Thayer’s Greek Definitions, entry 5020, Quickverse, Parsons Technologies).” The verb which corresponds to Tartarus is tartaroō, found only once in the New Testament, in 2 Pet. 2:4. It means “to be cast into Tartarus.”
b. Peter there speaks of angels who were not spared by God when they sinned, but whom he cast into Tartarus, held in “pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” Most versions translate the words rendered here “cast into Tartarus” as “cast into hell.” But inasmuch as we reserve the term hell for the final abode of both unbelieving humans and evil angels (Matt. 25:41), Tartarus does not seem to be that place, for the angels who sinned in some unique manner are held in Tartarus awaiting final judgment. Tartarus is more appropriately described as either a special region inside Hades (the temporary abode of the unbelieving dead), where only the most wicked angels are imprisoned, or some similar place outside Hades.
c. Tartarus may well be synonymous with the Abyss, that place in which certain evil angels (demons) are imprisoned until their release for a specific purpose during the Tribulation period (Rev. 9:11; 11:7; 17:8), and in which Satan will be confined during the Millennium (Rev. 20:1, 3). The demons who were about to be cast out of the demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes begged Jesus not to send them to the Abyss (Luke 8:26-31).
d. To what event did Peter refer in 2 Peter 2:4? While most demons are presently free to roam the earth inflicting whatever damage and delusion on behalf of Satan they are permitted, a certain group of fallen angels committed an act of rebellion against God so grievous they were not permitted any longer to roam the earth. What was that event? WordExplain takes the position that their sin was the corruption and defilement of the human race in such a monstrous fashion that God had no choice but to destroy the entire Ante-Deluvian civilization with a global flood. The sin of these angels, co-habitation with women, is referenced in Genesis 6:2, 4 and in Jude 1:6. In any event, tartaroō, in 2 Pet. 2:4 refers to a temporary prison for certain fallen angels awaiting final judgment, and, insofar as the record shows, is not a repository for humans.
e. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that Tartarus consists of “pits of darkness.” Darkness is a condition that also exists in hell, as evidenced in the following Scriptures:
7. What does the New Testament reveal about the condition of “outer darkness”? (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). In examining each of the Scriptures below, it seems the primary time framework of these passages is the punishment inflicted on people when Jesus returns to this earth to set up His Millennial Kingdom. If that is so, “outer darkness” describes conditions in Hades, the temporary abode of the dead. Hades will eventually be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14), however, and so eventually “outer darkness” will also describe gehenna, or hell (the Lake of Fire).
a. Matt. 8:12. When Jesus was once in Capernaum, a centurion asked Him to heal his servant (Matt. 8:5-13). Jesus quickly responded that he would go to the officer’s house to heal the servant. But the centurion demurred. He was not worthy for Jesus to enter his house, but he understood that Jesus could merely utter a command and the healing would be performed. Jesus was amazed at the man’s faith, saying he had not encountered anyone in Israel with that amount of faith. Then He predicted many Gentiles from east and west would take their places at the Millennial Feast (Rev. 19:7-9) and in New Jerusalem along with resurrected Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whereas the subjects of the kingdom – large numbers of Jewish people – will be cast into a place of “outer darkness” also characterized by “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). Sadly, there will be great numbers of Jewish people in Hades, along with people from many other nations of the world. Conversely, according to what Jesus said, there will be a surprising number of Gentiles who will believe in Jesus and join with Jewish believers like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the joyous celebration of His Millennial reign!
b. Matt. 22:13. Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of the heavens (Matt. 22:1-14) in which a king (God) prepared a wedding feast (Isa. 25:6; Matt. 25:1; Rev. 19:7-9) for his son (Jesus). Invited guests (the Jewish nation as a whole) did not come. Some even mistreated and killed the king’s slaves (prophets, apostles, evangelists). The king sent his armies to execute the murderers and set their city on fire (Jerusalem in A.D. 70 – Luke 21:20-24). The king re-instructed his slaves to go out into highways, inviting anyone (the Gentiles) to the wedding feast. A man showed up at the wedding feast, however, with no wedding clothes. (He lacked the righteousness that comes by trusting in Jesus to forgive one’s sins – cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 4:1-5, 16, 22-25; Rev. 19:7-8.) The king’s servants (angels) were instructed to tie up the guest and throw him into outer darkness (Hades), where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matt. 22:13) “for many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14; cf. Matt. 25:1-13).” (See also Thomas Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition, pp. 285-287.) No one can depend on his own righteousness to make himself acceptable to God. We must be clothed with the righteousness that comes by accepting Jesus of Nazareth as our own Messiah, who died to pay the legal punishment for our sins and rose from the dead to secure resurrection and eternal life for all who trust in Him (Rom. 4:24-25).
c. Matt. 25:30. Jesus also told another story about a man who was leaving on a journey (Matt. 25:14-30).
1) He entrusted his possessions to his slaves, leaving one five talents, another two, and a third one, based on their respective abilities. (A talent was worth more than fifteen years of service for a laborer.) At the master’s return, the first slave reported he had gained five additional talents, the second, two additional talents, but the third returned his lone talent, which he had hidden in the ground. The master commended the first two slaves, granting them joy and increased service.
2) The third slave, however, may well have disbelieved in his master's return, hoping thus to save the money for his own use without detection. Critical of his master, he justified his policy of taking no risks whatever to serve his owner (Matt. 25:24-25). The sentence of the master is awful. He called this slave wicked and lazy (Matt. 25:26). This untrustworthy slave was to be stripped of his talent and thrown into “outer darkness,” where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30).”
3) In uttering this parable, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was revealing that He was entrusting Israel with the responsibility of serving Him and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom in view of His departure to heaven – responsibility according to ability. At His return He will hold Israelis accountable for how they have served Him. Those who trust Him and take risks to invest for Him in this life will be granted great joy and much greater service during His coming Kingdom. Those who have not trusted Him, but have rejected him and refused to invest for him, will be barred from the Kingdom (Matt. 25:1-13) and cast into hell (Matt. 25:30). I believe there is also an appropriate application for us Christians today. We need to take risks to serve Jesus. The greater the risk, the greater potential for return on the ministry investment.
4) At the same time, all Gentiles will likewise, at the King’s return, be evaluated by Him as to whether or not they have taken risks to serve the King in His absence (Matt. 25:31-46). Those who have not served the King by serving His followers will be consigned to eternal punishment, while the righteous will be granted eternal life and entrance into the King’s Kingdom (Matt. 25:46).
d. It is not without significance that people who do not serve the King, Jesus, will be thrown into outer darkness.
1) First of all, God’s essence is light, not darkness (1 John 1:5). Anything “non-God” is, by definition, darkness. The farther away from God and His values people are, the greater their darkness.
2) Jesus, being the Son of God, is likewise essentially light (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). He who believes in Jesus, following Him, escapes darkness.
3) Hell is as far away from God and Jesus as possible. The darkness will be terrible and palpable. There will be nothing good and no one good in hell. Today, men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). In hell, there will be nothing good, and evil will be rampant. Every one will be selfish, greedy, self-serving and injurious toward one another in hell. There will be no self-sacrifice, no love, no loyalty, no friendship. Only self-serving injury of others. The darkness will be overwhelming, and it will never end.
8. What did Jesus reveal about torment in Hades and Hell? To reinforce the fact that there will be no enjoyment in either Hades or hell, Jesus reveals that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” – emotional and physical pain (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).
a. Matt. 8:12. We have already examined this passage under the topic of “outer darkness.” A Roman centurion had great faith and would be included in the Messiah’s Kingdom. Great numbers of Jewish people, however, since they had insufficient faith to believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, would be cast into outer darkness. There they will experience both inner and outer torment. The weeping gives evidence of their inner torment. They are filled with inner pain because they are separated from God, from their Messiah, and from everything good and noble. They will gnash or grind their teeth because of the intense physical outer pain they are forced to endure.
b. Matt. 13:42. In Matthew 13 Jesus told several fascinating parables about the kingdom of heaven, literally, “the kingdom of the heavens,” (Matt. 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52). By this Jesus meant “The Kingdom which originates from the Heavens,” as opposed to kingdoms of men, which are merely kingdoms of the world. People who trust in Jesus today are privileged to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8; 14-18). The Kingdom of the Heavens, however, will be preliminarily revealed here on earth during Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, and ultimately in the New Jerusalem, Capital City of New Earth.
1) In Jesus’ parable of the Tares Among the Wheat (Matt. 13:24-30), He compared the Kingdom of the Heavens to a farmer who sowed good wheat seed in his field. While his slaves were sleeping, however, his enemy sowed tares (probably darnel, a weed resembling wheat) out in his field. When the disaster became evident, the slaves desired to uproot the tares. The master demurred, however, because he didn’t want genuine wheat to be destroyed at the same time. He counseled them to wait until harvest, at which time his reapers would be instructed to sort out the tares and burn them, then gather the wheat into his barn.
2) Jesus, upon request, clearly explained the parable (Matt. 13:36-43). He Himself was the farmer who sowed the good seed. The field represents the world; the good seed represents “the sons of the kingdom;” the tares represent the sons of the devil; the enemy represents the devil; the harvest represents the end of the age; and the reapers represent angels. Jesus, the Son of Man, will return to earth at the end of the age, accompanied by his angels. These he will send forth to “gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness (Matt. 13:41).” These they will throw into the “furnace of fire,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42).” Then the righteous will shine like “the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13:43).”
a) This will first be fulfilled at Christ’s return to earth, when the wicked are sorted out, first from among Jewish people (Ezek. 20:33-38; Matt. 25:1-13) and from among Gentiles (Matt. 25:31-46). These will be sent to Hades. The righteous will be preserved alive to live upon earth during Christ’s Millennial Reign.
b) The ultimate fulfillment will be after the destruction of the existing heavens and earth at the Great White Throne Judgment. All the wicked dead will be resurrected and forced to assemble before Jesus, the Judge. They will be evaluated for severity of punishment according to their culpability, and then will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15). The righteous will all be resurrected and preserved alive to live in the eternal kingdom in New Jerusalem and New Earth.
c) For both those who are thrown into Hades, the temporary abode of the wicked dead, and for those who are thrown into the Lake of Fire, the permanent abode of the wicked dead, there will be enormous inner pain of the soul and outer pain of the body. This is evidenced by their weeping and by their grinding of their teeth. What a despairing future!
c. Matt. 13:50. Jesus told another parable, this one about a dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50). He said that the Kingdom of the Heavens could be compared to a dragnet cast into the sea, which collected fish of all sorts. On shore, the fishermen gathered the good fish into containers, but threw the bad fish back into the sea. At the end of the age, Jesus interpreted, the angels will come and sort out the wicked from the righteous. The wicked will be thrown into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In this brief parable, several truths stand out:
1) At the end of the age humans will undergo a sorting process.
2) Angels will be involved in the sorting.
3) The two categories will be the righteous and the wicked.
4) The wicked will be thrown into fire.
5) The wicked will experience great sorrow (weeping) and great pain (gnashing of teeth).
d. Matt. 22:13. We have already examined this passage under the topic of “outer darkness.” There we learned of a man who showed up at the wedding banquet the King had prepared for his son. The man had no wedding clothes. He willfully chose to “do his own thing,” thereby demonstrating his personal arrogance and disrespect for the king and his son. He would be cast into outer darkness, where there would be weeping (sorrow) and gnashing of teeth (pain). The time framework of this parable is the start of the Millennium, at which God will host an immense “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7-9). The weeping and gnashing of teeth is characteristic of conditions in Hades, which finally will be cast into hell, the Lake of Fire, also known as the Second Death (Rev. 20:14).
e. Matt. 24:51. Matthew 24-25 comprises what is known as Christ’s Olivet Discourse. This teaching covers, to a large degree, events that will surround Christ’s return to earth. In Matt. 24, Jesus repeatedly referred to His Second Coming (Matt. 24:3, 27, 30, 33, 37, 42, 44, 48, 50). He stressed that it was important to be ready when He returns. The one who is faithfully attending to Jesus’ affairs when He returns will be blessed by Jesus and given greater responsibility (Matt. 24:45-47). The one who is not serving Jesus faithfully will find that Jesus returns unexpectedly. Jesus will cut him in pieces (put him to death - John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary, Matthew 24-28) and consign him to the place of hypocrites (Hades), where there will be sorrow (weeping) and great pain (gnashing of teeth) (Matt. 24:48-51). Of course, the point is that no one should delay diligently serving Jesus. None of us know when He will return!
f. Matt. 25:30. We have already discussed this passage in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) under the topic of “outer darkness.” There was a slave who refused to invest the sizeable sum of money his master had left to him while on a journey. The slave hid the money, not even putting it into a bank to gain at least a small amount of interest on the principal. Clearly the slave was not looking out for the best interests of his master. Perhaps he believed his master would never return, and if so, the money would not have been accounted for in the master’s estate. Regardless of his motivation, the slave acted selfishly. The master (Jesus) ordered that the wicked, lazy, worthless slave be cast into “the outer darkness.” In that place there will be “the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth” (author’s literal translation) (Matt. 25:26-30). Since the time frame is Jesus’ return at the end of the Tribulation, just prior to the start of His Millennial Reign, the place of torment is Hades, the temporary repository for the wicked dead. But since Hades will be cast into Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, the sorrow and pain spoken of here will also be present there.
g. Luke 13:28. In Luke 13:22-30, Jesus was teaching in towns on His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Jesus if there were just a few who were being saved. He replied that people should make effort to enter through the narrow door, for many will seek to enter and be unable. The time will come when many of the Jewish people who heard Jesus teach in Israel will stand outside His Kingdom, pleading to enter, but He will say, “I do not know where you are from; depart from me all you evildoers (Luke 13:27).” He predicted, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” when they see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in God’s kingdom but they themselves being excluded (Luke 13:28). There will be Gentiles who have trusted in Jesus who will come from every part of the globe to eat at the table in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29; Rev. 19:9). Some who are esteemed last in the kingdom will be first and vice versa (Luke 13:30). Being merely Jewish physically, but not trusting in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will not preserve Jewish people from either Hades or the Lake of Fire.
9. Other references to Hades and Hell that do not use either word.
a. Matt. 13:42. At Jesus’ Second Coming all “stumbling blocks” and “those who commit lawlessness” will be rounded up by angels and excluded from His Kingdom (Matt. 13:41). The angels will cast these people into “the furnace of fire,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42). This refers to Hades, the temporary residence of the unbelieving dead. Ultimately these will be cast into the Lake of Fire after their final judgment before the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
b. Matt. 25:41. Matt. 25:31-46 describes Jesus’ Judgment of the Gentile Survivors (Matt. 25:31-32) of the Tribulation (Matt. 24:15-28). Those who appear at this judgment will be separated into two categories. The “sheep” will be placed on Jesus’ right hand, the “goats” on His left (Matt. 25:33). The basis for judgment will be how these Gentiles (non-Jewish people from the nations of the earth) had treated King Jesus’ “brothers” during the Tribulation era (Matt. 25:40, 45). By “brothers” Jesus meant those who believe in Him and thus did God’s will (Matt. 12:50; Mark 3:35). In the Tribulation period, those who become followers of Christ will not worship the “Beast” (the False Messiah who is briefly the ruler of the world) (Rev. 13:1-4, 8, 12), nor will they worship the image of the beast (Rev. 13:11-15). Because those who decide to follow Christ during the Tribulation will not worship the beast nor take his mark, they will be targeted for economic exclusion (Rev. 13:16-18) and death (Rev. 13:5-7, 15). They will be forced to go underground and rely on anyone who might show them compassion with food, water, clothing, shelter, medical help, and comfort in prison. Only those who are believers or who will yet become believers in Christ will dare to help these marginalized and targeted citizens who will have been declared enemies of the Global State. Thus they will, by their deeds of compassion, have demonstrated their allegiance to and faith in Christ, and will be granted the right to live in His Kingdom on earth (Matt. 25:34-40). All those who had neglected to aid the non-conformist citizens in any way during the Tribulation, Jesus will conclude, are His enemies (Matt. 25:41-45). These latter, the “goats,” will be consigned to the “eternal fire” “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). This refers to the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8), but their initial destiny may be Hades. There they will reside temporarily until the final judgment of the wicked, following which they will be cast permanently into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15). It is also possible that, having been judged by Jesus immediately following His Second Coming (Matt. 13:31-32), these “goats” will need no further judgment (Rev. 20:11), and will be cast directly into the Lake of Fire. In either event, their ultimate destiny is eternal fire populated by Satan and his angels (Matt. 25:41), which amounts to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).
c. 2 Thess. 1:9. In the broader context of 2 Thess. 1:4-10 the Apostle Paul speaks of the persecution and adversity which the Thessalonian Christians are enduring because of their faith in Christ (2 Thess. 1:3-4). These persecutions serve to make them worthy of God’s kingdom (2 Thess. 1:5). But God is just, and when Jesus returns to earth in flaming fire with His powerful angels, He will wreak vengeance on those who afflict Christians, because they do not know God and they do not obey the good news about Jesus (2 Thess. 1:6-8). They will be forced to endure the just penalty of eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:9). This means they will be cast into the Lake of Fire after the final judgment. Until that time they will endure similar torment in Hades. Part of their penalty is being forced to exist forever “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9). This is a graphic explanation of what it means to dwell in “ outer darkness.” Most people today are God’s enemies, whether active or passive. God makes them uncomfortable, and they find Him intimidating because they want to pursue their own sinful desires. They love darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20). But they have no idea how horrendous it will be to spend eternity divorced from God, for when one is away from God, he is away from anything and everything good.
d. Rev. 22:14-15. This passage is an oblique reference to hell, or the Lake of Fire. Rev. 21-22 speaks almost entirely of conditions in New Heaven and New Earth, and, in particular about conditions in New Jerusalem. Rev. 22:14 speaks of the blessedness of those who are clothed in righteousness, obtained by trusting in Christ as their Savior (Phil. 3:9; Rev. 7:14) and by thereafter practicing righteous deeds (Rev. 19:7-8). Because of their righteous condition, they have access to the tree of life, which enhances eternal physical life in resurrected bodies, and access to the capital city, New Jerusalem. Excluded from the city are those described in Rev. 22:15. The term “outside” refers obliquely to hell, the Lake of Fire, and brings to mind Jesus’ comments on “outer darkness.”
10. Should we take hell literally?
a. Ralph L. Smith, in an otherwise excellent article on “Hell” in the Holman Bible Dictionary, believes in a real place of punishment, but not literal flames. He asks, “Can a place have both literal fire and literal darkness? What reason does one have for taking one expression as literal and not taking the other as literal? Literal fire would destroy a body cast into it.” He asks, “Can there be a place where there are both literal flames of fire and outer darkness? How can you have both at the same time? Literal fire would consume flesh.”
b. Clark’s problem is that he forgets that the present heaven and earth, with their present day physics, have been destroyed. In their place is a new set of physics and a new order of matter that will never be destroyed. Hell, the Lake of Fire, is outside the New Universe. Wherever hell is, it will have a new set of physics. Eternally resurrected bodies will experience the agonies of both outer darkness and undying flame at the same time. The experiences and the realities of the hereafter are unthinkable with our current laws of physics. But there will obviously be a different set of physics in play in eternity, both in the New Universe and in Hell. The entire city of New Jerusalem will be constructed of gold unlike any gold we know of have today (Rev. 21:18, 21). There will be enormous gates, each comprised of a solitary, gigantic pearl (Rev. 21:21). There are no oysters that large today. There will be a life-giving tree that bears twelve different kinds of fruit (Rev. 22:2). There will be life-giving water (Rev. 22:1). All these are outside the pale of our present experience. Who are we to say that both flames and resurrected bodies and outer darkness could not all exist at the same time in hell?
c. Jesus took hell literally. He called it a place of outer darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 25:30). He described it as a place where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47-48). Jesus took hell seriously. We had better also!
11. I have heard it said, “I plan to go to hell. That’s where all my friends will be.” He who utters those words has been terribly deceived by Satan. There will be no friends in hell. There will be no friendship in hell. Every thing that is good emanates from God. Every thing non-God is non-good.
12. There are some who say, “A good God wouldn’t send good people to hell!” There are some things that we must remember about God and the Lake of Fire.
a. First, it is not good people who are consigned to the lake of fire. None of us are innocent. We are all guilty. None of us is righteous (Romans 3:10); not one of us seeks God (Rom. 3:11); not one of us does good (Rom. 3:12); all of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Those who find themselves in the lake of fire are described as “the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15). These are those who have rejected the only way of salvation God has provided, Jesus, who did not come the first time to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:16-17). Those who reject Him stand already condemned (John 3:18).
b. Second, sin is the deadliest condition known to man. God told our first parents that if they sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit, in that very day they would die (Gen. 2:17). They partook anyway, and that first sin spawned a deadly succession of evil that engulfed the entire human race, warranting the terrible destruction of the entire world in Noah’s Flood, and warranting the destruction in the lake of fire of all who reject Jesus’ sacrifice (Acts 4:12; Heb. 10:26-27). All humans are afflicted with spiritual AIDS, an Acquired Immune Deficiency Sindrome (the pun is intentional). If we reject God’s extended hand of mercy in Jesus, there is no other rescue from the Lake of Fire.
c. Third, we must understand the Holiness of God. God is all light and no darkness (1 John 1:5). He cannot look upon evil (Hab. 1:13). Most of us do not understand either the holiness of God or the sinfulness of ourselves. Isaiah did (Isa. 6:1-5), and declared himself ruined for having “seen the King, the Lord of hosts” with his own defiled condition of sinful speech! For six thousand years, Holy God has been enduring man’s sinful condition as well as the defiled condition of the earth itself. Two thousand years ago He sent His Son as the only cure for the redemption of man and of the universe (John 3:16-18; 3:36).
13. An invitation: God is poised to destroy both the universe (2 Pet. 3:7, 10, 12) and sinful man (Rev. 20:15) by fire, and to create a Brand New Universe in which only righteousness and righteous people dwell (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4). But He is patiently waiting, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8-9). God invites you to accept, at no cost to yourself, the spring of the water of life (Rev. 21:5-7). Are you thirsty enough to take a drink? Will you, the reader, reach out and grab hold of Jesus, God’s loving sacrifice for your sins? He stands ready to enter your life (Rev. 3:20). Will you open the door? Here is a brief guide to becoming reconciled to God through Jesus.
a. I must admit I am a sinner (Romans 3:23). I have sinned, and I fall short of the goodness and glory of God. I fall far short of God’s standard of perfection.
b. I realize my sin has separated me from God. That means I am already spiritually dead. I understand that I am doomed to die physically because of my sin. I also understand that I am doomed to die a second death in the Lake of Fire because of my sin. That is what I deserve. I have earned it (Romans 6:23a).
c. I believe God loves me and sent His Son to die in my place on the cross of Calvary (Romans 5:8). He wants to give me the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23b).
d. I understand that If I trust in Jesus, God’s sacrifice for my sin, God will forgive me and give me eternal life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). I choose to trust in Jesus and to know for certain that I have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13). Thank You, God!
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Used by Permission.)
Updated July 17, 2016