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A Judgment Day Adjustment (Revelation 20:11-15)

October 18, 2015 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 20:11–20:15

Happy Ever After

A Judgment Day Adjustment
Revelation 20:11-15
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
October 18, 2015

 

I. John's Vision in Light of Daniel's

Turn if you would this morning to Daniel 7. Listen carefully as Daniel recounts this vision he was given:

“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. [10] A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. [14] And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’ (Daniel 7:18)

As I looked, this horn (a boastful leader or king connected with the fourth of four beasts that Daniel saw in his vision...this horn) made war with the saints and prevailed over them, [22] until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. (Daniel 7:21-22)

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ (Daniel 7:27)

Now, keep those amazing passages in mind and turn over, once again, to Revelation 20. This morning we will finish studying through this chapter we began looking at last time. You may have sensed from out last study the difficulty involved with understanding this passage in light of Revelation, in light of the New Testament, and in light of the whole Bible.

But with Daniel 7 in mind, look again at verse 4 of Revelation 20. John tells us there...literally from the Greek: And I saw thrones and they sat upon them and judgment was given to them. That phrase is extremely similar to what we saw in Daniel 7, where thrones were set up, a court sat in judgment, and judgment was given in favor of the saints, that is God's holy ones.

I believe it is this same theme, this theme of judgment, that carries through right into our passage this morning.


II. The Passage: “And the Dead were Judged” (21:11-15)

So we know from 20:4-6 that a vindicating judgment has been rendered for God's people, those who either died for or stood firm for Jesus. And they have been blessed with resurrection life. But we also know that a condemning judgment has been rendered for the devil, Satan (the adversary). We saw in verse 10 how he was cast in the lake of fire. But what about the men and women who followed him and fought with him? Those who were also consumed by God's fiery wrath in verse 9? Well, look with me at verses 11-15. John writes:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Now, unlike the first half of this chapter, I believe these closing verses are fairly straightforward. But let's break this passage down in order to understand it better. I believe we should begin by considering four aspects of the vision John has just relayed to us.

 

1. The Judge Revealed (21:11)

First of all, notice how in verse 11 we see the Judge revealed. The closing verses of Revelation 20 bring us full circle in regard to main vision of the book that began back in chapter 4. Do you remember how this vision began? Chapter 4 described God sitting on His throne, in majesty, with great power, and receiving continuous worship from all the hosts of heaven.

Well, we've come back to that heavenly throneroom. But notice what has happened in between. You may recall that Revelation 5 described the scroll of ultimate justice that was taken from God the Father and opened by the Lamb. But here in Revelation 20, the contents of that scroll are almost exhausted. In one sense, what we are seeing here is the second to the last part of God's decree. The scroll of ultimate justice has led to a day of ultimate justice.

But look at how verse 11 reveals three things about the One who judges. First, his throne is a “great” throne. This symbolic imagery points to God's immense and unrivaled authority as the King of the entire universe, of things seen and unseen. Second, His throne is symbolically described as a “white” throne. This points to His incomparable purity; His unimpeachable integrity. He is good. He is pure.

Finally, we read in verse 11 how the “earth and sky” fled from His presence. This is of course a picture of God's power. Even things that seem so fixed to us, like the earth and sky, must give way to His powerful presence when He comes to judge. We should stand in awe of this judge; in awe of His authority, His goodness, and His power.

 

2. The Judged Revealed (21:12a, 13a)

But also notice in the first half of verse 12 and the first half of verse 13, we also see the judged revealed. Who is giving an account here? Who is standing before that heavenly court? It's the dead, great and small. It's everyone who has ever tasted the sting of death, everyone whose body has been swallowed by Hades, that is, by the grave. Why is the sea mentioned here? It's not clear. Since many in his audience, like so many in the ancient world, believed that those who died at sea suffered a different destiny, John may simply be correcting that thinking and affirming that every single person will be there, no exceptions.

And the rest of the New Testament confirms not only the connection between resurrection and judgment, but also the reality that all humanity will stand before that throne. That includes me and you, no exceptions. Jesus told his disciples...

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32)

Paul reminded the Romans of this fact when he wrote:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; [11] for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” [12] So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12)

Male, female, young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, white, black, Asian, hispanic, believer and unbeliever...we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

 

3. The Judging Revealed (21:12b, 13b)

But there's more in verses 12 and 13, isn't there? In the second part of each of those verses, we also see the judging revealed. What do I mean by that? We are told in no uncertain terms the basis for God's judgment: the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. This is echoed in verse 13: ...and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

And this is just an echo of what Jesus himself said: For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:27)

And once again, Paul in Romans affirms the very words of Jesus from Matthew: Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?...[6] He will render to each one according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury...[11] For God shows no partiality. (2:3, 6-8, 11)

Now before we start making a mental inventory of what we've done, think about this:
Paul reminded the Corinthians...Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart... (I Corinthians 4:5)

The book of Hebrews makes a similar point about the truth of God by which all of us will be judged: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [13] And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

As we saw in verse 11, our Judge is perfect in every way. Unstained. Uncompromising when it comes to what is right. And He has the authority and power to back that up, doesn't He? And as John points out for us, “books were opened”. This of course is a symbolic reminder that God knows everything. His memory is not sketchy. His files are not incomplete. What you've forgotten, He remembers. Our judge is perfect in every way. He judges perfectly.

What does that mean for us? It means everything about us and in us, every action and attitude, every word and thought, every idol and failure to give God the glory He deserves, every false and me-centered motive in this God-centered universe, all of it, everything, will be judged. If God is who He says he is, all of it must be judged, or the universe would fall apart.

 

4. The Judgment Revealed (21:14, 15)

But there are more verses, aren't there? What do we learn from verses 14 and 15. The judge has been revealed. The judged have been revealed. The judging has been revealed. And in these final two verses, we see the judgment revealed.

Now remember, even though we will all stand before that heavenly court, in one sense, a vindicating judgment has already been handed down on behalf of God's people. We saw that in 20:4. So here, the focus is on the condemning judgments that must be rendered. Just like the Beast and the False Prophet in chapter 19, just like the devil in 20:10, we read here that “Death and Hades” were also thrown into the lake of fire.

What does that mean? Well, given the highly symbolic language here, I think it's simply a way of communicating that the authority of those destroying forces will be forever destroyed.

But at the same time, we also read in verse 15 about those who were, in the same way, thrown “into the lake of fire”. The Revelation has already made clear the identity of those who will face an eternity of suffering away from God's presence. Remember what God revealed back in chapter 14:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, [10] he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. [11] And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (14:9-11)

All who love the world above God, all who follow the path of sin instead of Christ, must know that this kind of judgment awaits them. There are in the end, only two paths in this life: the path of the Beast, and the path of the Lamb; the path of Babylon and the path of the Bride. And surprisingly, in one sense, they both lead to the same place: to Judgment Day.

 

III. Is Your Name in the Book of Life?

Can you think of a time when you had to give an account, for your words, for your actions, maybe for your attitude? Was it to a manager? Was it to a parent or a principal? Maybe it was to a police officer or a judge or some civic official. Whatever the situation, think for a minute about how you felt in that moment. Is that a situation you'd be interested in repeating? I think most of us would say “no”.

But as we've seen this morning, one day, all of us will...to a degree we can hardly fathom at this point. But don't get distracted by the symbolic and spectacular imagery here. All of it is meant to communicate one idea to you personally: there is actually a day coming when you will stand before your Maker and give an account for your life. And my life, your life, will be judged.

On what basis? Not against human standards of decency or “not shabby” or “pretty good” or “nice”. You and I will be judged against God's perfect standard of right and wrong. And that judgment will answer one fundamental question: who was and is first in your life, you or God?

And let me assure you of one thing about that Day: not one of us will measure up.

So what hope do we have in that cosmic courtroom? Our hope is found at the end of verse 12, and also in verse 15. The books containing the records of our lives are not the only books opened. There is also a “book of life”. Now this book is one we've seen before. Paul speaks about this “book of life” in Philippians 4:3. But John himself has already described this book, in 3:5, 13:8, and 17:8.

Now what's interesting is that this book seems to create a tension in this passage. We are told in no uncertain terms that God's final judgment is based, as we see in other NT passages, on what each person has done. But in verse 15, it appears that the only basis for deciding one's eternal destiny is whether or not their name is found in “the book of life”. Well, we could say, “That's easy. There's no contradiction. Those in the book of life are those who are good and have lived a good life.”

But listen to what 13:8 tells us about this book. In talking about the beast, John tells us that...all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (13:8)

Did you see what that said? It said that before any of us were born, before anyone was born, or anything was created, before any of us even had the chance to choose right or wrong, names were recorded in “the book of life”. What does that mean? It means no one earns a place in “the book of life”. Only God can put your name there. And it either is or is not written there right now.

So wait. How then can the Judgment Day described in this passage (and many other passages) be based on what we have or have not done? Notice the full name of “the book of life”. It is called in 13:8, “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain”. Remember what was said about this Lamb in chapter 5:

...“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,[10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

The Lamb is the Son of Man from Daniel 7, isn't he? And what “the book of life” should always point us to is how the Lamb, Jesus Christ, gave His life in order to forgive and set free everyone whose name is written in the book of life. That means, on the day of judgment, my record of wrongs will not be held against me. Jesus took God's verdict for my sin. Jesus paid that debt.

But wait. If we can't earn a spot in this “book of life”, then how can we know if our name is written there? How can we have any hope in light of Judgment Day? Well, that's where the other side of this judgment factors in. When Paul says in Romans 2, to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he [God] will give eternal life...is he speaking hypothetically? Aren't all of us condemned precisely because, in our sin, we don't do that? Absolutely.

But on that day, there will be men and women, boys and girls, whose lives will reflect these very things. As Jesus described in His individual letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, there will be those who will “conquer” or “overcome”. There will be those who will not compromise. How is that possible? Because the Lamb not only deals with our old hearts, sick with sin; He wonderfully gives us new hearts that beat for God.

We are saved by God's grace alone, by faith alone. All we can do is believe that Jesus did it all. But when someone places his or her trust in Christ in this way, what happens to them on the inside? What happens to their lives? God's word tells us they begin to live for God, and not themselves. Perfectly? Of course not. It is a very real struggle. But that's why God's grace, that's why his forgiveness is so amazing. It both covers our failures and inspires us to keep going forward, in love and gratitude.

This is the Judgment Day adjustment all of us desperately need. You see, if I told you starting right now, God was going to determine your eternal destiny based on your conduct until the end of this day, what would you do? How would you live? I bet all of us would try as hard as we can to be good and do good, right? Some people immediately think of Judgment Day adjustment in those terms. But God wants us to see that not even a 'good' day, not even the very best day, in our estimation is going to change what's really wrong with us.

No, a Judgment Day adjustment is an acknowledgment that our sin-sick hearts will one day truly be exposed as worthy of judgment. But that realization doesn't lead us to despair. It leads us to trust Jesus. And that trust gives us assurance our name is in His book. And when we receive His grace, love, and forgiveness, we begin to live for Him. However imperfectly, we then strive to put Jesus first in all we do. And again, it is that heart, it is that life, that brings us assurance that our name is in His book.

You see, this day of judgment is not just about punishment for Christ's enemies. It is also about reward for Christ's people. We will see that in the coming chapters. And as He rewards the faithful, He will be glorified, since it will be clear that His power and His praise stood behind all our good works.

Is your name in the Lamb's book of life? How can you know? You trust Him. How can you know you trust Him? Your life begins to change, as He changes you, from the inside out. However much you struggle, He plants inside you that deep, deep desire to live for him. And we can be assured, as Jesus said in Revelation 3:5, He will never blot our name out of that book. We can be assured that we will be His forever, in the forever kingdom of the Son of Man.

 

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