The Decisions at the Great White Throne
Comments on Rev. 20:11-14
By Jonathan Mitchell

These four verses have traditionally been interpreted as being a picture of "the last judgment." This article gives a verse-by-verse look which comes to a different conclusion. Having read this, I hope that you will agree that it is simply an apocalyptic symbol of God's righteous judging, which is an ongoing process - just as it was during the history of ancient Israel - but that this symbol of purity and rightness is congruent with God's love, mercy and salvation.

11. Next I saw a great bright, white throne, and the One continuously sitting upon it from Whose face the Land (or: ground; earth) and the atmosphere (or: sky; heaven) flee (or: at once fled). And a place is not found for them (or: And then no position was discovered by them or found in them).

This vision is, like those before it and those after it, a figurative picture that represents an idea - that of God's reign (the throne), His omnipotence (His face, and thus, the awe that accompanies His presence), and the effect of His manifested presence (the "fleeing" of the creation in its prior existence and character). What follows is a scene of evaluations and decisions (a situation of judging) made by the One continuously sitting upon [the throne]. It has traditionally been assumed (erroneously, we suggest) that this is a picture of "the last judgment," but we should first of all take notice that it does not say that this is a "last judgment." Here I will cite John Noe, "First, what does the Bible say about a 'final judgment' or 'last judgment'? The answer is, NOTHING! Neither expression is used in Scripture, and for good reason" (The Creation of Evil, Casting Light into the Purposes of Darkness, East 2 West Press, 2015 p 39; emphasis original).

The setting is here on earth, but the scene is the disappearance of the old "heaven and earth" (Jewish indicator of Israel's universe: the temple - God's house among them - was its 'heaven' and the earth/land was a figure of its people, or the land of Palestine) that existed under the Sinai arrangement. So this picture is set in the new creation of which Paul spoke in 2 Cor. 5:17. Here John saw a visionary picture of the new situation described there by Paul, where "the original things (the beginning [situations]; the archaic and primitive [arrangements]) [had] passed by (or: went to the side)." Here, John saw the old pass from the scene: "And a place is not found for them (or: And then no position was discovered by them or found in them)." There is no more place or position for the Law, or things of the old Mosaic covenant, or a distinctive "place" for Israel, in the new arrangement, in which we have,

"'a new (new in nature; different from the usual; better than the old; superior in value and attraction; new in quality) atmosphere (or: sky; or: heaven) and a new Land (or: earth)' [Isa. 65:17; 66:22], for you see, actually, the first (former; preceding; earlier) atmosphere (or: heaven) and the first (former, preceding) Land (or: earth; soil; ground) went away (or: moved off, and passed away), and the sea does not exist any longer" (21:1, below).

Allusion to Ps. 102:25-27, Isa. 51:6 may be in view with this description of the passing of the old. We find similar pictures in 2 Pet. 3:7, 10 and 12. For more on that passage, see, Peter's Encore and Later Paul, Harper Brown Pub., 2016.

Now we come to the "great bright-white throne," scene of vss. 11-15. The color white speaks of purity. This calls to mind David's musings of Yahweh's judgments in Ps. 19,

"The results of [the] Lord's decisions (the judgment-effects from [Yahweh]) [are] true (valid; real; dependable; genuine), having come from what is right (just; fair) and now doing justice upon the same: more desired above gold and much precious stone; sweeter, above and beyond honey and honeycomb" (9b-10; LXX, JM).

We saw this same One sitting upon a white horse, in 19:11, above.

When we come before Him who sits upon His throne, both our heaven and our earth (our whole world) flee as we are humbled before His mercy, grace and love. There is no place for either our earth-nature, nor our spirit or will, when we are judged by Him (when He makes a decision concerning us). He gives us a new heaven (a renewed spirit:

"Create for me a clean heart, O Elohim, and RENEW with me an established spirit" - Ps. 51:10, CVOT)

and a new earth (a new creation, the Second Man - 21:1, below; 1 Cor. 15:47).

The literal fulfillment of the earth and the heaven fleeing happened with the termination of the Jewish "world" at His Parousia in AD 70. Simmons comments, "the heavens and earth stand for a system ordered and ordained of God... symbolic of the covenantal system embodied in fleshly Israel and the Mosaic law" (ibid p 390). God's pattern is

"first the natural (that which pertains to the first Adam, the soul life; the arrangement for literal Israel), and afterward that which is spiritual" (1 Cor. 15:46).

We are now in the afterward. We are in the new creation with the new arrangement where Jew and Gentile are "one new humanity" (Eph. 2:15). In the sphere of God's reign, the history of the first Adam came to a close with the end of literal Israel's history (the end of all the previous ages, with the Christ event and the coming of the new). The first humanity died with Christ:

"[We are] deciding (discerning; judging) this: that [some MSS add: since] One Person (or: Man) died over [the situation of] all mankind (or: for the sake of all); consequently all people died (or: accordingly, then, all humanity died). And further, He died over all humanity (over [the situation] of, and for the sake of all) to the end that those living may (or: could; would) no longer live for themselves (to themselves; in themselves; by themselves), but rather for (or: in; by; to; with) the One dying and then being awakened and raised up over them (over their [situation]; for their sakes), so that we, from the present moment (or: from now) [on], have seen and thus know (or: perceive; or: are acquainted [with]) no one on the level of (or: in the sphere of; in correspondence to) flesh (= the estranged human nature; = the self enslaved to the System), if even we have intimately, by experience, known Christ ([the] Anointed One) on the level of flesh (or: = in the sphere of estranged humanity; or: = in correspondence to a self oriented to the System), nevertheless we now (in the present moment) no longer continue [thus] knowing [Him or anyone]" (2 Cor. 5:14b-16).

This was the decision made about humanity at "the great white throne judging" that happened with the resurrection and enthronement of Christ. Note that in the realm of His reign and judging,

"all people, all humanity, died"

when He (as the First Adam, First Humanity) died. The scene described in our present passage of the Unveiling is referred to in Heb. 9:27,

"And now, according to as much as it continues lying-away (or: laid away; reserved-off; stored) in (or: with; for; to) mankind (or: people) to die-away once, but after this a process of evaluating (a separating and making a distinction to be a judging and determining; a deciding)."

The book of Hebrews was written prior to the closing acts of the age (in AD 70) which terminated the Law and Israel as a nation. Chapter 9 of the book of Hebrews speaks of the Day of Atonement where Jesus entered the new, spiritual, temple (the second humanity - 1 Cor. 15:47) and cleansed His throne (the mercy seat in the holy of holies) with His blood. For a fuller discussion of this, see John, Judah, Paul & ?, Comments on Hebrews, Harper Brown Pub., 2013.

There may be an allusion in this scene that reaches back to the vision in Dan. 7:9-14, which is relative to the judgment of the fourth beast, there. Ezk. 1:26-28 may also be in view, and we are also taken back to 4:2 and 5:7, above. In Simmons' view, "The timing of the judgment is therefore firmly established at the end of the Mosaic age when Christ came in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mat. 16:27, 28; 24:3, 34; 25:31-46)" (ibid p 389). An allusion Isa. 6:1 has also been seen. But note there that the setting was "the temple," which connects us, again, to the setting of Heb. 9.

12. Then I saw the dead folks - the great ones and the little ones - standing before the throne. And little scrolls are (or: were) opened up. And then another little scroll is opened up, which is of (or: the one pertaining to; belongs to; or: from) The Life. And the dead ones are judged (were evaluated) from out of the things having been written within the little scrolls, according to their works (down from their actions; on the level of their deeds).

This vision simply gives us a picture of standing before God's judging, using the figure of people standing before an earthly king to receive his decisions. Since sin was taken away on the cross, this judgment is simply a decision that accords with a person's works (vs. 12, 13), and they will be tried by fire (vs. 14, 15). Now let's see what Paul had to say regarding the judgments of one's works in 1 Cor. 3:

13. each one's work will make itself to be visible in clear light (or: will become apparent), for the Day will make [it] evident (show [it] plainly). Because it is being progressively unveiled (continually revealed) within the midst of Fire, and the Fire, Itself, will test, examine and put to the proof (or: prove by testing) what sort of work each one's exists being.

14. If anyone's work which he built upon [it] will remain, he will receive wages (pay; compensation).

15. If anyone's work will be burned down, he will incur a loss (sustain the damage; forfeit [it]), yet he himself will be saved (rescued and delivered; healed and restored to health; returned to his original state and condition), and as in this way - through Fire!

Now notice the important qualifier concerning this judgment. It is:

"according to their works (down from their actions; on the level of their deeds)."

It is NOT, "according to one's decision for, or against, receiving Christ as their Savior." It is NOT, "according to whether or not one was baptized - the right way, into the right group, etc." It is NOT, "according to one's doctrines or to whether or not one is a 'believer.'" This describes a decision that is based upon how one lives, or lived, and upon what a person does/did. Using Paul's metaphor, above, it is an evaluation of whether these "works" were profitable, or worthless, and then a decision is made to save the person, through His Fire, as we have seen, above. All will we done "on the level of their deeds," or, "down from (kata) their actions." We saw this in the metaphor of burning off the field, to clear the weeds and brambles, in Heb. 6:7-8.

There seems to be a correlation between the little scrolls (peoples' lives) of the last clause, and another little scroll,

"which is of (or: the one pertaining to; belongs to; or: from) The Life."

Notice the definite article of the phrase, The Life. This has reference to the Christ Life. There is a comparison being made. The metaphor is: how does/did you actions and works align with the Life of Christ? Did/do your deeds bear God's image? Is there more purification needed? When tempering a tool or a weapon in a forge, the smith takes it from the fire and looks at the color of the metal as it is cooling, after having been plunged into water or oil. It usually requires multiple returns to the fire, and then the tempering water/oil, to achieve the desired temper. Viewing this "white throne" evaluation as a one-time event misses the whole point of its purpose.

Let us consider what is meant by,

"the dead ones are judged (were evaluated)."

Recall, above, that the setting of this evaluation is "earth," and is coming from the location of "the temple." Keep in mind that the phrase, "the dead ones," is a symbol. This is NOT literal; it is part of an apocalypse. Was this decision first made upon those who Jesus said,

"continue closely resembling whitewashed (i.e., smeared or plastered with lime) tombs (sepulchers; grave sites), which indeed, from outside, continue being made to appear in the prime of beauty, for a time - yet inside they contain a full load of bones of dead folks, as well as every uncleanness" (Mat. 23:27)?

That description meant that those scribes and Pharisees were "dead people." Paul referred to humanity as a whole as being people,

"continuously existing being dead ones by (or: to; with; in) the results and effects of your stumblings aside (offenses; wrong steps) and failures to hit the mark (or: mistakes; errors; times of falling short; sins; deviations)" (Eph. 2:1).

The pure decision, concerning humanity that was dead in the first Adam (Rom. 5:12), came at the cross and the resurrection. Each of us was included in that "judgment," and each one existentially experiences it

"within the result and effect of his or her own class (or: ordered place; appointed position [in line]; arranged time or order of succession; = place in a harvest calendar, thus, due season of maturity)" (1 Cor. 15:23).

In 1 Tim. 5:6 Paul referred to one, who,

"while continuing being alive (or: [though] living), she is dead (or: she has died)."

The Unveiling is a book of symbols and figures. We must not import literal interpretations into this drama, or tapestry. Paul also used this metaphor in Col. 3:16,

"And you folks - continuously being dead ones within [other MSS: by] the results and effects of falls to the side, and in (or: by) the uncircumcision of your flesh (= physical bodies or national heritage; or: = estranged human nature and alienated self) - He makes (or: made) alive together: you [other MSS: us] jointly together with Him, gracing us, granting joyous favor to us [for; in] all the effects of the falls and stumbling to the side (= false steps)."
13. And the sea gives (or: suddenly gave) [up; back] the dead folks within it, and death and the Unseen give (or: = the grave gave) [up; back] the dead folks within them. And they are judged (evaluated) according to their works (in correspondence with their actions; in line with their deeds).

Here in the Unveiling, the sea is a figure of humanity, just as it is in 13:1, above, from out of which the first little animal comes. The picture here is of humanity releasing those that are dead by, and in, trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1). The Unseen (hades) where all who are dead exist and even the realm of death, or the power of death, itself released those imprisoned within them. This was effected by the cross and the resurrection of Christ. And as 1:18b, above, instructs us, the risen Christ,

"constantly holds the keys of, and pertaining to, the Death and of, and pertaining to, the Unseen (or: continues having the keys, which are Death and Hades [= sheol; perhaps: "the grave"]; habitually possesses the keys from the Death and from the unseen "realm/state of the dead"; keeps on holding the keys belonging to death and shadowy existence)."

Although "the Unseen" was commonly used as a phrase to denote either "the grave" or "the realm of those who have physically died," remember, again, that here in the Unveiling it is used in a metaphor. Jesus was sent,

"into the midst of those sheep having been destroyed, the ones that belong to the house of Israel" (Mat. 15:24).

Being "destroyed (or: lost)" was a figure for being dead. Jesus was speaking metaphorically. He said (Lu. 19:10),

"the Son of the Man (= the eschatological messianic figure; = Adam's son) came to seek after, and then to save, deliver and restore what is existing being lost and destroyed."

Jesus spoke somewhat enigmatically in Jn. 5:

25. "Count on it (Amen, amen), I am presently continuing to say to you folks that an hour is progressively (or: presently in process of) coming, and even now exists (or: = is now here), when the dead folks WILL be repeatedly hearing the voice of God's Son (or: the Voice from, and which is, the Son of God; or: the voice of the Son, Who is God), and the ones hearing WILL proceed to be living!

26. "You see, just as the Father continuously holds (or: constantly has) Life within Himself, thus also, He gives in the Son (or: to the Son) to be continuously holding (or: constantly having) Life within Himself,

27. "And He gives in Him (or: to Him; by Him) authority (or: the right; the privilege; or: out of [His] essence and being) to be habitually separating and deciding (to be constantly sifting and evaluating; to continuously do [the] judging), because He is a son of mankind (= because He is human - a member of the human race [= Adam's Son]; or: = because He exists being the eschatological Messiah).

28. "Don't you folks be constantly amazed at this, because an hour is progressively (or: presently; or: repeatedly) coming within which all the people within the memorial tombs (or: graves) - will be continuously or repeatedly hearing His voice,

29. "and they will proceed journeying out: the ones doing virtue (producing, making or constructing good) into a resurrection which is Life (or: of, from and with the quality of Life); the ones practicing careless (base, worthless, cheap, slight, paltry, inefficient, thoughtless, common or mean) things into a resurrection of separating and evaluating for a decision (or: a resurrection which is a judging).

Note that in vs. 25 He said that

"an hour... even now exists (= was THEN here)."

If we hear Him with apocalyptic ears, we will see that He was speaking figuratively. In Jn. 12:31a He told them,

"At the present time (or: Now) is an evaluation of and a decision pertaining to (or: a sifting of and separation for; or: a judgment from) this System (or: this ordered arrangement; this world; this polity, culture and religion; or: this system of control and subjugation; or: the aggregate of humanity)."

It was the period, or season, for the sifting and evaluation that was the end of that Age, in the 1st century.

In Mat. 16:18-19, Jesus informs us about His "house - the called-out community":

"And even gates of [the] unseen (or: gates of an unseen place; [= boulders on the entrances of graves; = {the prison} gates of the 'house of death'; or: the bars enclosing the realm of the dead]) will not continue bringing strength down against it (or: will not proceed to be coming to their full strength in relation to it; or: will not continue overpowering it or prevail in resisting it). I will continue giving to you the keys [note: = means of locking or unlocking] which have their origin and source in the reign and activities of the heavens. And so, whatever you can (or: may; should) bind upon the earth will continue being [something] having been bound, and still remaining bound, within the midst of the heavens (or: in the atmospheres). Also, whatever you can (or: may; should) loose upon the earth will continue being [something] having been loosed (unbound; untied), and remaining free of bonds, within the midst of the heavens (or: in the atmospheres)."

Can we then surmise that because "death and the Unseen give (or: = the grave gave) [up; back] the dead folks within them," that the called-out community was involved in this? Were the keys given here in Mat. 16:18 the same keys spoken of in 1:18b, above? If we conclude that who John saw in the vision of chapter 1, above, represented the

"corporate Christ," i.e., Jesus and His body (recall in 1:16, 20; 2:1, etc., the agents were in His hand), then these may indeed be the same keys. He came, "to publicly proclaim, as a herald, to (for; among) captives a release and liberation (a letting go away) and to (for; among) blind folks a seeing again (a recovery of sight), to send away with a mission those having been shattered by oppression, in a state of release and liberation" (Lu. 4:18).

Paul states concerning Christ, in Eph. 4:8 (citing Ps. 68:18), that,

"Going up (or: Stepping up; Ascending) into a height (unto [the] summit) He led (or: leads) captive a captive multitude (or: He led 'captivity' captive)."

Jesus instructed us,

"the person habitually trusting and progressively believing into Me, the works (actions; deeds) which I Myself am constantly doing (habitually performing; progressively making, constructing, creating, forming) that one also will proceed doing (performing; making; creating), and he will progressively be doing greater than these, because I Myself am progressively journeying (traveling; going from this place to another) toward (or: facing) the Father,"

In all that He does,

"we are God's fellow-workers (or: we are co-workers of and from God; we exist being co-workers who belong to God)" (1 Cor. 3:9).

In Mat. 10:8, Jesus commissioned His disciples to serve people in a wide range of ways,

"Be constantly serving, curing and restoring to health (or: giving attentive care to and treatment for) those who are habitually weak, feeble and inadequate. Habitually be rousing and raising up dead people. Be continually cleansing lepers (scabby folks). Make it a habit to cast out demons (Hellenistic concept and term: = animistic influences). You folks receive (or: received) freely (as a gift; = without cost), [so] give freely (as a gift; = without charge)."

This verse could be taken either literally, or metaphorically, according to how they were "being continuously led by God's Spirit" (Rom. 8:14), and according to the situation and need.

14. Next the Death and the Unseen (or: = the grave) are cast (or: were thrown) into the lake (or: basin; artificial pool) of the Fire (or: the marshy area where there is fire). This is the second death: the lake of the Fire (or: the basin which is fire).

When one stands before the throne of God, not even death itself (having been conquered by Christ) can hold on to one who had before been captive to it. The situation in Paul's day was described in Rom. 8:35-39. Death (vs. 38) can no longer separate folks from God's love. So now, here in vs. 14, we see that the Death and the Unseen, having completed their appointed works, are now returned to the source, and we have the death of the Death.

When judgment comes, whether in this life (for our Father continuously makes decisions about us here, too - Heb. 12:9, when we are in subjection to the Father of spirits, we LIVE) or when we die, if our names are not yet recorded in heaven (Lu. 10:20) He baptizes us in the lake of THE FIRE, to cleans and purify us - and our God is this consuming Fire (Heb. 13:29).

This judgment of Fire was discussed in 14:10-11, above. There we noted that this time of testing is where there is "day and night," an expression of time and it carries on, not in "eternity," but on into indefinite time periods of the ages - according as He deems necessary and helpful - and 21:8, below, gives another description of all who have "their part" in this experience:

"the timid (in cowardly) folks and for faithless ones (in unbelieving people) and for or by abominable, disgusting folks, and for or in murderers, and for or with prostitutes and for or by sorcerers (users of drugs) and for or by idolaters and for, in or by all the liars (the false ones)..."

Now keep in mind that Jesus said that prostitutes and tax collectors would get into the kingdom before the religious folks (the theologians, the priests and elders) - Mat. 21:31. It simply may mean that since they know their need of Christ more than the self-righteous one, then they won't have such a long treatment in God's purification process.

The second death, which is described here as "the lake of the Fire," equates to what Jesus referred to in Mat. 25:31-46 as the

"age-lasting (or: eonian) fire"

that was prepared for the devil and his agents (vs. 41). This we see fulfilled in 19:20 and 20:10, above. But we should also recall that in our Mat. 25 passage it is the goats (literally: kids - the immature), those who did not recognize Christ in Jesus' brothers (family members, vs. 40) when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison - and did not minister to Him in them - that needed His Fire. Now although these kids were clean animals (goats were used in sacrifices to the Lord, and Christ, as our Atonement, would have been symbolized as a goat, or kid, not a lamb), they were just "kids," immature folks who were producing no fruit of the Spirit (love for their brothers in need). Thus they are judged and, in Mat. 25:46, go forth

"into an eonian pruning (a lopping-off which lasts for an undetermined length of time; an age-lasting correction and rehabilitation; a pruning which brings better fruit and which has its source and character in the Age; a cutting off during the ages)"

- which switches the metaphor, from vs. 41, above." The Greek word for correction is kolasis, and is an agricultural term that means to prune or to correct the growth of a vine or tree. The obvious meaning is that this fire is designed to cause better growth which will produce more and better fruit.

We suggest that this lake of Fire experience is the same experience that John the baptizer spoke of when he said that Jesus would dip, or immerse, you

"within Holy Spirit and Fire" (Lu. 3:16).

This fire is meant to burn out any cowardice, unbelief, abominable things, and that which would cause us to murder, be involved in prostitution, sorcery or idolatry, or to be false and a liar (ch. 21:8). It is to also meant to remove the adversary from us, rid us of false prophesying, and free us from being agents of the beast nature - all the things that would keep us from living the Christ Life, figured here by being

"written in the scroll of The Life" (vs. 15, below).

He does take us through the Fire, but He is there ready to save us even while we are within the fire, as the three Hebrews in the furnace found out (Dan. 3). The fire delivered them from their bonds, and ended in God being glorified. All things return to the Fire, for,

"Because, forth from out of the midst of Him, then through the midst of Him (or: through means of Him), and [finally] into the midst of Him, [is; will be] the whole (everything; [are] all things)" (Rom. 11:36).

We can also see Heb. 6:7-8 as applicable to the priest, scribes and Pharisees. Paul had described Israel, according to the flesh, as those

"whose is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the divine service and the promises" (Rom. 9:4, CLNT).

Would not Heb. 6: 4, 5 & 6 describe the same thing? And yet, that is not the end of the field, or piece of ground (which is the subject of the metaphor), as we read:

"the end (the resultant situation) of which [the thorns, briars, thistles and the field is] into [a time of] burning (or: = the field ends up being burned off)" (vs. 8). [comment: this is a time-honored agricultural practice for preparing a field for planting a crop - the competition has been removed and the ground has been enriched by the ash]


(an excerpt from an upcoming book, The End of the Old and the Beginning of the New; Comments on Revelation)

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