We are told that some sort of judgment will follow once our time on Earth has ended. Hebrews 9:27 states that "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this judgment". But our status with Christ determines how we will be judged. Every single person is promised a fair judgment before Christ one day. The young and old, poor and rich, saved and unsaved, believer or non-believer will one day come before the Lord and will be judged for their actions here on Earth.
Before we delve into this important prophetic event of the Great White Throne Judgment, let’s first look back at what other judgment has happened since The Rapture of Christ’s church so that the two cannot be confused or misunderstood.
Immediately after The Rapture, Christ’s people will stand before the judgment seat (or bema seat) of Christ as written in 2 Corinthians 5:10. There, the resurrected saints will receive rewards for the good works they performed while on Earth. See our article on this, The Bema Seat of Christ. As it is made clear in that article, the Bema Seat is not for Christ to dole out punishment to his followers, it is to burn away all of our worthless works and to reward the good works we performed for Christ while on Earth.
God loves us and rewards us justly for all that we have done in service for Him. To be clear, the Bema Seat Judgment is for individuals who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior to receive their Heavenly rewards.
However, the Great White Throne Judgment will be far different than the loving Bema Seat Judgment. The Great White Throne Judgment is for the unsaved unbelievers and the judgments will be severe; severe, but fair. This event has to be the most disturbing and most bothersome event in all of Scripture. By choosing to not accept Christ’s free gift of eternal life by asking Him into their heart, one is simply choosing an eternity, alone, known to no one, not even God, in the Lake of Fire.
Why will this happen?
To some, this may be hard to read, but if we take The Great White Throne Judgment in Biblical context, before God ushers in The New Heaven and New Earth, He must rid creation of the vile, despicable being who has contaminated it; Satan. And for the perfect, unending New Heaven and New Earth to be spoken into being, all sins, evil, vices and yes, even unsaved sinners must be wiped from existence so that it will always stay pure and unadulterated.
When will this happen?
The Great White Throne Judgment will occur after The Rapture, the 7 years of Tribulation, Armageddon and at the end of the 1,000 year Millennial Reign of Christ upon the Earth. If you remember from our Armageddon article, as the battle is concluding, the Scriptures say that the Antichrist and the False Prophet will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20) never to be heard from or seen ever again. At the same time, Satan will be thrown into the bottomless pit (Revelation
20:1-3). He is kept prisoner there for the 1,000 years of the Millennial Reign.
Even though Satan is pent up during the 1,000 years, sin will still be part of some people’s lives. In fact it’s not a stretch to envision that some individuals will plot against God and anxiously await Satan’s return at the end of the 1,000 years. Once Satan is released by God, he will actively recruit and deceive many into joining him into mounting one last futile attempt to wage war on God. Just as all other attempts failed, this one will fail miserably as well. God will call fire down from Heaven and it will devour the followers of Satan, while Satan is cast into the lake of fire forever.
It’s at this point that all unsaved dead of all time will appear before the Great White Throne Judgment. Revelation 20:11-15 gives a glimpse of what the unbelievers will experience during the Great White Throne Judgment:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If
anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The description of the throne
Earlier in the same chapter in Revelation 20:4, John describes other thrones, but in the verses of 20:11-15, he uses two distinct adjectives to describe this throne; it is a great and white throne. It is “great” because of:
- Its immense size in contrast with those mentioned in verse 20:4
- The One who occupies the throne
- The magnitude of the judgments that will come from this throne
The white color of this throne has important significance as well. It signifies the purity of the One who will be seated on the throne. It also indicates the fairness in which justice will be decided and carried out. The pure white also indicates the righteousness of the judge and His verdicts.
Who will sit on the throne and judge?
In Revelation 20:11-15, John does not directly identify by name the occupant of the throne. In Revelation, "The one who sits on the throne", frequently refers to God. However, in John 5:22 the Bible states that, "22Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son"; meaning that God judges no one, but allows Christ Jesus to do it. Also, Paul writes in Romans
will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares." In Revelation 3:21, the Bible speaks of Jesus sharing a throne with God. The most logical explanation to these Biblical passages is that the unbreakable unity between God and Jesus is so close that there is no difficulty in ascribing the action of the one to the other. As they always have been and always will be, they are one and the same.
9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
Who will be judged?
In Revelation 20:12 we are told that "The dead, small and great" refers to those who have lived throughout history and regardless of their stature or position, died without acknowledging and accepting Christ’s death on Calvary payment for their sins. Revelation 20:13 states that whether in the Earth or sea, in a grave or mausoleum, the ashes or earthly remains of these deceased will be raised and united with their souls and spirits so that they can stand in a resurrected
form before Jesus as he sits at the Great White Throne.
Let's understand this very important passage clearly. First, we know that when saved individuals die that their souls are in the presence of God, awaiting eternal reward at the Bema Seat which occurs after The Rapture. What this means is that we are in Heaven, but have not yet received our rewards until our judgment at the Bema Seat.
However, the story is much less appealing for individuals who chose not to accept Jesus as their savior and have died. The Bible tells us that all of the unsaved people are kept in a place called Hades (Hell) until the Millennium Kingdom is over and the Great White Throne Judgment begins. Hades is a temporary place of torment that these souls are
kept in until they have to appear before God in this final judgment, which will then determine their eternal fate once and for all.
The New King James Version calls this place Hades. However, the Original King James Version calls this place Hell. Either way, Hell or Hades is a temporary place of torment where all unbelievers go to before this final
judgment comes to pass. And if these individuals thought Hell was a terrible place to be, unfortunately for them, they have not seen the worst.
As was stated above, unbeliever's souls will be called up from Hell by God and will be reunited with the remains of their Earthly bodies as they are judged at The Great White Throne Judgment. Daniel 12:2, John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 all describe a resurrection of the just and unjust. John
and Daniel further explain that at this resurrection the saved will be raised to eternal life while the unsaved will be raised to shame and condemnation. The Bible is clear; at The Great White Throne Judgment, every single person since the beginning of time who has turned their back on the Lord will all have one thing in common. Hades will be emptied as their souls that have been in unbelievable torment will be reunited with their body and stand before Christ to accept responsibility for their lives - a truly sobering thought.
How will they be judged?
During the Great White Throne Judgment, various books will be opened Revelation 20:12 revealing detailed accounts of every action and thought, including those performed in secret, of every unsaved individual. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says that "14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." Isn’t it sobering and a little frightening to think that each of us has a detailed
account of every deed and thought since birth, whether they were done in public or private? As unpleasant as that sounds, those that have been saved by the shedding of Jesus’ precious blood, their sins were completely erased at The Cross, never to be known to us or God ever again.
But for those individuals who do not come to Christ before they die, they will be judged according to the law of The Old Testament. As Galatians 3:10 revels, those who live under the law and not under Christ will be judged by the law – "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law". Unless we accept God’s mercy through the death and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ, we cannot be found righteous, for
"all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans
Furthermore, all of their "transgressions and disobediences will receive a just reward" (Hebrews 2:2). This is entirely consistent with the justice of God and seems to indicate different levels of torment in Hell.
21 Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But
I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
In the above passage, Jesus himself explained that the people who heard His message and rejected it would be subjected to greater condemnation than the sinners of The Old Testament who lived in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
47 That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
As the Lord sits on His throne, ready to pronounce his judgment upon every unsaved individual, he examines the books and reads the thoughts and deeds of each individual before Him. As we’ve come to know, these people before him are absolutely not here for His decision on whether they go the New Heaven and New Earth or whether they are cast into The Lake of Fire. That decision was made on the day they died according to whether or not they accepted Jesus as their Savior or not. No, these people, although their soul has been reunited with their Earthly body, according to The Scriptures are spiritually dead to the Lord. Their deeds, which cannot be pleasing to God (Romans
8:8) will be irrefutable evidence that they have no saving relationship with Him. Also, to put it into an earthly courtroom term, they will not have access to an attorney or mediator to assist them (1 Timothy 2:5) as the only way to God is through Jesus. And they forfeited their chance at that by not coming to the Lord before their death. No, they will stand alone and naked with all of their sins on prominent display in front of the creator of the cosmos and every single living organism in it. There is no second chance.
After the actions of the unsaved have been read and accounted for, judgment will be passed and the sentence will be The Lake of Fire; an indescribable, unimaginable, eternal punishment of torment prepared for Satan, his fallen angels and all who refuse the offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:41-46) 41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you
gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever
you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
One last enemy of God is dealt with
Once the unsaved in Christ have been justly sentenced and their judgment has been carried out, there is one last issue for the Lord to deal with while sitting at The Great White Throne. In 1 Corinthians 15:26, the Apostle Paul writes that "the last enemy that will be destroyed is death". In this passage Paul is equating death to Satan. Satan will be destroyed forever as God casts him into The Lake of Fire, joining the Antichrist (the beast) and False Prophet who preceded Satan by the 1,000 years of the Millennial Reign (Revelation
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Finally, death and Hades are defeated and cast into The Lake of Fire. Death is destroyed as God eliminates all sorrow, causes crying to cease and wipes away all tears; and Death shall be no more (Revelation 21:4).
4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
1 Corinthians 15:54-55
4 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
Some Christians and even non-Christians may ask why our loving and merciful God would create such a horrible place of unimaginable place of torment for the unsaved to spend eternity. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this question in Deuteronomy 30:19-20:
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
If you read this passage carefully, you will notice that there is no neutral area. There is right and wrong, there is life and death and there are blessings and curses. While God loves created us in His own image and loves us all the same, He also gave us free will. With that free will, we each have to decide whether to choose God and eternal life with Him, or whether we turn our back to Him and choose eternity in The Lake of Fire. As parents, we love our children unconditionally, yet as they grow into adulthood, we cannot choose their path in life (even as much as we might sometimes like to). And that is the same way we all are as God’s children. He yearns and aches for us to choose Him,
but He will not force us to.
As God has outlined the two absolutes in Deuteronomy 30:19-20 of life or death, to understand the unending torment of The Lake of Fire for the unsaved, first think of our eternal life with Jesus for the righteous individuals. If you choose Jesus, try to imagine what your eternal life will be like. Saying that it will be blissful, rewarding, unbelievable, perfect, peaceful and beautiful doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how it will actually be. We can only come up with human words and thoughts that fall terribly short of how it will actually be.
Now apply the same logic to the unsaved non-Christians who will spend their eternity in The Lake of Fire away from the Lord. If the new Heaven and Earth are indescribably wonderful for saved individuals, wouldn’t the environment for the un-saved be indescribably terrible? It’s God or Satan, it’s Heaven or Hell and it’s the greatest life or the greatest death.
But remember, for those of us who have chosen Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, we will not have to go through the Great White Throne Judgment. Your name is written in The Book of Life. Your loving judgment will be at The Bema Seat. Your eternal life with God will be God’s maximum reward in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Tim LaHaye: The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy