The Great White Throne Judgment
May 26th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-26-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Great White Throne Judgment. After many years preaching through the Bible, we have come to the Revelation. After these years preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 20; and this is the fourth and the last sermon prepared from the twentieth chapter of the Revelation. The first sermon was on The Binding of Satan; the second sermon was on The Two Resurrections; the third sermon was on The Millennium; and this fourth sermon is an exposition of the text beginning at verse 11 through verse 15.
And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and the Grave and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And Death and Hades were emptied and cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
There is no more somber or solemn passage to be read in all of God’s Word than this passage just now read in our hearing. The great final judgment day of God, “and I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it” [Revelation 20:11].
In the fourth chapter of the Revelation, which begins the great final judgments before the millennium [Revelation4:1], the first thing that John saw when he was taken up into heaven was “a throne, and Him who sat upon it” [Revelation 4:2]. But there are some mighty and significant differences between that throne and this great final judgment throne of Almighty God [Revelation 20:11]. When John saw that throne set in heaven, at the beginning of the judgments of the tribulation, he saw around the throne a rainbow [Revelation 4:3]. That is a sign of the covenant keeping God who remembers His promises to be fulfilled with those who repent, with His righteous believers. But there is no rainbow around this great final throne; nothing but the nakedness of almightiness, and justice, and retribution [Revelation 20:11-15]. There are no covenant promises of good to remember in that great, final judgment.
Another thing, in this first throne that John saw in the fourth chapter of the Revelation, there proceeds out of it “lightnings, and thunderings, and voices” [Revelation 4:5]. These are the threatenings of God; they are the warnings of God. Like the flashing of a red light back and forth when one drives across a railroad track in the path of an oncoming freight, those lights flash; so it is here in the throne of God at the beginning of this tribulation: “there proceeded out of it lightnings and thunderings and voices,” the warnings of God! [Revelation 4:5]. But there are no voices, and no lightnings, and no thunderings that proceed out of this final throne; nothing but retributive and final justice, nothing but the silence of almightiness in that day of doom and damnation. No more any warnings, no more any threatenings, nothing but the final perdition and doom of the lost [Revelation 20:14-15].
Another thing, at this first throne John saw “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” [Revelation 4:5]. At that throne of grace, John saw the intercessions, and the groanings, and the prayings, and the pleadings of the Holy Spirit of God [Romans 8:26-27]. But not here: there’s no longer any intercession, there’s no longer any pleadings of the Holy Spirit, for the day of God’s grace has forever and finally ended; and the lamps of the grace and blessing of the Spirit of God that glorified that throne are in this final throne forever taken away! [Revelation 20:11-15].
Another thing, in that first throne that John saw in heaven, “before the throne “there was a sea of glass, like unto crystal” [Revelation 4:6]. There was a vast pavement before that first throne, a sign of the refuge of the people of God, a celestial pavement upon which God’s people could stand [Revelation 4:6]. But there is no pavement of righteousness and there is no crystalline sea before that final throne; for there’s no longer a platform to which the people can find refuge from the day of wrath and judgment of Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15].
One final thing, in the fourth chapter of the Revelation, that throne that John sees in heaven, he also hears before it, “the singing and the praising and the exaltation and the glory of those who look in grace and in salvation to Him who sits upon that glorious throne.” There are songs and voices and praises unto God [Revelation 4:8-11]. But in this throne, this great final, great white throne judgment throne set at the end of time and at the end of history and at the end of human story [Revelation 20:11], there are no longer any voices of praise. There are no songs sung, there are no exaltations and exaltations, there is nothing but the silence of the doomed and the damned and the judged in this great final ultimate day of the wrath, and justice, and judgment of Almighty God! [Revelation 20:12-15]. Oh, I repeat, what a somber, what a sober thing, reading this passage and seeing the burning of God against the unbelieving, and the iniquitous, and the wicked in this earth.
Then it says, after he describes that great white throne and “Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them” [Revelation 20:11]. Three times, three times in the story of God and this world, three times has Satan sowed over God’s creation; turned it into desolation and despair, three times Satan has done that. Satan did that when God created the heaven and the earth. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. And the work of God’s hand is pure, and holy, and beautiful, and perfect. And when God made this vast creation, He did it in beauty and in glory and in perfection.
Then the next verse in the Book of Genesis, “And the earth became, tohu wa bohu, translated here, “without form and darkness” [Genesis 1:2]. It became waste and uninhabitable. The prophet Isaiah says God did not create this great universe and this earth tohu wa bohu, but God made it beautiful, and made it to be lived in, and made it a glory to His excellent majesty” [Isaiah 45:18].
Then something happened between that first and second verses of Genesis, when God created the universe in beauty and in glory, and it became waste, and void, and formless, and uninhabitable [Genesis 1:1-2]. That thing that happened was the entrance of sin in the world, the entrance of Satan into God’s creation. When sin was found in him [Ezekiel 28:14-15], there came out of Satan and out of that sin the waste of God’s whole creation [Genesis 1:1-2]. That was the first time that Satan destroyed God’s excellent work.
Then he did it again. In the re-creation, when God made beautiful again this planet earth, and He saw that His work was good [Genesis 1:3-25]: He made for fellowship, He made for those who could think thoughts after Him and who could call His name, and love the Lord God, He made a man and a woman in His own image that they might walk with Him, talk with Him, live with Him, speak to Him, think His thoughts, respond in love and adoration [Genesis 1:26-27]. And for the second time there came into that beautiful creation of God this subtle and destroying angel; and he led our first parents into deception and into sin, and he wasted God’s creation [Genesis 3:1-6]. And the Lord God said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life” [Genesis 3:17]. And because of the sin and the deception by which Satan destroyed our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6], this whole earth was cursed! [Genesis 3:17]. That was the second time that Satan destroyed God’s world.
Now in the twentieth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, I read of the third time that Satan destroys God’s world [Revelation 20:7-9]. When the Lord comes from heaven with His saints [Jude 14], and when God’s righteous are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and when these who are saved and blessed of God enter that great and final millennium [Matthew 25:34], there is with the Lord a reigning of a thousand years of glory, and wonder, and peace in God’s beautiful, and perfect, and glorious world [Revelation 20:1-6]. Then for the third time I read this Satan—who deceives men and wastes God’s inheritance—this Satan is let loose after that thousand years, and he goes before the nations of the earth, and he deceives them whose number is of the sand of the sea. And he gathers these rebellious, and they war against God’s people, and blaspheme the name of God Himself [Revelation 20:7-9]. But that is the last, and the ultimate, and the final time that Satan is ever allowed to waste God’s creation. For the Book says, “This time fire came down from God out of heaven, and the devil that deceived these nations was cast into the hell fire of damnation and brimstone” [Revelation 20:9-10]. And that judgment, that great final judgment by fire happens in this day of the almighty judgment of the Almighty God. By fire the Lord judges Satan and the world of sin that he’s created and those who are gullibly deceived by his machinations and deceptions [Revelation 20:11-15].
I read of that judgment by fire in the third chapter of 2 Peter, “The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word of God are kept in store, reserved unto the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” [2 Peter 3:7].
When that great final day arrives, of the judgment and damnation of ungodly men, that is the day Simon Peter says—the holy prophet of God writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of the Lord [2 Peter 1:20-21]—that’s the day, he says, in which God is going to purge this whole creation; He is going to cleanse it, burn it, make it anew [2 Peter 3:7]. Then he describes that day: it’s a day in which:
The heavens shall pass away with a great noise,
and the elements shall melt with fervent heat,
the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up with fire.
These things shall be dissolved…wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved with the elements which shall melt with fervent heat.
And we look for new heavens and a new earth.
[2 Peter 3:10-13]
These are phrases out of these sentences that Simon Peter is writing in the third chapter of his second letter. There is a day coming when God shall say for the last time to Satan, “It is thus far and no further. It is this day and no other day”; when this whole creation of God shall be purged, burned with fire, when God shall establish a new heaven and a new earth for His new and redeemed people [2 Peter 3:10-13]. And that is this passage here, “From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away and there was no place for them” [Revelation 20:11]. And Simon Peter says this comes to pass in the day of the judgment and perdition of ungodly men [2 Peter 3:7].
Then he [John] says:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, the Book of Life: and they were, they were judged out of those things which are written in the books. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and the Grave and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works.
This great, ultimate, and final judgment day of Almighty God—this is a congregation of the unblessed, of the doomed, of the damned [Revelation 20:11-15]. There’s no blowing of the trumpet here, when God’s righteous are called out of the dust of the ground; there’s no voice of an archangel here, when God’s sleeping saints are called to meet Jesus in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. There are no white robes here [Revelation 7:14]. There’s no linen, pure and clean—which is the righteousnesses of the saints [Revelation 19:8]—here. There is no mention here but of damnation, and of doom, and of judgment! [Revelation 20:11-15].
You see, in the first, earlier part of this twentieth chapter of the Revelation, it says:
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection:
on such this second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead—the unblessed, and the unholy, and the unrighteous, the lost, and the rejecting—they don’t live again until after that thousand years is done [Revelation 20:5]. There are two resurrections [Revelation 20:6]; wherever that word “resurrection,” anastasis, wherever that word “resurrection” is used, many times in the Bible, wherever that word “resurrection” is used in the Bible, it always refers to a corporeal, bodily resurrection. Doesn’t refer to a man’s being saved or his being regenerated in his heart, that word anastasis always refers to one thing: the raising out of the dust of the ground, out of the depths of the sea, out of the heart of the earth of these who have died [Revelation 20:5-6]. So the first anastasis; the first corporeal bodily resurrection is for those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus and been saved, who are the blessed and the holy! [Revelation 20:6]. But the rest of the dead, these who are not raised to see Christ and to go to be with the Lord and to be with our Savior, these are raised at this awful and terrible time of the judgment of God, at the great white throne day [Revelation 20:11-15]. Oh, what a trembling and what a fearsome thing!
There are two resurrections, the Book speaks of it all the way through. There’s a resurrection of the just and of the unjust; there’s a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous [Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:5-6, 11-15]. Always that is first—the resurrection of the righteous—the resurrection unto life; it is never mentioned second, always first. There is a resurrection of the sainted people of God who place their trust in Him. And then there is the resurrection of the lost, and the doomed, and the damned, and the rejecting, and the unbelieving; always in that order. As Christ says, “These that fall asleep in Christ shall rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16], always first [Revelation 20:6]. There is a resurrection unto incorruption [1 Corinthians 15:52]; there is a resurrection to corruption [Daniel 12:2]. There is a resurrection to honor and to a glorified body [Philippians 3:21]; there is a resurrection to shame and to contempt [Daniel 12:2]. There is a resurrection into eternal life [John 5:29]; there is a resurrection into eternal damnation and the fire of perdition! [John 5:29]. These things make you so tremble as we face that ultimate destiny of the lost or of the saved, “And the books were opened: and another book was opened, the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12]: and the dead were judged out of those books”—plural—which were written, recounting the deeds of these who reject our Lord and who are lost. And then lest any might say God is not fair, and God is not righteous the great Book of Life was opened, and its pages were scanned to see if perchance and by any means these who had rejected our Lord, their names might be written in the Book of Life. Their names were not there, “and every one whose name was not written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:12-15].
All of the deeds that men do in this world are written down in God’s books [Revelation 20:12]—and to those who trust in Jesus, whose sins are washed away in the blood of the Lamb, who’ve looked in repentance and faith to Him [Revelation 1:5]—to those who are saved, the things that are written in the book are things that are blessed; and they become our reward at the bēma of Christ [1 Corinthians 3:11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10]. Then there are books that are filled with the deeds of those whose sins are not covered, who have not trusted in Jesus [Revelation 20:12-13]. And at the end of time, at this great final judgment, their reward is according to the things that are written in that book [Revelation 20:12].
You’ve heard me explain several times why these judgments are at the end: no man receives his reward when he dies because a man doesn’t die when he dies; his life continues on, his influence continues on, the deeds of his life continue on. And God only is able to unravel out of all of the skeins of life; God alone is able to unravel all of these influences of a man’s life. And these whose sins are covered and who are saved, God unravels the good of his life, and it becomes his crowning reward at the great final bēma of Christ [1 Corinthians 3:11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10], when we stand before the Lord. But these who refuse the Lord, and who reject His overtures of grace, and who tread under foot the blood of the covenant, and who despise His appeal and intercession [Hebrews 10:29], all of their deeds are written in that book of judgment. And at the end of time, at the great final judgment day of God, the Lord unravels the skein of that man’s influence and life, and they’re put together, and they become his eternal reward of judgment and damnation. It can’t be done until the end of time.
I remember as a boy, as a youth, in the little town where I grew up, I remember standing by the side of a man who had his little boy, put him on a table like that, and he was teaching that boy to curse, and his mind to be filled with every foul and dirty and filthy thing. That man now, the father of that boy, is dead; but that little boy is my age now, and growing up now, and that boy is the result of the villainy, and the wickedness, and the sordidness, and the dirt, and filth of that father! He didn’t get his reward, that father didn’t get his reward when he died; for he lived in the wretchedness and the filth of the boy that he taught to blaspheme and to be dirty in his mind, and in his speech, and in his life. And it goes on, and it goes on, and it goes on. When the lost, the damned, the doomed, the unbelieving, the Christ-rejecting, get to the end of the way in that great white throne judgment [Revelation 20:11], it’s going to be an appalling thing when God sums up the evil and the wickedness of a man’s life that rejects Christ. What somber, what sober, what fearful things.
And when those books [Revelation 20:12]—recording the deeds of men—were opened, and each man received according to the influence of his life through all of the generations and the ages, then that other book was opened, the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12]. How many times, and I haven’t time to recount it, how many times in this Bible is that Book of Life referred to, from the beginning to the end? And that book was searched; that book was searched. Is this man’s name in the Book of Life? Search; not in the Book of Life; this one, this one, this one, not in the Book of Life. “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone and torment and damnation” [Revelation 20:15]. The one of all of the unfathomable, un-understandable, inexplicable things to me in life, the one above all of them is this: why a man would refuse to be counted among the children, and the saved, and the repentant, and the believing of Almighty God. I cannot understand it.
Just like an angel entered into Sodom and Gomorrah and could stand in the gate and say, “All who will turn and who will trust, I will write their names in this book, and they’ll be saved”; but the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah say, “No, we’d rather be damned. We’d rather be burned with eternal fire.” And the fire came and burned up Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-25]. Same kind of a thing as if these who represent God from Israel, were to stand in the gates of Jericho [Joshua 6], and say, “God is going to judge this city. God is going to destroy this city. But all who will turn and look in trust and in faith, I will write their names in this book.” But the citizens of Jericho say, “No, we’d rather be damned than to have our names written in the Book of Life. We’d rather be lost; we’d rather be put to the edge of the sword and sent into eternal darkness and perdition.”
That’s what men say today, “I don’t want my name written in the Book of Life; don’t write my name in the Book of Life. I don’t want to be saved; don’t put my name in that book. I don’t want to turn in repentance and faith and look to Jesus for salvation. Don’t write my name in that book. I’d rather be damned. I’d rather be doomed. I’d rather spend an eternity in the fire, in the burning, in the torment.”
I don’t understand. I don’t see. Out of all of the assignments of the preacher, there is no assignment like the assignment of going to a home and trying to say a word to a family where death has entered and they’re not Christians. What would you say and not be an open, confessed hypocritical liar? When a man is lost, he’s lost. And when a family is not saved, it’s not saved. And when a man dies outside of the grace of God, he dies forever! “This is the second death!” [Revelation 20:14]. There’s nothing you can say, there’s nothing you can sing, there’s nothing you can read; all you can do is lament and weep and cry. Why would a man choose to die like that? Why would a family choose to be that way? I cannot understand. There is a deception from Satan, there’s a blindness in the power of this earth, there is a stupidity and an ignorance that God allows Satan to thrust over the minds and hearts of people, I cannot understand. There’s a veil over their souls. That’s why we preach, and sing, and pray, and visit, trying to remove that darkness from the hearts and souls of these who reject our Lord.
Our time is gone. I just mention the swiftness and the immediacy of the execution of the sentence. There’s no delay now. For centuries and for eternities it seems, God has been patient and longsuffering. He has waited, He has pled; preachers preached, singers sung, people have prayed, invited, asked, begged, interceded, cried over, wept for, all to no avail. And when that final day comes, it comes just like that. Peter described it like, “It comes like a thief in the night” [2 Peter 3:10], suddenly, immediately, just like that. And the sentence is executed forthwith.
In the nineteenth chapter the beast was taken and cast in the lake of fire; and the false prophet was taken and cast into the lake of fire [Revelation 19:20]. Then in the next chapter, “And the devil that deceived them was cast in the lake of fire and brimstone” [Revelation 20:10]. And then last of all, “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:15]. And the judged and the unrepentant, the unbelieving are sent away into an everlasting, eternal damnation [Revelation 20:11-15]. O Lord, O God, O Christ!
That’s why He came from glory. He didn’t come just to teach us another ethic. He didn’t come just to tell us a little old moralizing aphorism. He came to save our souls from an eternal judgment and damnation [Luke 19:10]. And that’s why God had to do it. No angel could save us, no man could save us [Acts 4:12]; only God could save us, and it brought Him down in incarnation [Matthew 1:20-25], in humility and judgment, finally, into crucifixion and death, that we might be saved [Hebrews 10:4-14; Matthew 27:32-50]. Remember that chorus?
Oh my loving brother, when the world’s on fire,
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
Oh hide me over in the Rock of Ages,
Rock of Ages, open, cleft for me
Let me hide, O God, myself in Thee.
[“When the World’s On Fire,” author unknown]
And that’s our appeal to your souls this day. In this balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you, giving your heart to Jesus, “Preacher, here I am; I give you my hand, I give my heart in trust to God. Here I come.” A family you, coming to put your life to pray with us, to look to heaven with us, to ask God with us, you come, “This is my wife, pastor, and these are my children; all of us are coming today.” A couple you, or one somebody, you. We had one of the most glorious responses at the 8:15 o’clock service; marvelous young man and a marvelous young woman saved, a fine teenage girl converted and about fifteen or more others, coming into the fellowship of the church. O Lord, that’s why we preach, and sing, and pray, and have this church, that these might come to Thee, and with us serve Thee earnestly, prayerfully, diligently. God grant you mercy from heaven [Titus 2:5], forgiveness in Christ [Ephesians 1:7], salvation in heaven [John 10:27-30]; the Lord grant it to you and to us. While we make this appeal, while we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle, or down one of these stairways, “Here I come, preacher, and here I am; I make it now, I make it now.” While we stand and while we sing.