My father recently went to the hospital for brain surgery; fortunately, it was successful, and he will regain, in time, motor skills that the tumor had taken from him. We went to visit him after the surgery while he was still in intensive care. Though groggy from the anesthesia and morphine they were giving him for pain, and still he had the awareness to fire off a statement/question at me about the end of time, specifically, the Great White Throne. He said something that is a common belief among those at the Monday morning Bible Study. He opened with, "I know you don't agree with me, but, I believe that everyone who presents themselves before that throne is non-Christians and that they are all sent to the fires of hell." Considering what he had just come through, it was good to have him back.
I, however, after reading my Bible, have concluded, that my understanding is in complete opposition to theirs. And, I believe I can prove my point through some logical reasoning amidst scriptural backing. With that being said, let's tackle this false notion about the Great White Throne judgment from several directions.
First, he used the term belief.
So, what is a belief? Webster's dictionary conveys a generalized explanation of belief that has more to do with a feeling; however, it also has more concise definitions, which I will address shortly.
Feelings do not buy you anything, and our relationship with Christ and the Father, are through faith alone.
Feelings are solely yours, and, though your beliefs may be based on truth, they are most often anchored upon how someone made you feel. In this case, the Bible study leader either, made the men feel good about sending everyone to hell, or, because he raises his voice unnecessarily and slams his hand down on the table he intimidated the men into thinking he was correct in his assumptions, or, they have become inculcated simply because of the repetition of his false teachings.
What I just described is precisely what false teachers do, and you can find this defined for you in 2 Peter chapter 2.
Continuing with Webster's definitions. A belief is:
- A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.There it is, the basis for the belief of many. Since many Church members won't open their Bibles and read them for themselves, they are compelled to accept, as truth, anything the Pastor, or, in this case, Bible study leader, tells them. In doing so, they have placed their belief in a person, trusting that the teacher has their information correct, and their best interests at heart.
- Something believed; especially: a tenet or body of tenets held by a group.Sadly, most of the men at morning Bible Study, agree, (almost with a stupor,) with the convictions of the leader and the former elder, who is allegedly keeping false teachings restrained. Since the old elder rarely ever disagrees with what is being said, then he too must believe this garbage. So, what do I gather from this? That the group, in the majority, hold to false beliefs and refuse to accept the truth from the Word, when it is set out before them.
- Conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.To have a conviction of the truth of some declaration does not work for me, especially in our morning Bible study. The leader can speak with confidence, and yet because he does not apply the notion of context nor allow for similar passages to help define questionable matter, he rarely has a shred of evidence to back his statements. The men sitting there may feel some sort of conviction of the truth (typically some misplaced sense of justice.) But again, he has no evidence for his brash statements.
I won't burden you with any more examples, but suffice it to say that most of these men fall under all these categories in some way. Sadly, this is the way far too many people acquire their belief systems. Once it became possible for me to attend on a regular basis, I did, and it is because of that involvement, that I can speak from first-hand experience about what is said there.
The leader(s) declare that everyone going before the Great White Throne is sent to hell. Note that I wrote leader(s) and not the leader. That is because one man, (the former church elder,) has been involved with the church in a teaching role, for over 50 years, and never challenges false teachings.
What is their basis for thinking that God would send all before the Great White Throne, to hell?
I can tell you from experience that this comes uniquely from Revelation chapter 20. So, what do we see in this chapter?
I can tell you from experience that this comes uniquely from Revelation chapter 20. So, what do we see in this chapter?
Revelation 20:11-15 NASB 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 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. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 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.
Verse 11 refers to “Him who sat upon it” (“it,”is the Great White Throne.)
So, who is the Him being referred to? Since we have conclusive evidence, let's look at that.
Revelation 1:1 tells us that the entire book of Revelation is The Revelation of Jesus Christ,
The whole book of Revelation is about Jesus, even if we perceive Him to be God, for that is who He is. So, the person sitting on the throne, doing the judging, is Jesus Christ.
In Revelation 20:12 we are told that John saw, “the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.” As a student of scripture, you have seen the dead popping up at every turn. It becomes necessary to sort this all out, and we will attempt to do that.
Revelation 20:4-5 NASB Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
All this takes us to the next point.
While God's wrath will be more than enough to get people's attention, there will be a secondary reason for the deaths of people on the earth, and that would be the wrath of Satan, as displayed through those who still choose to serve him. Currently, Islam and your neighborhood bully sufficiently fit those descriptions. Revelation 20:4 portrays an innumerable amount of people, who stand their ground, refuse all three aspects of worshiping the beast, and are beheaded because of their refusal. All these components feed into the dead.
But there is one catch. All those beheaded for their testimony, are deemed to be the martyred, saints and are raised to life again upon the return of Jesus to the earth, this is spelled out for us and called the first resurrection. These martyred saints are not reckoned among the numbers brought before the Great White Throne but sit in judgment over the planet during the thousand-year reign.
So, who then is left to be judged when the Great White Throne gets set up?
There is no good way of approaching this without scripture, so here goes. There has already been a game-changing event, and it happened when Jesus voluntarily put himself on that cross and died as the price necessary for the redemption of the entire world. Paul, in Ephesians 4, gives us a small glimpse into what happened during those three days we "thought" Jesus was dead.
Ephesians 4:8 KJV Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
What does Paul mean when he says, “When he ascended up on high.”? He is talking about Jesus dying. Hung on the cross until dead, and then speared by a Roman soldier to make sure, he was declared dead and put in the grave. Then the amazing happened, for He went into hell, stripped the keys to death, hell and the grave from Satan, set the captives free, and apparently took them into heaven with Him when He rose from the dead.
Captives? I can look at this two ways:
First, no one, including Israel, received Jesus as their savior, as we can. Israel only had the option of making sacrifices for their sins. Lacking this personal relationship, is it possible that these old testament saints may have been included among captives? Most religious zealots would consider this idea preposterous, so let's ignore that feasibility for a moment, and assume that God somehow included the Old Testament saints among the church, and caught them up in the rapture.
If the possibility of catching the Old Testament saints up in the rapture is valid, then they would not have been included among those captives that Christ set free. The captives then were those that died from the beginning of time, as we know it. But then this logic also creates problems, for Christ, as we saw in Ephesians 4:8, preached to the captives. If the old testament saints, and anyone else there were capable of hearing His voice, you would think that they would have accepted Him as the Messiah, and therefore received Him. So, by this logic, they too would no longer be included among the dead, but be in heaven already.
As you ponder the logic of a situation, what do you do with the person who, when confronted by the slain Messiah, God himself who now lives, and yet still chooses to ignore His voice, perhaps thinking that there will be another opportunity? This is unimaginable, and yet a possibility. And, what of Judas Iscariot, a man who most send off to a fiery hell for his betrayal. Wouldn't he too have heard the voice of the Messiah?
This only leaves us with the second option, and that is the dead who have died out of a relationship with the Father since His resurrection. Since we have had over two-thousand years to supply that number, it could be quite significant.
So, an aspect of this belief that everyone called to the throne of judgment is sent to a fiery hell lies in the terminology “dead.”
In 1Thessalonians 4:13, Paul, in trying to bring some comfort about the dead and our being caught up to heaven, explains by calling those that have died, asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 NASB 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
Just to make sure that you associate asleep with death Paul uses the Greek word nekros for dead instead of koimáō meaning asleep. It is just a few sentences later, in verse 16, that he conveys that those are the "asleep in Christ" he just spoke of, are simply dead. Dead or asleep, it is all the same, and at the catching away of the Church, those "dead" will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 NASB 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Revelation 20:5 Tells us,
The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.
The word dead, used here in Revelation 20:5 is nekros. The Prophet Daniel conveys an alternate view,
Daniel 12:1-2 NASB "Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.
Sleep, as used in verse 2, is the Hebrew word yāšēn: An adjective designating someone as sleeping. It refers to persons in a sleeping state or condition of seemingly sleeping, being inactive. When I apply this understanding to Daniel 12:2, where many are sleeping in the dust of the ground, then it lends itself to the idea of involuntary inactivity.
In a state of inactivity, the dead, we are told, have no thought.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 CJB For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing;...
Psalms 6:5 NASB For there is no mention of You in death;...
Whether they be dead from the origin of time, or merely those since Christ's ascension into heaven, does it really matter? Many will not go up in the rapture as those who have died in Christ. Therefore, our immediate assumption would be that they will only go to hell. Others will come later, in the form of those who choose to fight against God at the end of the seven-year period. While more will die during the thousand-year reign, there is the uncountable number of deceived, who attempt to kill Christ in the last battle at the end of the thousand-year reign.
Once again, the assumption is that they all go straight to hell, as those who have died without Christ.
But then you now have another problem as Matthew 25 verses 31-46 describe an entirely different scenario; one in which, Christ, seems like a gracious shepherd who still cares about the flock, and judges the crowd gathered here (the nations,) and shows many of them mercy.
While we don't have the process explained to us, He is showing mercy because of their small acts of kindness. In a sense, those He calls sheep have acted as Jesus would have, and in so doing, displayed the nature and character of the Father, God. A benefit, we the religious community apparently cannot give them, because they did not jump through all the religious hoops that most of us have. In acting this way, we have set ourselves up as harsh judges, in opposition to the Father's wishes and character, which we are supposed to display.
A contrast and comparison between the Great White Throne of Revelation 20 (the judgment of the dead,) and the Final Judgment of Matthew 25, (the Judgment of the Nations.)
Revelation 20 - The Great White Throne – The gathering of the dead.
Matthew 25 - The Glorious Throne – The judgment of the nations.
Great White Throne - Great is the Greek word mega meaning large, or physical magnitude. White means white, and Throne is the Greek word thrónos; A seat, usually high and having a footstool, a throne as the emblem of royal authority.
Glorious Throne – Greek, the word is doxa; glory (as very apparent), in a wide application (literally or figuratively, objectively or subjectively): - dignity, glory (-ious), honour, praise, worship.
Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.
Since we have learned that the dead are merely asleep and know nothing, that does not exclude them from the nations. The nations are merely those outside of a relationship with God. John, in Revelation 20, unlike the strictly Jewish crowd that Jesus was speaking to, John was writing to Jewish believers. We now have a third people group to consider, the church. Anyone out of the original two groups who accepts Christ into their life moves into the group called the Church. Setting aside such prejudices continued to be difficult for the early church, which for many years was a Jewish one.
Matthew 25:32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him
The understanding we apply to Matthew 25 comes from the idea that Jesus was speaking to a strictly Jewish audience. His audience only concerned itself with two people groups, the Jews, and the nations, for at this time there was no church. Since the Jew deemed those among the nations to be idolaters, those from the nations were utterly lost as far they were concerned. The Law and the prophets considered the dead as knowing nothing, while the righteous were understood to have a reward. So, for Jesus to describe the nations before this throne was a given. And the Jews saw no difference between a live gentile and a dead one.
In Revelation 20, although it appears to be God, it is Jesus. Revelation 1:1 tells us that the entire book is a revealing of Jesus. Therefore it is Jesus on that throne.
In Matthew 25 the judge is presented a gentle shepherd. In John 10:11 Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. Do we believe that? Many do not, and anxiously look for an ominous, wrath-filled God, which they seem to find in Revelation 20, as they choose to ignore that this is Jesus alone.
In Revelation 20 we see books opened. Among those books is the book of life. From all these books the dead were judged.
In Matthew 25 there is no mention of books from which to judge. There is, however, this: Matthew 25:32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. What does he use as the basis for separation? I think it is rather apparent even if the passages do not speak of them. These are not indistinguishable cattle, they are people; people of every race and color. In reality, no real distinction, and yet He, finds a difference and separates them, calling some sheep and the others goats.
People from this group were judged according to their deeds, nothing more.
People from this group were judged according to their deeds, nothing more.
Revelation 20 focuses on those not found in the books
Matthew 25 focuses primarily on those who were found in the books. We know this because their deeds were recorded.
In Revelation 20, those not found in the books were sent to a fiery hell. While it makes no mention of anyone that might have been found in the books. Does that lack of mention exclude some from not being found in the books, like we see in Matthew's account? No, and it points out the preposterous attitude we convey when we speak of a God that opens such “useless” books, if He, the one who knows the beginning from the end, knows full well whose names are written and where. It merely promotes the idea of a mockery on God's part, and that is not an aspect of His nature.
In Matthew 25, the sheep were given entrance into the kingdom of heaven because of their acts of kindness (works.) While the goats were sent off to eternal punishment.
Something to consider: Both of these groups were judged according to their deeds (we could probably use the words, works, or acts of kindness, instead of deeds.) And, there is entirely NO mention of judgment for sins. Why would that be? Because all sins were forgiven on the cross; and, as much as we might say it from a pulpit, we do not believe it. I know this because we employ the word sin perpetually in religious gatherings, and the terminology is always used as a motive and method of control. Not even God needed to do that. Whether you believe that these two events are the same matters not to me, but what does matter is our flagrant regurgitation of distorted and false teachings that misrepresent the nature and character of God. This is the garbage drives people away from the one thing our hope is based in, the God of grace and mercy. If we are going to make nervy statements, then keep them based in truth. And by the way, the only basis we have for truth is the Word of God, not what you feel or believe simply because your companions believe someone's garbage.