In The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist, Chapters 8 and 9 we discussed how all of the saved, born-again children of God since the time of Christ will be resurrected and/or raptured at the end of the Great Tribulation period when Jesus comes and gathers together His Church, His Bride, to be with Him forever. And in Chapter 2 of this book we found that the unsaved who had not received Jesus prior to His return but had not worshiped the Devil and the Antichrist, and are alive at the end of the Battle of Armageddon, survive into the Millennium. But what about the billions of unsaved people who died through the ages prior to the Battle of Armageddon? Those who died without knowing Jesus—what has become of them?
The following verse in Revelation gives the answer: "The rest of the dead [those who were not raptured into Heaven] did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5). After the Millennium, all of the unsaved of all ages will be resurrected from wherever in the spirit world they have been waiting, for what is termed the "Great White Throne Judgment."
Don't confuse this final Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the Millennium with the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), which occurs 1000 years earlier at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Heaven, and which was covered in Chapter 9 of The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist. The Judgment Seat of Christ is an entirely different judgment in which the saved, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior, are judged by Christ and are rewarded according to their works. For it was when the seventh angel sounded and the kingdoms of this world became the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ that He rewarded His servants the prophets and the saints, and those who feared His name, small and great (Revelation 11:15,18). "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work" (Revelation 22:12).
The Great White Throne Judgment is for the rest of the dead, all the dead of all ages who were not saved, and therefore were not resurrected at Christ's Second Coming. It includes all those who lived through the Millennium and yet followed the Devil at the end of it and were then destroyed in the Battle of Gog and Magog. All the people who ever lived, if unsaved, whether they were good or bad in their earthly lives, will have to stand at this Great White Throne Judgment of God.
Now let's compare all this with a few passages that Jesus spoke of Himself:
From what Jesus was saying here, it seems that God has turned over the matter of executing judgment to Him. All those who are in the grave are going to hear Him and are being resurrected to stand before God and Jesus. The "rest of the dead," the unsaved of all ages, are at this point living again and are facing two possible outcomes, either the resurrection of life or the resurrection of condemnation. It seems likely that Jesus is referring to the Great White Throne Judgment in this passage.
By What Criteria Are the Unsaved Judged?
It is also not coincidental that Jesus refers to Himself in the previous passage we quoted in John as the "Son of Man." He is alluding here to prophecies in the book of Daniel that His audience at the time were very familiar with. Those prophecies talked about the Son of Man sitting in judgment. He also refers to Himself in this way in the following passage. Remember also, as we read earlier in Revelation 20, that the Book of Life has been opened and that the names in that book undoubtedly correspond to those who have been raised to the resurrection of life. The following passage, spoken by Jesus in the New Testament, explains whose names are written there, and whose are not, and why.
This event cannot be the Judgment Seat of Christ because all those at that judgment were saved Christians, and no saved soul can be cast into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). But "this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). It is the deeds of those who either rejected the light or never consciously knew or understood the light, that are being judged, as to whether they were good or evil.
The author of Revelation says that he saw "the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened"—several books, a lot of books, maybe millions of books. "And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life"—a very important book. "And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books" (Revelation 20:12). These “books” could be their own memories and consciences, or records that God keeps of their words and works. As the Bible states, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).
Certainly God is able to access people's memory banks and run through their entire lives, in a fraction of a second if necessary, and judge everything they've ever done. So this "opening of the books" might be the Lord reading off everything everyone's ever done, in order to judge him or her fairly.
The Word of God states that there will be degrees of punishment just as there are degrees of reward. God is just and God is thorough and judges "according to their works" (Psalm 62:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:23; 20:13; 22:12). Even "for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36–37). Of those that do get found guilty at this judgment, some deserve to be punished harshly and some deserve to get very little punishment. The worst are going to get plenty of punishment, yet just what they deserve, and no more. God is going to differentiate and judge everybody justly and righteously and mercifully.
People will also be held accountable according to how much truth they have heard. Jesus Himself said that they who know the Lord's will, yet still disobey and do things deserving punishment, shall receive more severe punishment. But those who did not know His will and yet did things worthy of punishment shall receive lighter punishment. "And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:47–48).
So their being "judged according to their works" means that they will be rewarded or punished according to how good they were or how bad they were, and obviously there's going to be a difference. "For [God] repays man according to his work, and makes man to find a reward according to his way. Surely God will never do wickedly, nor will the Almighty pervert justice" (Job 34:11 –12).
In addition, Jesus also made specific promises of reward to those who helped His disciples.
This is confirmed by the passage quoted earlier in Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks of those who helped "the least of these My brethren" as being rewarded. And who are Jesus' brethren? The Gospel states that "He [Jesus] looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother'" (Mark 3:33–35). So Jesus regards those who do God's will, which is to love Him and others, as His brethren.
The Scriptures on the Great White Throne Judgment answer the age-old question: How could God condemn to Hell those who have led good lives just because they haven't received His salvation through Jesus? What about those from other religions who were never taught about Jesus or were so entrenched in their religious traditions, passed down from generation to generation, that they didn't accept Him because they didn't understand Him? He certainly doesn't condemn them. Those who have done good to others in their lives receive a reward and inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. In the next chapter we will find out exactly what this Kingdom is.
Is Hell Forever?
It would seem that at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment, the rebellious angels who have turned into demons are also judged.
The Hell referred to in these verses is not the Lake of Fire, but the deepest, darkest abyss in the netherworld, which in the original Greek is called Tartarus. It is the only time in the Bible that this word is used, but it could also correspond to the Bottomless Pit that the Devil is confined in during the Millennium. Obviously, there is a place of everlasting fire prepared for these rebellious angels, as Jesus said there was in Matthew 25, and since we know that the Devil is cast into the Lake of Fire at the end of the Battle of Gog and Magog to join the Antichrist and his False Prophet, it seems that these three are soon joined by the wicked demonic angels and the wicked people who were deemed worthy of Hell at the Great White Throne Judgment.
A word of explanation is needed with this verse, as obviously not everyone who has ever told a lie—or even those who may done immoral acts—is condemned to the Lake of Fire. "All have sinned" (Romans 3:23), as the Bible says, and yet there is forgiveness for those who acknowledge their wrongdoing. Even the saved in Heaven may have committed serious sins on Earth for which they have repented and been forgiven. So this passage is obviously referring to those who, in their life on Earth, not only committed these sins, but who were unrepentant.
But what about even these who end up in the Lake of Fire? Is their punishment eternal? We already covered how some will receive "few stripes," that their punishment is lighter and therefore must come to an end relatively quickly. Although we are jumping ahead here a bit and this will be explained in greater detail in the following chapters, it appears that the Kingdom received by those "blessed of the Father" (Matthew 25:34) is the New Earth. Furthermore, it seems that they are joined in time by some of the very types that were listed as having their part in the Lake of Fire, the second death, as borne out in the following passage:
It seems that after serving their time in the Lake of Fire, and thereby repenting of their wrongdoing, they are given a chance for rehabilitation on the beautiful New Earth that is created after the current Earth is burned up in the Battle of Gog and Magog.
This would seem to be further confirmed by the following Scriptures from the Old Testament. God, apparently speaking to Jesus, says, "Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless Pit" (Zechariah 9:11). "He will redeem his soul from going down to the Pit, and his life shall see the light. Behold, God works all these things … to bring back his soul from the Pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life" (Job 33:28–30).
After all, what's the use of punishing people if it's totally impossible to ever teach them anything and they'll never change, never rehabilitate, never learn? It looks like Hell would be a waste of time if it's used for nothing but to give people eternal suffering.
But what about some of the verses like Revelation 14:10–11 that say that the very wicked, people who worshiped the Antichrist, will be "tormented with fire and brimstone, … and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night"? This sounds like an eternal, perpetual, never-ending punishment. But is it?
Actually, the word translated "forever" in those Scriptures is the Greek word aeon, meaning "for an age"—which no doubt is for a long time, but does not necessarily mean "eternal." "Forever and ever" in the Greek in which these Scriptures were originally written is more accurately rendered "for an age and an age." Aeon is also used in the other New Testament passages on "everlasting" and "eternal" punishment, which again implies that it will be "age-lasting" or "for an age."
It would be a far greater credit to the justice and the love and the mercy of God if, after they have suffered sufficiently for their sins and been punished enough to pay for their wickedness and served their term, so to speak, paid their debt to His society and repented of their evil ways, that they should then be released in some way and their punishment come to an end.
God is just, God is loving, God is pure, God is holy, God is perfect, and everything will work out perfectly in the long run. There will be perfect judgment and punishment for the wicked, and perfect reward for the righteous who at least did good to others and tried to live a godly life even if they didn't know Him. So although the guilty will be punished for their sins, when their punishment is over and they've learned their lessons, they'll be released—released by the grace of God and the forgiveness of God just like everybody else.
Jesus, while His body lay in the tomb, showed His love also for those who had died without knowing Him by going to the spirits imprisoned in the netherworld to try to set them free with salvation. "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient" (1 Peter 3:18–20), [so] "the Gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Peter 4:6).
God's Word says that "the Lord … is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). To show His love to all men, He sent Jesus to live, die and suffer for us: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16–17).