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What Is the Great White Throne Judgment?

sky lit up with lightening strike amid clouds, Great White Throne Judgment

In the book of Revelation, there is mentioned this coming judgment known as the Great White Throne Judgment. If you have ever watched judgment scenes played out in movies you typically see this long line of people usually surrounded or standing in clouds waiting for their name to be called. Some have even used the reference to St. Peter at the pearly gates checking to see if your name is on the list so you can be let into heaven. While these lend themselves to much creative license it doesn’t diminish the fact that there is a day of judgment coming. Because of the serious nature of judgment, you need to make sure you know what the Great White Throne Judgment is and who is this judgment reserved for.

What Is the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation?

In speaking of the Great White Throne Judgment people may refer to terms such as Judgment Day or the Last Judgment. This event is mentioned in Revelation 20 which we will look at in a moment, but Jesus referred to this judgment even in the Gospel of John.

"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned." – John 5:28-29

Let’s forward to the book of Revelation and see how these two scriptures point to the same event.

"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 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. 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 they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." – Revelation 20:11-15

Great White Throne Judgment Characteristics

When you are reading or studying Scripture it’s always good to ask questions to help understand the passage. These can be referred to as the W questions, who, what, where, when, why. Let’s do that with this passage.

Who will be judged?
The Great White Throne Judgment is a judgment for unbelievers and not for believers. I know you are saying how do you know this? When you read a little earlier in Revelation it reveals it.

"I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." – Revelation 20:4-6 (bold emphasis added)

The people who are present and participating in this Great White Throne Judgment are those who were not resurrected at the beginning of what is called the millennial period. They did not take place in that first resurrection they were part of the second. In the second resurrection, all those who were dead are now brought to stand before God in judgment. For these, there is no hope of eternal life which is why John wrote “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.”

When and where will they be judged?
This judgment will take place after the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. These people will already have died and will be lying in wait during this period until their final judgment is pronounced on them. In a criminal trial where bail is not offered or met a person can be held in jail until their trial date occurs. This is how it will be for those who will be judged at this judgment. These people will be held in a place called Hades until they are called to appear before God for trial. At that time, they will be resurrected for the purpose of facing their final judgment. This trial and judgment will take place before the very throne of God which is represented here by the Great White Throne.

What will they be judged for?
According to Revelation, these will be judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. They will be judged for their own actions and their own sins.

Why are they being judged?
This judgment is because they have rejected Christ as their substitute and they have chosen to pay the penalty for their sins themselves. Because God is a just, holy, and righteous God all sin requires that a penalty be paid for it. For those who receive Christ, the penalty for their sin is placed on him. For those who choose to reject Christ, they carry in themselves the penalty of their sin. As you can see the penalty is extreme and severe.

Does the Bible Say That There's One Judgment or Two Judgments?

When you look back at the passage in John Jesus mentions that some will be resurrected and live and others will be resurrected and be condemned. Jesus was referencing the fact that there are actually two different judgments mentioned in the Bible. There is a judgment for believers and a judgment for unbelievers. Let’s look at both.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. – 2 Corinthians 5:10

The word for judgment here is from the root word “bema” in the Greek. This is a seat where rewards and punishments can be handed out. In this judgment of believers, we will be rewarded or not rewarded for what we did after we received Christ as savior. It is important to distinguish that this is not a judgment of your salvation but of your works done after you received salvation. Paul refers to this type of judgment in 1 Corinthians.

"If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames." – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

I want you to notice that even though a person’s works may be burned up, they will still escape with their salvation because they have received Christ as their savior.

How Does This Differ from the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation?

The word for judgment used in Revelation 20:12 means to render a verdict either positive or negative. This is not a judgment of reward but a judgment of eternal destiny. There is no trial because God is simply rendering a verdict. At the Great White Throne Judgment, the time for mercy and grace has passed. In this moment all that is left is a final pronouncement or sentencing based on the guilt of the person being judged.

As you can see the Great White Throne Judgment is serious business and should be very sobering. There is no rejoicing for those who must face this and there should be no rejoicing for us when we know people who have died not knowing Jesus as their savior. For them, this is the destiny that awaits them. Here is what we are reminded of in scripture,

"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" – Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)

We will all die at some point and there is a judgment seat waiting for all of us. The question is will it be the bema seat or the Great White Throne? If you are in Christ you will not see the Great White Throne. This should not only make you rejoice this should also motivate you to want to share the gospel. Your desire should be to help as many people escape this Great White Throne Judgment. This is what Jesus has called us to do. Hopefully being reminded of final judgment will inspire us all to do more for the sake of the gospel and the sake of those who do not know Jesus as Savior.

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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.


This article is part of our larger End Times Resource Library. Learn more about the rapture, the anti-christ, bible prophecy and the tribulation with articles that explain Biblical truths. You do not need to fear or worry about the future!

Battle of Armageddon
Tribulation
Signs of the End Times
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The Seventh Seal Opened
What Is the Death Angel?




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