Carpe diem! Live it up! Phrases like these sum up the prevailing philosophy of our age. But as society leads us to believe that we have finally moved past the idea of Judgment Day, Scripture tells us that we are moving closer to it.
Nowhere to Hide
If you were with us in our last session, I reviewed the material relative to the 1,000 year reign – the Millennial Kingdom – with a desire to clear up some of the misunderstandings and answer a few more questions I’ve received over the last few weeks.
I wanna be clear. Sometimes, especially in matters of eschatology – future events – it’s difficult to get the truth delivered clearly enough.
Here’s a case in point. A mother sent me an email this past week that said, “My younger son spent Saturday night at a friend's house and went to church with them on Sunday. [When he got home] over dinner we were discussing what you had covered Sunday morning. In giving him an overview, I mentioned the Millennial Kingdom. He said, "Oh yea, that’s when we’re gonna have a 1000 years of rain.
She writes, “I guess the good news was that he was listening.”
We’re about to dive into another subject that has raised more questions and objections over the centuries than perhaps any other biblical topic.
In a recent issue of the News and Observer, there was an interesting article in the Faith section of the newspaper. Several in our fellowship sent me a copy, for which I’m grateful.
The Faith Section of the News and Observer really ought to be called, “The give it your best guess Section” because it has little to do with objective, biblical truth, certainly true faith in Christ.
This particular article ran under the Headline, “It’s God’s job, not ours, to give out salvation tickets.”
And I agree – we can’t give anybody salvation tickets. But we can tell them how to pick one up.
In this article, the author took issue with someone who challenged him with the text of John 14:6 and the truth that heaven was only for those who came to faith in Jesus Christ. This contributor wrote (edited), Worshipping anyone other than Jesus Christ is teaching false doctrine that [effectively, means they will] spend eternity in hell. I know this isn’t a popular view, but it’s the biblical truth.
The journalist, a member of the God Squad – I guess that means he represents God – wrote his answer in the News and Observer with, “I appreciate the power of your faith, but it isn’t compassionate . . . I can’t believe Gandhi is rotting in hell.”
He goes on to explain that God will let all the virtuous people into heaven, even though they’ve denied Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and – he explained as an example – even though a Buddhist monk has denied salvation through Christ – God considers him “anonymous Christians.”
He got that phrase, from a Jesuit scholar – you won’t find it in the Bible.
He went on to explain that anonymous Christians were people who, even though they rejected Christ throughout their lives – because they were good people, they’ll get into heaven – evidently they were Christians – they just didn’t know it until they had to.
Then this journalist rebuked the writer who had dared to suggest Christ’s words in John 14:6 – where Christ said He was the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.
This journalist wrote back and in print, “It’s not your job to tell people they are damned. God didn’t put you in charge of dispensing salvation tickets. God put you on earth to witness to your faith by keeping your heart open and your mouth shut.
The News and Observer, Thursday, February 4, 2010
What kind of neighbor sees a house going up in flames across the street and says, “God would rather me keep my mouth shut.” But I’ll tell you what, I’ll go over and mow his lawn –that’ll
demonstrate my faith!
The fundamental issue behind this kind of advice is the belief that a literal hell doesn’t exist; or if it does, only really bad people in the world are going there.
Hell is a place for the Devil, demons and really bad people like Hitler, Stalin and Attila the Hun.
Trouble is Jesus Christ said that Hell was a place not only for bad people, but religious, moral and upstanding people (Romans chapter 2).
In fact, Jesus Christ made it very clear that no one can enter Heaven unless they’ve been born again – spiritually made alive by the power of the Spirit of God through salvation (John chapter 3).
What I found interesting was that this journalist completely ignored the Jesus Christ’s own words, in John 14:6, in his response.
My friend, you can’t ignore His words.
Jesus said earlier in John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.”
Listen, that makes Jesus Christ a liar, a lunatic, or truly Lord.
This is what C.S. Lewis called the great trilemma: Christ was either a liar – that is, He made stuff up – or he was a lunatic – he had a huge Messiah complex and was deceived by his own sense of grandeur – or He is really is the Son of God and the coming Lord of the universe.
So why do people throughout our culture, like this newspaper journalist, flirt with the vocabulary of truth but deny the core meaning of Christ’s claims?
Because you have this knotty issue created by the words of the prophets and Jesus Christ and the Apostles – throughout scripture.
It is this issue of judgment. It is the problem of a place called Hell.
It is the clear biblical teaching that all the world will become accountable to God (Romans 10:3).
Accountable to God.
The very thing the world resists, rejects, mocks, twists, denies and redefines.
The word translated accountable is hupodikos (upodikoV) which is a legal term meaning, “to answer to”; the legal term was used for someone who was liable for judgment and punishment. / Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 356
The problem isn’t that Jesus Christ and the Apostles weren’t clear. The problem is, they are very clear but mankind doesn’t want to hear it.
What the Apostle Paul is saying is that there is a coming day when all the world of unbelievers will be brought to a trial before God – and they will be liable for judgment and punishment.
The next scene in John the Apostle’s vision is this very trial.
The moment of mankind’s accountability before God has arrived. There is so much here that we’re going to take 2 sessions together to work through it.
I’ll attempt to answer along the way, some of the objections raised whenever you talk about Hell, like,
- What about those who never heard the gospel?
- How can God send someone to Hell who never had a Bible?
- What about people in different countries who never listened to a missionary?
- Does Hell really last forever for people or just for the Devil?
I’m going to answer those questions in our next session.
But what I want to do today is introduce the most despised doctrine of future events – in fact it is the most offensive, repulsive doctrine of biblical Christianity to our world.
It is the doctrine of final judgment when billions of unbelievers will be summoned to court by – guess Who? – Jesus Christ!
R. G. Lee, the preacher of old called this day, “Payday” . . . and he preached often his sermon entitled, “Payday Someday”.
Well, according to the scene in Revelation chapter 20, where we left off in our last study at verse 11, payday has arrived.
John the Apostle informs us that the divine courtroom is about to deliver a call to order . . . and the great trial to begin.
An Unforgettable Setting
The first thing I want you to notice is this unforgettable setting.
Notice verse 11. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
We’re given some descriptive words for the seat of judgment.
- John said, it was a great throne.
The word is megan (megan) – which gives us our word, “mega”.
This is a mega throne – it is awesome and fearful and great because of the glory of His holy majesty surrounding it.
This is the only court ever convened by One whose jurisdiction is universal. / Sam Gordon, Worthy is the Lamb: A Walk Through Revelation(Ambassador, 2000), p. 415
John informs us next, that this throne was not only great, but it was white.
The word is leukon (leukon) – symbolizing the absolute purity of His throne. / Rienecker, p. 858
There is not one speck of injustice – not one hint of bribery – there is no spin in this courtroom – not one molecule of inequality.
David writes in Psalm 97:2 that righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
In other words, God’s coming verdict of punishment in an everlasting Hell is actually right and just.
Mankind is about to get what it actually deserves.
You gotta be kidding?
How offensive is that?
Think about it – it’s one thing for the Bible to say that somebody gets thrown into hell because he wasn’t good enough to get into heaven, or that he didn’t follow all the rules, or pray all the right prayers or join the right church.
It’s one thing to say someone isn’t going to heaven because they don’t deserve heaven.
It’s an entirely different thing to say that someone is going to hell because he deserves that.
That is utterly offensive to every generation to believe that Hell could possibly be deserved.
Later on, John the Apostle will tell us why.
But here in verse 11, John informs us that this unforgettable setting involves a great throne – a great white throne – and don’t miss it that he calls it a throne.
This isn’t a desk for dialogue . . . a stool for support and advice. No, it is a throne from which will the king’s verdict.
John now makes reference in verse 11 to the One who sat upon it.
We know from a number of verses that God the Son shares the throne at the right hand – the place of authority – of God the Father.
Revelation 22:1, 3 refers to the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Paul wrote to the Colossians, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (3:1)
The writer of Hebrews, chapter 10 and verse 12, wrote, that Christ, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God – a reference to the throne now shared between God the Son and God the Father.
The Apostle Peter wrote, That Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven (1 Peter 3:22).
The Father and Son share the throne as equally divine, along with the Holy Spirit – it is God in three persons, yet one Triune God. However, they have unique functions according to their own eternal wisdom.
And one of the unique functions of God the Son – Jesus Christ – is judging sinners.
Jesus Christ said in John 5:22, Not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.
Jesus Christ, then, is the Judge – and by the way, this court can’t be held if the Judge is dead. But the judge is alive – resurrected and ascended.
This truth of Christ’s resurrection turned cowards into crusaders.
The Apostle Peter, who a few months earlier cursed and swore to try to cover up any connection between him and the Savior is now preaching openly and boldly.
In Acts 10:42, said, [after Jesus arose from the dead] – He ordered us to proclaim to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
How ironic is that?
God the Son has been appointed by God the Father to assume the role of Judge – this same One who was earlier the Savior who forgave sinners will be on the throne one day as Judge to condemn sinners.
And by the way, did you notice the first part of the verse – I’ll read it again, “And He [Jesus Christ] ordered us to proclaim to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.”
Didn’t Jesus know that His followers weren’t supposed to say things like this – that He was going to judge the world?
Didn’t Jesus know that we were just supposed to keep our hearts open and our mouths shut?
Didn’t Peter know that?
Listen, it isn’t Jesus who is telling Christians to keep their mouths shut and not warn anybody of the coming, final judgment; it is Satan and his followers who would say to us, “Keep that message to yourself!”
You’re disturbing the religious status quo.
The religious leaders hauled Peter and the other disciples before the Jewish High court and commanded them to no longer deliver the message of their accountability to Jesus Christ (Acts 5:28); but Peter and the others said, Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
We will not keep this to ourselves.
Like the Apostle Paul, they said, “We will beg the unbelieving world to be reconciled to God – 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Why? For one thing, there is a coming payday . . . a court so terrifying and a verdict so terrible that we would never wish anyone to find himself before this great white throne.
The scene is actually made more terrifying by what John writes next in verse 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.
There are some who believe that God doesn’t destroy the heavens and the earth, but simply renews them like He wants them to be after the judgments are completed.
But John’s vision here, coupled with numerous Old and New Testament passages, including Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:13 leave little doubt in my mind that the universe as we know it will be violently consumed by fire.
Peter writes that the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up . . . but according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, (2 Peter 3:10, 13)
Peter writes, the elements will be destroyed.
The word for elements is the word stoixeion (stoiceion) which refers to the atomic particles which are the basic structures of everything that is. It will all be destroyed. The word for destroyed literally means “loosed” . . . in other words, the universe will come apart and explode as if it were one gigantic nuclear bomb. / John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 2000), p. 250
Isaiah wrote, “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke.” Isaiah 51:6a
The heat from this universal explosion Peter writes about will disperse all the matter in it, so that it flees, John writes in verse 11, from the presence of God.
It may be that although God kept His promised and destroyed the earth and the entire universe with fire; God will recall all the energy . . . all the atoms . . . all the matter . . . and, as He did with our glorified bodies, reconstruct a brand new universe and, most importantly, a brand new earth.
So imagine here, this courtroom is suspended in space – it isn’t taking place in heaven or on earth . . . there are no planets or galaxies visible . . . nothing but God, the redeemed of all time seated somewhere nearby, the godly angels of heaven and every unbelieving human being who ever lived.
The prophet Daniel also had a vision of this scene and he wrote, “I kept looking until thrones were set up – by the way, the plural use of “thrones” implies that Christ’s redeemed will play a role in this final judgment – if not passing sentence, at least playing a role in observing and no doubt affirming with solemn unity the glory of God’s justice and the righteousness of His verdict.
Daniel writes, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames . . .a river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him, the court sat and the books were opened.
We can’t even begin to imagine this scene, first witnessed by John the Apostle as he is given a tour of the future and the end of planet earth.
This is a terrifying scene, primarily to all of humanity who observes this fiery explosion – basically ending their sight of anything – now all is changed.
This is an unforgettable setting.
But I want you to notice next;
- An Unavoidable Summons
Notice verse 12 of Revelation 20, And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.
Notice verse 13. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them.
Hades, in the Greek language is the same place as Sheol in the Hebrew language. It is the place where the souls of unbelievers are staying as they await their summons to the Great White Throne.
Hades is used ten times in the New Testament, always in reference to the place of punishment. / MacArthur, p. 252
But John also tells us they come from death and the sea.
John is informing us that, just as the bodies of all believers were resurrected in the past and given a glorified, immortal body, the bodies of all the unbelievers are now resurrected.
Their souls are released from Hades – that temporary place of torment – and their souls are reunited with their reconstituted, resurrected bodies.
Which means that unbelievers are now fitted with resurrection, immortal bodies that are eternally suited for hell – able to last forever in the lake of fire! / Ibid
And here they stand before the throne of judgment.
Not one unredeemed person is missing from this courtroom.
No matter where their body was lying – no matter how decayed or scattered their dust – even if they were buried in a grave or they were buried or even drowned or had their ashes scattered upon the seas – they are summoned to this moment of reckoning.
No one will be able to stay in his grave, pull the dirt over his face and hide from God.
Those who were killed by accident or died peacefully in their sleep; those who were burned on some fiery pyre or embalmed in some Egyptian tomb; those who were laid to rest in satin-lined caskets or in primitive pine boxes or burlap and a shallow grave; those who were buried in marble vaults, surrounded by treasure and those who bodies were consumed by head hunters or vultures – all will be raised to stand before the Judge. God knows every speck of human dust, every strand of DNA, and He calls it forth from deserts, caves, jungles, seas, tombs, ghettos, and palaces. / Sam Gordon, p. 416
John writes here that the small and the great stand there together before the great white throne.
In other words, the world’s impressive and important movers and shakers stand equally guilty as the world’s dropouts and drunks.
The well connected have no strings to pull. The politically savvy and the wealthy stand next to the illiterate and the homeless.
This is judgment day . . . there is nowhere to run; there is nowhere to hide.
You may respond, “You’re just trying to frighten me!” Is it working?
I would rather frighten you with the truth than pamper you with empty promises.
There will be no anonymous Christians in eternity.
Every Buddhist and every Baptist who plays at his religion and assumes he’s good enough to live with God forever is in for a rude awakening.
But the Christian who has been brought to life by faith in Christ alone – the genuine Christian who acted upon the grace of God and received the gift of God’s salvation – will not be standing before this great white throne, but seated around it.
The deceiver said thousands of years ago to our first parents the same message he is delivering through his world systems and world-wide religions today – Eve, do your own thing . . . you won’t die . . . don’t worry about the future!
You have nothing to fear . . . she ate and Adam ate . . . and they became afraid and they ran and hid.
At this scene of final judgment, there is nowhere to run . . . nowhere to hide. It is forever too late.
And with these brief phrases, the court of God’s great white throne opens.
The judge is on His throne . . . the condemned are summoned for their prosecution and defense . . . the evidence is about to be presented . . . the verdict will be read and the sentence delivered.
Will this be you? The books are about to be opened as evidence – the Book of conscience; the book of secrets; the book of words, the book of actions and the book of life.
The evidence will overwhelm every possible defense.
Don’t demand a fair trial – because you will get one.
My friend, you have only one hope . . . settle out of court.
Admit you are guilty and accept the justness of God’s verdict against you – you are a sinner and you are rightly and justly condemned to die an eternal death in Hell.
Then run to the cross where your Savior died for you – and claim His suffering and His death and His life as your payment and as your substitute – He took what you deserved.
You can listen to the local newspaper’s religion section or you can listen to the Revelation of the Revelation of John; you will either be standing before this throne one day, or seated around it.
You don’t want to stand trial in this scene. So, settle out of court with the One who paid your penalty and will set you free.