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Revelation 20:4-15 & Ezekiel 38 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:59 mins 46 secs

The Great White Throne Judgment. Revelation 20:4 - 15, Ezekiel 38

 

In  Ezekiel 38 and 39 we read of this end time invasion that takes place in Israel. We are not doing newspaper exegesis here, but our tendency is to put Ezekiel 38 and 39 into the early part of the second half of the Tribulation as a sort of prelude to the Armageddon campaign. In this chapter it talks about this attack coming whenIsrael is living at peace in unwalled villages. The Tribulation begins when the Antichrist enters into a covenant with Israel to secure peace for Israel. There is peace for Israel but that doesn't mean there is peace in the rest of the world as the Antichrist is expanding his operations and kingdom, but he is guaranteeing peace for Israel and in the Middle East. So this concept of unwalled villages depicts Israel as living in security and peace just at the mid point of the Tribulation and all of this begins to fall apart. Others will put the events of Ezekiel 39 and 39 either between the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation or even towards the end of the church age. There are others who put it in the first half of the Tribulation; there is a lot of debate among dispensationalists as to when you locate this event. There are very few time markers in these two chapters so that it can be pegged to other events in prophecy.

Ezekiel 38:2 NASB "Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him." Typically what is found in a lot of modern exposition is that Rosh relates to the area that is north of the Black Sea and the Caucuses Mountains up into Russia, and the same with Meshech. Then it goes on in verse 5 to identify other allies: "Persia, Ethiopia and Put [Libya] with them, all of them {with} shield and helmet; [6] Gomer with all its troops; Beth-togarmah {from} the remote parts of the north with all its troops--many peoples with you." Historically though these locations of Gomer and Beth-togarmah, also Rosh Meshech and Tubal at the time of writing and much of the Old Testament period those areas are located in what we call modern Turkey. So there is an alliance depicted here that would include Turkey, Iran, modern Sudan rather than Ethiopia, and Libya. So this is an interesting alliance coming together.

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Revelation 20:4 NASB "Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them…" That is a reference to those who have been raised in the previous resurrection. "…And I {saw} the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God [Tribulation martyrs], 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." By the mid point of the Tribulation things are going to be very obvious spiritually and all of the extremes of the angelic conflict will be pulled together into this final judgment period, because at the end is where the demons are judged, the Antichrist and the false prophets are judged, and Satan is sent to the abyss for a thousand years. Believers will not take the mark; it will be so obvious, some kind of oath-signing ceremony where one is swearing spiritual allegiance to the Antichrist and it is clear what the demonic nature of that is going to be. Believers won't do it; unbelievers will do it. Se we are told that those who are martyred in the Tribulation have been resurrected at the end of the Tribulation and they will live and reign with Christ for a thousand years in their resurrection bodies. These are Tribulation saints, the church has already been resurrected back at the Rapture, and the resurrection of the Old Testament saints has also occurred at the end of the Tribulation.

Revelation 20:5 NASB "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection," referring back to verse 4, not to the first part of verse 5. So there is a contrast between those who don't live until the thousand years are finished and those who are resurrected at the beginning of the Tribulation period. It is that contrast that is important because those who do not get resurrected as part of the first resurrection are those who will experience the second death.

The bema seat, the judgment seat of Christ, occurs during the Tribulation. Then following the return of Christ to the earth there is a period of time, the seventy-five-day interval, where several different judgments take place. There is the casting of the Antichrist into the lake of fire, casting the false prophet into the lake of fire, Satan in incarcerated in the abyss, the surviving Gentiles are judged at the sheep and goat judgment. The surviving Jews are judged at that time, Old Testament saints are judged and Tribulation saints are judged. Then the Millennial kingdom begins, the thousand-year reign of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah upon the earth. This is followed by the second resurrection which is the resurrection of all the unsaved at the end of the Millennial kingdom. There is the judgment at the great white throne where the unsaved dead are judged, Satan is judged and is then cast into the lake of fire, at which time is the creation of the new heavens and the new earth and we go into the eternal state. The Millennial kingdom is phase one of the eternal state.

Revelation 20:6 NASB "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years." He the beatitude here, one of a number in Revelation, has an emphasis on the first resurrection, and those who are in the first resurrection are not involved in the second death. There are other references in the New Testament that are not so specific. John 5:29 NASB "and will come forth; those who did the good {deeds} to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil {deeds} to a resurrection of judgment." But those don't take place at the same time. This is also stated in Daniel 12:2 NASB "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." The fact that there are different segments to the resurrection is seen in 1 Corinthians 15:23 NASB "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming." The word "order" translates the Greek word tagma [tagma] which means to arrange in an orderly manner. It has the idea that each resurrection comes in a specific order, and there are several different orders that take place. The resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits, then the resurrection of the church, the resurrection of the two witnesses, the resurrection of the Old Testament saints, the resurrection of the Tribulation martyrs. All of that together makes up the first resurrection.

Verse 6 also uses another interesting word, the word that is translated "part." When we see that word we think of part of a whole, but that is not the idea of the Greek word. The idea here in the word meros [meroj] has to do with a share or a portion of inheritance. This is the same word the prodigal son used when he approached his father and said he wanted his inheritance, his portion or share of the inheritance, now. This is the word that was used in technical legal literature (wills) to indicate the share or the portion of the inheritance that went to each individual. So if we retranslate this, "Blessed and holy is the one who has an inheritance (or, share) in the first resurrection" we see that it is just a blessing statement there, it is not saying that those who don't have an inheritance, those who forfeited it because they lost everything at the judgment seat of Christ, lost their salvation; that wouldn't make sense. Following the Rapture of the church at the judgment seat of Christ where the rewards are being distributed and others will have no rewards (everything is burned up) but they will enter "as through fire." That means that these believers who have nothing but their justification get into heaven, and they will be in the kingdom; but they are not going to have a share of the inheritance related to rewards or position or responsibility in the kingdom. This beatitude is just a statement that those who are rewarded are praised by God and are blessed in terms of their position in ruling and reigning with Christ, it is not saying anything about those who didn't get a reward at the judgment seat of Christ.

It goes on to say, "over these the second death has no power." That has implications for what we will read in the next chapter. What that indicates is not saying that they could have ended up in the lake of fire but because of their obedience they are not going to be in the lake of fire, what we will see is that the rewards that the believers who failed could have received are going to be burned up in the lake of fire—the rewards, not them. That is the significance of that statement. "…but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years." So the whole focus of verse 6 is making a positive statement about the rewards and position and privilege that successful believers will have in the Millennial kingdom.

The other thing we learn here is that the first death is bodily—when one dies physically and goes to the grace; the second death is also a physical, bodily death. This is indicated in Matthew 10:28 NASB "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell"—Hades, but it has application to the lake of fire because those who are lost spend eternity in the lake of fire and it is a physical, bodily pain that goes on and on forever and ever.

Revelation 20:7 NASB "When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, [8] and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore." This is the first time the word "prison" is used in relation to the abyss, so the abyss is seen to function as a prison. It is the same term that is used in 1 Peter 3:19 for the spirits or demons and their activity during the time of Noah, and because of that they were disciplined and placed in the abyss. We read those terms "Gog" and "Magog" in Ezekiel 38 & 39. There are some who think that the Ezekiel 38 & 39 battle is the same as this battle that takes place at the end of the Millennium but there is a distinction. In this verse the nations that are in "the four corners of the earth," a term for the entire earth, and these nations that gather in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ during His reign are referred to as Gog and Magog. If we look at Ezekiel Gog and Magog isn't referring to all the nations, it is just referring to a small group. There are a number of other small differences between Ezekiel 38 & 39 and this rebellion. This rebellion is simply the end time rebellion and the term "Gog and Magog" is a technical term to describe the nations that in the end of the Millennial kingdom will come together to attack Jerusalem. There is the deception that occurs at the end of the age and all of these individuals who rejected Jesus as Messiah during the Millennial period follow Satan and there is an enormous revolt that takes place.

Revelation 20:9 NASB "And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them." Everywhere else in Scripture where there is this phrase "the beloved city" this is a reference to the earthly Jerusalem. It is a reference to Jerusalem in the Millennial kingdom as the centerpiece of the worship of God on the earth. Once again Jerusalem is going to be the focal point of another major military campaign that is really an attack on God, and God is going to destroy them. This brings this earth's history to an end. [10] "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

There is a doctrine out there called soul annihilation, and there are others who take other views that attempt to argue that God is so good and God is a loving God, and a loving good God would never put His creatures into eternal punishment at this level of pain forever and ever. We have trouble with these things but we have to understand the justice of God and what is taking place here. Looking at the text the lake of fire already has two occupants, the Antichrist and the false prophet who have been there for a thousand years. So they obviously have some kind of body that is not going to be destroyed by all of the fires that are in the lake of fire. And they have been experiencing all of the excruciating pain associated with that for a thousand years. Then the text says, "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." This is a never-ending punishment. Why is it that God is going to bring about such a horrible, horrible punishment on those who have rejected Him?

We are going to be faced with the question: How can a good God allow this to happen? We all have the tendency to run into answer too fast, in too much of a hurry, and we let the other person set the terms of the argument. We should ask for his explanation of evil first, and that puts the shoe back on the other foot. The idea is to make people realize that, where do you get the idea of good and evil if you don't presuppose a God who is absolutely righteous? Where are you going to get the idea of good and evil? Society can't come up with that, the history of mankind can't come up with that, because what is one person's good is another person's evil; one person's evil is another person's good. So where are we going to get the idea of good and evil to judge the Christian God and say, Wait a minute, He can't really be a good God. How do we even have a right to use absolute value terms like good and evil if we have rejected the only source of absolute good and absolute evil before we even we even begin the discussion.

We have a God who has contained evil historically and when He judges Satan at this judgment this is the end of evil. Unbelievers, Satan, the false prophet, the Antichrist are confined in the lake of fire, and evil is then wrapped up in a package and put in the furnace, that is the end of evil and evil is resolved. God set things up in the garden of Eden with a simple test. The simple test was whether or not Adam and Eve would obey Him. He gave them thousands of options but they just couldn't eat from one tree. Eating a piece of fruit wouldn't be on our list of the most serious sins, but that is what the sin was. Eating that piece of fruit which symbolized their disobedience to God resulted in sin entering into human history. It changed botany so that now the earth was going to produce thorns and thistles; it changed the makeup and structure of animals which were designed to eat from the grass of the field so that now they were going to eat one another. That changed their dental structure, metabolic structure, etc. So nature, creation, the physical world changed because of Adam's sin. When we factor in Satan's rebellion and the rebellion of any creature, no matter how small an innocuous the action, it is going to produce these horrendous consequences, and eternity in the lake of fire is a rather mild punishment for all of the suffering and horrors that they have brought into all of human history because of negative volition to God. God is thoroughly just in His punishment because everyone has been given an opportunity. Romans chapter one: everyone is without excuse.

Revelation 20:11 NASB "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." It is a white throne because this is a depiction in Scripture of holiness and righteousness. The "one who sat on it," the throne is always God the Father. He is the only one stated to sit on the throne at any time in the book of Revelation. His face or presence—His face exposes righteousness. When Isaiah in Isaiah chapter six sees the throne of God he can't help but fall on his face and grovel because the brilliant holiness of God exposes the sin and the unworthiness of the creature. The omnipresence of God means no one can hide from His justice.

Revelation 20:12 NASB "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." The dead are all the dead unbelievers. This isn't talking about a works salvation. These are unbelievers, they are not saved; they don't have the one most important thing you have to have to get into heaven: perfect righteousness. That is the standard. What God is going to do is evaluate them on the basis of all their works and see if they have enough good to equal the perfect righteousness of Christ. The word "works" here doesn't mean sin. If a word study is done on the Greek word for "works," ergon [e)rgon], what is found is that it is a neutral word, it doesn't mean good or bad. You have to put an adjective in front of it to know whether the text is talking about good deeds or bad deeds. All this verse is talking about is their works. The sins aren't added in because the sins were paid for at the cross. When all of their good deeds are added up they fall short of God's standard, so they are sent to the lake of fire because they just don't have the right kind of righteousness. They rejected the perfect righteousness of Christ, which comes by faith alone in Christ alone; they are still spiritually dead. Because they never trusted in Christ, because they were never justified, they were never regenerated, so they are dead in their trespasses and sins still.

Revelation 20:13 NASB "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." This gives information about what occurs before the judgment. [14] "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." The lake of fire is the destiny of Satan, the Antichrist, the false prophet and all unbelievers in human history. [15] "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." There are many who believe that because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sin of everybody that everybody's name is provisionally put in the book of life. But if you die and don't trust Christ as your savior then your name is eliminated from the book of life.

Because God is absolutely righteous and absolutely just He can only have fellowship with creatures that qualify in terms of the same level of righteousness. The problem every human being has is lack of righteousness— --R. Isaiah 64:6 NASB "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." Jesus Christ went to the cross but as the God-Man He is perfectly righteous, so that all of our sins are applied to Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB "He made Him who knew no sin {to be} sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Our sins are imputed to Him on the cross so that when we believe in Jesus Christ His righteousness is then imputed to us. We are still sinners but what God looks at is the legal imputation of righteousness. We are not saved because we do good things, we are saved because Christ was perfectly righteous. That is the standard for getting into heaven: we are declared righteous. After we are declared righteous we are regenerated. All of this happens simultaneously but that is the logical order. God's blessing comes to us with reference to His righteousness, not our righteousness.

The sin of everybody was paid for at the cross so it is not an issue ate the great white throne. Colossians 2:13 NASB "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him…" The key idea here is the phrase "He made you alive together with Him." The first part, "dead in your transgressions," is really a temporal participle and should be understood as "when you were dead in your transgressions, He made us alive together with Him."  Then there is another participle, "having forgiven us all our transgressions," but it should be understood as "because He forgave" or "because he cancelled all the legal guilt for our trespasses." When did He cancel the legal guilt for our trespasses? This refers to everybody. He did it [14] "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." It didn't happen when we trusted in Christ, it happened when He died on the cross. That is when the debt certificate against us was dealt with—at the cross, not when we were saved. Because the sin of everybody was dealt with at the cross it is not an issue at the great white throne. John 3:18—"because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." If we believe in Christ we receive His righteousness; if we don't believe in Him we don't receive His righteousness. It is not about sin at all, it is about whether we believe in Jesus—that's faith for justification.

What about statements in the New Testament that say a person can die in their sins? John 8:24; 1 Corinthians 15:17. Look at how that phrase is used in Ephesians 2:1 NASB "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." It is very clear that this phrase "in your sins" is an idiom for spiritually dead. Besides, "in your sins" doesn't mean "for your sins." "In your sins" is a totally different preposition—en [e)n], not for your sins. So you can die in your sins because you are still spiritually dead.   

Illustrations