Once to die and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

PREFACE: Another of a series of posts offering my own perspective on the issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. NOTE: I have edited the post from yesterday, “Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)” because some of the wording needed to be changed. rmb

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the last year and a half. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the threat of sudden, random death onto the screens of people all over the globe. When it first appeared in March of last year, the reports were that COVID only affected the aged and the infirm, but as the pandemic has raged and morphed, the threat of getting a severe case has gradually trickled down the age ranges until now everyone of any age is a potential victim. And death may result, whether you are nineteen or ninety. COVID is no respecter of age. Nor does COVID seem to discriminate on the basis of physical health. There is growing evidence that physical fitness poses no barrier to COVID. And death may result, whether you are a physical specimen or a couch potato.

A few days ago, it was announced that the COVID pandemic is now officially the deadliest pandemic in US history, surpassing the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. To date 676,000 Americans have entered eternity as a result of COVID-19. Yes, there is no question about it: death may result from COVID.

So, how should we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, respond to these realities? I suggest that we address these realities with the truths of the gospel.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DEATH

COVID has brought to many people an awareness of death, and an awareness of their own possible death, which has previously been absent. Of course, death is not new. Ever since Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, death has been a reality on this planet. Every person who has ever been born either has already experienced death or will experience death. Death hangs over the head of every person living, and death may come at any moment. There is no negotiation. There is never a redo. There is no reversal. Death comes with stunning finality, and we humans are helpless before it. And death is a universal problem.

Human beings are unique among all the animals on earth in two ways related to death: First, humans are the only animals who know they are going to die; and second, humans are the only animals who will be judged by God because of their sin. Hebrews 9:27 puts it well:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment

It is appointed for men to die. God told Adam, “The day you eat of it (forbidden fruit) you shall surely die.” Thus, death entered the world (Romans 5:12), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So, it is appointed by God for men to die. There is a day appointed for me and for you when we will die.

But the most terrifying thing about death is not the experience of death itself, but the truth that after death comes judgment. All of us must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). All unbelievers will stand before the blazing holiness of God Almighty and will be condemned for their sins (Revelation 20:15). This is why the unbeliever, whether they admit it or not, is frightened of death. They are frightened because, in their soul, they know that God’s judgment awaits.

AWARENESS OF DEATH

I mentioned before that COVID has brought many people to an awareness of the possibility of their own death. So, it is not death itself that is new, but it is the awareness of their own death that is new. Through the COVID pandemic, millions have seen men and women just like them dying of COVID and death has become part of everyday conversation. My awareness of my own possible death from COVID goes way up when I see a friend or a church member or a relative dying of the disease. What does the gospel have to say to those who are afraid of death and afraid of the coming judgment?

JESUS CHRIST HAS CONQUERED DEATH

So COVID threatens us with physical death, but the truth of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Jesus has conquered death by His glorious resurrection, and now the follower of Jesus has no need to fear death. Since Jesus Christ has risen from dead, all those who are in Christ will also rise from the dead in the final Resurrection. The Bible declares this over and over again:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Jesus promises resurrection and eternal life to all who believe in Him. COVID cannot threaten me because Jesus has given me His promises.

53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

All believers must put on imperishable immortality. The Christian is promised a resurrection, so death has lost its victory and its sting.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

The apostle Paul takes this idea into the most practical of places. Since faith in Jesus Christ has guaranteed a resurrection, the believer can live fully for Christ and then will gain heaven when they die. COVID has nothing to say to a life lived for Christ in that way.

So, the believer in Jesus can respond to the threat of death from COVID by simply declaring, “Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I have no fear of death. My Savior has conquered the grave and risen from the dead, and in the end, I will also be glorified. So, I have no fear of COVID-19.” This, in my opinion, is the faithful response to the threat of this pandemic.

But I think there is still more that we can do with the threat of COVID.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO OFFER THE GOSPEL

As more and more become aware of their mortality and of the proximity of their own death, and as perhaps some we know or encounter even draw near to that awesome moment when life gives way to eternity, I am convinced that believers must warn the perishing of their peril and urge them to come to Christ before it is too late.

Is it possible that the Lord is using the deaths of this pandemic and the increased awareness of our own inevitable death to open a door for those who will tell the lost about the reality of the final Judgment so they will turn to Christ? In Ezekiel 33:1-10 we read the story of the watchman. The LORD tells the prophet that a watchman was appointed to send the alarm if he saw the sword of destruction coming upon the city so the city would be warned and get to safety. Then the LORD says, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). The LORD is saying that, because the watchman did not warn about the coming sword, he is responsible for the deaths in the city.

How does this apply to the believer during the COVID pandemic? We are the watchmen who have been appointed to warn of the coming Judgment. We are the ones who know that there is a sword coming, ultimately the double-edged sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus when He returns to judge the earth (Revelation 19:11-16). We have been appointed as the witnesses of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), and if we do not warn about the coming judgment, the people will still perish in their sins, but we also will have to give an account for why we were silent. The point is that COVID-19 has made people, all people, much more aware about the possibility of death. That is an opportunity for us, for we know Him who has conquered death. We know Him who has removed our fear of death. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). We know that the Judgment will be terrifying, and we know how those who are now under judgment can be set free. Let’s be vocal and bold in proclaiming Jesus to the lost.

Warnings of the watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-7)

BACKGROUND OF THE PASSAGE

The prophet Ezekiel had been appointed by the LORD to be a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:7). The word of the LORD had come to the prophet and had described for him the circumstances that demanded a watchman for the people and what the obligations were for this person.

The people needed a watchman because there was an imminent danger of destruction. There was a sword from the LORD coming upon the land and the watchman was appointed to blow the trumpet and warn the people so that they had an opportunity to escape. Sounds simple enough, right? But there was a catch. If for any reason the appointed watchman did not blow the trumpet and warn the people, the sword would certainly take a person away, “but his blood I (the LORD) will require from the watchman’s hand (33:6).”

Clearly, when the LORD appointed a watchman for the people, He expected the watchman to blow the trumpet at the appearance of the approaching sword. Things did not go well for the silent watchman.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE WATCHMAN AND THE WITNESS

While at first glance this story of watchmen and trumpets and swords may seem far removed from our own experience, when seen through the lens of the gospel, the picture is strikingly relevant. Let’s make some word substitutions.

Sword = God’s Judgment                    Trumpet = Gospel

Blow the trumpet = Proclaim the gospel

Take warning = Believe the gospel     Delivers his life = Is saved

Ignores the warning + Does not respond to the gospel

Sword takes him away = Perishes forever in hell

THE KEY QUESTION: WHO IS THE WATCHMAN?

The critical question in this parallel is, “Who is the watchman?” Is the watchman every believer, or is the watchman one of a small subset of all believers? We need to explore this question to be sure that our blood is not being required because of our silence.

It is possible that “the watchman” is a special Christian who has been set apart by God for this special task of proclaiming the gospel. It is possible that the large majority of believers are not obligated to communicate the good news to the lost at all but are free to be silent about the terrifying peril facing the unsaved and to be silent about the salvation that is promised to all those who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible that the large majority can be silent while a small minority bears all the obligation to proclaim. I suppose it is possible that is the case, but there are several things that make me nervous about that.

One thing that bothers me about the idea that a special, select group of believers shoulders the responsibility for proclaiming the gospel to the lost is that I cannot find that in the New Testament. Jesus’ statement, “You shall be My witnesses,” is for all those who have received the Holy Spirit, not just for an elite subgroup. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is given to every member of the church, not to just a handful of specially gifted people. If I accept that I am a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9),” then I must also perform the duty of proclaiming His excellencies. If there is a special group of people who serve as New Testament “watchmen,” I need to know who they are and how they are identified to be sure that I am not unknowingly among them.

But there are other things that cause me concern. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of man (Matthew 4:19).” That sounds like if I do the one, I also do the other. If I follow, I also fish. It sounds like all followers, fish for men, not just a select few. Doesn’t it?

Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).” But aren’t all believers to be ambassadors to the lost?

In that same chapter, Paul also says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).” Surely all believers know the fear of the Lord’s judgment. So, all believers should be involved in persuading people that the sword of God’s judgment is poised above all those who have not fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus.

Bottom line is that the Bible teaches we are all the Lord’s watchmen and, therefore, we do not get a pass. In fact, we read that there is a consequence that flows from our silence. Notice that if Ezekiel had been silent, the blood of those who perished on his watch would have been required from Ezekiel’s hand. I am not sure what the phrase “blood required from your hand” means, but I do know that I do not want to find out.

Ezekiel was appointed a watchman to blow the trumpet and warn the people of the coming sword. In the same way, we, as followers of the Lord Jesus, have been called out of darkness to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16). The Lord has bought us at the price of His own blood, and He has given each of us a huge sack of seed. It is written, “The sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3).” And what are we to sow? We are to scatter the seed of the gospel everywhere and everyday so that the world may know of Jesus and so “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).”

So, you and I are “the watchman.” We see that there is a judgment coming and that there is only one means of escape. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” So, we blow the trumpet of the gospel so that men and women may find refuge in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 6/7/2021         #413

The Helper is to your advantage (John 16:7-11)

“There is no way that Your going away is to our advantage!” This is not in the biblical text, but I suspect that more than one of Jesus’ disciples had this thought when the Lord told them, in John 16:7-11, that He was going away to the Father.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Once again, we are in the Upper Room as Jesus is giving His disciples final instructions and preparing them for what is to come. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried as a criminal, scourged, and crucified, and thus He will accomplish the work He was given to do (John 17:4). But now He has a couple of last hours to spend with His apostles. One of the most important teachings of this discourse is Jesus’ teaching here on the Holy Spirit.

SENDING THE HELPER

Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to the Father (John 16:5), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Before the disciples break out in a panic, Jesus explains that He is going to send the Helper to them (16:7). Who is this Helper? They have already learned about this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). He is a member of the Trinity, fully God and worthy to be worshiped. But more than that, Jesus introduces Him as the Helper. That means that one of His primary roles is that of helping the followers of the Lord Jesus. And, while Jesus, because He had taken on a body of flesh, was localized in one place at one time, the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places. Thus, the Helper can be helping believers in far-flung places at the same time. Jesus must go, but He will send the Helper to them.

CONVICT THE WORLD

The primary area in which the Helper will help the disciples is in the area of fulfilling the mission that Jesus will give them. After His resurrection, but before He ascends to heaven, the risen and victorious Lord Jesus commissions His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be His witnesses in all the earth (Acts 1:8). Their primary “weapon” is the gospel, but their source of power is the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” And so, the weak and mortal and often-fearful disciples of Jesus go out into the world empowered by the divine Holy Spirit. And what will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, do? “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who works in the hearts and minds of unbelievers to bring a sense of guilt on the ungodly. He will convince the wicked of their fault, and He will show the unrighteous their sin. The church proclaims, but the Helper brings conviction. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING SIN

“concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (16:9).”

Fallen man is sinful by nature and by choice. The natural man is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and he loves the darkness and hates the Light (John 3:19-20). For the world, sin is enjoyable, and the world does not mind evil at all. Those who do not believe in Jesus have no one and nothing to convict them of sin, and so they continue in their wickedness.

But there are some among the ungodly, some who do not believe in Jesus whom the Father is calling and drawing (John 6:44), and for these, the Helper begins convicting them concerning sin. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is speaking to their mind and to their heart and changing their view of sin. For these whom the Helper is convicting, sin is gradually losing its pleasure. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, sin begins to look less appealing and more disgusting. Eventually, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, those who did not believe in Jesus repent of their sin and forsake their sin and believe in Jesus. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING RIGHTEOUSNESS

“concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me (16:10).”

For the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the world had a vivid display of perfect righteousness. Wherever Jesus was, there righteousness was displayed. And when Jesus was around, the unrighteousness of everyone else in the world was painfully evident. When Jesus was there, you were automatically convicted of your unrighteousness by comparison. But Jesus is going to the Father, and who will convict the world of their unrighteousness now?

The Helper is the Person who convicts the world of unrighteousness now that Jesus has gone to heaven. The Holy Spirit speaks to the minds and hearts of the unrighteous and convicts them. “Your words are vile.” “Your thoughts are wicked.” “All you care about is you.” “You know that you just lied to her.” “God condemns your hatred.” There is no longer conviction by comparison; now there is direct conviction from the Helper. And this is a big advantage.

CONCERNING JUDGMENT

“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (16:11).”

When Jesus was on earth, he warned the world concerning the final judgment and urged people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him. His message of coming judgment was clear, even though most hearers ignored His warnings. But now Jesus is going to the Father. Who is going to convict the world about the perils of the coming judgment?

Jesus has not left the world without a witness but has called His church to proclaim the gospel and to warn the world of the judgment to come. The church now has the responsibility to warn the world of coming judgment, and the Helper is the one who brings conviction on the world when the church proclaims. The final judgment of the world should bring fear into the hearts of all unrepentant sinners, but the world scoffs and mocks (Genesis 19:14; 2 Peter 3:3-7). But while most of the world scoffs and mocks, the Helper convicts some in the world of the peril of the final judgment. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, some will begin to hear and to fear. Some will cry out for salvation (Acts 16:30). Some will be cut to the quick (Acts 2:37). Some will heed the warning and will flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the conviction of the Helper, and it is a huge advantage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

The conscience, the Law, and sin – Part 1: The conscience

In the next several days I will be writing two articles, one on the conscience and sin, and one on the Law and sin. The connection is that the conscience and the Law are two of God’s means of grace which bring our sin to our attention so that we can repent. These articles will examine how the natural man responds to these God-given means of grace.

The conscience and sin

What do we know about the conscience from the Bible? We will look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that addresses the conscience and use that as our starting point. Then we will examine several other verses that further inform our understanding of our conscience and try to apply those ideas to our lives.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the Law written on their heart, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:14-16

Paul writes that “Gentiles do not have the Law,” but they do have a conscience. From this we can conclude that all people are born with a conscience. This is, in fact, what the whole Bible makes plain. All people have a God-given sin-detector called a conscience. Whether Jew or Gentile, or believer or unbeliever. A conscience is part of the standard equipment for all people.

The function of the conscience

What is the function of the conscience? Since not everyone knows about the moral Law of God as written in the Bible, God in His grace has given everyone a conscience to reveal to us our sin so that we can be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). In fact, as we read the passage above more carefully, we see that the conscience does “the work of the Law.” The conscience functions as a copy of “the Law written on our heart,” and it either accuses us of sin or acquits us of not-sin as we go through our lives. Here is how this might work. As I am talking to someone, I tell them what I know to be a lie. My conscience immediately convicts me of that sin, and I know that I have lied, and thus I have the opportunity to repent. Or else I walk past a co-worker’s cubicle and see that he has left his wallet on his desk while he went out to lunch. I could steal the wallet, but I resist, and my conscience defends me because I did not steal. The conscience, then, is evidence of God’s grace, revealing to us our sin so that we can repent.

Before we leave this passage, we should also notice that there is a vitally important reason why we need to repent. You see, there is a judgment coming. There will be a day in the future when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” On that day, all sin that has not been forgiven will receive the full wrath of God through Christ Jesus. The sins that you think are safely secret are all known to God, and you will be judged for them. The sins that are unknown to you are all known to God, and you will be condemned by them (Romans 2:12). So, the natural man needs to listen to his conscience and repent of his sin.

The limitations of the conscience

Since everyone has a conscience, we would expect that people would be aware of their sin and would often repent of it, but this is definitely not the case. Why is this not the case? It is because of the limitations of the conscience in the face of the fallenness of man.

First, while the conscience convicts of sin universally, it convicts of sin weakly. The pang of guilt from the conscience is never that sharp, so the natural man learns very quickly how to ignore and silence the conscience. The Bible says that the conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and the conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). In both these cases, the convicting effects of the conscience are silenced, and the people can proceed in their sin with a feeling of impunity. The sin remains and condemns, but the conscience’s ability to convict is smothered. This is what all people learn to do as they go through life, to a greater or lesser degree.

But second and more importantly, unsaved man loves his sin. In the gospel of John, he says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).” The Bible is clear that the natural man is a slave of sin and he loves his slavery. The unsaved have given themselves over to the desires of their flesh and hate anything that seeks to limit their sin. Thus, unsaved people hate the conscience because they hate to be told about their sin.

Finally, while the conscience can convict of sin, it can only convict of sin. That is, the conscience can make the sinner aware of their sin, but they cannot restrain the sinner from sinning. More than this, the conscience cannot remove from the sinner the guilt and condemnation which they have revealed to the sinner. The conscience tells the sinner, “You are guilty of that sin!” The sinner replies, “Oh. How can I be forgiven of that sin?” “I don’t know,” says the conscience. In some sense, the conscience is like a fire alarm in your house. The fire alarm is good at letting you know that there is a fire in your house. Its piercing shriek is designed to basically wake the dead so that you are aware of the danger. But if you are relying on the alarm to save you from the fire, you will be sadly disappointed. An alarm without a separate escape plan is a casualty. Just so, your conscience can do nothing about your sin except to point out your guilt. If you do not have a way of being forgiven of that sin, you will surely perish in the judgment.

The answer to revealed sin

If the conscience cannot remove my sin or forgive my sin, then what am I to do? There is only one way to be forgiven of any sin, whether known or unknown, whether revealed by the conscience or by some other means.

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).”

            It is only through repentance of your sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can have forgiveness of sins. If your conscience is bothering you and you are convicted of your guilt before a holy God, confess your sins, and repent, and come to Jesus in faith. (1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15)

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

A study of the Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15

This originally was going to be a brief blog on this passage from the book of Revelation, but as is often the case with my writing, I ended up being fascinated with the study and so produced a fairly long piece. I hope that you find it instructive and edifying. rmb 9.16.2020

“So, what happens at the Judgment?” My friend had been having a discussion with his wife in preparation for talking to his daughters about the final judgment. He knew that I was working on a book on the end times, so he gave me a call and posed the question.

“Wow, that is a great question! Let me pull together some Scriptures and make some notes and I will call you back.” So, the stage was set.

This post, then, will be an explanation of what happens at the great white throne judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15.

THE TEXT – 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.

UNDERSTANDING THE PASSAGE

Revelation 20:11

            John sees the great white throne with the LORD seated on the throne. In this awesome scene, all creation flees away, trying to get away from the fury and the wrath of God and of the Lamb (compare to Revelation 6:15-17). There is, however, no place to hide. The business at hand is The Judgment.

Revelation 20:12

            Next, John sees “the dead.” This word “dead” is significant because the meaning goes beyond just those who are not breathing. These are the spiritually dead. John mentions “the dead” four times in two verses to emphasize their spiritual lifelessness. At the great white throne, we see the gathering of all the spiritually dead of all time, awaiting their final judgment. That is the identity of “the dead” whom John sees. Regarding “the dead,” consider these verses from the mouth of Jesus:

  • When our Lord was talking to the Sadducees about the resurrection, Jesus quotes from Exodus when God said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:31-32).” Jesus is making it clear that these patriarchs, even though physically dead, are spiritually alive.
  • Perhaps more to the point, In Luke 9:60, Jesus calls a man to follow Him, but the man makes the excuse that he needs to bury his father. Jesus said, “Allow the (spiritually) dead to bury their own (physically) dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” It turns out that there are many who, even though physically alive, are spiritually dead.
  • In John 3:18, Jesus says, “He who believes in Him (the Son) is not judged.” That seems straightforward to me.
  • Jesus also taught that those who have believed in Him will not come into judgment. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).” Two truths are taught by this verse. First, the one who believes in Jesus “does not come into judgment.” That seems pretty easy to understand. But second, those who have eternal life through Jesus are no longer among “the dead,” regardless of their physical state. They “have passed from death to life.”
  • A few verses later, Jesus is teaching about the resurrection and says, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice (the voice of the Son of God), and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29).” So, we can see that, in the resurrection, the ones who will experience the judgment are “those who committed the evil deeds.”

Next, “books were opened.” What exactly are these books which were opened? It is clear that these books determine the verdict that will come from the throne, for John writes that “the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” These books, then, are the records of all the sins of each one of the dead who are standing before the throne. They will be judged “according to their deeds.” Their deeds are evil (John 3:19-20’ “their deeds are evil”). Their deeds are their sins, and it is on the basis of these deeds, their “works,” that they will be judged. The time for forgiveness is over. There will be no more mercy or compassion. The offer of the gospel is forever taken away. These have come before the great white throne of the Holy One of Israel with nothing but their unrighteousness and their sins. “There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:27).”

THE BOOK OF LIFE (OF THE LIVING)

            But wait! “Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” John does not talk about this “book of life” here, because the issue at hand is judgment and eternal death, but we need to understand what this “book of life” is. First, there are the “books of the dead,” which doom people to the lake of fire (20:15), but there is also “the book of life” (“of the living,”) which admits people into eternal life. The book of Revelation has already spoken of this “book of the living” twice, in 13:8 and in 17:8, so we will take a brief detour to find out more about this book.

  • Revelation 13:8 takes place as the beast that comes up out of the sea is in power and is persecuting the saints. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” TRUTH: This verse makes clear that the names that are in the book of life were written there in eternity past and that they were written in the book of life by the Lord Himself. The inescapable conclusion is that those who were going to have eternal life and who were going to avoid the lake of fire were chosen by God in eternity past. This necessitates the doctrine of election (Ephesians 1:4; etc.).
  • Revelation 17:8 also involves the beast and talks about “those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” The group in view in both these verses is the people “whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” TRUTH: Therefore, the other conclusion from these verses is that, since those in the book of life are known, those who are doomed to the lake of fire are also known from the foundation of the world.

Revelation 20:13

            We find out from this verse where all “the dead” come from. From the previous verse, we know that “the dead, the great and the small,” are standing before the throne, but now we find out that “the dead” come from the sea, and they come from “death and Hades.” This is just another way of saying that all the dead are here. Not one of the dead has been overlooked or has escaped the judgment. Then, once all the dead are gathered, they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. As we have seen earlier, these “deeds” are the sins of the dead who stand before the throne. Their destiny is the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:14

            Death and Hades are irretrievably and inescapably thrown into the lake of fire. Long, long ago, in one of the early scenes of the grand meta-drama, the LORD God had told man that sin would result in death (Genesis 2:17). And so, ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3 death needed to continue to exist because man’s sin continued to exist. Hades is the place where the spiritually dead await the judgment, and so Hades continues to exist until the judgment. But now after the judgment, full payment for all sin has been rendered, either in Christ’s full atonement for all the sins of all true believers in Christ or in the eternal punishment in the lake of fire for all unbelievers. Sin has ceased because there are no longer any sinners. All believers are now glorified and so can no longer sin, and all unbelievers have been thrown into the lake of fire. Death is useless when sin has ceased and Hades has become useless, because all the occupants of Hades have been cast into the lake of fire. Therefore, since they are useless, both death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire.

            The lake of fire is the second death. The first death is when a person dies physically. If that person has believed in Jesus, in the intermediate state they are in the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:23; Revelation 6:9-11; etc.) awaiting  the resurrection of the righteous, when they will receive their glorified, resurrection body. Thus, the believer never experiences the second death. (Confirm with John 11:25-26.) This passage, however, is about the unbeliever. In contrast to the believer, in the intermediate state the unbeliever awaits Christ’s return in Hades, and, at the resurrection, they will “come out to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29).” Unbelievers will go from their temporary home in Hades to their eternal home of unending conscious punishment in the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15

            The judgment is made, and the sentence is passed. The book of life, or “the book of the living,” has been examined. This is the book that contains the names of all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those whose names are in the book of the living are resurrected to eternal life (John 5:29), but there are many whose names are not there. All those whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire.

APPLICATION

            All you who are now reading this article on the final judgment are still physically alive. You still have time to contemplate the question, “Is my name written in the book of life, or am I headed for the lake of fire?” Hopefully, after reading this article, you are clear on the two, and only two, options.

  • If you have already placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then you will never experience the second death (Revelation 2:11; 20:6), and you can be sure that your name is in the book of life. In that case, the application would be to rejoice in the faithfulness of our Savior Jesus Christ.
  • If, however, you have not placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; if you have not confessed with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9); if you have never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ so as to be saved (Acts 16:31), then your current destiny is the lake of fire. Your application is to change your destiny! This minute you can change your eternal destiny. This minute you can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him as your personal Lord and Savior. If you do that, “Truly, truly, I (Jesus) say to you, you will not come into judgment, but you have passed from death to life (John 5:24).”

SDG                 rmb                 9/16/2020

The Day the Ark Closes (Genesis 7:16)

One of the most fascinating stories in the entire Bible is the story of Noah and of the ark that he built and of the flood that God sent as a judgment on all mankind for their wickedness and violence (Genesis 6-7). Since Noah was righteous, God rescued him in the ark, but all those outside the ark perished.

Now as fascinating as this story is, the real point of the story must be understood from the perspective of salvation. This story of Noah and the flood is really about an offer of refuge and rescue in the face of coming judgment. As such, this story is not only for Noah and for those of his generation, but is for our generation as well. Jesus Christ Himself said that “as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away. So shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:38-39). What Jesus is saying is that, as in the days of Noah when there was coming the judgment of a flood on the wicked world, so now there is also coming a final terrifying day of God’s judgment on this wicked generation. As in the days before the flood when there was an ark that provided the only means of rescue from the flood, so now there is “the ark” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only refuge for sinners, the only one who will save them from the coming wrath and judgment of God. Will you enter while the door of the ark stands open or will you despise the only means of salvation and perish in the judgment?

Today the door of salvation stands open, inviting those who are outside to flee to safety in Jesus and to flee from the coming judgment. All who will repent of their sins and bow their knee to Jesus Christ may enter into the refuge and be saved from God’s wrath. But there will certainly come a day, a terrifying day when God will slam shut the door of salvation forever and the day of finding refuge will be forever gone. Then the wrath of God will be poured out on all those who have not placed their faith in Jesus.

Today the door of the ark stands open, but one day the Lord will close the door forever. Where will you be on that day? Will you be in the ark of the Lord Jesus Christ, or will you perish in the judgment? SDG rmb 11/29/2015