We know from our previous studies that all of the saved, born-again children of God of all ages will be raptured and resurrected before the Millennium, at the end of the Great Tribulation period when Jesus comes and gathers together His church, His bride, to be with Him forever. We also know that they will then “live and reign with Christ for a thousand years” on the earth (Revelation 20:4). But what about the billions of unsaved people of all ages, what has become of them?
“The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5). After the Millennium and its catastrophic finish with the Battle of Gog and Magog and the final holocaust that will burn up all the unregenerate and all the pollution and all the evil throughout both the earth and the atmospheric heavens, then all the unsaved of all ages, including the rebels destroyed at Gog and Magog, will be resurrected for the final Great White Throne Judgment.
At the end of the Millennium after the Battle of Gog and Magog, the great second resurrection takes place, the “resurrection of judgment,” as Jesus called it (John 5:29). At this time all of the unsaved dead are finally raised to stand before God Himself in the great final judgment in which they are given their final sentences and are assigned to their final places in the hereafter.
Don’t confuse this final Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the Millennium with the “judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10), which occurred a thousand years earlier at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven. The judgment seat of Christ is an entirely different judgment altogether in which we, the saved, the born-again, are judged by Christ Himself, because we know Him, where He will reward us according to our works and from where we go on to reign with Him over the world for a thousand years.
But this final Great White Throne Judgment is not for the saved. This judgment is for the dead, small and great, including all those who lived through the Millennium and yet followed the Devil and were destroyed at the end of it—all the dead of all ages who were not saved and therefore did not take part in the first resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming (Revelation 20:6). All the people who ever lived, whether good or bad, if unsaved, will have to stand before this Great White Throne Judgment of God.
At the Throne
“And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11–15).
Here is the awesome picture of God Himself at the last great judgment of all the dead who were not saved. Some say that this is the judgment of “the wicked,” but it does not say “the wicked” here. It simply says “the dead.” So let’s just call them the unsaved, because there will be various classes of unsaved, as you’ll see. There will be the ignorant and the somewhat innocent, and the good who tried to do the right thing. The Bible says so. (See Romans 2:12–15.) Then there will also be various degrees of the guilty and the very wicked on down the line.
It says that he saw “the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened”— several books, a lot of books, maybe millions of books. “And another book was opened, which is the book of life”—a very important book. “And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). This could be their own memories, or records that God somehow keeps of their words and works.
They say that everything you’ve ever seen, heard, thought, or done is recorded in your subconscious mind. In fact, science says that you never really forget anything. So certainly God is able to activate everyone’s memories and run through their entire life, in a fraction of a second if necessary, and judge everything they’ve ever done. He could do it for the whole world simultaneously if He wanted to. So this “opening of the books” might be the Lord reeling off or reading off everything everyone’s ever done, in order to judge them fairly and accordingly.
“And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” What does this mean, “according to their works”? Many theologians have taught that God is just going to toss them all into hell and that’s that. But if everybody’s going to go to hell anyway, what is this judgment for? If everybody who’s going to be spared from the flames of hell and the Lake of Fire has already gone to heaven and is already saved, what’s the purpose of this Great White Throne Judgment of God for the unsaved who were never resurrected to begin with and of all those who were destroyed in the fire when the earth and atmosphere were burned up? What is this Great White Throne Judgement for in the 20th chapter of Revelation? Why doesn’t God just toss them all straight into hell?
It’s obvious that God is going to judge everybody justly and righteously and mercifully, according to their works. There’s so much in the Word of God showing that there will be degrees of punishment just as there are degrees of reward. God is just and thorough, and “every man will be rewarded according to his works.” (See Psalm 62:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:23; 20:13; 22:12.) We’ll even have to “give an account of every idle word, “for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37).
Jesus Himself said that those who know the Lord’s will, yet still disobey and do things deserving punishment, shall receive severe punishment. But those who did not know His will and yet did things worthy of punishment shall receive light punishment. “And that servant, which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:47–48).
So their being “judged according to their works” simply means that they will be rewarded or punished accordingly, and obviously there’s going to be a difference. “For the work of a man shall He render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways. Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgement” (Job 34:11–12). God is just, fair, and righteous, and everybody is going to get exactly what they deserve and need.
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:13). Here we see the second resurrection, that of all the unsaved dead, some of whom have been confined to the bottom of the sea and other places.
But during this second resurrection, all of these “rest of the dead” come up from everywhere: out of the sea, out of the graves, from past eons of time— all the unsaved dead that ever lived. All those who didn’t get saved during this age of grace, plus all those who didn’t get saved during the Millennium are going to be raised in this Second Resurrection to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment and to be judged out of the books.
Another very interesting point is regarding “death and hell delivering up the dead which were in them.” Does this mean that some will be resurrected out of hellfire, only to be judged and cast back into the flames from which they just came? The original Greek word translated here as hell is “Hades,” which does not mean a fiery, flaming, torturous hell at all. Hades, according to the Greek lexicon, literally means “the unseen state”; in other words, the spirit world, the invisible realm of ghosts and spirits. So the unsaved who have died and departed from this life are merely in an unseen state. They’re not all in hellfire, neither are they stuck in a hole in the ground, the “grave,” which is another translation of Hades in our English Bibles.
The translators should have used the literal translation to make it clearer. “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14). It does not say here that all these people were cast into the Lake of Fire, only death and hell. In other words, death or the power of death, and Hades, the unseen state, are cast into the Lake of Fire. These former places or states of confinement or punishment or imprisonment are now cast into the Lake of Fire, including the end of the unseen spiritual state which exists today.
Judgment cannot come until there is an end to today’s spirit world, an end to the unseen state, because now the spirits are still operating in that realm. The “book of life,” which was opened at this Great White Throne Judgment, is a very important book. After death and hell are cast into the Lake of Fire, it says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
It does not say that they were all cast into the Lake of Fire. It says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” In other words, there’s going to be another dividing at the last Great White Throne Judgment between the sheep and the goats, between those who deserve to go to hell and those who don’t.
If the book of life contained only the names of those who were saved in this life, why bring it out at this Great White Throne Judgment of the unsaved? Just to prove they’re not in there? If none of these people are going to be spared from hell, why would the Lord need to open this book at all? If everyone written in the Book of Life is already saved and in heaven, and none of these folks at this judgment are written in there and it’s just a blank book, then why bother?
Only the unsaved are present at this Great White Throne Judgment, but nevertheless a difference is made between these unsaved as to whether they are in the Book of Life or not, and only those not found in the Book of Life are cast into the Lake of Fire.—But not all of them. So who’s not found in the book? Obviously the most wicked and those who absolutely rejected Christ and rebelled against Him, like all of those mark-ofthe-beast people in the Tribulation and all of those rebels who at the end of the Millennium turned against the camp of the saints when the Devil tried to pull his big revolt. After a thousand years of the personal, visible, loving reign of Jesus Christ and His saints on the earth and the manifestation of God on every hand, they still rebelled against God, so I’d say if anybody ever deserved to go to hell, they will deserve it.
From all I can gather from the scriptures, it seems that the Lake of Fire is pretty bad punishment for the very worst. To be cast into the Lake of Fire you’ve got to be a pretty wicked sinner who has really been defiant of God and of every opportunity God has given you to repent, and really done a lot of damage and hurt a lot of people—like Hitler and some of those sorts of characters—those who have turned many astray.
All of the worst are going to be cast into the Lake of Fire. All of the saints of God are going to inhabit the Holy City. And those who were not bad enough to go to hell and yet not good enough through accepting Christ’s goodness to go to heaven will be in-between somewhere, wherever God chooses to place them.
Among the unsaved there are those who are not good enough for heaven—in other words, through the blood of Christ—nor bad enough for hell. But they were found written in the Book of Life and thereby spared from the Lake of Fire. Not saved for heaven and not condemned to hell, but found written in this Book of Life and spared. Apparently they will be given some form of life instead of the death penalty, some fate other than hell.
Is God a monster?
When a sincere young man once told me, “I can’t believe in a God that’s going to send all these people to hell forever, people that never even had a chance to hear about Jesus, little babies and ignorant natives and the millions of people of different religions who are fairly righteous and are trying to do the best they know how, living up to whatever light they’ve got,” I replied, “I agree with you. I don’t believe in such a God either.”
For I am personally convinced, from my own study of the Scriptures and the nature of God, that God has mercifully made some other provision besides heaven and hell for such people. For instance, should people who never heard the gospel, heathen who never even heard the name of Jesus, all be thrown into an everlasting torment and fiery hell forever when they never even had a chance? Can you possibly imagine little babies going to a place like that? If it were true, I couldn’t believe in God, for He’d be a monster—to punish ignorant people who did the best they could, even though they never heard about Jesus and thus never received Him.
Certainly not everybody deserves the same kind of punishment and the same amount of punishment and the same severity of judgment as do the very worst and the most wicked. Many folks simply didn’t know the truth, never heard the gospel, never even heard about Jesus, didn’t know about His love, and therefore died ignorant of their Master’s will.
And it’s an amazing, wonderful thing that the world over, even in the darkest jungles and the most remote places, even the most primitive civilizations seem to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and know that certain things are sinful and that it’s wrong to do them. God’s basic moral standards against stealing and killing and things like that are pretty universal. Even the most primitive cultures have known that these things were wrong and have had laws against them.
“This is the light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Every man ever born, every man that ever lived, has at some time or other been sent God’s light in some form to enlighten his darkened heart with His love, to show him His love. The Holy Spirit is faithful to speak to the heart of all and to tell them when they’re doing wrong. Everyone knows the difference between good and evil, even if they may not know all their Master’s will.
They may not even know their Master. They may not have ever known the gospel or the truth or the good news of salvation, but they know the difference between right and wrong. And if they then, in spite of that, do things worthy of stripes, it says they’ll be beaten, but with few stripes—their punishment will be light, corrective, no doubt of the chastisement nature, and they’ll undoubtedly then repent and be forgiven and be given a new life.
So there will be a great variety of punishment and reward for the unsaved, and also for the ignorant and innocent who just didn’t know any better. God can’t exactly “save” them if they didn’t have Jesus or receive Him, but He’s going to be easy on the ones who were good and tried to be good, who even without the law did those things which are required by His Law of Love.—Who even without the knowledge of Him and His love, felt His love in their hearts.
“For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles (the ignorant), which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves. Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:13–15).
For those who have to be punished hereafter, the punishment will be designed and tailored according to their deeds and their accountability. For what purpose? Just to be vindictive? God is not that type of vengeful God, to vindictively only want to make people suffer for their sins. But it is for a purpose—to bring them to the light, to demonstrate His goodness and kindness and love and to show them the difference and what damage they did by their disobedience and their lack of love. Why? To bring about godly sorrow and repentance and a change.
Whether dead or alive, they will all get the light. Sooner or later they will all have a chance to be saved or at least to be reconciled. Doesn’t that fit your picture of an all-loving all-merciful God who will be merciful not only to the living, but also to the dead?—As evidenced by Jesus’ trip to the place of imprisonment in the heart of the earth to preach the gospel to the departed spirits there, that they might believe and be saved and liberated.
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison. For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (Matthew 12:40; 1 Peter 3:18–19; 4:6).
Look at the mercy of Christ. He went down into the bowels of hell, so to speak, the “underworld,” and preached to the spirits in prison. Jesus went down there and was one of them and preached to them and gave them the gospel of deliverance, “that they might live according to God in the spirit.”
In an Old Testament scripture which confirms this, God, apparently speaking to His Son, Jesus, says, “By the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zechariah 9:11). “For He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living” (Job 33:27–30).
God’s going to give everybody a chance—dead or alive, now or then—to see the light, to hear the gospel, to even see and believe and receive Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Is hell forever?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is no hell or that no one is going to go there. The Scriptures make it quite clear that the most wicked “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). I do believe in hell. I just don’t believe that hell is for everybody, nor is it forever. It’s for the worst, the most rebellious and defiant and disobedient and wicked and the Devil and his angels. They’re all going to go to the Lake of Fire, but not everybody.
Those whose works were extremely evil, who were so wicked that their names were “blotted out of the book of the living, and not written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28), will deserve hellfire and extreme punishment. I don’t know how long they’ll have to stay there; maybe some will have to stay there forever. Or maybe He’ll have mercy on them one of these millenniums, if they ever repent.
But even for some of those, I think hell is going to be a purgatory. I think some of those will be purged from their rebelliousness and their unbelief and their hardness and rejection, and just like a child being punished or chastised, they’ll be given a chance there under punishment to repent and have some kind of restoration and restitution— if not actual salvation, at least some kind of eventual reconciliation.
What’s the use of punishing people if it’s totally impossible to ever teach them anything and they’ll never change, never regenerate, never learn? It looks to me as if hell would be a totally useless waste of time if it’s used for nothing but just to give people eternal suffering—which I don’t think hardly anybody deserves. You will find in the next and final chapter that there will be some people living outside of the heavenly city on the beautiful new earth who sound exactly like the people who were earlier cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:8; 22:14–15).
What about some of the verses like Revelation 14:11 that say that the very wicked, mark-of-thebeast people will be tormented, and “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night”? This sounds like an eternal, perpetual, never-ending punishment. Is it?
You’ve got to know the meaning of this word “forever,” because the original word used in the Greek is “aeon,” literally meaning “for an age”— which no doubt is for a long time, but does not necessarily mean eternal. And “forever and ever” in the Greek means “for an age and an age.” This Greek word “aeon” is also used in other New Testament references to “everlasting” and “eternal” punishment, which again implies that it will be “age-lasting” or “for an age.”
Where it says “forever” or “everlasting” or “forever and ever,” it doesn’t always mean what forever or everlasting means to us. In a couple of places in our New Testament the English translators did actually translate this Greek word “aeon” as “age,” such as in Ephesians 2:7 and Colossians 1:26, which speak of “the ages to come.”
But thank God, so-called eternal punishment, eternal hell, everlasting punishment, hellfire forever and ever, is not going to be forever and is not going to be everlasting and is certainly not going to be eternal. Even in this life, according to man’s law, virtually all punishment has some kind of end. There comes a time when the offender has paid for his crimes with his imprisonment or with fines or even with his life. This satisfies the laws of man, why not the laws of God? Perhaps some people will pay for their own sins, since they wouldn’t believe in Christ and wouldn’t believe in His death. So they will have to suffer the prescribed punishment pronounced upon sin, which is death. (See Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8.)
Whatever the sins and however guilty the party may be, they will receive a just, fair punishment. And whether they receive “few stripes” or “many stripes” (Luke 12:47–48), they will all come to an end. A few is a number and many is a number, and whether few or many, they will come to an end when people have received enough to have accomplished God’s purpose to cause them to repent, to see the light and be sorry and turn away and change.
God is just, God is loving, God is pure, God is holy, God is perfect, and everything will work out perfectly in the long run. There will be perfect judgment and punishment for the wicked, and perfect reward for the righteous and the believers and the ones who obeyed the Lord. Although the guilty will be punished for their sins, when their punishment is over and they’ve learned their lessons, they’ll be released. Released by the grace of God and the forgiveness of God just like everybody else.
“A way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Thank God that we, all of us who have received Jesus, have happiness and joy and eternal rewards to look forward to in the next life, because we have received God’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, Jesus Christ and His blood shed on the cross, and we are relieved from the punishment and the penalty for sin and from the sentences that will be passed on others at this great final judgment. We are completely forgiven and relieved from the punishment for sin, for “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Of course, we all deserve hell, punishment, and the whole works, but we get to escape it because we believe in Christ and have received His forgiveness and His punishment on the cross in our place. But the others who have not done that in this life, when they wake up in the next world and find out that they were very wrong and that the gospel was true, then they are going to believe. But for some it will be too late.
Those who have willfully, knowingly rejected Jesus Christ’s salvation and His substitution, His taking their punishment for them, are going to have to suffer for their own sins. They themselves will have to suffer the judgment and serve out the sentence until they have suffered enough to pay for it. They rejected the way of escape that God provided for them, so they will have to be punished. They will have to suffer for it, and as we’ve seen, some are going to be so bad that they’ll have to suffer the very fires of hell, the Lake of Fire.
His Word says that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). To show His love to all men, He sent Jesus to live, die, and suffer for us. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16–17).
Jesus said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47–48). He loves you and didn’t come to judge and condemn you, but to save you forever. But if you hear His Word and refuse to receive it, if you know that He “stands at the door of your heart and knocks” (Revelation 3:20) and you turn Him away and reject Him, then you condemn yourself.
“This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). His Word asks, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3). For if you reject Jesus and reject His blood and refuse to believe and refuse to receive, you will have to suffer for your own sins. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:23).
Why pay the heavy price of age-lasting punishment for all of your sins when Jesus has already suffered for you? All He asks is that you humbly accept His pardon, ask His forgiveness, and receive Him into your heart. He’s the only way to redemption. Do you have Jesus? If not, take Him now. God bless you with salvation.
- A More Sure Word of Prophecy (2 Peter 1:19)
- From Here to Eternity
- “Signs of the Times”
- The Rise and Reign of the Antichrist
- The Great Tribulation
- The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
- The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
- The Wrath of God and the Battle of Armageddon
- The Millennium
- The Battle of Gog And Magog
- The Great White Throne Judgement
- The New Heaven and The New Earth