Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 20:11–12

Revelation 20:11–12
Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened — the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.
(NET Bible)

Final judgment of the unbelieving

When I was growing up, people considered it important to know your place. Generally speaking, the poor did not behave like the rich and the employee took a chewing out by the boss with as much grace as possible. In that era children were just children and might get corrected by any passing adult.

Now people of every class spend money like drunken sailors, using credit; aggrieved employees litigate or go postal, and children are the center of the family universe. Many things feel out of place. When Jesus concludes his Millennial reign, everything will again find its place. Where is yours?

It is remarkable that John can convey such a profound scene in such simple words. But the complexity in Revelation always lies near at hand, and this passage is no exception.

For John to say that “no place was found for them” (20:11) in reference to heaven and earth is an amazing reduction in the universe that constitutes humankind’s whole existence. The scene is reduced to God on his throne and those who are before him. Since heaven and earth have “fled from his presence” (20:11), there is no place to run, nowhere to hide. This is the day to settle accounts!

Who is standing before God’s great white throne? The dead (20:12) is John’s deceptively simple answer. It seems reasonable then to ask: who in particular are the dead? It cannot be those living ones who trusted in Christ during the Millennium, because they were defended by God in the camp of the saints (20:9) when all the unbelieving were destroyed by fire from heaven. Nor can the dead include those who were part of the first resurrection (20:6), who have already been raised to life and declared blessed and holy (20:6). All that remains is those previously described in this way: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished” (20:5). Those are the unbelieving dead, and they are the ones standing before the great white throne.

Greg Beale describes the interpretation suggested above when he says, “It is possible that the righteous are not among those standing before the throne because they are identified with Christ, who is certainly not among the standing throng.”[1]

We have already seen this same division before when we considered the two harvests in Revelation 14:14–20. Christ’s harvest came first (14:14–16), and I identified that harvest as those who belong to Christ. The second harvest (14:17–20) gathered the grapes placed in the great winepress of the wrath of God (14:19), and that is what occurs in greater detail in Revelation 20:11–15. The wicked are shown the detailed proof of their guilt and judged according to what they have done.

While it is true that “another book was opened — the book of life” (20:12), this book is incidental to the process. It is probably checked to demonstrate clearly that no mistake has been made and to confirm the picture presented by the books listing deeds. Divine justice takes every protective step.

No one in this group before the throne is going to join the righteous with Christ. Before long they will wish for a return to the realm of the wicked dead ? Hades ? where things were better!

It doesn’t have to end this way!

As Christians, our place is with Christ. Repeatedly the NT emphasizes our union with Christ as the essential fact that governs our experience. On the Day of Judgment, that union will make all the difference. Our blessed service to Jesus will already be our assigned place on the day when others have to stand before the throne, a place they rightly dread.

Paul proclaims the confident expectation of all who are in union with Christ:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom. 8:38–39).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1037.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!