This passage details the final separation of the righteous and the unrighteous. Verse 11 indicates that the spiritual reality of God’s presence on the throne has a different and greater kind of reality than earthly or even heavenly reality (4:2; 5:7). The white color of the throne points to the standard of God’s holiness as the major consideration in the last judgment (Daniel 7:9).
This scene has an Old Testament background from law court scenes in the prophets (Micah 6:1-8; 7:9; Amos 5:24). God acts as judge. “Book” is a familiar image; still, God’s mind needs no book as a memory aid. The book of works acts as prosecutor (20:12a). The book of life acts as defense counsel for the saints. That both the book of works and the book of life are present indicates that this judgment involves every person who ever lived, not just the wicked (2 Cor. 5:10). John Newport observes, “The point is that no one is so important as to be immune from judgment and no one is so unimportant as to make judgment inappropriate.” The book of works condemns the unrepentant; the book of life lists everyone granted forgiveness by Jesus (20:12b).
The book of life does not declare a person is deservedly innocent but that a sin debt has been paid through trust in the grace of the life-giving Lamb (Dan. 12:1-2). The book of life is mentioned six times in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12 and 15; and 21:27). The second death of eternal punishment is reserved for the unrepentant (20:14). The same place of punishment is reserved for everyone who fails to have his or her name recorded in the book of life (20:15). The book of works records every act of deliberate rejection and rebellion against the Lamb and God, but when no entry of repentance and faith is listed, conscious punishment fits the deed. With verse 15 evil in all its forms and persons is condemned.
Events in the last days that began with the pouring out of God’s wrath in the seventh bowl (16:16-21) is now completed. The next two chapters relate God’s provision for His consummate kingdom of priestly servants. An invitation to all people to join Him, and especially for His church to persevere, is extended so that the saved will prove themselves faithful to Jesus Christ and to God, even during the severest of trials.
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