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Revelation 20:11, 12 says,
11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on 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.
This is the second resurrection, and it includes all who have ever lived since the beginning of time. It is obviously different from the first resurrection, which was limited to those called as rulers in The Messianic Age, or the Great Sabbath. The prophets usually treat this occasion as the climax of history, although there is yet a greater climax later at the Restoration of All Things.
Nonetheless, the Great White Throne is where every knee bows and every tongue confesses allegiance to Christ (Isaiah 45:23, 24, 25; Philippians 2:9-11). In other words, it is the moment of truth, when all men acknowledge Christ as King and become believers, confessing “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:3,
3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, when all men at the Great White Throne confess allegiance to Christ, calling Him “Lord,” they can only do so “by the Holy Spirit.” Hence, when every knee bows at the Great White Throne, their action is not forced against their will, but is rather a reaction to the leading of the Holy Spirit within them. In other words, they will not only be justified by faith in Him, but they will also be filled with the Holy Spirit at that time.
Even so, this will not cancel their judgment, for they, like all believers, must experience the baptism of fire of the Holy Spirit in order to bring them to spiritual maturity. They will experience Passover when they confess Jesus Christ and bow to Him, but Pentecost and its baptism of fire is a longer process, where men learn obedience until they come into agreement. So also will this characterize the age of judgment that follows the Great White Throne.
The First Judgment upon Adam
The last battle of the Kingdom Age gives God the legal right to reclaim the parts of the earth that yet remain in rebellion against the rule of Jesus Christ. As the Creator, He always owned the earth, but in a legal sense, it was sold to another in payment of debt—the debt that Adam incurred when he sinned at the beginning.
Such a sale would have been unnecessary, except for the fact that Adam had been given authority, or “dominion” in Genesis 1:26. In delegating authority, God did not give up His sovereignty, but yet it subjected the entire ordeal to a legal process. This process took time and was subject to the laws of time, a long Jubilee cycle of 49,000 years, divided into seven “week” periods.
Adam’s entire estate (the whole earth) was sold to a nameless buyer in order for payment to be made, according to the legal principle that Jesus set forth in His parable in Matthew 18:25,
25 But since he did not have the means to repay [the debt], his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
By the law of authority, not only Adam but his entire estate was sold to pay the debt, and even this was insufficient. So Adam and his family too were sold into slavery to Sin, and Paul acknowledges this in Romans 7:14, saying, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” He treats sin as a slave owner, and his flesh (Adamic identity) as the slave who is commanded to do his will by “the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).
Because the law expresses the mind, will, and nature of God Himself, He was unwilling to override the law or to put it away. Instead, He began the long legal process of reclaiming His creation. But because the law commanded that slaves labor for six years (Exodus 21:2), mankind had to remain in bondage for 6,000 years. The same law, however, commanded a release from labor in the Sabbath year, and this gave God the legal right to institute the first resurrection, setting free the first group of believers who become overcomers.
But the law acknowledges that some debts are greater and that some men are to be enslaved until the year of Jubilee. Hence, after the Sabbath year, these who are yet debtors must return to work at the beginning of the eighth year. This is the legal background to the Great White Throne judgment at the start of the eighth millennium, in which the majority of mankind is judged and must continue their labor until the Creation Jubilee.
Understanding the law also helps us to define the “lake of fire” in practical terms, as we will see shortly.
The Law of Ownership
The Great White Throne judgment is based upon God’s right of ownership. God owns all things by right of creation, but the use of these things is limited by law. We have already shown how creation was sold by the law of sin to pay on Adam’s debt. This put limits on God’s sovereignty in a legal sense, but not so much that God would be defeated. It only meant that God was limited by His own righteous nature to reconcile all things over a period of time in a lawful process. Hence, in the end God is a resounding Winner. He will not lose most of the creation that He owns and loves, as so many theologians have thought. All that Adam lost was lost temporarily on account of his authority; but God never gave up His sovereignty, which is greater than all authority. His sovereignty will prevail in the end, and God will once again be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
One of the laws of ownership is found in Jesus’ short parable in Matthew 13:44,
44 The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
Jesus is the “man” who has found hidden treasure. Israel was called God’s “peculiar treasure” (Exodus 19:5 KJV), and specifically “those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” will be God’s “jewels” (Malachi 3:17 KJV). But the man in the parable did not steal the treasure. In order to have the right to claim the treasure, he had to buy the field where the treasure was hidden. So Jesus gave up “all that he has” (that is, He gave His very life) in order to buy the field and obtain the treasure.
In one simple parable, Jesus set forth the divine plan. Earlier, He said in Matthew 13:38, “the field is the world.” Hence, in order to obtain the treasure (“those who fear the Lord”), He purchased the whole field (“the world”). It was the only lawful way to get what He wanted, for if He had taken the treasure without first owning the field, He would have violated His own law. Jesus will not sin that grace may abound. No matter how much He desires to possess the treasure, He will obtain it in a lawful manner.
In fact, it is His integrity and righteousness that ensures the stability of the universe, for if One who is sovereign should violate the law (character of God), the universe would be sold into sin, and there would be no one qualified to redeem it.
This principle of ownership is seen further at the last battle against Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:9. It is God’s intent to take ownership of the whole earth, but He must do so in a lawful manner. By releasing the devil to tempt Gog and Magog (working on their inner anger and resentment) to attack the Kingdom, Jesus fights back by the law of self-defense against their unlawful aggression.
This victory and conquest puts the rest of the world under the lawful control of Jesus Christ, allowing Him to take the hidden treasure from “the field” that He then owns. In this case, the hidden treasure is “the rest of the dead” (Revelation 20:5), and summoning them all in this resurrection is that moment when He claims the rest of the treasure hidden (or buried) in the field.
The Final Impediment of the Law
The judgment, then, is based legally upon God’s ownership of the entire world and all that is in it. God finally has the lawful right to fulfill His passion to save all mankind and restore all things in creation. At that point in time, the law’s impediments are largely removed—not entirely, however, for He must still judge those who are raised in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, 18,
17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
As long as God’s judgments are relevant, the law stands. It is only when all things have been reconciled, and all are in agreement with God and His nature, that the law will no longer need to judge anyone. When there is no judgment to be done, then the law will remain only as the definition of every man’s nature, for the law will be written on every heart (Hebrews 8:10). In other words, the law will be passive, rather than active. No longer will it need to be taught, because all will fulfill it in all that they do, and because no one will violate it, there will be no more judgment for sin.
But between the Great White Throne and the Creation Jubilee, there is still much judgment to be done. The “fiery law,” as Moses called it in Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV, will be active during this time, enforcing obedience whenever necessary, until all have come into agreement by nature.