The Great White Throne, part 2 (final)
Aug 29, 2016
John tells us in Revelation 20:11, “I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it.” He does not tell us WHO was sitting upon that throne. Yet because he saw the same scene that Daniel saw, we may identity Him as “the Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9). The Concordant Version calls Him “the Transferrer of Days.”
Both translations are correct, showing a double meaning. He is “old,” or, as it may be rendered, “advanced in years,” but He also transfers authority from one to another. As the “days” advance in time, there is a shift in authority, first from Babylon to the saints of the Most High, and secondly from the nations in general to the One sitting on the Great White Throne.
Daniel and John each have their unique perspective. One sees details that the other does not, but both have enough revelation in common to let us know that they are seeing the same scene.
Who, then, is sitting upon this Great White Throne? Daniel 7:13, 14 tells us,
13 I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom…
Hence, we see two Beings here. The first is the Ancient of Days, but the second is Christ, who comes “with the clouds of heaven.” When Jesus was adjured by the high priest to speak the whole truth in the court of law where He was being tried, He testified in Matthew 26:64, “hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
According to Luke 22:70, the Council then asked Jesus point blank, “Are you the Son of God then?” And He said to them, ‘Yes, I am’.” Thus, Jesus identified Himself as the One to whom the Ancient of Days was to give “dominion, glory, and a kingdom.” He was then crucified on a charge of blasphemy for supposedly giving false testimony under oath.
Why Authority was Delegated to Christ
Daniel’s information ends at that point, and John says even less about the identity of the One on the throne. The important revelation to John is that the dead were being judged. Yet there is no question that John knew that the Ancient of Days had delegated all judgment to the Son, for we read Jesus’ own words in John 5:21-23,
21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
We may conclude, then, that the Father is the Ancient of Days who sits on the Great White Throne, but He has delegated all authority to the Son, who is called to judge all men. Further, because Jesus became the sacrificial victim for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), He earned the right to forgive or to condemn. Hence, “the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” This transfer of authority to judge was based on the Law of Victims Rights. So we see that even though men have all sinned against the Ancient of Days, as soon as Jesus took the responsibility of all sin upon Himself, He also received the right to forgive or to condemn. The Law of Victims Rights is the legal reason WHY the judgment was delegated to the Son.
We know Christ’s ultimate intention, of course, for He stated it while on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His intention is to forgive, but this does not eliminate a certain level of judgment. Judgment holds men accountable in order to train them in the ways of righteousness and justice. It is only when we understand that judgment is temporary that we can see how Christ intends to balance judgment with mercy and to bring about His ultimate goal to forgive and to save all whose sins victimized Him.
Fear of His Face
Revelation 20:11 says,
11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it from whose presence [prosopon, “face”] earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
This statement seems strange. Why would earth and heaven want to flee from the face or presence of God? Is the Ancient of Days to be dreaded or loved? Once again, we must interpret this with Hebrew eyes, rather than Greek or any other viewpoint. The Greek word prosopon means face, and it carries the meaning of the Hebrew word panah and its plural, paniym. It literally means “face, faces,” but it is often untranslatable. For example, Exodus 34:23 says,
23 Three times a year all your males are to appear before [paniym] the Lord God, the God of Israel.
They were instructed to appear before the face of the Lord God. To be in front of one’s face was to be in one’s presence. So the NASB translates Revelation 20:11, “from whose presence earth and heaven fled away.” The translation is accurate, though not literal.
It was commonly believed that in ancient times that if anyone saw God, he would die. Such a belief was accurate in that no mortal, sinful flesh can live in God’s presence (Exodus 33:20). But what about immortal people who are righteous, or those who have been imputed righteous? We have been promised the ability to see God and live. When Moses’ face glowed as He returned from the Mount (Exodus 34:29), the presence (face) of God was in his face, and this defined the promise of God to all of us.
The Israelites fled from Moses’ face until He used a veil to hide the glory of God (Exodus 34:30). The old man of flesh cannot help but flee from the presence of God. The flesh lacks the strength of will to stand before God’s face. And since sin has permeated both heaven and earth, both are said to flee before God’s face.
Yet at the resurrection, all flesh is summoned to appear before God’s face at the Great White Throne. This is a command from the Judge, not a suggestion that might coax sinners to come. John’s view of the summons is thus contrasted to the flesh’s desire to flee, showing that there is no place to run and hide. Hence, “no place [to flee] was found for them.” This is a statement that shows that the will of God overrules the will of man. Man is arrested and brought before the Judge, and man’s will is irrelevant at this point in history.
The Ancient of Days—the Old Man—has come, and all will rise, as the law prophesies in Leviticus 19:32. By the Old Covenant, the law commands men to rise, but in the end, the will of man may or may not comply with the law. But by the New Covenant, the law is a promise and prophecy, based on the will of God, which the will of man cannot withstand.
The Great and the Small
John continues in Revelation 20:12,
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the 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.
We know from John’s earlier statement that the overcomers are raised a thousand years before the rest of the dead. So it is evident that at the Great White Throne, the dead who are raised include everyone except for the overcomers who were already raised earlier. Jesus tells us in John 5:28, 29 that this general resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers. The believers will receive “life” at that time, while the unbelievers will receive “judgment.” Paul confirms this in Acts 24:14, 15.
Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 that the believers—those who have laid Christ as their Foundation—will be “saved yet so as through fire.” If they built upon their Foundation with works made of “wood, hay, straw,” their works will be burned up. If they built with works of faith made of “gold, silver, precious stones,” the fire will not consume them, and they will be rewarded accordingly.
Therefore, “the great and the small” are judged “according to their works,” whether they are believers or unbelievers. But the believers, having faith in Christ, receive immortal “life,” even if their works were not done in obedience to His will. We are told very little about the actual judgment upon such believers. The biblical writers presume that we have already studied the law, so we know how sinners are judged.
It is fortunate for believers that the fire of God is not literal. All who have experienced Pentecost have entered the fire of God even in their life on earth. It is the baptism of fire, prophesied by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11, 12, which was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3). The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s fire is to function “as a smelter” (Malachi 3:3) to purify and “refine them like gold and silver.”
In other words, the “gold, silver, precious stones” going through the fire on the day of judgment is not to be viewed as men’s works that are separated from the believers themselves. We are not to view this as a pile of works being set on fire outside of us. Instead, our works are part of us, whether spiritual or fleshly, and therefore we need to be purified and refined.
John the Baptist changes the metaphor to wheat whose chaff is being burned, while saving the edible portion of the wheat which is stored in God’s “barn” (Matthew 3:12).
We have been given the feast of Pentecost as a divine gift of the Holy Spirit, not to destroy us by its baptism of fire, but to purify and refine us and to prepare us for the feast of Tabernacles. If we allow Pentecost to do its work within us, then we will be overcomers who qualify for the first resurrection, no longer needing the fire to refine us at the Great White Throne.
Just because we seek the feast of Tabernacles does not mean we despise Passover or Pentecost. Instead, we are called to be justified through Passover and then to receive the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire, embracing the often-painful burning of our flesh, in order to obtain, with all overcomers, “a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35).
This is part 168 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones