The Great White Throne
Daniel’s explanation of his vision of the four beasts shows the fourth beast having ten horns (kingdoms), plus a little horn that succeeds in plucking up three of them and setting forth itself as the dominant power among the rest. This little horn has “the eyes of a man, and a mouth uttering great boasts.” Further details are given later by the angel upon Daniel’s request for more revelation.
The important point to remember for now is that the subjugation of the three horns was the occasion for later boasting, which John called “blasphemies” in Rev. 13:5. We will discuss this further when we cover the angel’s explanation in Dan. 7:17-27. There we will discover that this little horn was given a lengthy period of time in which to hold dominion, ending with the coming of the Ancient of Days and the resurrection and judgment of multitudes and nations.
Thrones Set Up for the Saints
Dan. 7:9, 10 gives Daniel’s conclusion of the vision,
9 I kept looking until thrones were set up [Aramaic: remah, “to shoot with a bow; hurl; cast”], and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened.
What “thrones” are these in verse 9 above? The KJV reads that “the thrones were cast down.” The NASB says that “thrones were set up.” The Concordant Version says, “thrones were placed.” So are we to understand from this that thrones were cast down or that they were set up? These translations seem to be opposed to each other.
It is difficult to know the answer just by looking at the Aramaic word remah that Daniel uses. It is best to see how John understood it in Rev. 20:4, when he too saw these thrones. It reads,
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them….
In the rest of the verses and on through verse 6, it is clear that these thrones were being set up, not cast down. It is the saints who sit upon those newly-established thrones. This is the first resurrection, which, John says, will be followed by “a great white throne” (Rev. 20:11) a thousand years later. The Great White Throne is not the same as “the thrones.” The thrones were set up for those who “reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4).
Daniel says nothing about the thousand years between the placing of the “thrones” and the “great white throne” on which the Ancient of Days sits. But John reveals that a thousand years stands between those events (Rev. 20:6). Daniel’s lack of detail should not overthrow us, for his silence on timing is supplemented by John’s later revelation. The Bible often speaks of two events at the same time as if they were to occur simultaneously, when, in fact, they could be thousands of years apart.
See, for example, Isaiah 61:1, 2, which Jesus quoted at the start of His ministry in Luke 4:18, 19. He read: “To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,” but omitted “and the day of vengeance of our God.” The first portion applied to His first work, while the last phrase applied to His second work about two thousand years later. Yet apart from direct revelation, such an interim would not have been understood until the time came to reveal it.
So also is it with Dan. 7:9. When the angel interpreted the vision to Daniel, he said virtually nothing about the Great White Throne or the Ancient of Days who was to sit upon it. He focused entirely on the saints receiving the Kingdom.
This seems odd, since the vision itself only mentioned the “thrones” briefly while focusing upon the Ancient of Days sitting upon His single throne. Perhaps this explanation was necessary, lest we miss the importance of the “thrones” being set up for “the saints” at the start of the thousand years.
To summarize, we see that the beast nations were given dominion, each in its turn, and when the dominion of the fourth beast ended, its reign was extended through the little horn on its head. When the little horn’s dominion ended, thrones were set up for the saints of the Most High, and “the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom” (Dan. 7:22). John adds later that these will reign with Christ for a thousand years before the Great White Throne is set up for the Ancient of Days to begin the next phase of Kingdom history, the Age of Judgment.
The Ancient of Days
The Aramaic word translated “Ancient” is attiyk, from the word athak. Gesenius’ Lexicon says that it means to move, proceed, advance, move on, become old, be removed, transferred, which includes the idea of advancing in years. It even means “to wean” a baby, as we see in Isaiah 28:9. Obviously, the baby is not “old,” but is being transferred from the breast to solid food.
The Concordant Version renders it “the Transferrer of Days,” which agrees with Gesenius’ longer explanation of the word in his notes in the link above. It implies that the One who sits on this throne has the power to “transfer” authority from the beast nations to the saints of the Most High. Yet the double meaning also shows that He is “ancient,” or old. Perhaps we may synthesize the two ideas by suggesting that His age (being before all things) gives Him the right to determine how and when to transfer the authority from one group to another.
His “age” is depicted by the white hair, and relates directly to an important prophetic law found in Lev. 19:32,
32 You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
This law, when viewed through the eyes of the Old Covenant, is a command to respect elders. However, when viewed through the eyes of the New Covenant, it is a promise, because it prophesies of Christ. The prophet uses this law to picture men rising up from the dead when the Ancient of Days comes to take His throne. Hence, the dead are commanded to rise from the dead when the Ancient of Days comes. Hence, the Ancient of Days Himself says in Isaiah 45:23, 24,
23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength…”
Paul expands upon this prophetic statement in Phil. 2:9-11,
9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him [Jesus Christ], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This event can only occur at the Great White Throne, where all the dead from past ages will rise before the Ancient of Days with the hoary head. They will also “honor the aged” by confessing “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In other words, they will become spirit-filled believers, because 1 Cor. 12:3 tells us, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Of course, they will still be judged according to “the books” (of the law) until the great Creation Jubilee sets all of creation free (Rom. 8:19-21). The Age of Judgment is designed to discipline, correct, and restore all of humanity, not only by saving them but also by bringing them to the state of spiritual maturity through that final baptism of fire. For those unfamiliar with this concept, see my book, The Restoration of All Things.
The Fire and Glory of God
In Dan. 7:9, 10 we see that the throne of the Ancient of Days is linked to the resurrection of the dead, along with saints who “are irradiating Him” (CV):
9 Perceiving am I till thrones were placed, and the Transferrer of Days sits; His clothing is pale as snow, and the hair of His head as immaculate wool; His throne is as flaring flame, its rollers a flashing flame. Streaming is a flame in front and issuing from before Him; a thousand thousands are irradiating Him, and ten thousand ten thousands are rising before Him. Adjudication sits and the scrolls are opened.
The throne appears to be on fire and is the source of the river of fire that flows out from under the throne to judge those who are rising before Him. It is a picture of divine justice being meted out to those being judged. The justice, of course, is based upon the divine character, which is the standard of righteousness presented in His law. Hence, we read that God showed Himself only as a “fire” (Deut. 4:12, 24). Later, in Deut. 33:2 KJV Moses spoke of “the fiery law,” saying,
2 And he said, “The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand went a fiery law for them, 3 Yea, He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand; and they sat down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.”
This passage is referenced in Jude 14, 15, where he applies it to the future judgment at the Great White Throne. The coming of the saints with the Ancient of Days are those who are “irradiating Him,” having glorified bodies. The “fiery law” comes from the right hand of the Ancient of Days, and so verse 3 says, “all His saints are in Thy hand.”
In other words, the fiery law and the saints are both in His hand, combining them to produce the saints that irradiate Him. They glow with the divine character (“fire”), because the law is fully written on their hearts through the New Covenant (Heb. 8:10).
The Aramaic word translated “irradiating” in the CV is shemash, which corresponds to the Hebrew word shemesh. Gesenius’ Lexicon says that this word comes from an unused root word that means “to be brilliant.”
Hence, the CV renders it “irradiating” to show that these saints are “brilliant” in their appearance, having the glory (fire) of God upon them.
Moses focuses upon the saints alone, but Daniel expands our vision to see not only those who irradiate Him, but also all who are “rising” from the dead. Daniel saw the fire flowing like a river from the throne. Moses saw it coming from His right hand in the form of the saints. It suggests that the fiery river is not only divine judgment itself, but also its administrators, the saints of the Most High, who are clothed with that fire-glory.
If the river of fire is the flow of justice, administered by the saints, then also the lake of fire that John saw in Rev. 20:14 is the result of judgment. The river forms the lake. The river renders the verdict, while the lake of fire carries out the righteous sentence. In both phases, it seems, the saints play a role.
When we understand how the divine law functions, it becomes clear that sinners whose debt is so great that they cannot pay their debt to the law must be enslaved to others (Exodus 22:3). In such biblical slavery, the master is given authority over the slave, which then carries an equal weight of responsibility. The master is responsible to discipline the slave and train him in righteousness so that he will “learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9) and sin no more.
So I believe that the saints of the Most High will be given authority over those being judged for the works they did in their life on earth. This will not be a time of torture but of learning the ways of God.
There is no provision in the law to torture a sinner for eternity with no hope of redemption. The law is corrective by nature, because it comes out of the character of God, which is primarily Love. His Wisdom found a way to limit justice to an Age and to restore all of creation in the end. By His Wisdom and Love, God established the law of Jubilee, which places limits on debt, or liability for sin.