The Great White Throne Judgement

We read in Revelation 20 how the dead, great and small, stand before God as the books are opened. The dead will be judged according to their works, by the things which are written in the books (verse 12). What are the books that will be opened at the Great White Throne judgement?

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Before we consider these books that are to be opened, we should mention the three main judgements as well as the various resurrections that will take place (there are more than one).

Three Main Judgements

According to Benware (2006:323-329) three main judgements can be identified:

  1. Judgement at the rapture (the works of Church age believers will be judged to determine if rewards will be given for service in the Messianic kingdom);
  2. Judgement at Christ’s second coming to the earth (of physically living Jews/Gentiles as well as the judgement of Old Testament/Tribulation saints); and
  3. Judgement after the millennial kingdom (of Satan and fallen angels, the present heavens and earth as well as of all unbelievers of all time at the Great White Throne judgement).

Various Resurrections Will Take Place

It is also necessary to recognise that various resurrections will take place. Regarding the resurrection of believers, collectively referred to as the first resurrection or the harvest, this may well be the Biblical order:

  1. Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus Christ in his humanity has already received his glorified body.
  2. The next group to be resurrected will be the Church age believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:23). At the rapture of the Church, the dead “in Christ” will be resurrected and given their glorified bodies and, immediately thereafter, the Church saints (also baptised “in Christ”) that are still physically alive will, in the twinkling of an eye, exchange their perishable bodies for imperishable, glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  3. When Christ returns to the earth, all Old Testament saints will receive their glorified bodies (Daniel 12:2).
  4. Those who became believers during the Tribulation period (but after the rapture of the Church) and who physically died during this period, will also receive their glorified bodies at Christ’s return to the earth (Revelation 20:4).
  5. Those Tribulation saints who are physically alive when Christ returns to the earth, will enter the Messianic kingdom with their mortal bodies (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

What About the Unbelievers?

What is the situation of unbelievers who will all experience the second death — not only separated from God by virtue of remaining “in Adam” (the first death), but also being eternally separated from God (the second death)?

This seems to be the Biblical order:

  1. The Antichrist and the false prophet are the “first-fruits” of those who will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).
  2. After Christ has reigned for a 1 000 years in the Messianic kingdom, and after a final rebellion has been judged with fire from heaven, all unbelievers of all time will appear at the Great White Throne judgement. It is here that the books mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 will be opened.

The Book of Life

At a time, the name of every human being was written in the Book of Life. However, the names of unbelievers can be blotted out from the book of the living (Psalm 69:28; cf. 139:16). Christ states in Revelation 3:5 that the “one who conquers will be clothed in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life”. Thomas (1995:432) states it well: “The Book of Life is a divine register for every loyal believer (cf. Isa 4:3; Ps 69:28; Dan 12:1) (Kiddle). It originally contained the names of all for whom Christ died, i.e., the whole world, but at the judgement of the Great White Throne many blank spaces will signal the removal of many names who never believed in Christ for salvation (Walvoord).”

The Lamb’s Book of Life

The case should be established by two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16). The names of unbelievers will also not appear in the Lamb’s Book of Life (cf. Revelation 13:8). According to Fruchtenbaum (2004:515), the Lamb’s book of life contains the names of all those human beings who have been born again.

What about the “book of remembrance” mentioned in Malachi 3:16 — perhaps better translated as “memorandum” (Deuel 1996:108)? This book contains the names of believers, not unbelievers, for of these believers it is said that they feared the Lord and thought upon his Name (Malachi 3:16). Fruchtenbaum (2005:24) says this memorandum or book of remembrance is the same as the Lamb’s book of life.

The Judge

The Lord Jesus Christ will be the judge — at the rapture, at His second coming and at the Great White Throne judgement (cf. John 5:21-23, 27). The Great White Throne judgement will establish the degree of punishment of unbelievers. That there will be degrees of punishment in the lake of fire is evident from texts such as Matthew 11:20-24, Luke 12:47-48 and John 19:11. Obviously other books in heaven exist which contain the deeds of unbelievers.

What About You?

At the Great White Throne judgement even unbelievers will bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). At that time, however, it will be too late for unbelievers to be saved. But today it is not too late. Be honest: can you stand before a holy God and declare yourself righteous in His sight? Don’t be a fool, not one of us can save ourselves; we all need a Saviour to save us from our sins — and Jesus Christ is this one and only Saviour (Acts 4:12). “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9; cf. John 3:16).


Would you like to read more about this topic? We recommend the following:

Benware, P.N., 2006, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach, Moody Publishers, Chicago.

Deuel, D.C., 1996, ‘Malachi 3:16: “Book of remembrance” or royal memorandum? An exegetical note’, The Master’s Seminary Journal, 7(1): 107-111.

Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2004, The Footsteps of the Messiah, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.

Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2005, The Book of Malachi, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.

Thomas, R. L, 1995, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary, Moody Publishers, Chicago.

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