At this point in the vision, the Satanic forces have been defeated. Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet have been defeated and cast into the lake of fire. The only thing remaining to do before creation is restored is to judge mankind. This is what John saw in these verses.
John first saw a great white throne and one seated on it. He has previously seen the throne of God, in chapter 4. That vision set the stage for judgment. First, God was seen on his throne. Part of reigning is judging. The king has the power to judge. You might remember the story of Solomon judging between two women who claimed the same child. (1 Kings 3)
We have seen this vision before. In chapter 4, there is the vision of the royal court. God sat on his throne and 24 elders sat on thrones around him. It is the picture of a royal court sitting in judgment.
In Daniel 7, thrones were placed and Christ took his seat on the throne. The heavenly court sat in judgment and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10) The throne is seen as white in this vision, emphasizing Christ’s victory and purity. The Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 was seen as having white clothing and hair, probably to convey the same message.
The earth and sky fled away as judgment was conducted. The old heavens and earth must be destroyed and remade into the new creation where believers will live. This is the same picture of 6:14 when, during the sixth seal, the sky vanished and every mountain was removed.
Peter wrote that, on the Day of the Lord, the heavens will pass away with a roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10) Peter portrayed the return of Jesus, the destruction of the old creation and the judgment as one big event.
The present creation cannot survive into God’s perfect new world because of man’s sin, just as men and women in their present bodies cannot enter heaven or the new creation. After Adam sinned, God told him “cursed is the ground because of you”. (Genesis 3:17)
Paul explained this is Romans 8, saying “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility (cursed), not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22)
The picture is that the heavens and earth, corrupted by man’s sin, flee from the presence of the Holy One just as sinful man tries to hide or flee from God. Adam hid from God in the garden(Genesis 3) Sinful men tried to hide from the wrath of the Lamb in chapter 6.
As a side note, it is also why you hide from God when you sin, avoiding prayer and Bible reading. We would rather hide than confess and repent.
Next, the whole of humankind from all of history were brought before that white throne. (12) This is a re-telling of the seventh seal with more detail. At the opening of the seal, loud voices in heaven spoke of the reign of Christ. That reign included judgment, as they said “the nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged. (11:18)
No one escapes judgment. Both great and small are present. Kings stand next to peasants, billionaires next to the homeless, the popular next to the despised.
There is, then, a terrible moment, a moment of dread and fear. The books are opened. This reflects the heavenly court of Daniel 7, where the court sat and the books were opened. These are the books of account, showing the sins of men and women. Sinners begin to tremble and cry as a holy God calls them into account.
Jesus said “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27) Romans 2:6 says “He will render to each one according to his works…for those are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…”
But fear is not for believers, for another book was opened. This book is the book of life. This book does not list deeds, it lists names. This is the book that contains the names of the redeemed, the faithful of all the ages, whose names were written in the book before the foundations of the world. (17:8) None of these worshipped the beast. They remained faithful to death. And so Jesus said he would never blot their names out of the book of life. In fact, he will confess their names before the Father and his angels. (3:5)
But those whose names are not written in the book face a different fate. They were judged according to what they had done. (13) They were judged on their works against the standard of God’s law. And we know that no one kept God’s law. Romans 3:23 tells us all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Because of their sin and their rejection of Christ, they were throne into the lake of fire. (15) This is second death. It is not physical death. It is eternal punishment for those who rejected Christ.
Death and Hades are also cast into the lake of fire. (14) Paul told us the last enemy to be abolished is death (1 Corinthians 15:26) Since death is destroyed, and the Redeemed are still alive, they will not suffer any death. They will live forever with Jesus.
Your eternal destiny is either the lake of fire or the new creation. Jesus’ first sermon was “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel”. That is what I would say to you today also. If you have not received Christ as savior and Lord, repent and believe. Come into the kingdom. Be saved. Do it now!