The ‘great white throne judgment’

When will it take place?

For the latest version of this document, click here: www.biblepages.net/nta061.htm


The Bible tells us about a time-period when both the living and the dead will be judged. There are many names for that coming time – “the final judgment”, “the great white throne judgment”, and so on.

This article takes a closer look at that matter, including such questions as, when will that judgment take place, and where, and who will to the judging? Also: It appears that the Scriptures talk about more than one time of judgment in the future. Even this will considered here.

The phrase ‘great white throne judgment’ is derived from Revelation 20:11–13.

The apostle John wrote about certain things he had seen in a vision:

Revelation 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and Him Who was sitting thereon, from Whose face the earth and the 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 out of the things that were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged, every one, according to their works. (WORR)

It is from that passage, that the phrase and concept “the great white throne judgment” has been formed.

However, judgments or judgment periods are mentioned in several bible-passages. Do they all refer to the same event? Certain scriptures indicate that when Jesus returns, there will be a judgment of those who at that time live on this planet, and that later, there will be a longer judgment period, for people who are resurrected from the dead. Read on, for more on this.

The judgment of Matthew 13.

Matthew 13:49 So will it be at the end of the age. The angels will go forth, and will separate the wicked from the midst of the righteous, 50 and will cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. (WORR)

Some translations have in the first part of that verse such wordings as “the end of the world”, but several bible-passages show that the planet Earth will continue to exist, even after the judgment which that verse mentions. The Greek text has tê sunteleia tou aiônos, which the above-quoted WORR quite correctly translates as “the end of the age”.

Several things indicate that Matthew 13:49–50 refers to an end for the age which we are in right now, an age when the Reign of God [a] has not yet come into effect here on Earth. The time when Jesus returns, will mark the end of this present, evil age. It appears that that particular separation of the wicked from the just, and the burning up of the former, will happen in the days when Jesus returns.

a The article noa010.htm has some notes on the Reign or Kingdom of God – what, where and when it actually is.

Those two verses must not be taken out of their context. The context, verses 24–30, shows how Jesus spoke a parable regarding a wicked seed which Satan had planted [here on Earth]. Verses 36–43 record how Jesus then explained the meaning of that parable to his disciples. So, it may be that the particular time of judgment and the punishment in fire which the above-quoted verses 49–50 refer to, is especially for the “darnel” or “tares” (Satan’s wicked seed), and not for normal humans.

That parable mentions even “good seed”, a group who will be reckoned worthy to be “taken to the barn”, verse 30. Apparently, that wheat or good seed will be gathered by angels and taken up to God. Verse 39 says that “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels”. (See even the above-quoted verse 49.)

Again, it appears that the burning which Matthew 13:49–50 mentions, is for the “darnel”, the wicked seed sown by Satan. But, some have claimed that there will be a burning even for normal humans, a burning where people are tortured “for ever and ever”, in a lake of burning sulphur or so. Is that correct? Does for instance Revelation 14:10 mean that? No. The article nta070.htm takes a closer look at that verse and its context.

Matthew 25 mentions a judgment which will take place when Jesus returns as the Lord of lords.

Please read all of this passage:

Matthew 25:31 “And, when the Son of man cometh in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then will He sit on the throne of His glory; 32 and there will be gathered before Him all the nations; and He will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will set the sheep, indeed, on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 “Then will the King say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father! inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world: 35 for I hungered, and ye gave Me to eat; I thirsted, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; 36 naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye looked after Me; I was in prison, and ye came to Me.’ 37 “Then will the righteous answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungering, and fed Thee? or thirsting, and gave Thee drink? 38 And when did we see Thee a stranger, and took Thee in; or naked, and clothed Thee? 39 And, when did we see Thee sick, or in prison, and came to Thee?’ 40 “And, answering, the King will say to them, ‘Verily I say to you, inasmuch as ye did it to one of My brethren, even the least, ye did it to Me.’ 41 Then will He say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, ye accursed! into the eternal fire which was prepared for the Devil and his angels; 42 for I hungered, and ye did not give Me to eat; I thirsted, and ye gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in; naked, and ye did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and ye did not look after Me.’ 44 “Then will they also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungering, or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?’ 45 “Then will He answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say to you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of these least, ye did it not to Me!’ (WORR)

It could be that Jesus spoke even this parable as a warning to a certain special group. In other words: It could be that the “goats” of verse 33 are the same as the wicked seed which Matthew 13 mentions. – As you can see, even the above-quoted Matthew 25 shows that when Jesus returns, there will be a judgment. Verse 31, “then shall he sit on the throne of his glory”.

Who will judge: God the Father, or Jesus?

Among others, this passage shows that God the Father has delegated the matter of judging to his son Jesus:

John 5:22 for neither doth the Father judge any one, but all the judgment He hath given to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son according as they honour the Father; he who is not honouring the Son, doth not honour the Father who sent him. 24 ‘Verily, verily, I say to you—He who is hearing my word, and is believing Him who sent me, hath life age-during, and to judgment he doth not come, but hath passed out of the death to the life. 25 ‘Verily, verily, I say to you—There cometh an hour, and it now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those having heard shall live; 26 for, as the Father hath life in himself, so He gave also to the Son to have life in himself, 27 and authority He gave him also to do judgment, because he is Son of Man. 28 ‘Wonder not at this, because there doth come an hour in which all those in the tombs shall hear his voice, 29 and they shall come forth; those who did [b] the good things to a rising again of life, and those who practised [b] the evil things to a rising again of judgment. (YLT, highlighting and note signs added)

b Verse 29, “did” and “practised” – in the Greek text, the corresponding verbs are in the aorist tense which does not give the time-frame. Later in this article, there are some notes on verses 28–29.

Please note even verse 24. It talks about some who were not to come under judgment but had “passed from death into life” as the ACV has it.

So, it will be Jesus who judges. (In all likelihood, assisted by others.) But, he will do that judging by his Father’s authority. This passage says the same:

Acts 17:31 “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (NKJV)

“He has appointed” and “he will judge” – yes, those words refer to God the Father. But, he will let that judging be done “by the man whom he has ordained”, that is, Jesus.

2 Timothy 4:1 talks about a judgment ‘at his manifestation and his reign’.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1 I do fully testify, then, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to judge living and dead at his manifestation and his reign […] (YLT)

In that verse, where the above-quoted YLT has “manifestation”, some translations have “coming” or “appearing”. The Greek text has epiphaneia. Among other things, that word was used of the accession of rulers. (Accession is the time when a ruler begins to reign.) It appears that the above-quoted verse talks about the time when Jesus will have his epiphaneia as the Ruler here on Earth. It is at that time, that this planet will become a part of God’s Reign. (Today, it is still in rebel hands. Again, the article noa010.htm has some notes on what, where and when the Reign or Kingdom of God actually is.)

A note: A number of translators have added words to that verse and changed things in it and caused the whole passage to be understood in a different way. But, the meaning appears to be that there will be a judgment, in the days when Jesus returns.

Again, the words “at his manifestation” in 2 Timothy 4:1 give an indication in regard to the timing of that particular judgment. But, the phrase in that verse is actually “at his manifestation and his reign”. That could eventually mean that there will be a judgment “at his manifestation”, that is, in the days when Jesus returns, and then another judgment at some later time during “his reign”. If that is what 2 Timothy 4:1 refers to, then we perhaps should expect that the particular judgment which is to take place “at his manifestation” (at his coming) will not be on normal humans but rather upon the enemies of God – the spirit rebels who today are still in control here on Earth. That may be the same judgment as that of Matthew 13:50. That is, the judgment which will be upon Satan’s wicked seed.

The timing of the ‘great judgment’ of Revelation 20.

Again, it appears that the judgment which is mentioned in Matthew 13 and 25 and in some other passages, will take place in the days when Jesus returns. What about the judgment which is mentioned in Revelation 20?

Some have produced dogmas which claim that it will take place 1000 years after Jesus’ return. Is that correct?

Here are the first three verses in that chapter:

Revelation 20:1 I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key to the bottomless pit and a large chain in his hand. 2 He overpowered the serpent, that ancient snake, named Devil and Satan. The angel chained up the serpent for 1000 years. 3 He threw it into the bottomless pit. The angel shut and sealed the pit over the serpent to keep it from deceiving the nations anymore until the 1000 years were over. After that it must be set free for a little while. (GWV)

Consider this: When is it that Satan was captured and imprisoned? And, when is it that he will be released? Please note that the above-quoted passage does not state that. It could be that he was captured, say, 1000 years ago. – Please also note that that passage talks about Satan being imprisoned. That does not mean that all wicked spirits or their fleshly cronies are imprisoned at the same time.

(A side-note: In connection with this matter, some writers have suggested that there could be a “time-gap of 1000 years” within verse 10 in Revelation 20. But, that verse does not mention any such “gap”.)

Again: Revelation 20:1–3 does not state when Satan’s 1000-year imprisonment began, or when it will come to its end. Some people might have problems with this matter, because they have been caused to believe that after Jesus’ return, Satan will be “stored up” for 1000 years, and that after that he will be allowed to deceive and destroy this world one more time. But: Does it sound logical that he would be allowed to destroy everything that has after Jesus’ return been made fine and beautiful? No, of course not. Nor is that what the Bible says. The Scriptures make it clear that after Jesus has returned and taken over the rule of this world, there will not be any war or destruction. We read:

Isaiah 9:7 His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end: it shall be upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to support it with judgement and with righteousness, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this. (LXXE, highlighting added)

The strange concept that Satan will after Jesus’ return be “stored up” and then after 1000 years allowed to again deceive and destroy this world, is indeed strange. The Bible does not say anything of that kind. It appears that that concept is based on a misunderstanding concerning a verse in Revelation 20. The details of that subject cannot be included here, but in short: When Jesus comes as the Lord or lords, Satan will be captured for the final time, and will then receive his final punishment. In other words: When Satan’s (ongoing) 1000-year imprisonment comes to its end, he will be released for a short time – just before Jesus comes. It appears that it is at that time, that Satan will gather his armies, “Gog of the land of Magog” and so on, to fight against the returning Jesus.

And again, the fact that Satan is imprisoned right now, does not mean that all wicked spirits would be imprisoned. Many of them are active here on Earth right now.

Some notes:

There are many kinds of dogmas regarding a “millennium”. The details of that matter cannot be included here, but in short: The word “millennium” is not found in the Bible. The above-quoted Isaiah 9:7 shows that after Jesus has come and made the planet Earth a part of the Reign of God, there will be no end or interruption to peace here. So, it will not be a mere 1000-year period of peace, but an endless time of peace.

Revelation 20:4 shows that there is a 1000-year period when a certain special group was or is to reign with Jesus, but there is no reason to think that that would be connected to the time of Satan’s imprisonment.

Revelation 20:4 And I saw high seats, and they were seated on them, and the right of judging was given to them: and I saw the souls of those who were put to death for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and those who did not give worship to the beast, or to his image, and had not his mark on their brows or on their hands; and they were living and ruling with Christ a thousand years. (BBE)

That might refer to what Jesus spoke about here:

Matthew 19:28 And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you that in the time when all things are made new, and the Son of man is seated in his glory, you who have come after me will be seated on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (BBE)

Why a limited time, a thousand years (Revelation 20:4)? Well, it could be that Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 20:4 refer to the particular judging which is mentioned for instance in John 5:28–29. See the next point.

The resurrection-related judgment of John 5:28–29.

This passage talks about a judgment that is to come, in connection with a resurrection:

John 5:28 […] there is an hour coming, in which all who are in their tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and come forth; those who did good, to the resurrection of life; but those who practiced evil, to the resurrection of judgment. (WORR)

Casual bible-readers might come to think that when that judgment comes, people have had their chance – that they will be judged only according to what they did when they lived in a world that was controlled by Satan. But, is that what Jesus was saying? Are all those people lost, just because they happened to be born into a world and age where most people were not able to live a righteous life and in most cases did not even know what the right ways are? Will God not give those people a chance? Will he raise them up to a new life, only for the purpose of sending them to death again? Or, should John 5:28–29 be interpreted in some other way?

(A side-note, but an important one: We humans do not have any “immortal soul”. We are mortal. That is why we need resurrection. Another note: A resurrection does not have to lead to a permanent life. Several things in the Bible indicate that everlasting life is conditional.)

Perhaps we ought to consider John 5:28–29 (and Revelation 20:11–13 which is a related passage), in the light of the passage in the book of Isaiah which says that in coming times, even a sinner will live a hundred years (and, that if he at that time still insists on sinning, then he will be “accursed”, which appears to mean that that will be the end of him) – “for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed” (Isaiah 65:20, ACV).

Putting that in other words: The resurrected humans of John 5:28–29 and Revelation 20:11–13 will indeed be judged, but it may be that in many cases, perhaps most, they will be judged to something similar to what we today call “probation”, and that the final decision regarding their fate will depend on what they do during that new life of theirs.

One thing is certain: Jesus will judge people in a just manner. This world has been (and still is today) under the deception, sway and control of wicked spirit powers. Jesus knows well that under such circumstances, humans do not have a chance or the means to live in the right way, and that in most cases, they do not even know what the right way is.

And yes, it appears that the judgment period which John 5:28–29 and Revelation 20:11–13 refer to, will take place later than the one which is connected to Matthew 13:50.

Some notes regarding Revelation 20:11.

Many translations have in that verse such wordings as “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away and no place was found for them”. That could cause casual bible-readers to think that this planet will altogether cease to exist.

Consider this: If this planet would not exist any longer, then where would that time-demanding period of judgment (of thousands of millions of resurrected humans) take place, in such a case? It is quite clear that that particular judgment period will take place here on the Earth, and that it will take hundreds of years of time.

So, perhaps we should look for a different explanation for the expression “the earth and the heaven fled away” in that verse. One interpretation could be, that when the time for the judgment of Revelation 20:11 comes, there will be some beings of both heavenly and earthly origin who will want to flee from that judgment and that Judge – but will not find any place to flee to.

(In the Greek text of that verse the verb in question is pheugô, “to run away”, “to seek safety by flight”.)

Related matters.

In order to fully understand these judgment matters, it is good to sort out a number of other things. For instance, there is the matter of the 144000 and the great, innumerable multitude. The article nta030.htm has some notes on that subject, but in short:

The first-fruits group of 144000 of Revelation 14 obviously consists of those who were first – those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

The great multitude is a later group which has not been formed yet, but the Scriptures indicate that by the time when the seven angels are given their trumpets and the Day of the Lord begins, that multitude has already been taken to Heaven.

The article nta050.htm considers the matter of the “end time trumpets”, as well as the (much earlier) “last” trump or blast which the apostle Paul wrote about in a letter to the saints in Corinth.

The article nta040.htm takes a closer look at the matter of “great tribulation”, and shows that the New Testament mentions several tribulation periods.

There is also the matter of the different resurrections and their timings; the article nba080.htm has some notes on that subject.

Does 2 Peter 3:7 mean that this planet will be destroyed, in the days of a judgment?

2 Peter 3: […] 7 but the present heavens and the earth, by the same word, have been stored up for fire, being kept unto the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (WORR)

“Stored up for fire”, “unto the day of judgment”. – Now, there will a time of judgment, and there will also be fire, so much is clear. And, it could even be that 2 Peter 3:7 refers to the same burning as Matthew 13:50. But, does that mean that this planet will be destroyed to the degree that it ceases to exist? Obviously not, because several still unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible make it quite clear that at some unspecified time after that fire, there will come a time of resurrection which will lead to that humans will once again be living on this planet.

The Scriptures do not tell us how much time will pass between that time of fiery judgment, and the time when God will begin populating this world again. But, it is quite clear that this planet will not be altogether destroyed, and that even after the horrible destruction which is to come and which for instance the book of Revelation describes, the planet Earth will in due time be restored back to inhabitable shape.

What about 2 Peter 3:10?

As the above-quoted verse 7 shows, the context in 2 Peter 3 is a time of judgment. But, it is obvious that it is not the judgment which is connected to a resurrection.

The way some translations render verse 10, might cause casual bible-readers to think that in those days, this whole world (planet) will be fully destroyed.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise, and the elements, being intensely hot, shall be dissolved, and the earth and the works therein shall be burned up. (WORR)

“The earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up” – does that refer to the whole planet, or merely to the ground and what is built on it? The Greek text of that verse could refer to both.

So, does that verse mean that the planet Earth will cease to exist? No. It is understandable that in the days when the first English bible-translations were produced, men may have thought so. But in our day, we can see other ways to interpret the Greek wording in that passage, because we now know that things of the kind the apostle Peter described, have happened here on Earth even in the past (and in a certain way, also in modern times). Here is suggested interpretation of the Greek text:

2 Peter 3:10 The Time of the Lord will come like a thief at night. It will be a time when the skies will be rolled aside with a rushing noise, and the elements will melt, being set afire by intense heat, and the ground and what is built on it shall be burnt up.

The Greek text of that verse does not have to mean that this planet’s surface and atmosphere will be totally destroyed. It could be that Peter had seen a vision of (for instance) huge meteors striking the crust of this planet (locally). Larger meteor strikes have an enormous devastating effect, including the heat that is produced by the impact.

More in 2 Peter 3:

2 Peter 3:11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (AKJV)

“The heavens” – that is, the skies, the atmosphere. “Dissolved” – the Greek text has the verb luô which does not have to mean “dissolving” as if causing everything to cease to exist; it could also refer to such things as “setting loose”. Perhaps Peter was describing an event where the atmosphere will be, not only stormy but raging. Compare the above-quoted 2 Peter 3:12 with this passage:

Revelation 6:14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (NASB95)

Several bible-passages make it clear that the planet Earth will continue to exist a long, long time into the future. So, it will not be “dissolved”. There will be fire and there will be great destruction, but the Scriptures make it clear that some time after those events, this planet will again be inhabited. And, it appears that it is only in those days that the judgment period which is connected to a resurrection, will begin.

Summary.

In the future when Jesus returns as the Lord of lords, there will be a (fiery) judgment. At that time, the wicked – Satan’s seed, the “darnel”, and perhaps also some others who have sided with those wicked ones – will be judged and destroyed in a fire. Before that fiery judgment, God will give the world a warning. (It might be that the two witnesses will have a part in that.) That will result in the formation of a great, innumerable multitude of people who turn to God.

Revelation 7 shows that the great multitude will be by God’s throne, in Heaven. That is before the opening of the seventh “scroll seal”, Revelation 8. When that happens, the seven angels will be given their trumpets. But, the great multitude will not be touched by the destruction which is connected to those trumpets, because they are no longer here on Earth, at that time.

Some time later, after this planet has been made habitable again, there will be a long judgment-period which is connected to a resurrection. It appears that during that period, all normal humans who have ever lived but still remain dead at that time, will be resurrected to a new earthly life, to be judged “according to their works”. And again: All those resurrected humans will be judged, but it may be that in many cases, perhaps most, they will be judged to something similar to what we today call “probation”, and that their final fate will depend on how they live and act during that time.

We do not know how long that judgment period will be, but it is clear that those things cannot be done in a day or two. Raising up thousands of millions of individuals and teaching them the right ways and observing how they then live, will take much time, probably many centuries or even more. And, there is no hurry. After all, when Jesus has come and destroyed the wicked, and put the Reign of God into effect here on Earth, there will be no end or interruptions to that Reign of peace. We read:

Isaiah 9:7 His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end […] (LXXE)

A note: In this context, some might wonder about the “gathering of Israel” which is prophesied to take place. They might ask, how can the tribes of Israel be “gathered”, if the Earth will be uninhabitable for a time? But, a closer study of that matter indicates that that prophesied gathering will be of the kind that is mentioned in Ezekiel 37 – see that chapter; it talks about resurrection. Also: There is no clear mention in regard to exactly when that will be done.

As for those Israelites who live here on Earth in the days when Jesus comes – well, they will be given an opportunity to be joined to the great multitude which will consist of people of all nations. Shortly before Jesus destroys the wicked, that multitude will be taken to Heaven and will thus not need any living place here on Earth.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

What does Revelation 14:10 mean? Will some humans be tormented with “fire and brimstone”, for “ages and ages”? → nta070.htm

What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → noa010.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm

Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → nta030.htm

On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → nta050.htm

What does the Bible say about the “great tribulation”? On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14. → nta040.htm

What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → nba080.htm


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