God’s Day of Judgment—Its Joyful Outcome!
Vision 15—Revelation 20:11–21:8
Subject: The general resurrection, Judgment Day, and blessings of new heavens and a new earth
Time of fulfillment: The Thousand Year Reign
1. (a) What did mankind lose when Adam and Eve sinned? (b) What purpose of God has not changed, and how do we know?
AS HUMANS, we were created to live forever. If Adam and Eve had obeyed God’s commands, they would never have died. (Genesis 1:28; 2:8, 16, 17; Ecclesiastes 3:10, 11) But when they sinned, they lost perfection and life both for themselves and for their offspring, and death came to reign over mankind as a relentless enemy. (Romans 5:12, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:26) Nevertheless, God’s purpose to have perfect humans live forever on a paradise earth did not change. Out of his great love for mankind, he sent to earth his only-begotten Son, Jesus, who gave his perfect human life as a ransom for “many” of Adam’s offspring. (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16) Jesus can now use this legal merit of his sacrifice to restore believing humans to life in perfection on a paradise earth. (1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2) What grand reason for mankind to “be joyful and rejoice”!—Isaiah 25:8, 9.
2. What does John report at Revelation 20:11, and what is the “great white throne”?
2 With Satan confined in the abyss, Jesus’ glorious Thousand Year Reign begins. It is now the “day” in which God “purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” (Acts 17:31; 2 Peter 3:8) John declares: “And I saw a great white throne and the one seated on it. From before him the earth and the heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” (Revelation 20:11) What is this “great white throne”? It can be none other than the judgment seat of “God the Judge of all.” (Hebrews 12:23) Now he will judge mankind as to who will benefit from Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.—Mark 10:45.
3. (a) What is indicated by the fact that God’s throne is said to be “great” and “white”? (b) Who will do the judging on Judgment Day, and on what basis?
3 God’s throne is “great,” emphasizing Jehovah’s grandeur as Sovereign Lord, and it is “white,” calling attention to his flawless righteousness. He is the ultimate Judge of mankind. (Psalm 19:7-11; Isaiah 33:22; 51:5, 8) He has, however, delegated the work of judging to Jesus Christ: “The Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son.” (John 5:22) With Jesus are his 144,000 associates, to whom the “power of judging was given . . . for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4) Even so, it is Jehovah’s standards that decide what will happen to each individual during Judgment Day.
4. What does it mean that “the earth and the heaven fled away”?
4 How is it that “the earth and the heaven fled away”? This is the same heaven that departed as a scroll at the opening of the sixth seal—the human ruling powers that are “stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (Revelation 6:14; 2 Peter 3:7) The earth is the organized system of things that exists under this rulership. (Revelation 8:7) The destruction of the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, along with those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who render worship to its image, marks the fleeing away of this heaven and earth. (Revelation 19:19-21) Judgment having been executed on Satan’s earth and heaven, the Great Judge decrees another Day of Judgment.
The Thousand-Year Judgment Day
5. After the old earth and the old heaven flee away, who are the ones left to be judged?
5 Who are left to be judged after the old earth and the old heaven flee away? Not the anointed remnant of the 144,000, for these have already been judged and sealed. If any of the anointed are still alive on earth after Armageddon, they must shortly thereafter die and receive their heavenly reward by resurrection. (1 Peter 4:17; Revelation 7:2-4) However, the millions of the great crowd who have now come out of the great tribulation stand conspicuously “before the throne.” These have already been counted righteous for survival because of their faith in Jesus’ shed blood, but their judging must continue through the thousand years as Jesus keeps on guiding them to “fountains of waters of life.” Then, having been restored to human perfection and thereafter tested, they will be declared righteous in the fullest sense. (Revelation 7:9, 10, 14, 17) Children who survive the great tribulation and any children born to the great crowd during the Millennium will similarly need to be judged during the thousand years.—Compare Genesis 1:28; 9:7; 1 Corinthians 7:14.
6. (a) What throng does John see, and what is indicated by the words “the great and the small”? (b) How will the countless millions in God’s memory no doubt be brought forth?
6 John, however, observes a throng far more numerous than the surviving great crowd. It will number into the thousands of millions! “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened.” (Revelation 20:12a) “The great and the small” embraces the prominent as well as the less prominent ones of humans that have lived and died on this earth during the past 6,000 years. In the Gospel that the apostle John wrote shortly after Revelation, Jesus said of the Father: “He has given him [Jesus] authority to do judging, because Son of man he is. Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:27-29) What a stupendous project—the undoing of the deaths and burials throughout all history! No doubt those countless millions in God’s memory will be brought forth gradually so that the great crowd—so few by comparison—will be able to handle problems that may arise because resurrected ones may tend at first to follow their old lifestyle, with its fleshly weaknesses and attitudes.
Who Are Raised and Judged?
7, 8. (a) What scroll is opened, and what takes place thereafter? (b) For whom will there be no resurrection?
7 John adds: “But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds.” (Revelation 20:12b, 13) A breathtaking spectacle indeed! ‘The sea, death, and Hades’ each plays a part, but note that these terms are not mutually exclusive.a Jonah, when in the belly of a fish and therefore in the midst of the sea, spoke of himself as being in Sheol, or Hades. (Jonah 2:2) If a person is held in the grip of Adamic death, then likely he is also in Hades. These prophetic words give strong assurance that no one will be overlooked.
8 There are, of course, an unknown number who will not be resurrected. Among these would be the unrepentant scribes and Pharisees who rejected Jesus and the apostles, the religious “man of lawlessness,” and anointed Christians “who have fallen away.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3; Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew 23:29-33) Jesus also spoke of goatlike people at the world’s end who go into “the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels,” namely, “everlasting cutting-off.” (Matthew 25:41, 46) No resurrection for these!
9. How does the apostle Paul indicate that some will be specially favored in the resurrection, and whom do these include?
9 On the other hand, some will be specially favored in the resurrection. The apostle Paul indicated this when he said: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) With regard to the earthly resurrection, “the righteous” will include faithful men and women of old—Abraham, Rahab, and many others—who were declared righteous as to friendship with God. (James 2:21, 23, 25) In this same group will be those righteous other sheep who died faithful to Jehovah in modern times. Likely, all such integrity keepers will be resurrected early in Jesus’ Millennial Reign. (Job 14:13-15; 27:5; Daniel 12:13; Hebrews 11:35, 39, 40) No doubt many of these resurrected righteous ones will be assigned special privileges in overseeing the tremendous work of restoration in Paradise.—Psalm 45:16; compare Isaiah 32:1, 16-18; 61:5; 65:21-23.
10. Of those to be resurrected, who are “the unrighteous”?
10 Who, though, are “the unrighteous” mentioned at Acts 24:15? These would include the great masses of mankind who have died throughout history, particularly those who lived in ‘times of ignorance.’ (Acts 17:30) These, because of where they were born or when they lived, had no opportunity to learn obedience to Jehovah’s will. Additionally, there may be some who did hear the message of salvation but who did not respond fully at that time or who died before they had progressed to dedication and baptism. In the resurrection such ones will have to make further adjustments in their thinking and life course if they are going to benefit from this opportunity for gaining everlasting life.
The Scroll of Life
11. (a) What is “the scroll of life,” and whose names are recorded in this scroll? (b) Why will the scroll of life be opened during the Thousand Year Reign?
11 John speaks of “the scroll of life.” This is a record of those in line to receive everlasting life from Jehovah. The names of the anointed brothers of Jesus, of the great crowd, and of faithful men of old, such as Moses, have been recorded in this scroll. (Exodus 32:32, 33; Daniel 12:1; Revelation 3:5) As yet, none of the “unrighteous” resurrected ones have their names in the scroll of life. So the scroll of life will be opened during the Thousand Year Reign to permit the writing of names of others that come to qualify. Those whose names do not get written in the scroll, or book, of life are “hurled into the lake of fire.”—Revelation 20:15; compare Hebrews 3:19.
12. What will determine whether a person gets his name written in the opened scroll of life, and how did Jehovah’s appointed Judge set the example?
12 What, then, will determine whether a person gets his name written in the opened scroll of life at that time? The key factor will be the same as it was in the days of Adam and Eve: obedience to Jehovah. As the apostle John wrote to beloved fellow Christians: “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:4-7, 17) In the matter of obedience, Jehovah’s appointed Judge set the example: “Although [Jesus] was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him.”—Hebrews 5:8, 9.
Opening Other Scrolls
13. How must resurrected ones demonstrate their obedience, and what principles must they follow?
13 How must these resurrected ones demonstrate their obedience? Jesus himself pointed to the two great commandments, saying: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:29-31) There are also Jehovah’s well-established principles that they must follow, such as to repudiate stealing, lying, murdering, and immorality.—1 Timothy 1:8-11; Revelation 21:8.
14. What other scrolls are opened, and what do they contain?
14 However, John has just mentioned other scrolls that will be opened during the Millennial Reign. (Revelation 20:12) What will these be? At times, Jehovah has given specific instructions for particular situations. For example, in Moses’ day he provided a detailed series of laws that meant life for the Israelites if they obeyed. (Deuteronomy 4:40; 32:45-47) During the first century, new instructions were given to help faithful ones to follow Jehovah’s principles under the Christian system of things. (Matthew 28:19, 20; John 13:34; 15:9, 10) Now John reports that the dead are to be “judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds.” Evidently, then, the opening of these scrolls will publish Jehovah’s detailed requirements for mankind during the thousand years. By applying in their lives the regulations and commandments of those scrolls, obedient humans will be able to lengthen their days, attaining finally to everlasting life.
15. What kind of educational campaign will be needed during the resurrection, and how will the resurrection likely proceed?
15 What an extensive campaign of theocratic education will be needed! In 2005, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were conducting, on the average, 6,061,534 Bible studies in various locations. But during the resurrection, countless millions of studies, based on the Bible and the new scrolls, will no doubt be conducted! All of God’s people will need to become teachers and to exert themselves. Resurrected ones, as they progress, will no doubt share in this vast teaching program. Likely, the resurrection will proceed in such a way that those who are alive may have the joy of welcoming and instructing former family members and acquaintances, who, in their turn, may welcome and instruct others. (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:19-28, 58.) The more than six million Witnesses of Jehovah who are active in spreading the truth today are laying a good foundation for the privileges they hope to have during the resurrection.—Isaiah 50:4; 54:13.
16. (a) Whose names will not be written in the scroll, or book, of life? (b) Who are those whose resurrection will prove to be one “of life”?
16 With regard to the earthly resurrection, Jesus said that ‘those who did good things come out to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.’ Here “life” and “judgment” contrast with each other, showing that those resurrected ones who “practiced vile things” after being instructed in the inspired Scriptures and scrolls are judged to be unworthy of life. Their names will not be written in the scroll, or book, of life. (John 5:29) This would also be true of any who previously followed a faithful course but who, for some reason, turn aside during the Thousand Year Reign. Names can be erased. (Exodus 32:32, 33) On the other hand, those who obediently follow the things written in the scrolls will keep their names on the written record, the scroll of life, and continue living. For them, the resurrection will have proved to be one “of life.”
The End of Death and Hades
17. (a) What wonderful action does John describe? (b) When is Hades emptied? (c) When will Adamic death be “hurled into the lake of fire”?
17 Next, John describes something truly wonderful! “And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire. Furthermore, whoever was not found written in the book of life was hurled into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14, 15) By the end of the millennial Judgment Day, “death and Hades” are completely removed. Why does this involve a thousand years? Hades, the common grave of all mankind, is emptied when the last one in God’s memory is resurrected. But as long as any humans are tainted by inherited sin, Adamic death is still with them. All those resurrected on earth, as well as the great crowd that survives Armageddon, will need to obey what is written in the scrolls until Jesus’ ransom merit has been applied in fully removing sickness, old age, and other inherited disabilities. Then Adamic death, along with Hades, is “hurled into the lake of fire.” They will be gone forever!
18. (a) How does the apostle Paul describe the success of Jesus’ rule as King? (b) What does Jesus do with the perfected human family? (c) What other things take place at the end of the thousand years?
18 Thus, the program that the apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians will come to completion: “For [Jesus] must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, [Adamic] death is to be brought to nothing.” What happens next? “When all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him.” In other words, Jesus “hands over the kingdom to his God and Father.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) Yes, Jesus, having conquered Adamic death through the merit of his ransom sacrifice, will hand over a perfected human family to his Father, Jehovah. It is evidently at this point, at the end of the thousand years, that Satan is released and the final test takes place to determine whose names will remain permanently recorded in the scroll of life. “Exert yourselves vigorously” so that your name may be among them!—Luke 13:24; Revelation 20:5.
a Those resurrected from the sea would not include earth’s corrupted inhabitants that perished in the Deluge of Noah’s day; that destruction was final, as will be the execution of Jehovah’s judgment in the great tribulation.—Matthew 25:41, 46; 2 Peter 3:5-7.
[Picture on page 298]
“Unrighteous” resurrected ones who obey the scrolls opened during the Thousand Year Reign may have their names written also in the scroll of life