letters to surfers

Q. How do you interpret the Geat White Throne of Revelation 20:11?

Robert Brow   July 1999     (Web site - www.brow.on.ca)

The traditional interpretation which I was taught was that this is the last judgment after the end of our world system when we will be raised "with all the dead, great and small" (20:12). Those whose names are written in the book of life (20:15) go to the heaven described in 21:1-22:5. All others are thrown into the lake of fire 20:14, which is a place where "they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (20:14).

I began to question this model after reading C.S.Lewis' Great Divorce. I now no longer believe that God intends to torment most of humanity "day and night for ever and ever." I no longer believe preachers who tell us that God tries to make us make a decision for Christ by threatening us with eternal torments. God's love does not work that way. Based on John 3:17-21, our eternal destiny is a free choice of the light and love of heaven or a free choice of eternal darkness, death (personal suicide) away from the love of God.

Having said that, I have no doubt that the Son of God reigns among the nations, and comes again and again to exercise wrath. The purpose of these interventions (as in the OT) is that people will see the bad consequences of sin and turn to the love of God.

Now looking at Revelation we first have some pictures of the Lamb Messiah reigning among His churches. Then from chapter 4 onwards we have symbolic and metaphorical pictures of the Lamb-Messiah reigning reigning from his throne (e.g. 4:2, 5:1, 13). The Lamb-Messiah exercises wrath (bad consequences on earth) from his throne (6:16-17, see 14:14, 19-20). He is also continually welcoming a great multitude from all nations (7:9) to join Him in His reign (7:13-17, 11:15-18, 19:6-9, 20:4). That means we do not wait till the resurrection to share in his reign. We are already citizens of heaven, we are a royal priesthood, and at death we immediately continue our enjoyment of our place in heaven (pictured in 21:22-22:5). Waiting to wonder if we will escape being tormented for ever at the great white throne seems to me anything but good news for our world.

As the Lamb-Messiah reigns He again and again defeats the power of Satan (12:9, 15:2, 18:2, 8, 19:2, 15-16, 19:20-21, 20:1-3, 9-10 ). I therefore assume that the great white throne (20:11) is the same throne of the reign of the Lamb-Messiah on earth. He will keep reigning till Death and Hades are also destroyed (20:14). This corresponds to Paul's view that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26). All references to the wrath of the Lamb, including being cast into a lake of fire (18:8, 19:15, 20, 20:10, 14, 15, 21:8) are therefore metaphorical of His reign and assigning of wrath among nations and individuals in this life.

How do we decide between these two very different interpretative models of how the Lamb-Messiah exercises judgment? I suggest we should begin with the Gospels and the words of Jesus Himself. Then consider how the love of God works in our lives and in our world. Then we ask which of the two models reflects the good news Jesus had in mind

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